The Carmel Residents Association
The creation of the Carmel Residents Association (CRA) was fomented by a revolution and furthered by an attempt to undermine the constitution. The revolution was the election of a global celebrity as mayor of Carmel-by-the-Sea. The constitution was Carmel’s prosaically named but crucial General Plan, written in 1984 to chart the future of this unique mini-city.
It was the mid-1980s, an era of big hair, shoulder pads, clunky desktop computers and chunky new devices called cellular phones. Those cultural signifiers have become dated, but the serious issues of that era – surging development, mushrooming tourism, the challenge of striking the tricky balance between nurturing a residential community and pumping up its commercial core – resonate to this day.
The Eastwood Effect
Clint Eastwood – local resident, property owner, developer, movie star – was vexed by city regulations requiring him to make changes to a new building he was putting up downtown. (Now called the Eastwood Building, it houses the Hog’s Breath Inn restaurant.) Frustrated and opinionated, Eastwood decided to run for mayor of Carmel-by-the-Sea. The goal: transform what he saw as an over-regulated, anti-business climate.
Eastwood’s campaign and his subsequent election in April 1986 attracted international media attention. Every move of a man who was probably the most popular male film star in the world at the time was breathlessly reported. Some of the new mayor’s early moves were breathtaking. He fired the entire city planning commission, with the exception of the chair (and future mayor), Ken White; the cashiered commissioners learned they were fired by reading about it in the newspaper. Eastwood also criticized the sole dissenting city council member, future CRA stalwart Jim Wright. A tsunami of money, charisma and celebrity appeared poised to roll right over the pretty little village at the water’s edge.
Grassroots Response and Birth of the CRA
Not everyone was enthralled. A grassroots group calling itself Concerned Carmel Citizens (CCC) formed to champion the time-honored, less-aggressive commercial values that had characterized Carmel. That group was a direct forerunner of the nascent Carmel Residents Association, which promptly took up the cause of promoting and protecting a calmer, less intrusive, gentler Carmel.
The CRA was founded in April 1987 by some of the people who had served the CCC, augmented by other community leaders. Mayor Eastwood was one year into his single two-year term, and the Carmelites who opposed his administration had seen enough. The first meeting for critics and opponents of the mayor was held in resident Jane Mayer’s home. Among the 35 or so people in attendance were former Mayor Charlotte Townsend (whose administration wrote the 1984 General Plan), Joyce Stevens, Beth Wright, Mike Brown, and Bob Leidig. Howard Nieman chaired the meeting.
The new CRA hit the ground running. The group wrote up hand-printed flyers on blue paper that outlined issues facing the city and how to address them. Volunteers handed out the colorful flyers at Carmel-by-the-Sea’s historic post office – then, as now, a prime community gathering place for neighborly meet-and-greet and political discourse.
Other CRA volunteers attended meetings of the planning commission, where they scrutinized and, when necessary, spoke out against the Eastwood administration’s proposed changes to the General Plan. Those proposals would, among other things, loosen rules limiting the number of art galleries, T-shirt shops, fast-food joints and jewelry stores that had proliferated downtown to cater to tourists. The original 1984 plan was written to preserve a diverse mix of businesses, emphasizing operations that serve the needs of Carmelites: locally owned hardware stores, grocery stores, automobile repair garages, drug stores and the like. The most extreme proposals that would have gutted the general plan were turned aside.
The new CRA could declare at least a partial victory. Rather than crowing, then disbanding, the early leaders of the CRA – strong people such as J.S. “Jim’’ Holliday, Francis P. “Skip’’ Lloyd, Beth Wright, Jane Mayer, Clayton Anderson, Linda Anderson, Barbara Brooks and Ben Heller – and friends such as future congressman Sam Farr, city council member and postmaster David Maradei and beloved cartoonist Bill Bates, sank roots in Carmel’s sandy soil. Lloyd and fellow attorney Richard Tourangeau drafted bylaws pro bono and the CRA became a non-profit organization. The CRA was in it for the long haul. The political activism of early leaders was encoded in the DNA of the organization, where it remains to this day.
Different by Design
Issues come and issues go, and the CRA has taken varied approaches to engaging with government and business down the decades. Regardless of changing strategies and tactics, the CRA has a clear understanding that Carmel is different by design. Carmel is not Anywhere USA. It doesn’t want to be. That home-truth animates both the political and social dimensions of the CRA.
Then and now, the CRA engages with the public issues of the day. At one time or another, CRA members have served on the city council, forest and beach commission, community activities and cultural commission, historic resources board, planning commission and the Harrison Memorial Library Board of Trustees. Present CRA Board of Directors member Charlotte Townsend served as Carmel’s mayor from 1982 to 1986, shortly before the CRA was founded. Present CRA Board of Directors member Ken White was Carmel’s mayor from 1992 to 2000.
While the CRA stayed busy with civic issues and public service, it also built community and forged links of congeniality.
The Social and the Political
In the late 1980s, Clayton Anderson hatched the idea for CRA members to help clean-up Carmel Beach by volunteering to periodically clear the beach of trash, dog waste and charcoal from wood fires on the sand. The CRA Beach Clean-Up, now under the auspices of CRA Lovers of Carmel Beach, is one of the organization’s longest-lived activities.
Other programs and events are purely social; some have helped forge life-long friendships. Also traceable to early times are CRA events and activities such as the CRA Dines Out! dinners at local restaurants and the Citizen of the Year award and celebration. Others, like a round-robin tennis tournament at the Beach Club, have come and gone. For some years, Congressman Leon Panetta met with CRA members at Scout House on Representative Night to talk informally about the latest political developments in Washington, D.C. That tradition continued for some time with Congressman Sam Farr when he served in the nation’s capital.
All told, the continuity from CRA past to CRA present is impressive. Long-lived activities such as the annual barbeque in the forest, which began as a picnic at Stillwater Cove, continue today as the well-attended summer cookouts in Indian Village, Pebble Beach.
Some time-honored traditions continue in altered form. During election years in Carmel-by-the-Sea, the CRA sponsors a candidates’ forum. City council and mayoral candidates address the meeting and answer questions from CRA members and members of the public, to inform voters about their policy positions and aspirations for Carmel.
In the CRA’s early years, candidates’ forums were followed by caucuses in which association leaders endorsed candidates for mayor and city council. The CRA no longer endorses individuals, but the organization can and does take positions on major civic issues. The CRA has won some and lost some. In the 1990s, Measure H, a proposal to slightly expand the zoned commercial district downtown, won a city-wide vote by a razor-thin margin despite the CRA’s opposition.
The early CRA practice of having members attend and monitor meetings of city bodies such as the city council and planning commission is alive and well. CRA members frequently speak publicly at city meetings. The CRA also hears from city officials in our on-going speakers series, during which times CRA members and members of the public have opportunities to question public officials and informally mingle with city leaders and each other over a glass of wine.
Big Issue: Hatton Canyon Freeway
Back in 1952, the California Department of Transportation (Caltrans) proposed building a 2.8-mile freeway through Hatton Canyon, running parallel to Highway 1, to relieve traffic congestion on the famous state highway and scenic route. Carmel area residents and local political activists thought ramming a big, noisy freeway through this treasured natural feature with its wetlands and native Monterey pines would be disruptive and harmful. The battle was joined.
Year after year, Caltrans and its state and local political supporters raised the issue, arguing that the road was badly needed. Year after year, opponents said no. The matter dragged on. In the 1960s, ‘70s and ‘80s, rising environmental awareness spurred eco-activists to join the opposition. The city of Carmel-by-the-Sea also opposed the project after the 1984 General Plan called for building roads only in the least environmentally damaging places. In the 1990s, the long-running debate came to a head.
By then, the CRA had arrived on the scene. CRA members such as Joyce Stevens and Skip Lloyd helped lead the fight to stop the highway, working in close collaboration with a broad community coalition. After many years of hard work, they won. In 2001, Governor Gray Davis submitted a budget that allocated zero funds to the Hatton Canyon freeway project, effectively killing it. In 2002, the state transferred ownership of the 10-acre canyon running from Carmel Valley Road in the south, north to Carmel High School and High Meadows at Carpenter Street, to the California State Coastal Conservancy. The hulking sport utility vehicles, roaring motorcycles and pick-up trucks on steroids the freeway would have carried were kept out of the area. The CRA played a sustained and honorable role in achieving this important victory.
Today and Tomorrow
Now more than 30 years old, the Carmel Residents Association is a vibrant social and cultural organization and influential actor in the political life of Carmel-by-the-Sea and its surrounds.
As the 21st century unfolded, new issues not addressed or anticipated in the de facto constitution of the city, the General Plan of 1984, commanded attention. Some issues – the proliferation of T-shirt shops, discount jewelry stores, fast-serve eateries and kitschy art galleries mentioned earlier – are long-standing. Other issues emerged after restrictions on commerce in the amended General Plan were gradually loosened or circumvented.
Wood-fueled fires on the famed white sands of Carmel Beach became a burning issue when health-conscious scientists, residents and visitors noted the heretofore unappreciated threats to health posed by the minute but lethal particulate matter in wood smoke. Beach fires (which have deposited substantial amounts of charcoal on the now-grayish beach sands and in the waters of Carmel Bay) are a Carmel social tradition and enjoy strong support in neighboring communities and among some CRA members. In 2016, the city launched a two-year pilot program allowing up to 12 wood-burning fires at a time, in season and in containers that raise the fires off the sand. The conclusions of this political compromise are yet to be written.
Street touting by aggressive employees working in wide-open store doorways and sometimes on the sidewalks in front of downtown businesses emerged as a contentious issue as far back as 2007, as noted that year in the CRA News (now The Voice). Over time, opposition to the called-out come-ons and hard-sell tactics of a few shopkeepers along and near Ocean Avenue became important to many residents, visitors and neighboring merchants. When the CRA in 2017 initiated its biggest membership opinion survey in recent memory, street touting emerged as the single-biggest local concern. This issue, too, is on-going.
Winery-owned downtown wine-tasting rooms multiplied after the turn of the 21st century. Operating with restricted hours and limited to Monterey County wineries, tasting rooms pour their proprietary wines. The tasting rooms have generated more drinking, more noise and, in the case of some out-of-town visitors, more drinking and driving. Numerical limits on the number of wine-tasting rooms south of Ocean Avenue may have caused the phenomenon to peak in that part of downtown, but a generous annual cap on additional tasting rooms, now opening north of Ocean and marketed primarily to tourists, has raised renewed concerns.
Today’s CRA, like many Carmelites and other people who love the village, have a love-hate relationship with another big issue: tourism. Tourism is both a major source of revenue for city government and some Carmel businesses and a management challenge for all. Mass tourism began in the 1950s. It accelerated in the 1980s with the media attention showered on Clint Eastwood’s mayoralty. In the 1990s, Carmel tourism went global, driven by rising prosperity overseas and a desire to see the world among international travelers. Carmel has not yet found the formula for handling the sheer numbers and complexity of mass global tourism.
Whatever the future may hold, the Carmel Residents Association will be guided by the wisdom of the men and women who founded this lovely seaside community in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. City ordinance 96 continues to inform and inspire, as it has for years. Written in 1929, and never edited or repealed, the preamble to ordinance 96 reads in part:
“The City of Carmel-by-the-Sea is hereby determined to be primarily a residential city wherein business and commerce have in the past, are now, and are proposed to be in the future subordinated to its residential character …”
That’s our story, and we’re sticking to it.
Written by David Armstrong, November, 2017. Informed by previously published accounts by Barbara Livingston, Skip Lloyd and Beth Wright, and conversations with Linda Anderson, Mary Condry, Barbara Livingston, David Maradei and Beth Wright.