Ocean View Plaza Heads to Coastal Commission
Monterey City Council approves letter of support.
Thursday, January 3, 2008
It has weathered three lawsuits, one ballot initiative and a dozen years of solitude. And now, in the upcoming months, the California Coastal Commission will weigh in on Cannery Row’s notorious Ocean View Plaza project. The commission recently postponed its review of the project, originally slated for Jan. 10.
The project, 12 years in the making, would build condos, shops, restaurants, a community park, a history center, a desalination plant and parking spaces on some 87,000 square feet. Right now it’s a blighted area, fenced off from the rest of Cannery Row. Graffiti often blots the still-standing foundations from old canneries and the historic San Xavier Fish Reduction Plant. City leaders have likened the lot, located in the 400 block, to a missing tooth in the smile that is Cannery Row. Not everyone, however, agrees cosmetic dentistry is needed.
The development has been a bitterly contentious issue among the city, environmentalists and government watchdogs for years. It debuted in 1995, and four years later the City Council unanimously rejected it. (Back then, it was called the Cannery Row Marketplace.) It subsequently was scaled back and rearranged a number of times. In October 2002, the same City Council approved a smaller version, now called the Ocean View Plaza, after the Planning Commission denied it earlier in the year. Shortly after the project got the green light, a citizens’ group sued, arguing that the environmental impact report wasn’t complete. In September 2003, a judge determined that the EIR was insufficient because it did not include an alternative for a smaller-scale project.
In the course of reviewing documents in the EIR lawsuit, attorney Michael Stamp and his client Pat Bernardi noticed, at the bottom of some city reports, the billing code for the law firm Lombardo & Gilles. Previously, Bernardi and Stamp had prevailed in a 2000 case against Monterey County, in which the same law firm was found to have “ghost-written” documents that were passed off as the work of Monterey County staff. Believing there to be a similar pattern now with the city of Monterey, Stamp and Bernardi filed a public records lawsuit against the city, which prompted then-assistant Monterey City Attorney Deborah Mall to call Stamp “that molting amphibian” in an e-mail.
Meanwhile, developers and the city went back to the drawing board, and in 2004, the City Council approved the most recent version of Ocean View Plaza. In late 2005, the council and the Local Agency Formation Commission of Monterey County signed off on a desalination plant, which would provide drinking water for the Ocean View Plaza, and formation of a “community service district” to manage the desal plant. This prompted another (ultimately unsuccessful) citizens’ group lawsuit against the city of Monterey, its council, and LAFCO.
And now, years later, Ocean View Plaza will face its final judgment – from the California Coastal Commission. However, sometime in late December, the review was postponed. At press time, no one from the commission could be reached to say if the vote would happen at the commission’s February meeting in San Diego or the March meeting in Monterey. (At a Dec. 18 meeting, the Monterey City Council voted 4-2 to send a letter supporting Ocean View Plaza to the Coastal Commission.)“The Ocean View Plaza site… is unattractive, inaccessible, contains an at-risk historic structure and detracts from the pedestrian’s experience of Cannery Row,” reads the council’s letter to the Coastal Commission. The letter highlights the planned project’s attributes, including graffiti cleanup, public access to the rocky shoreline, affordable housing, $2 million in road improvements along Lighthouse Avenue, and a history center, which would be located in the rehabilitated San Xavier Fish Reduction Plant. The center would explore, among other things, the issues and controversies surrounding Monterey’s historical fishing industry and immigrant communities, such as the Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882 and the internment camps.
But at the Dec. 18 meeting, Molly Erickson, a longtime opponent of the project and an attorney for The Open Monterey Project, a watchdog citizens’ group, questioned whether the history center would ever open to the public. She said there’s no requirement in city code for the museum to be functional. “As long as the developer restores the San Xavier plant, you would never have to have a history center,” she told city leaders. “The council needs more information before it signs a letter to the Coastal Commission.”
Project attorney Tony Lombardo and Monterey Senior Planner Kimberly Cole assured the council the museum was a done deal.
“Ms. Erickson and her clients have spent the better part of over a decade trying to stop this project, but that issue is behind us,” Lombardo said.
Cole said the conditions of approval mandate that any changes to the planned museum will require Planning Commission approval. While the city didn’t set hours of operation, “It requires the building to be restored,” Cole added. “It requires the building to be a history center.”
Ultimately the council voted to send the letter to the Coastal Commission. Council members Jeff Haferman and Nancy Selfridge, both of whom favored continuing the issue, voted no. “There were a lot of issues brought up here,” Haferman said. “I want to make sure [they are vetted] before we make a bold statement and send the letter out.”