The Seaside City Council meets at 7pm tonight at the Oldemeyer Center, and for the first time ever, it will have the option to approve the Monterey Downs environmental impact report and its specific plan.
But because of the way in which the meeting was publicly noticed, it could quickly go off the rails, and even get postponed midstream.
Michael Salerno, co-founder of Keep Fort Ord Wild, an activist group fervently opposed to Monterey Downs, points out the many ways in which the city erred.
First, the city did not properly publish a notice about the meeting to people and organizations on the distribution list—KFOW is among them—10 days before the meeting date (it was sent out Oct. 5).
By law, and by Seaside's own city code, any meeting where a zoning change ordinance is introduced must be noticed with those 10 days of lead time.
Furthermore, the original notice that went out does not even include the zoning ordinance amendment. (It was added sometime later in the week.)
Add to that, the location of the original notice says the meeting will take place at City Hall, and the location was later changed, in violation of the Brown Act.
Even more, KFOW attorney Molly Erickson points out that the proposed resolution for the zoning ordinance amendment says this in the agenda packet: "On September 29, 2016, a public notice describing the City's consideration to adopt proposed text and map amendments to be incorporated into Title 17 of the Seaside Municipal Code was published in the Monterey Weekly" on Sept. 29.
Yet the notice published in the Weekly, on page 54, does not include the zoning ordinance amendment, and is only lists certifying the EIR, adopting the specific plan and amending the city's general plan.
Erickson says that omission could land the city in trouble if it decides to move forward with tonight's meeting.
"A zoning code amendment (Title 17 amendment) is very different from the general plan amendment," she writes in an email. "Seaside is claiming it provided notice for the zoning code amendment, when Seaside did not."
City Manager Craig Malin says he conferred with land use attorneys the city has hired for the process—interestingly, City Attorney Don Freeman won't be at tonight's meeting, as he is on vacation—and he says they were confident the meeting could move forward, despite the city violating its city code.
When asked to explain how this could be so, Malin says he doesn't want to restate their opinions as a layperson.
"I don’t provide legal opinions to the council," he say.
Erickson, in an email, writes, "[Malin] does not seem to understand it."
She also states that the city would be taking a risky path if it moves forward tonight.
"Having a hearing that is not legally noticed can put the entire action in jeopardy for reversal," she writes. "Especially here, where the city has shown a pattern and practice of flaunting procedural requirements."
There have been multiple potential Brown Act violations over the course of the Downs approval process, and Erickson thinks the city will postpone the meeting after it begins to a date when it could be legally noticed.
"That might be their attempt around the problems they have created," she writes.
She also points out the staff and Board of Architectural Review recommended modifications on page 648 of the agenda packet, where the name "Monterey Downs" is recommended to be removed.
"Specific Plan name shall be 'Seaside Horse Park, Mixed-Use Community and Central Coast Veterans Cemetery Specific Plan,'" the report reads.
"I think the issue is they are trying to avoid a referendum that says 'Monterey Downs' in the text," she writes.
The plot thickens.