A legislative debate over the agency’s future is just around the corner.
Thursday, December 29, 2011
By this time next week, Bill Monning will be back in Sacramento, attempting to convince non-Central Coast legislators that the Fort Ord Reuse Authority deserves to stay alive past June 30, 2014.
It’ll be a tough sell.
“The only people who will get the history of FORA will be the legislators who represent this region,” says Monning, the Democrat assemblyman from Carmel. Nonetheless, he’ll be drafting legislation to extend the sunset date for the agency created by 1993 legislation to clean up and reinvent the former military base.
By many measures, FORA’s efforts to create thriving communities and restore natural habitat on the former Fort Ord have fallen short. FORA in 1997 projected it would create 18,000 jobs for the nearly 40,000 people expected to flock to the former Fort Ord in the following decades. Today, FORA can vouch for 3,700 jobs, most associated with CSU Monterey Bay, and for 12,500 people.
“I don’t think we’ll ever get to 18,000 [jobs],” says FORA Executive Officer Michael Houlemard. Part of that’s due to the recent economic downturn, he says, but it’s also the result of a 1998 settlement with the Sierra Club that set limits on development while hiking developer fees to pay for environmental mitigation.
Monning says the current climate in Sacramento is hostile to anything resembling redevelopment, so convincing legislators to support FORA, even though it’s not a redevelopment agency, will be a challenge.
“We have to advance a narrative that represents the benefits of FORA to our community,” Monning says.
But benefits are in the eye of the beholder.
Former FORA board member Tom Moore gives the agency low marks on its still-incomplete Habitat Restoration Plan and approval of projects that in his view ape suburban sprawl.
“Legislation should direct FORA more explicitly to ensure projects which will further urbanize parts of Fort Ord,” Moore says. He envisions developments that build out from existing urban centers and rid the land of blighted barracks, not cutting down ancient oaks.
“FORA should not be continued, unless there’s a change in its focus,” Fort Ord Rec Users spokesperson Gail Morton said at a Dec. 1 community forum at Seaside’s Oldemeyer Center. “FORA’s been ineffective in preserving and enhancing natural uses of the land.”
But Monning and Houlemard caution against conflating a FORA extension with development.
The latter, they say, is dictated by decisions made by local jurisdictions and the county Board of Supervisors.
“By extending FORA, you aren’t making some decision about land use,” Houlemard says.
FORA’s voting board includes representatives from every Peninsula city, plus Salinas and the county. Everyone’s vote carries equal weight, but not everyone agrees with this system.
“Salinas, Pacific Grove and Carmel have no land on Fort Ord and never will,” says Marina Mayor Bruce Delgado, whose city, along with Seaside, has the most land overseen by FORA. He wants new legislation to give more weight to Marina and Seaside’s voting board members, and to grant voting rights to ex-officio members, especially educational institutions like CSUMB.
Seaside Mayor Felix Bachofner likes the weighting idea, but thinks changing the voting body could open up a can of worms. Monning agrees.
“If what’s unleashed is a fight about governance, it’s going to work against us,” Monning says. “We won’t get this through if we bring a divided community to Sacramento.”