Marina's Vision Quest
Residents wrestle over a new general plan while the city's future hangs in the balance.
Thursday, March 4, 1999
In the complicated process of updating Marina''s general plan, the outline that will guide the development of the city for the next 15 to 20 years, Marina has become increasingly divided over which direction the city should take.
While city officials struggle to create a viable future for the bedroom community of Marina, which sorely lacks a solid sales or transient occupancy tax base, a grassroots group of concerned citizens calling themselves Marina 2020 Vision wage an uphill battle to preserve Marina''s quality of life as they see it.
Marina 2020 Vision--organized last December and currently about 25 members strong--is voicing concerns about loss of open space, increased traffic, and urban sprawl resulting from overdevelopment. Moreover, some members fear that a shiny new development built outside current city limits could pull economic vitality away from existing Marina, spurring a decline in appearance and property values in some already less than attractive parts of the city.
"I was concerned about the development proposals because I think we should protect the natural resources that we have left," says Bruce Delgado, a Marina resident and member of Marina 2020 Vision. "The city should focus on the dilapidated parts of the city first."
In the so-called "preferred alternative" version of the general plan, which the City Council voted to move ahead with last December, Marina would roughly triple in size and could double its population over the next two decades. As currently proposed, the general plan includes annexation and development of the Armstrong Ranch project, a 900-acre residential community proposed for construction on the 2,000-acre Armstrong Ranch which lies directly north of the city. Developers are proposing to build 3,700 housing units there over a 15-year period.
The general plan also calls for redevelopment of Marina''s portion of the former Fort Ord, and the possible development the so-called Lone Star project, a proposed resort in Marina''s coastal zone.
Marina 2020 Vision wants to see the city to concentrate development efforts on Marina''s inherited piece of Fort Ord and shelve development of the Armstrong Ranch. In an effort to turn the city''s present course, Marina 2020 Vision has collected 600 signatures in a petition asking the city to consider open space for Armstrong Ranch on an equal footing with development in the general plan''s Draft Environmental Impact Report (DEIR). That petition was presented to the Planning Commission on Feb. 25.
"[The Marina City Council has] gone ahead with what they want to do, and they will try to justify it with mitigation measures that will be identified in the EIR," says Ken Gray, a Marina resident who spearheading the Marina 2020 Vision group. "We''re trying to go ahead with a more objective process."
But keeping Armstrong Ranch as open space, says Councilmember Dana Cleary, is really an option beyond the city''s control. While 322 acres of the ranch are within city limits and subject to city zoning, the remaining acreage is under county purview, and is zoned to allow housing at a density of one unit per 40 acres, explains Cleary. Should the city disallow development and not annex the ranch, she says, the Armstrong family still has the right to develop. In that case, the city would lose control over the project.
"I agree with 2020 Vision that the ranch ought to be open space, but the next step is you have to find a way to buy it," says Cleary. "That''s somebody''s land. If it is not developed as part of Marina, it could basically become ranchettes for the rich. That leaves us with no room, no income for the community, no recreational facilities. We lose our opportunity for control."
Moreover, city officials say that the housing at Armstrong Ranch is necessary to house a future influx of employees who will fill the estimated 23,000 jobs that will be created by commercial development of the former Fort Ord by 2020. Many of those jobs will be created by California State University Monterey Bay, the Monterey Bay Education Science and Technology Center (MBEST), and the business park associated with the Marina Airport.
If Marina doesn''t supply housing for those employees, says Marina Planning Director Jeff Dack, somebody else will. And if that somebody is the Salinas Valley, not developing Armstrong Ranch could actually intensify pressure to develop prime agricultural land--Armstrong Ranch is not considered prime--and lower overall quality of life throughout the area.
"Even less of the workers...would be able to live in the area, so it would actually exacerbate the problems by adding congestion and increasing air quality problems," says Dack. "It''s a double whammy."
Moreover, the city is counting on the Armstrong Ranch development to attract businesses that will increase the city''s tax base while bringing needed services to residents. "The Armstrong Ranch is intended to diversify the city''s economy," says Dack, "offering resident services not presently offered, and move it away from being a bedroom community."
But 2020 Vision members point out that there are no guarantees that newly constructed houses will go to Fort Ord employees. Armstrong Ranch, proposed to contain single-family dwellings ranging in price from $250,000-500,000, could end up being another bedroom community--for Silicon Valley workers looking for a deal. That would ultimately increase area traffic while adding residents unlikely to shop or participate in the community.
"Upscale houses in Marina are going to be bargain prices for San Jose people," say Delgado. "There is no way of controlling who goes into those homes. We''re going to be swamped with commuters."
While Cleary admits there is no legal way to prevent San Jose workers from moving into Armstrong Ranch, the council can require phasing of the project, allowing only for development as new jobs on Fort Ord are created.
"Something we don''t want to do is just build houses," says Cleary. "We can implement strong phasing. It''s what the council has stated, and it''s what the Planning Commission wants."
"It''s not that we''re on opposite ends, with Marina 2020 Vision and the city of Marina on the other," she adds, "we''re both trying to arrive at solutions for the future."
But some residents question why, even with the expected influx of jobs, Armstrong Ranch needs to be developed when Marina''s 3,100 acres of former Fort Ord land has yet to be redeveloped.
Indeed, Marina''s Fort Ord portion is planned for some high-density, multi-family dwellings. But under the Fort Ord Reuse Authority (FORA) Reuse Plan, because of limited available water, only 8,000 residential units are allowed for all of Fort Ord, leaving it with a potential housing shortage.
Furthermore, says Cleary, the city cannot depend on Fort Ord at this point to satisfy housing needs. Redevelopment is currently on shaky ground due to a severely lacking infrastructure. Crumbling sewers, inadequate streets and structures containing lead contamination, says Cleary, will make redevelopment a slow and expensive proposition.
Nevertheless, Marina 2020 Vision members say that if the Council eventually passes the general plan as is, they may follow other Monterey County citizens groups in initiating a referendum to bring the issue before the voters (see "Arrested Development?" this page.)
"Our group is interested in trying to see urban growth boundaries set for the city of Marina. We want to see Armstrong Ranch and the coastal dunes protected," says Gray. "We''re not at a point yet where we''re ready to make that decision, but we are certainly thinking about it."