Marina candidates focus on planning, growth and getting along.
Thursday, September 24, 1998
If a genie had washed up on the beach in a bottle, rambled down Reservation Road and granted the city three wishes, Marina couldn''t have asked for more. With the promise of potential growth as plans proceed for developing Armstrong Ranch and Marina''s piece of the Fort Ord pie, and a new general plan in the works, the city of Marina has a grand opportunity for a new lease on life. The question is: What now? With the November election at hand, candidates are saying: Proceed with caution.
"The general plan process is the biggest issue right now," says mayoral candidate and Marina Councilmember Jim Perrine. "It will define the future of the community and how it deals with its economic opportunities."
Undoubtedly, the next Marina City Council will have a profound effect upon the city''s future when it votes on the new general plan, expected to be complete by next summer. Leading the charge on that plan will be a new mayor--elected as a result of the contest now being battled between Perrine and his opponent, Realtor and political newcomer Joe Martinez. Both men are competing for the open seat since outgoing Mayor Jim Vocelka announced he would not seek another term.
Also open are two council seats. Four candidates, including incumbent Howard Gustafson, Planning Commission Chair Tim Quick, City Services and Improvement Commissioner Ila Mettee-McCutcheon, and former City Services and Improvement Commissioner Pett Aranton are competing for those slots. Aranton, an Army contracts specialist, previously ran for city council in a special election held to replace deceased Councilmember Tak Takali.
Despite great expectations for the future, candidates say financial stability is a critical concern for the city. As one of the last strongholds of affordable housing on the Monterey Peninsula, Marina has become a bedroom community, with residents working and spending their money in other cities. Subsequently, Marina''s business sector has dwindled, weakening the commercial tax base needed to support city services.
Consequently, how the city proceeds with development at Fort Ord, and how it directs the development of Armstrong Ranch--a proposed residential development on 900 acres north of the city (see story page 13)--could financially make or break the municipality.
"Marina citizens are tired of being a bedroom community for the Peninsula," says Mettee-McCutcheon, a retired Army colonel and former garrison commander for Fort Ord. "Too many people live here and work elsewhere. It''s important to make this a city where people live, work and play."
Concurrent with potential economic opportunities, candidates say potential development could present Marina with high hopes for some badly needed services for residents. For instance, the initial plans for Armstrong Ranch provide space for a high school. (Currently, 400 Marina high school students attend classes in Monterey and Seaside.) And, Fort Ord and Armstrong Ranch could afford the city space for desired recreational facilities, such as golf courses, tennis courts and playing fields. Moreover, candidates say an influx of new residents could also attract needed restaurants, retail stores and entertainment facilities.
"Marina needs to have the night out," says Gustafson. "A place to go to dinner, see a show, maybe a jazz facility or a theater."
Candidates concur that as development goes forward, the city''s priority should be revitalizing the commercial tax base. But, they differ on how to achieve that goal. Perrine advocates a market-driven approach: Attract the residents, give them jobs, and the commercial ventures will follow. He cites the current project with Monterey Bay Education Science and Technology Center (MBEST) as an example of the city''s current efforts to bring jobs to Marina. Additionally, he says, Fort Ord and Armstrong Ranch should be carefully developed, balancing residential and commercial units, while providing for an economically sound community.
As plans for Armstrong Ranch and Fort Ord take shape, Quick sees development as an opportunity for Marina to duplicate upscale neighborhoods seen elsewhere on the Peninsula by constructing low-density, high-income housing. The idea, he says, is to attract families with more disposable income which, in turn, will attract the businesses.
But Martinez is highly critical of the current city focus on what he sees as lofty, far-reaching goals, saying that the city needs to concentrate on the here and now. The new general plan, he says, should define short-term goals. With empty storefronts and weedy vacant lots, says Martinez, the city should create a more business-friendly atmosphere, fast-tracking applications and offering tax breaks to businesses that set up shop in Marina. A municipal bond issue, he says, is also needed to solve Marina''s short-term problems, such as a deteriorating infrastructure. Both Martinez and Aranton oppose any current development of Armstrong Ranch, saying that the city should focus its attention on Fort Ord.
"Nobody [on the City Council] has any vision, nobody wants to do anything," say Martinez "Perrine has sat on the council for eight years, and now he wants to change things?"
But Perrine dismisses Martinez''s ideas as reckless, saying that "the problem with bonds is that they are like credit cards. You can have everything you want today, but someday you have to pay them back.
"There are little tax breaks that the city can legally provide," he adds, "and it''s somewhat dangerous unless you have some commitment about the benefits of providing tax cuts."
Although not opposed to development, Mettee-McCutcheon stresses the need to create a pedestrian and bicycle-friendly community, via improved sidewalks and bike lanes, as well as improved bus service to mitigate traffic as the city grows. And, she says, the city needs to continue efforts to improve and beautify existing Marina.
And, Aranton points out that, by creating a consolidated downtown area where residents could shop, small businesses would be more likely to survive.
Candidates have also criticized the current council for its failure to work together, citing the inability of the council to agree on the appointment of Ken Nishi to fill Takali''s council seat. The lack of compromise resulted in a special election last April that cost the city about $15,000 and ironically, Nishi won the election. (Not surprisingly, Gustafson, the only incumbent running for council, is also the only candidate that disagrees that the council is divided.)
"I was watching the council when it came time to appoint," says Mettee-McCutcheon. "I was disappointed with the lack of flexibility of those involved in the process. The situation could have been avoided if the council worked as a team to compromise."
"Right now, the council is somewhat split, you have two who like Nishi and two who don''t," says Quick. "I get along with all the city councilmembers. It doesn''t [necessarily] make me the ideal candidate, but it would make things run smoother."
Whatever the outcome of the election, candidates agree on one point: A little fresh blood will only be good for Marina. cw