Lessons from a citizen’s battle

cambrian@thetribunenews.comMay 24, 2013 

In the end it came down to citizens versus commerce, character of a neighborhood versus commercial development and the board of supervisors, aided and abetted by zoning, decided in favor of an out-of-town developer over Cambrians.

I don’t know Bruce Gibson, but as he sat at his place on the supervisor’s dais, he seemed to wrestle with our case for the history and unique quality of Cambria and the neighborhood, though in the last analysis he put greater value on a commercial development. He stipulated conditions and tweaks, but that is a bit like handing you an ice pack and then punching you in the nose.

He could, and those of us who opposed the Kingston Bay development thought he should, oppose the project based on the logic that putting the largest commercial building in Cambria at the gateway to Lodge Hill and Marine Terrace violates the historic character of the area and those population clusters, to say nothing of other problems this project will produce.

Supervisor Debbie Arnold called Cambria “a jewel.” She, too, worried, like many of us, that light pollution would further erode the once pristine quality of our night skies.

Supervisor Frank Meacham echoed Gibson in saying it was a balancing act between zoning and community interests and that a care center is better than a condo or apartment.

Supervisor Adam Hill said that indeed a care center is less innocuous than a condo. He identified the issues as a balance of community interests vs. an owner’s rights.

So, the real villain here is the zoning that would permit a multiple residence. Gibson and Hill acted as though they had no cover, that the zoning map trapped them into approval.

I wonder about other complicity. This chain of real estate transactions goes back to the late ’90s. How can assessments made about water use then be relied upon today?

In November of 2001, the Cambria Community Services District responded to the Coastal Commission that there were 202 equivalent dwelling units (EDUs) in the pipeline. Now would be a good time for the CCSD to be accountable for how many of those have been used in the last 12 years.

How can a project continue to morph, over the decades, without the requirement of a new Environmental Impact Report? What about the die-off of our Monterey pine forest? Why didn’t someone on the planning staff, the supervisors or even the CCSD raise a flag about an EIR and changing water resources, impact of wastewater, grading, drainage and erosion from this project?

“Better this than a condo” is no real prize, nor a good precedent. Will this development devalue neighboring homes? Do the supervisors care or does a developer receive more of their concern? And how can a real estate developer ride into the village, cop between 11 and 27 water meters on a decades-old deal, shoving waiting lot owners out of the way and for a dubious project? With questions hanging, the battle isn’t over yet.

Cambria resident Tom Cochrun has been a journalist for more than 42 years, working in print, radio, television and online media. He is a multiple Emmy winner and a 2006 winner of the George Foster Peabody award. He is a member of The Associated Press and Indiana Journalism halls of fame, has written two novels and is at work on a third.

Follow The Cambrian on Twitter @TheCambrian.

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