Whose Rights? 10/08/98
Monterey race comes down to property rights vs community rights.
Thursday, October 8, 1998
When the walls of the historic San Xavier warehouse came tumbling down last year, the city-ordered demolition sent a political shock wave rippling through the city of Monterey. The property owners, Palo Alto-based Cannery Row Marketplace, LLC, perhaps saw the building as a crumbling, dilapidated pile of corrugated tin that stood in the way of their plans for a shiny new shopping mall.
But, to citizens who believe that Monterey''s historic buildings should be restored no matter who owns them, San Xavier became an icon, a resonating symbol of the city''s growing struggle between property rights and the rights of the community.
And the debate about those rights continues with this fall''s council races in Monterey, where one incumbent, Don Edgren, and one challenger, Char Carter, stand for the rights of property owners, while incumbent Councilwoman Ruth Vreeland and Monterey Planning Commissioner Walter Keintzel argue for the rights of the community. Joseph Aiello, owner of Aiello Jewelers in downtown Monterey, expresses views that are somewhat in the middle of this dichotomy.
Five candidates are running for two council seats on an at-large basis. Nevertheless Keintzel, an environmentalist, historic preservationist and neighborhood rights advocate who is endorsed by the Monterey Action Committee (MAC), says he specifically hopes to unseat two-term Councilmember Edgren. Carter, an avid property rights advocate, and Aiello, a preservationist and business advocate, have their sights on Vreeland''s seat. Vreeland, who is endorsed by MAC and the Sierra Club, is seeking her fifth term.
Although it may be safe to say that the city of Monterey is presently prosperous--city finances are strong, business is healthy and efforts to beautify the city continue--candidates are offering up plenty of reasons why it''s time for a change.
"We''re not communicating, that''s the biggest issue," says Keintzel, who ran unsuccessfully for council two years ago. "There''s a lot of communication flowing from the community to the council, but nothing coming back. Then there''s a lot of communication coming from a small group of [commercial] property owners to the council, and a lot of communication back, and that''s working very well. But communication with the community is a dry hole."
Keintzel, and Aiello--who also ran for a council seat in 1996--say that the current City Council is not doing enough to preserve Monterey''s historic, cultural and environmental treasures. If the city continues on its current track, the candidates say, the city of Monterey''s future is not pretty. Eventually, they maintain, Monterey''s historic downtown district will be littered with formula chain establishments and Cannery Row will be left virtually devoid of any historical ambiance.
Carter, on the other hand, sees city officials as too heavy-handed, interfering with property rights and over-taxing citizens.
Keintzel, who is also supporting Vreeland, says his candidacy is motivated particularly by an increasing opposition to Edgren''s attitude concerning development and environmental issues, charging him with continually choosing business interests over community ideals.
Keintzel says Edgren''s support of a golf museum proposed for construction in San Carlos Park a few years ago was the beginning of a philosophical schism between the two.
"[Edgren] took the most active interest in the golf museum at San Carlos Park, that was a big parting of the ways," says Keintzel. "You either instinctively know that a park would not be [a good location for] a museum, or you don''t."
And, says Keintzel, he was disappointed with the city''s lack of leadership that led to a public uproar over a proposed Burger King in downtown Monterey. The project, considered for construction on Alvarado Street, caused a public protest by citizens who believe that formula chains would ruin the unique character of downtown. Keintzel says citizens were "horrified" at the idea of a Burger King downtown, and were disillusioned when the city refused to back them up. Ultimately, the owner of the adjacent Monterey Hotel bought the property, killing the project.
However, in light of the fact that fast-food franchises already exist in downtown, the city is already challenged to come up with a legal set of standards that will satisfy citizens and commercial property owners alike. And, as the revitalization of downtown continues, some observers say that it does not make sense to turn away reasonable businesses that will pay rent, generate sales tax and increase foot traffic.
"Burger King may be appropriate for downtown if it adopts the area architecture, but it''s basically not appropriate for downtown," says Edgren. "But, it''s hard to turn down," he adds. However, Edgren says that Keintzel''s criticism is premature, pointing out that the council never voted on the project.
While Vreeland did not support the Burger King project, she says that the public debate was healthy for the community.
"The people have said ''we don''t want national chains, we want more uniqueness downtown.'' The community had to debate the issue, we had to hear them," she says. "They gave a very strong response of what they wanted."
Keintzel also holds Edgren responsible for the removal of Planning Commissioner Molly Erickson, an outspoken historical preservationist and member of MAC, from the commission''s chair last May, a politically motivated scheme that he says was cooked up by Planning Commissioner Bill McCrone and pushed through by Edgren. McCrone was then appointed to the chair after the City Council passed a policy change stripping city commissioners of their chair-selection power. The policy change occurred only weeks before the Planning Commission was scheduled to elect a chair.
"It''s terrible for the city''s image, it''s terrible for mature adults to act that way, and, it''s illegal," says Keintzel. "The city code says in four places that the Planning Commission shall elect its own chair. It''s enshrined in the law."
But Edgren says that the decision was not political and that the chair should be rotated for training purposes and to give all commissioners chairing experience. "There was no opposition to the change," he says, "except in the Planning Commission."
Vreeland, however, says she was opposed to ousting Erickson, saying "I don''t like mandates," and "we should be able to work together,"she says. After changing her initial vote, Vreeland was the only councilmember to oppose rotating chairs.
Carter, who says she is a staunch supporter of property rights and Monterey heritage, applauds the removal of Erickson, saying "she was driving everybody crazy."
Moreover, Carter compares the city''s planning department to "Nazi Germany''s SS," charging that code enforcers unfairly violate property rights. And, she says, historical preservation efforts should come from the private sector and encouraged, but not mandated, by city government.
Carter also vows to repeal the city''s utility tax, which she says unfairly places a burden on the elderly and students.
Aiello, for his part, says that the city is not doing enough to ensure the preservation of Monterey''s historical and cultural heritage. "One of the major issues," says Aiello, "is that people in Monterey have a strong appetite for cultural and historical preservation activities."
Aiello lists the renovation of the State Theater on Alvarado Street, a performing arts center, and a permanent home for the Monterey Jazz Festival, as projects that should be priorities for the city. Plus, he suggests that the city should be more pro-active in historic preservation, providing incentives and loans for property owners choosing to restore their historic buildings.
But Vreeland and Edgren argue that the city is making considerable investment into cultural and historical endeavors. For example, the city has spent millions of dollars purchasing and demolishing unsightly commercial property along the coast for the "Window on the Bay" project. Also, the city is working on expanding the city''s path of history into the lower Monterey Presidio-- a pet project of Edgren''s. And, the two incumbent councilmembers say the city is currently working on a plan to purchase the State Theater for a possible site of a performing arts center.
Earlier this year preservationists faulted councilmembers for refusing to place on the ballot a MAC-backed initiative, that, if passed by voters, would have increased the city''s transient occupancy tax (TOT) by a half percent, providing funds for arts and cultural endeavors. Critics charge that the council sided with the hotel industry, which was opposed to MAC''s version of the initiative because it did not provide funding for advertising.
But the two incumbent councilmembers say they objected to the lack of flexibility of the proposal.
"The initiative people...wanted to form a special committee to deal with the money, and wouldn''t allow any government agency to apply for the money," says Edgren. "That kind of control by non-officials didn''t make sense."
Vreeland concurs, saying that she supported a similar version of the initiative, but one that would allow the council to divert the money for appropriate, yet city-funded ventures. For instance, she says, MAC''s initiative would not have allowed the additional funds to be used for programs at the city-owned Colton Hall Museum. "I feel strongly," she insists, "that we need to provide funding for the arts."
Whatever the outcome of the Nov. 3 race, there is little doubt that the Monterey City Council will be faced with some tough issues, not the least of which are properly balancing community rights and property rights while ensuring an economically healthy and culturally vibrant city, and healing the festering wound that divides the community into two rival camps. It''s a tall order indeed.