More Of The Same?
Two candidates vie to dethrone long-time Monterey mayor.
Thursday, October 1, 1998
To hear Monterey Mayor Dan Albert speak of his beloved Monterey, visions of a modern-day Camelot come to mind. City finances are stronger than ever. Efforts to beautify the coastline via the "Window on the Bay" project continue full throttle. Downtown is just shy of booming, and the city is making efforts to ensure the preservation of Monterey''s special history. Everything is peachy. And, floating graciously greeting citizens, guests and VIPs, Albert''s image after six terms is squeaky clean.
But two contending mayoral candidates--political activist/retired educator Barbara Bass Evans, and Vincent Nordstrom, a twenty-something attorney with New York Law School credentials--say they have good reasons to deny Albert his seventh term.
Nordstrom, a political newcomer who lists a stint as vice president of the Italian Catholic Federation as the highlight of his community involvement, says he meets too many young, educated people flipping burgers. With ideas of attracting Silicon Valley high-tech industries to Monterey, he hopes to create more economic opportunity for Monterey''s younger constituency.
Evans, the better-known of the two contenders, says Monterey''s city government is run by a handful of entrenched elected officials who rubber stamp bureaucratic decisions and have lost touch with their constituents. The current city government, she says, has become unresponsive to the citizens, leaning heavily toward protecting the rights of commercial property owners while ignoring community rights, an attitude reflected in Albert''s voting record.
"The citizens are ready to talk about the issues and talk about solutions, [such as] reasonable development fitting in with the general use plan," says Evans. "We really as a nation have shunted aside community rights. It''s very clear that the current mayor is the developers'' candidate."
A local activist since the early 1980s, Evans has a record of fighting city hall as a founding member of the Monterey Heritage Society, the Save Our Waterfront Committee and the Monterey Action Coalition (MAC). She is endorsed by Save Our Waterfront and MAC.
Her candidacy was prompted by what she and her supporters see as the mishandling of the city''s historic and cultural treasures, and the city''s failure to carry out its own land use plans which specifically call for the protection of historically and culturally significant buildings and areas, including downtown and Cannery Row.
According to Evans, Albert''s lack of leadership is making Monterey vulnerable to formula chain businesses--a situation that could homogenize the city and destroy its unique character.
Last year''s destruction of the dilapidated, yet historically designated San Xavier Warehouse on Cannery Row (which was condemned by the city as a safety hazard, but which also conveniently cleared the lot for the proposed massive Cannery Row Marketplace) and a near miss with a Burger King proposed for construction on Alvarado Street downtown, set the ball on preservationism rolling, says Evans.
"[The Burger King issue] was a mess that didn''t need to occur. The land use policies were in place but they were not clear in their interpretation by staff to the developer," says Evans. "[The city] pitted developers against opponents. True leaders would set clear priorities to prevent that. There is a lack of clarity and a lack of enforcement of the general use plan."
But Albert contends that he and the current council have worked hard to ensure the preservation of Monterey''s special ambiance, citing the "Window on the Bay" project, in which the city has purchased millions of dollars of commercial property along the coast to be preserved as open space, as his highest priority. Moreover, he points to the revitalization of downtown as a model for other neighborhoods.
"I think we have a good record. Downtown is a good example of what a small city that is in competition with large retailers can do," says Albert. "The bottom line is there is no Burger King [downtown]. No, I would not like to see formula businesses downtown, but I wouldn''t have a problem with the Gap or Pottery Barn mixed with local retailers. It''s not easy to come up with a black-and-white answer, it''s a tough legal issue. How do you say Morgan''s (Coffee and Tea) can be downtown but not Starbucks?"
"The key word here is formula business," Evans retorts. "The economic goal in our general plan for the downtown area is to support the historic element. Overall, nationwide, downtowns are struggling. The downtowns that have survived have capitalized on their uniqueness and have thrived. There is data out the ying-yang about this. Economic vitality comes from historical preservation and the prevention of looking like Everywhere U.S.A. Now is the time to draw the line in the sand."
But Albert is quick to point out that Monterey will face other important issues in its future. For instance, the military is threatening to relocate the Defense Language Institute (DLI) to Arizona, a move that threatens Monterey''s status as a language and academic center.
"Our educational and academic industry anchors are the DLI and Naval Postgraduate School," says Albert. "There needs to be a constant vigil and awareness to keep them in the city." Albert says the current city government has worked hard to see that DLI remains, including helping to cut its operating costs.
Evans concurs, saying that she is prepared to recruit retired military officers, Rep. Sam Farr and Leon Panetta to pull strings in Washington.
Moreover, particularly in the wake of welfare reform, Evans and Albert agree that child day-care is a growing need for Monterey residents.
Nordstrom says he''s counting on support from the city''s scant populace of GenXers, plus support from Italian-American and Catholics. His main idea is to bring new industries to Monterey in the hopes that they provide some sort of job base for young professionals. "People need jobs," says Nordstrom, who has law firms in Salinas and Monterey. "We need to provide something for them to do." He adds: "Dan Albert has not brought in new industries."
But based on Nordsrom''s relative newcomer status in the political arena, Evans may be the only true thorn in Albert''s side this November.
But a lack of political savvy on the part of Evans could ultimately be her own worst enemy. Her involvement in two MAC initiatives, which could have fueled her campaign, fizzled when neither made it to the ballot.
One measure would have increased the city''s transient occupancy tax (TOT) to pay for cultural and historical endeavors. City officials say the measure might have succeeded but for the organization''s inflexibility. The city council refused to put the measure on the Monterey ballot, leaving MAC on its own to circulate petitions. MAC was also unable to reach a suitable compromise with the city''s hospitality industry over an acceptable version of the measure. The industry wanted MAC to add an additional half percent for marketing purposes, MAC refused to do that. A second MAC initiative to create a local coastal plan setting limits on coastal development was delayed by a legal technicality. However, the coastal initiative, Evans says, will resurface in the future.
Despite her political naivet, Evans'' idealism, vision and conviction could offer an appealing fresh voice to voters concerned about Monterey''s future. But, Albert is a well-liked, 12-year incumbent mayor of a prosperous city, and this could be his race to lose.
"The election in Monterey isn''t about who is a nice person," says Evans, "it''s about issues and about planning for the future."