By Royal Calkins
As he prepares to launch his campaign for a seat on the Monterey County Board of Supervisors, Salinas businessman and City Councilman Steve McShane wants to dispel the notion that he is part of an agribusiness power grab.
He acknowledges the perception is widespread, fueled largely by the fact that his former father-in-law is Don Chapin, founder of the Salinas Valley Leadership Group, a coalition of ag, real estate and other business interests that has become the most potent political force in the Salinas Valley by virtue of influence and campaign contributions.
In the most recent race for a seat in the 4th Supervisorial District, the leadership group was the biggest supporter of former Salinas Mayor Dennis Donohue’s unsuccessful effort to unseat Supervisor Jane Parker.
In a column last week, I opined that the group was likely to do the same thing in the upcoming campaign pitting McShane against longtime Parker aide Wendy Root Askew of Marina. Parker announced last week that she will not seek re-election but instead will support Askew in the 2020 election. The primary is next March.
But McShane pointed out that in his most recent campaign for a council seat, the leadership group contributed just $1,000 and he said he has no expectation of getting significantly more help in the supervisorial race.
He described his relationship with Chapin as “complicated.” He once was married to Chapin’s daughter and Chapin backed one of his business ventures, McShane’s Nursery and Landscape Supply on Highway 68. But McShane is remarried now (and expecting his second child.).
Others involved in Salinas politics say the changed circumstances of the Chapin-McShane relationship have created distance between the candidate and the lobbying group, but they also note that several individual members are likely to put their money behind McShane.
Over coffee on Tuesday, McShane protested that “it’s not like big bad agriculture is trying to take over control of the county.” In fact, he said, in many ways, the environmentalist and progressive bent of the Peninsula seems to be spreading inland and he sees himself as part of it.
District 4 takes in Seaside, Marina, Del Rey Oaks, Sand City, Fort Ord and a sizeable portion of South Salinas, a quarter to a third of the city, an area represented by McShane on the Salinas council.
“I’ve planted more trees than anyone in Salinas,” McShane said. “My record is good on historic preservation, adaptive reuse, the environment in general. In this race, I’m going to be able to stand on my environmental record.” He pointed to his service on the regional air quality agency and his chairmanship of the Monterey Bay Community Power board and other activities.
He also pointed out that the type of development issues that have divided Peninsula and Salinas Valley interests in recent years aren’t likely to resurface, at least in the near future. For more than a decade, Salinas Valley-based supervisors such as Fernando Armenta and Simon Salinas routinely voted for every development proposed in the county, including several controversial Peninsula projects such as the problematic Ferrini Ranch development planned for the Highway 68 corridor. But Armenta and Salinas are gone now and McShane says the future of local residential development will be an issue for the cities, not the county.
There will be no serious proposals for leapfrog development such as East Garrison or Ferrini Ranch or Rancho San Juan, McShane said. Instead, look for a proliferation of high-rise ventures amid existing development along the lines of Don Orozco’s plan for a high-rise project in Sand City.
“The single-family home is dead,” McShane said. That’s because Gov. Gavin Newsom and the state legislature are creating countless incentives to promote affordable housing, mostly infill and largely of the high-rise variety. The governor is also threatening to withhold transportation funding from jurisdictions that don’t produce significant new housing, and the legislature is moving to make it harder for cities to turn down plans for infill projects.
“Get ready for eight-story buildings in downtown Salinas,” McShane said. “Be ready for six-story housing units along Broadway in Seaside.”
Partly because of the new climate in Sacramento, the conversation about affordable housing on the Peninsula is changing. For instance, a plan by the city of Monterey to consider developing a city-owned parcel adjoining Ryan Ranch far from the city center has already attracted considerable support from affordable-housing advocates though there are no identifiable plans for affordable housing at that location.
Regarding that proposal, McShane commented, “I support city-centered and transit-oriented growth. I believe in incentives for up-zoning. (But) like so many others, I’m curious why they would choose to move forward with the proposal. This sort of project reflects the immense pressure for housing. In concept, I’d prefer more focus on further development in downtown Monterey.”
Though McShane predicted that his base of supporters will grow as his philosophies become better known, there has been no evidence of that in his early campaign contributions. So far he has received contributions of $2,500 each from the Duflock farming family of San Ardo, which has been Sheriff Steve Bernal’s largest financial backer, Salinas real estate developer and cannabis entrepreneur Mike Bitar, Scudder Roofing and farmer Chris Bunn.
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