Seaside moves to annex Monterey Downs project; activist lawsuit alleges conflict.
Thursday, August 16, 2012
The city of Seaside wants Monterey Downs, possibly the swankiest development ever to trot through City Hall, all to itself. But first it’s getting the full headache associated with the contentious proposal, which would plop a horse park, equestrian arena, commercial center, hotels and houses on 549 acres of the former Fort Ord.
Monterey Downs recently submitted seven applications to the city, including a Seaside General Plan amendment that would stretch city boundaries to include the entire project (which also tacks on a 135-acre vets’ cemetery and a 17-acre city corporation yard). The annexation of 563 county acres would require the Monterey County Local Agency Formation Commission’s approval.
To move forward, the city must first dissolve its existing memorandum of understanding with the county—which delegates the environmental planning to Seaside and the economic review to the county—and create a new one, which will likely address how to share Monterey Downs tax revenue if the annexation is approved.
Carl Holm, deputy director of the county Resource Management Agency, says it makes sense to annex Monterey Downs into Seaside. “It’s really an extension of the city with roads, water lines and sewer lines,” he says.
Monterey Downs Developer Brian Boudreau, who once argued against such annexation, says he’s resigned to it. “It’s clear the county is putting no effort into it since they lost redevelopment, because they won’t get any tax increment from it,” he says.
In February the Seaside City Council unanimously agreed to move forward with project planning. The city hired RBF Consulting to do an environmental impact report, and EMC Planning Group to manage the project. Monterey Downs is paying for both contracts, a total of about $772,000, and reimbursing the city for staff time.
Seaside Interim City Manager John Dunn says the city’s simply gathering information about Monterey Downs in preparation for a public process. “People are almost demanding that we take a stand [on Monterey Downs]. Those will be appropriate questions at some point,” he says. “We’re going to be an honest agent and a fair presenter.”
He suggests Monterey Downs should be viewed in the context of Fort Ord’s closure: “Basically we’re scratching for money to sustain the welfare of the city,” he says.
Annexation into the city would shift decision-making power over Monterey Downs from the county Board of Supervisors to the Seaside City Council. “I think the City Council as a majority definitely wants it,” Boudreau says. “I think they see it as Seaside’s last chance to have new housing.”
Conservationists are already fired up. Among them are Fort Ord Recreational Users, which recently helped defeat the Whispering Oaks business park; and Keep Fort Ord Wild, which is challenging the planned Eastside Parkway that would provide access to the cemetery and Monterey Downs.
In a separate lawsuit filed Aug. 9, KFOW alleges EMC has a conflict of interest because it is also working with the Fort Ord Reuse Authority on the reassessment of the Fort Ord Base Reuse Plan. EMC’s $506,000 contract with FORA includes an analysis of the Base Reuse Plan’s consistency with local general plans, including Seaside’s.
Boudreau says he warned the city not to hire EMC because he knew opponents would make an issue of it. “I’m not going to say it was a conflict of interest, but it wasn’t the smartest thing in the world,” he says. “This is a lot of posturing.”
The draft EIR is expected to go public by February, with a City Council vote on the project next summer.