Hitch the Wagons
Seaside banks on Monterey Downs to fund its veterans cemetery.
Thursday, July 21, 2011
I n the historical wars of the West, soldiers depended on their horses to keep them alive.
Today, Seaside officials are depending on a controversial horse park project to create the funding base for a planned veterans cemetery on the former Fort Ord.
An agreement between the city, county and Fort Ord Reuse Authority allows Seaside to sell a 30-acre northern portion of the 180-acre vet cemetery parcel to fund the cemetery’s operations. (A 46-acre southern portion is designated for habitat.) But the city put the northern parcel out to bid twice, with no takers.
Last fall, the Monterey Downs horse park developers came forward with a proposal to buy both the northern endowment parcel and a 35-acre city-owned property to the southwest, and use them for housing. They are now in exclusive negotiations with the city.
Monterey Downs developer Brian Boudreau says the land purchase is primarily intended to block other potential uses for the parcels, like a hotel and a corporate yard.
“We were concerned, because it was right next to our horse park, that it would affect the flavor of the project,” Boudreau says. He stresses that the city had already re-envisioned the site as residential by the time Monterey Downs stepped in.
Seaside City Manager Ray Corpuz says the price tag on the northern parcel has been reduced from $3.4 million in 2009 to more in the ballpark of $2 million, subject to negotiations. The money would be used to fund vet cemetery operations.
But County Supervisor Jane Parker has warned Seaside against banking on the controversial horse park to fund the widely supported cemetery project. At the July 8 FORA meeting, she encouraged the city to remain open to other potential buyers.
“There are a lot of ‘ifs’ about the Monterey Downs project,” says Kristi Markey, Parker’s chief of staff. “It wouldn’t be wise to hitch it to the cemetery project.”
Boudreau takes some offense at Parker’s criticism. “I’m concerned what the motivation could be for that,” he says. “We’re doing this at our own risk.”
But Parker’s isn’t the only voice of restraint on the project. The activist group Fort Ord Rec Users (forU) has been pushing to preserve recreational space through the proposed horse park.
“To the extent that Monterey Downs will not provide for the open space corridors [designated] in the Fort Ord Base Reuse Plan, we’re going to oppose it,” forU spokeswoman Gail Morton says.
The vet cemetery parcel currently straddles Monterey County and the city of Seaside, but officials are moving to transfer the county’s 65-acre portion into the city. “When you have these arbitrary lines that split projects, it’s a nightmare for service delivery,” County Redevelopment Director Jim Cook says.
Meanwhile, Assemblyman Bill Monning (D-Carmel) has introduced AB 629, which would shift cemetery design responsibilities from the state to FORA. The bill is now in the Senate Appropriations Committee.
The county’s exclusive negotiating agreement with Monterey Downs is moving toward its next phase; the Board of Supervisors is scheduled to hear a staff report on the project in closed session July 26. The Seaside City Council will consider revisions to the Monterey Downs land sale agreement Aug. 4.
Despite Parker’s concerns, FORA Senior Planner Jonathan Garcia says the vet cemetery’s fate doesn’t necessarily rest on that of Monterey Downs. If the horse park doesn’t move forward, he says, Seaside can put its endowment parcel back on the market.