In a stunning twist at Thursday night’s Seaside City Council meeting—where the council had the option to approve the Monterey Downs environmental impact report and its specific plan—the council, at about 11pm, voted 5-0 to continue the meeting to Nov. 10 after being advised by their hired land-use attorneys to do so.
The decision came after a five-hour meeting that began under the cloud of allegations the city had failed properly notice the meeting 10 days prior, and also added a new item to the agenda after the initial notice—both violations of state law. The city also changed the location of the meeting, allegedly without proper notification, which would also be a violation of state law.
Despite calls for the city to hold off on the meeting due to the noticing issues, the city went ahead anyway, and right off the bat, made questionable procedural decisions.
On the agenda, it was recommended by staff that public comment should come after both the city planners' presentation on Monterey Downs, and the presentation by Downs attorney Beth Palmer.
Yet Mayor Ralph Rubio chose a different path—opting to put public comment before both those items—and despite the protestations of land-use attorney Molly Erickson, who argued the city was not giving the public an opportunity for rebuttal, Rubio politely told her that her time was up, and decided to keep forging ahead.
Public comment then went on for about an hour, which included questions about the city’s procedure in the meeting.
George Riley, well-known for his advocacy for public water, raised a point of order and asked why the city’s legal counsel hadn’t responded to Erickson’s protest. Rubio informed him those questions would be answered after public comment.
Michael Salerno, co-founder of the anti-Downs activist group Keep Fort Ord Wild, also raised a point of order, saying that while he read the staff report, many present probably did not, and that it contained substantive changes from previous reports.
Following four more speakers after Salerno—a total of 17 people had already spoken—David Snow, one of city’s hired land use attorneys from the Los Angeles-based firm Richards, Watson, Gershon, interjected, and suggested the city move public comment to after the staff and developer presentations.
Both presentations were ultimately difficult for the public, or the council, to read, as the lights in the Oldemeyer Center's auditorium remained undimmed, and the small text on the projector screen was unreadable to many, if not most, in attendance.
Public comment then went on for well more than an hour, but for the most part, it didn’t get exciting or unusual until the end. One notable exception came when Darryl Choates, owner of Ord Market and a former Seaside councilman, turned to the crowd when he spoke, invoking the style of a preacher.
Choates expressed outrage that Seaside didn’t have a municipal pool, despite the fact that Seaside's Pattullo Swim Center is only a block away from the Oldemeyer Center. (City Councilman David Pacheco, a retired recreation supervisor with the city, just responded by shaking his head when asked about it after the meeting.)
But the heavy hitters came last.
First among them was John Farrow, a San Mateo-based attorney representing Landwatch, a local nonprofit land-use watchdog. Farrow spoke with incisive efficiency about the myriad flaws of the environmental impact report. Among his points were that under the Fort Ord Base Reuse Plan, you can’t approve a project without a sufficient water supply.
Next up was Michael DeLapa, interim executive director of Landwatch, who spoke to what he’s seen over course his life living in different cities, and how some listen to the citizens and base their planning off of that, or others that take a top-down approach.
“They are two very different models,” he said, adding that the former is the “vision the city has for itself,” and the latter is “you take what comes.”
Land-use attorney Molly Erickson, who is representing Keep Fort Ord Wild, spoke after DeLapa.
“This has been a very confused and confusing meeting,” she said, also noting that the project applicant was able to speak about the project for about an hour, “unlike most cities and counties, where they put limits on the applicant’s presentation to at least pretend like it’s fair.”
She contrasted this with Rubio’s strict adherence to limiting public comment to three minutes per person, “because you didn’t want to hear from them.”
Yet she urged the council to listen to the public.
“Take your time,” she said. “This is an awful project, it’s wildly unpopular.”
Last up was Seaside mayoral candidate Felix Bachofner, a former mayor, who mentioned that Rubio has said in the past that the city would get sued over the Monterey Downs proposal regardless of what action it took.
“That may be true,” he said, “but let’s not load the gun.”
After public comment was closed, the city’s hired attorneys considered the submissions recently given to them by Farrow and Erickson on behalf of Landwatch and KFOW. (Landwatch’s letter numbered 127 pages.)
The attorneys told Rubio they’d need one month to address the questions in both letters.
“One month?” Rubio said, seemingly in shock.
Based upon the advice from the city’s attorneys, City Council then voted 5-0 to continue the meeting to Nov. 10.
The auditorium was dead silent during the vote, and afterward, there was widespread disbelief—many of those present expected the council to approve the EIR and specific plan at Thursday night's meeting.
After the meeting, Pacheco, when asked if he was surprised by the turn of events, said, “Mildly.”