Farr To Fora: Use It Or Lose It
Congressman puts teeth in his demand for affordable housing at Fort Ord.
Thursday, June 20, 2002
Rep. Sam Farr has been making a threat for at least six months, and last week he kept his word. Farr has demanded that Fort Ord public land be used for affordable housing, and sworn, if that did not happen, that he would halt land transfers from the federal government to local cities.
There is now pending language in a huge defense spending bill on Capitol Hill that can do just that.
"This is kind of a wake-up call," Farr said in a phone interview early this week.
Farr, a Democrat from Carmel, broke the scary news at a meeting of the Fort Ord Reuse Authority (FORA) on Friday. FORA is made up of local politicians and officials, some of whose cities are taking control of the old base through periodic conveyances from the Army. He argues that the land is provided at no cost to the cities, and so half the housing built on the old base should be used to address the area''s affordable housing shortage.
But local government officials say the cost of installing infrastructure, repaving roads and cleaning up the abandoned property make the Army land anything but free. They say they can''t afford to provide so much affordable housing and will need to allow market-rate housing to cover costs.
Some officials are demanding more infrastructure funding.
"You know what, Sam? Either put up or shut up," says Michael Morrison, a Marina city councilmember. "All this about free transfers is bull."
Farr says the Fort Ord land technically belongs to the public, and the government has made significant contributions to the cleanup. Congress has spent a half billion dollars on the base since it began to shut down in 1992. According to information provided by Farr''s office, some $357 million has been spent on environmental cleanup and removal of unexploded ordnance; $20 million has been spent on infrastructure assistance to FORA; another $6.7 million in planning assistance; $62 million to CSUMB and millions spread elsewhere around the base.
"The federal government is asking FORA for answers," Farr says. "Why can''t you build affordable housing?"
Morrison says it still doesn''t make business sense to build affordable housing on the old base, due to cost of re-using the land. He says the city has plans for affordable housing but can''t meet Farr''s 50 percent requirement.
"We are trying very hard to do this," he says. "The last thing we need is Sam Farr throwing a wrench in the works."
Dan Keen, Seaside city manager, is not quite sure what the effects of Farr''s moves could be on land already conveyed to the city, though he''s afraid it could delay any ongoing efforts. He agrees with Morrison that the land is not free when infrastructure and mitigation costs are factored in.
"The reality is that the land is no more free than a piece of land out in the middle of the desert, because the land is burdened with problems," he says.
Seaside has an ongoing project, inked in 1998, to put 380 homes in the Hayes Park area. None of them are affordable.
Mayor Jerry Smith says the housing problem should be borne regionally, not just by his city. He points out that many who live in Seaside and Marina work in Monterey and Carmel, leaving cities like Seaside without the tax and revenue generated by that workforce. He says he''s flummoxed by Farr''s move.
"I think everybody is perplexed as to what Sam Farr is up to," Smith says. "I''m just a little shocked at his announcement."
Seaside will hold a special 5pm meeting to discuss Farr''s move on June 20.
The county''s median family income of $53,800 means an affordable house would cost $260,000, according to the Monterey County Housing Authority. The median home price in the county is about $350,000. It is not breaking news that middle-class workers such as nurses, teachers and cops have a hard time finding nearby homes they can afford.
Farr also complains that a Jan. 30 letter sent from the Army to FORA regarding upcoming legislative language has not been answered. The letter was sent by Geoffrey G. Prosch, a deputy Secretary of the Army who deals with installation matters. It says, "FORA is responsible for reuse planning of development parcels at the former Fort Ord and this language encourages FORA to address the affordable housing shortage on the Monterey Peninsula."
Farr says he''s not the only one in Washington asking questions.
On June 3, USA Today published an article about housing inertia at Fort Ord. As one of the largest military properties to be decommissioned after the Cold War, Fort Ord is a high-profile case and a testing ground for handling decommissioned military properties.