Del Rey Oaks reconsiders two development sites after previous plans dried up.
Thursday, November 10, 2011
When Del Rey Oaks City Manager Daniel Dawson first investigated the abandoned driving range off Highway 218 in August, he found a shuttered clubhouse and scattered golf balls among tufts of unmowed grass. Now, city officials hope to use the vacant property, along with the city’s allocated portion of the former Fort Ord, to take a swing at repositioning itself and securing a long-term revenue source.
With fewer than 2,000 residents, the 1-square-mile town has an annual operating budget just shy of $2 million. Since Prop. 13 froze property tax revenues 30 years ago, the city has relied on a series of voter-approved tax measures to stay afloat. Residents voted Tuesday in favor of extending a 1-percent sales tax hike, which is projected to generate $300,000 annually.
But that’s not enough to ensure the city’s survival. “I’m tired of going around hat in hand asking for taxes,” Mayor Jerry Edelen says.
The city acquired the 13.5-acre driving range site, which had previously been a melon farm and pig ranch, for $1 half a century ago. The city later leased it for $800 per month to JAG, LLC to operate the driving range, but that became a money-losing enterprise after neighboring competitors sprang up in the ‘90s.
“They didn’t contact the city,” says Dawson, whose visit was prompted by citizen complaints. “They just padlocked the doors.” Even though more than five years remain on the lease, Dawson says it’s not worth pursuing legal action against JAG, which left behind no assets. JAG representatives could not be reached for comment.
Standing outside the empty clubhouse, Dawson and Edelen tick off their ideas, which Dawson says should easily draw 10 times JAG’s rent: a rec center with a volleyball court adjacent to existing tennis courts; a sports bar; an RV park to house Laguna Seca visitors; additional Safeway parking; or an indoor-outdoor bocce court. Edelen favors a stable that would lead to horse trails hooking up with the proposed Monterey Downs development across Fort Ord.
That’s where the city has large-scale opportunity: The Fort Ord Reuse Authority allocated 360 acres to Del Rey Oaks, land FORA assistant executive officer Steve Endsley describes as “quite beautiful.”
Washington, D.C.-based Federal Development/JER Associates had planned an 18-hole golf course, boutique hotel and hundreds of condos on the Fort Ord parcel before the economy tanked and they closed their Monterey office. The city sued the developer in August 2010, seeking $1.5 million. Dawson hopes a Dec. 2 hearing in Monterey County Superior Court resolves the suit, allowing the city to move forward with plans Dawson expects will be dramatically different than Federal’s. Edelen describes a possible downtown in Del Rey Oaks, and says water allocations are already assured.
But Federal’s CEO, John Infantino, says the company’s not going anywhere and plans to reopen in Monterey. He says Del Rey Oaks owes Federal at least as much as the city is suing for. “We didn’t do this just to be able to loan the city $700,000,” he says. “We’re not a nonprofit, charitable organization.”
Infantino says the project stalled because of the failure to deliver water to the site, and likens the county’s water-related bureaucracy to “dealing with the Middle East peace process.”
But Dawson sees a brighter future for the tiny city: “Things are going to get real exciting here.” He and Edelen joke about annexing the Monterey Peninsula Airport, but Edelen follows with a caveat that anything’s possible. Maybe even a Del Rey Oaks International Airport isn’t out of bounds.