Fort Ord Reuse Authority, facing more lawsuits, cracks down on trespassers.
Thursday, September 20, 2012
Last Sunday morning, as bikers and hikers set out for romps on the former Fort Ord, four cop cars converged at the popular access point at 8th Avenue and Gigling Road in Marina.
“The direction is to make sure people aren’t trespassing into the areas where there’s unexploded ordnance,” says Chuck Monarque, the county sheriff’s chief deputy of operations.
The Sheriff’s Office signed an Aug. 15 agreement with the Fort Ord Reuse Authority, hiring deputies to patrol Fort Ord’s northwest areas through September and October. That means recreationalists must stay on the paved roads or face a fine – at least in theory.
Monarque says his officers haven’t recorded any citations yet, preferring to start with verbal warnings: “We tell the public, ‘Don’t go out there. If you go past this sign you might blow up.’”
“WE TELL THE PUBLIC, ‘IF YOU GO PAST THIS SIGN YOU MIGHT BLOW UP.’”
Officers sign up for the special detail at a rate of about $79 per hour, he adds. The contract covers roughly 260 deputy-hours at a cost to FORA of about $22,000, plus mileage. Only one deputy typically patrols Fort Ord at a time.
Sept. 16 was an exception: About five officers met at 8th and Gigling, anticipating a protest. There was none, but Carmel attorney Zan Henson had issued a challenge at a FORA meeting two days earlier.
“On Sunday at 10 o’clock I intend to ride Fort Ord,” he said during public comment. “I invite everyone to join me. If there are enough of us, the poor deputy on patrol will be unable to issue warnings to us all.”
Henson is representing a new conservation group, Veterans Wild Fort Ord, in two threatened legal actions against FORA. In a Sept. 14 letter to the board, Henson alleges FORA’s plan to clear-cut 12 acres of the Parker Flats area – part of the proposed Monterey Downs development – violates state environmental law and contradicts the Fort Ord Base Reuse Plan. He’s giving FORA until Sept. 24 to respond. A separate letter alleges the FORA board violated the Brown Act in an Aug. 10 closed session that may have led to the trespassing enforcement program.
Monterey attorney Jon Giffen, representing FORA, says the authority is also facing four active lawsuits: three from the citizen group Keep Fort Ord Wild and one from the city of Marina. He says FORA hired sheriff’s deputies to ensure public safety: “There had been many incidents of trespass.”
The so-called “Happy Trails” network is technically off-limits to the public, but it’s been popular with Fort Ord recreationalists since the Army base closed in the mid-1990s. FORA has historically left trespassers alone, but a July action – in which Veterans Wild members cleaned up a closed but commonly used track and declared it “Soldiers Memorial Field” – incited the authority to post dozens of new signs warning the public to keep out.
FORA Assistant Executive Officer Steve Endsley says the new signs reinforce long-standing closures imposed by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and the state Department of Toxic Substances Control, which oversee the massive cleanup of the Superfund site. If FORA doesn’t enforce the existing closures, he says, state and federal officials may shut the public out of existing access corridors.
FORA issues “right-of-entry” permits allowing certain people to legally use the trails. Giffen says 40 have been issued since 2009, and nine are currently active. “The permits that are issued are generally in a pretty controlled manner,” he says. “It’s just not a free-for-all.”
But Henson says the public-safety premise of the trail closures is baloney. “I’ve never seen anybody go cross-country through the brush,” he says. “That’s why nobody’s ever gotten blown up, and nobody ever will.”