Public comes out in numbers in its first chance to comment on Monterey Downs draft EIR.

The Monterey Downs proposal includes a horse racing track, but also a separate component called "Monterey Horse Park," which would give local horse enthusiasts a multi-arena venue for shows and practice. 

In the auditorium at Seaside’s Oldemeyer Center last night, the only middle ground was the aisle.  

For the first time since it was released March 30, the draft environmental impact report for Monterey Downs—a proposed mega-development on the former Fort Ord—was reviewed in a public forum, and there were horse people and tree people and not much else.

Seaside Deputy City Manager Diana Ingersoll began the evening by giving a history of the project site, and was followed shortly after by Beth Palmer of Monterey Downs LLC, who spoke to the many benefits of the project that was on land already set aside for development.

Palmer said the project would bring 740 non-equestrian jobs and 1,000 equestrian-related jobs.

And speaking to critics who say the jobs won’t be “quality,” Palmer said the equestrian jobs had an entry level pay of $26,000 per year, and the next level up was $50,000. And if a barn has a winning horse, she added, all the workers in that barn share in the winnings.

Palmer also said that building the project would create 500 local constructions jobs for a period of 10 years, and that it would cost $750 million to build.

She wrapped up her comments by highlighting a finding in the draft EIR that some may have missed: According to the arborist contracted for the report, only 7 percent of the trees on the project site are in “good” condition. She didn’t mention, however, that 53 percent of the trees were judged to be in “fair” condition.

After Ingersoll again took the mic to gloss over the main points of the draft EIR, a monster document comprised of hundreds of pages, the public finally had a chance to speak.

A large number of horse enthusiasts were present, all wearing white shirts with “Monterey Horse Park” printed on the front or back, but judging by the comments, there were at least as many treehuggers in the mix, but because they didn’t have uniforms, they were harder to spot.

There were also a small few who identified with neither of those camps, like Marina resident Chandler Roland.

“This development isn’t for the normal residents in Seaside, or Marina,” Chandler said. “The people who are going to take advantage of this are people with real money, who will stay there, spend in that complex, and pass through Marina on their way to Carmel and Monterey.”

But Chandler was an exception—nearly everyone present spoke either for horses, or for the environment.

A selection of those comments follow, some of which do not include a last name due to the difficulty of hearing over the crowd and the inability to follow up later.

Steve, Salinas: “The lowest estimate I’ve heard is cutting down 38,000 trees, and the highest is 55,000,” he said, before commenting on the replanting plan. “In 40 or 50 years, they’ll be real trees again.”

Dwight, Seaside: “The genetic diversity of trees that have grown in this area for millennia can’t be replaced by nursery stock trees,” he said. “Once this genetic diversity is lost, it’s lost forever.”

Diane Cotton, Seaside: “I loved horses as a child, and when I was 10 years old I got up at 6:30 to ride, and spent rest of the day grooming the horses,” she said. “But horse racing is declining in the U.S. Twenty-four horses per week die in this country because of horse racing.”

Stacy McGrady, San Benito: “I work at the Cal Expo State Police as a mounted horse officer. I have firsthand experience in law enforcement on the track. I have the ability and skill to make an informed decision,” she said. “I would gladly move here and live here and work here to be part of the local community…I care about this area as much as anyone. I really think this development will be the best thing for all of us.”

Sarah Clifford, Monterey County: “We are running out spaces in Monterey County to carry out my profession. States across the nation are recognizing the need for horse parks,” Clifford said. “The venue will provide tens of million of dollars to surrounding communities. This is a once in a lifetime opportunity for Monterey County.”

Marilyn Evans, Monterey County: “Monterey County, and Seaside especially, needs an infusion of jobs and income,” Evans said (wearing a horse park shirt). “Monterey Downs is much more than a racetrack. It’s car shows, conferences, things that will bring people and money into this county.”

Dawn Poston, Monterey County: I’m a lifelong horse person...There is nothing in Monterey County, Santa Cruz or San Benito [like the] Monterey Horse Park,” she said. “It will have 11 arenas, specially designed for specific riding styles, all for different disciplines.”

Sue Hawthorne, Seaside: “Monterey Downs and Brian Boudreau have already created jobs—attending meetings and reading the EIR,” Hawthorne said. “Unfortunately, it’s not a high-paying job. [Boudreau] might be jolly, but he’s not Santa Claus. He can’t deliver every promise.”

Justin Farr, Monterey County: “I strongly support it, I’m an avid rider. It’s a really great thing for our community,” Farr said. “[Riders are] a close family, and it’s kept me out of the a lot of trouble. It’s a good opportunity for local kids to have more access to riding and events.”

Jean Campbell, Seaside: “The millennials I know are not going to be wanting a horse race track. They not going to be part of EIR meetings,” Campbell said. “They are the future. Do they want a big giant house in a place that used to be an amazing forest? I know a guy who works at Google, and boy, horse racing is not what he wants to be doing is his spare time.”

Allan Groves, Seaside: “I’m a trained economist, and I did not find what I was looking for in this EIR,” he said, and then went into a quick critique. “How many horses are going to be there on average? Or how many boarded horses? How many are we dealing with? How much water does a horse need when it’s standing around? Didn’t find that. I imagine two or three numbers. How much byproduct does a horse produce? Fifty pounds a day? Is it 10 cubic yards? Didn’t find that. [If several horses will be dying], do we need a tallow rendering plant, or are we going to haul them off to Salinas and hope they’ll take them? That mitigation wasn’t thought through. Please find those numbers.”

Following public comment, the Seaside’s elected and appointed officials were given last word.

City Councilmember Jason Campbell raised a point about the issue of gambling.

“I’d like to note, [according to language in California state code], gambling is addictive, and unregulated gambling is inimical to public welfare,” Campbell said. “Public health is an issue described in the EIR, and I would love to hear how gambling would be addressed in the EIR.”

Mayor Ralph Rubio spoke last.

“When the was last time [the site] was clear cut? How many of the trees are 100-year-old trees? I also want to know how they’re counting those trees. If a trunk is in the ground, and you have three trunks going out of it, are they counting those? Are you counting each of them as a tree? That a significant difference in numbers,” he said.

(The draft EIR actually addresses this: “For the purpose of this inventory, an individual tree was judged to have a minimum of 1 foot of separation from any other adjacent stem at ground level.”)

Rubio continued: “Phasing is important in an economic sense…There’s no way the city is going to support the project financially. The project has to support the city financially.”

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