By Mary Duan
In December, the Weekly broke news on a truly cringeworthy moment in the ongoing effort to produce an environmental impact report on the Monterey Downs project. That moment: In response to a Public Records Act request, the city of Seaside accidentally released a confidential attorney memo that discussed the fact there isn’t enough water for the full build out of Downs, the homes-and-horse-track project proposed for development on part of the former Fort Ord. As a result of that accidental release, and the subsequent reporting by this newspaper and other media, the city decided to hold off on releasing the draft EIR that same week.
Keep Fort Ord Wild, the activist group that made the PRA, wondered why. They also wondered if, perhaps, the draft EIR had been sent to developer Brian Boudreau or a member of his team. So KFOW asked the city, because if the draft was released to the developer, it meant the document was officially public and they had the right to see it.
The answer from the city was no. Until all of a sudden, it was yes. At least in part.
On Jan 29, a little more than three weeks after KFOW made the request – and two weeks after the city told KFOW it had no records in response – City Clerk Lesley Milton sent a letter that stated city staff released a part of the draft EIR to Team Boudreau. That section, called 4.19, has to do with water.
It’s another cringeworthy moment, because section 4.19 shows the development will rely on wildly speculative water – water that currently doesn’t exist – or won’t ever belong to the development because it’s been allocated elsewhere. The data doesn’t match reality, and that flies in the face of the California Environmental Quality Act, or CEQA, which dictates how an EIR is developed.
THERE’S A MIXTURE OF OUTDATED INFORMATION AND SPECULATIVE INFORMATION.
“There’s a requirement in CEQA law that there has to be an ‘on-the-ground reality’ in an EIR,” KFOW member Michael Salerno says. “But here there’s a mixture of outdated information and speculative information on the water supply.”
As a bonus: Under section 4.19, horses are allotted 75 gallons each per day. Humans, meanwhile, are allotted 55 gallons each per day. That 55-gallon estimate is based on a statewide target that some jurisdictions have been able to achieve while operating under extreme drought emergency. According to a state Water Resources Control Board report released last November, Monterey residents used 49 gallons per person per day as compared to the same time in 2013. Watsonville residents, meanwhile used 97 gallons per day.
Other things to note in 4.19: The draft relies on five-year-old data on water demand in a plan developed by the Marina Coast Water District. The primary source of water for the Marina Coast district, the report states, is Salinas Valley groundwater and a small desalination plant in the central Marina service area. That last bit is interesting, because that small desal plant was shuttered a few years ago because the water was so expensive to produce. The report also points out, the plant’s yield (if there was any) is already dedicated to three other residential developers.
But 4.19 talks about “future water supply,” and references the fact that Marina Coast is working to develop new sources of water: recycled water and desal. And that’s interesting because this report was written in December, but Marina Coast didn’t vote until Jan. 21 that it intended to pursue a new desal project.
Another fast bit: “The project would require construction of new water infrastructure in order to address existing deficiencies identified by Marina Coast,” 4.19 states. And later, the report enters fantasyland. “Much of Fort Ord has already been redeveloped… and many projects have been approved, but not yet implemented,” it states. Also, the Base Reuse Plan EIR has concluded that a number of reasonable long-term water supply options exist.
But are any of them funded, or are they all going to be placed on the backs of Marina Coast and Seaside ratepayers?
We reached out on Tuesday to the city of Seaside and the Monterey Downs environmental consultant to find out when they released section 4.19 to Team Boudreau. As of deadline Wednesday, they hadn’t responded to a request for comment.