Marina development questioned again.
Thursday, January 9, 2003
The political storm around the massive Marina Heights project keeps on blowing. The City of Marina''s plan to develop 248 acres of Fort Ord land into 1,050 homes already drew citizen ire at its October unveiling because of its low percentage of affordable housing. Under the plan, only 85 homes would be priced under $300,000, with the rest in price levels ranging upwards into "estate" property prices.
With an obvious regional need for reasonably priced housing, outrage swirled around the fact that so little was being done to solve such a large problem, despite so much discount land being made available from the government. In addition to shock at the imbalance to- ward market-rate homes, the public wanted more input in the planning process.
The fact that the announcement came one month before local elections didn''t help.
Although he had helped negotiate the deal, Mayor Jim Perrine tried at the last minute to re-configure Marina Heights when it came up for approval in October. For that, he was accused of pandering for votes. Perrine failed to sway the city council and eventually lost the mayoral election.
At the Dec. 3 council meeting, with new Mayor Ila Mettee-McCutchon installed, a consent agenda item authorized the planning staff to initiate an Environmental Impact Report (EIR). Whether or not that report would be based on the current, controversial option agreement for 1,050 homes caught councilman Bruce Delgado''s eye.
Concerned, he says, he put two Marina Heights items on the Jan. 7 agenda, but they were removed by the mayor and city manager. One item sought to address how the city''s housing guidelines apply to Marina Heights. The other item dealt with the EIR. Both were postponed, he says. (Neither the mayor nor city manager were available at press time.)
"That''s not a good thing if you want to have open government and public input on a huge project that''s already raised red flags," Delgado says.
Although the Jan. 7 city council meeting began after press time, insiders expected a lot of angry public commentary over Marina Heights.
Following the expected fracas on Jan. 7, the plan also goes for review before the Fort Ord Reuse Authority board on Friday, Jan. 10. The last FORA meeting in December was tense. Rep. Sam Farr (D-Carmel) marched in from the rain to pressure the members for more affordable housing, but ended up arguing alone for the cause.
Meanwhile, turbulence builds in Marina.
Interim Inc., a Monterey-based homeless services provider, is at odds with the city over perceived inequities between its land purchase for a project called Sandy Shores and the deal offered to the Marina Heights developers.
Sandy Shores was slated to create permanent housing for 28 low income homeless individuals living with mental illness. Interim bought the land-one acre in a former military housing area called Abrams Park-for $1.1 million.
The land was vacant for a decade and in less than pristine condition. One unit was flooded and had to be totally gutted. Total cost is expected to be $2.8 million.
When the Marina Heights plans were made public, Interim director Barbara Mitchell wrote to the city council asking why her non-profit had to pay a premium for Fort Ord land to build housing when the Marina Heights developer will be getting land at a steep discount. The Marina Heights developers will get 248 acres for $10.6 million.
(Adding to Mitchell''s suspicions, the developers'' lawyer is a personal friend of Mayor Mettee-McCutchon. The mayor vows that she and her friend have not spoken about the project.)
In an October letter, Mitchell asks that either the Marina Heights price be reevaluated, the Interim price be reevaluated, or Interim be given a grant for its next local project.
"Since Interim is purchasing almost identical buildings in the Abrams area, it would seem reasonable that the price ... would be comparable on a per unit or per acre basis," the letter reads. "Since Interim is paying almost five times the cost/unit as the master developer, how can this possibly be equitable?"
Mitchell says she was advised by counsel not to comment on the matter to the press. However she did say for the record, "We''re certainly hoping Marina will deal with this and resolve it in an equitable manner. We''re waiting for a response."
As of Jan. 7, a response from the city did arrive at Interim but Mitchell would not comment on it prior to board review.
Rep. Sam Farr has decided not to intervene in the Interim matter, although he''s spoken with Mitchell. He does believe the situation is inequitable.
"I think that''s just totally wrong," he said earlier this week. "I think they''ve lost sight of the public purpose here."
In cases where people are hard to house, such as the indigent, mentally ill, addicted or otherwise, Farr says, public land like Fort Ord is the natural option. Instead, cities like Marina and Seaside have put through large developments that fall far short of providing adequate affordable housing.
"Fort Ord was supposed to be a gift to local governments to solve their social problems first," he says. "I think the frustration is the message coming out of the local governments is one of greed."