Central Coast Veterans’ Cemetery is likely to be funded without Monterey Downs.
Thursday, October 25, 2012
Fort Ord conservationists and veterans are publicly sparring over the proposed sale of a tree-studded Fort Ord parcel to fund a long-awaited Central Coast Veterans Cemetery. But that debate may be a red herring.
Most everyone supports the cemetery in theory. The controversy comes with ongoing negotiations to sell a 30-acre “endowment parcel” to the developer of Monterey Downs, a proposed 550-acre horse park and residential complex that conservationists view as excessive on the wild former Army base. Proceeds from the endowment parcel sale are dedicated to the cemetery’s maintenance.
Veterans’ groups are pushing for the land sale as a means to finally break ground on the cemetery. But a closer look reveals the sale couldn’t happen for at least three years. While enviros and veterans face off over the Monterey Downs issue, officials are quietly pursuing quicker ways to reach the $1.5 million endowment fund level that will trigger a $20.3 million, pre-approved construction grant from the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs.
The city of Seaside is currently locked in exclusive negotiations with Monterey Downs. Officials put the endowment parcel’s sale price (which is still being negotiated) in the ballpark of $1.5 million to $2 million – enough to release the federal cemetery funding.
Seaside City Engineer Tim O’Halloran says the endowment parcel can’t be sold until the environmental review is complete, the land is officially cleared of munitions and the Fort Ord Reuse Authority transfers the property to the city – 2015 at the earliest.
But FORA Senior Planner Jonathan Garcia says the authority aims to secure the federal cemetery grant in time for the 2013-14 fiscal year. “We would want to have that [endowment] funding in place by June so they could budget accordingly,” he says.
The sale of the endowment parcel to Monterey Downs won’t be done by then. So the $1.5 million will have to come from another source.
The Central Coast Veterans Cemetery Foundation has been collecting donations for more than 15 years but is only up to about $220,000, according to Jan Parks, the foundation board president. “We need to get that $1.5 million, and people are hesitant to give their money until they’re sure the thing is gonna be built,” she says.
A 2006 state bill allows the endowment fund to be raised through the land sale or philanthropy. But Assemblyman Bill Monning, D-Carmel, an ex-officio FORA board member, has laid the legislative groundwork for a third option.
Monning authored three successful bills over the past four years in an effort to move the cemetery forward. The first allows the cemetery to be funded in phases. The second permits FORA to serve as the contractor for the cemetery planning work. The third, just signed this year, allows a third party to put enough money into the endowment fund to trigger the federal grant.
That means FORA, for example, could sell an unrelated Fort Ord parcel, put the proceeds into the endowment fund and reimburse itself later.
“It would be a bookkeeping exercise. It was done hypothetically to put more options on the table,” Monning says. “I think the endowment parcel is going to continue to be part of the equation, [but] there’s nothing that prevents us from raising the money for the endowment fund independent of the sale of the endowment parcel.”
Monning hopes public scrutiny of the cemetery plan will inspire military families across the Central Coast to donate. “If each of those veterans’ families contributed $20 or $50,” he says, “I believe we would be there.”