I love watching city council meetings – all city council meetings, not just those of my beloved, dysfunctional Salinas. I love these meetings because most have an air about them that melds a night at the theater with the fall of the Roman Empire – minus the concession stand and the drinking of poison as a way to save face in the light of disastrous decision making.

Good thing about the lack of poison for the Seaside City Council, because they’ve specialized in making bad decisions related to the pending approval of Monterey Downs.

Even though the Downs development team keeps changing the nature of the horse track and homes project – yes there’s a horse racing track!; no, there’s not a horse racing track!; OK, there’s a track but no racing is going to take place on it! – Seaside has seemingly tied its fate to this particular millstone.

The bad acts so far? There was little-to-no discussion of the project’s troubled environmental impact report (EIR) when it went before the planning commission. And there was little-to-no discussion of it at an Oct. 13 city council meeting – on whether to certify said EIR – that spanned nearly five hours.

Mayor Ralph Rubio opened public comment at the outset of that meeting, before a presentation on Downs had been made so the public didn’t know exactly what it was commenting on. (For example, there had been 20 tweaks made to the EIR in the day before the meeting – and unless you’re visiting the city website daily, there’s virtually no way to know that.) Once Rubio changed his mind and Monterey Downs’ representative Beth Palmer made her presentation, nobody could see her slides, in part because the lights remained on. As Keep Fort Ord Wild’s Michael Salerno puts it: “It was like trying to look through a shower door that had been smeared with Vaseline. Nobody could see anything.”

The totality of the situation – an EIR that fails to address water issues and traffic issues, the way the city has handled public meetings and informing the public, the never-ending changes to the EIR and the nebulous financial benefits the developers claim the project entails – has the already-vocal environmentalist community up in arms. On Oct. 24, LandWatch Monterey County Interim Executive Director Mike DeLapa sent Rubio and the City Council a carefully worded letter urging the council to change its ways, lest the community lose faith in it altogether.

One point: The Oct. 13 meeting allowed Palmer to present what essentially was a sales pitch on the “benefits” the project will bring to the community. But as DeLapa and others understood it, the point of the meeting was to thoroughly review the EIR and the project’s impacts.

“I think the most outrageous thing is that in the planning commission and the City Council, they’ve never had a presentation on the EIR,” DeLapa says. “They’ve had the applicant talk about the benefits, but nobody has gone through and spent an hour talking about the unmitigatable impacts, the traffic, the water and everything else.”

Other requests in DeLapa’s letter (which can be read in its entirety at www.mcweekly.com): that Downs’ financial consultant Willdan Financial provide an updated analysis of the project (that goes back to the yes track/no track/yes track bit, in which the project keeps changing its nature, a game DeLapa likens to whack-a-mole).

While everyone, including Rubio, expected the council would approve Downs at the Oct. 13 meeting, that didn’t happen. The city’s land-use attorney advised they wait until Nov. 10 to give counsel time to review letters from LandWatch and Keep Fort Ord Wild.

DeLapa also asks the council to set aside an hour for a thorough presentation on Downs’ negative environmental impacts, per the EIR.

I don’t know that anyone needs even 30 minutes to say, “There is no water for this project,” but it seems fair, given that Palmer got an hour.

That Nov. 10 date, by the way, is two days after an election in which Rubio and councilmembers Ian Ogelsby and Dave Pacheco are all seeking re-election. The election is shaping up to be a referendum on Downs – based on speculation on how it seems the three will vote.


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