A pitched battle has raged over Monterey County''s sensitive environment.
By Richard Pitnick
Through the eyes of a newcomer, Monterey County''s spectacular ocean vistas, expansive farmlands, and forests of oak, pine and redwood are nothing less than a revelation of sublime beauty.
For longtime residents, however, those same views and vistas have become wistful reminders of how much of the county''s natural beauty has been lost, and how much more is threatened by development, population growth and the apparent willingness of public officials to sacrifice long-term needs for short-term interests.
With agriculture and tourism accounting for almost $4 billion in annual county revenues last year, there is no question that the natural environment holds the key to Monterey County''s social, economic and political future. Yet within the past decade alone, Monterey County has witnessed an accelerating loss of farmland to tracts of affordable housing, the conversion of wildlife habitat into upscale habitats for the wealthy, increased traffic congestion bordering on gridlock, and the outstripping of the area''s available water resources.
According to official statistics released by Monterey County, of the county''s 2,127,359 acres, approximately 250,000 acres remain in agricultural production, with another million devoted to grazing. Over 468,000 acres are designated as part of the Los Padres National Forest and Ventana Wilderness, while total acreage under military control stands at just over 184,000 acres.
Those numbers suggest that Monterey County has a long way to go before it becomes another Santa Clara or San Fernando Valley, but another set of numbers tell a different, less hopeful story.
According to LandWatch Monterey County, since 1982, county supervisors have redesignated 1,968 acres of farmland to urban uses, a number that will continue to increase along with the demand for affordable housing.
Based on population projections compiled by LandWatch, by the year 2020, Monterey County will have grown from its current population of 386,000 to 537,000 residents, an increase of 39 percent. If no further development projects are approved by the county, we would still add 7,520 residential units, 685 hotel units, and 1.5 million square feet of commercial industrial space.
During the past decade, there have been numerous, significant changes in Monterey County''s environment--changes that provide cause for hope, as well as cause for deep pessimism.
With the federal designation of Monterey Bay as a national marine sanctuary, one of this area''s prime economic and environmental resources should be safeguarded from offshore oil drilling and deleterious coastal land-use practices. And through the efforts of the Big Sur Land Trust, more than 15,000 acres of primarily coastal viewshed property have been preserved as open space, forever protected from development.
Among the most troubling and problematic changes in the environment over the past 10 years have been: the increasing acquisition of vast parcels of land by private landowners, particularly on the Monterey Peninsula; the closure of Fort Ord and its proposed conversion to civilian use; and the contamination and overextension of water supplies from coastal aquifers, the Salinas Valley, and Carmel River watershed.
No single landowner has had, or will continue to have, a greater impact on the Peninsula and Carmel Valley environment than Clint Eastwood, whose wealth, screen persona and political influence have enabled him to secure significant water rights to the Carmel River, and to purchase both the Odello Ranch and the Ca¤ada Woods property on land between Highway 68 and Carmel Valley Road.
Although Eastwood has given assurances that the Odello property will remain undeveloped, and that Ca¤ada Woods'' environmental impacts will be mitigated, one has to wonder how the best interests of the community-at-large are served by having the fate of so much invaluable land determined by the whims of a single individual--or his heirs.
Other significant land acquisitions and development projects on the Monterey Peninsula during the past 10 years include the 20,000-acre Rancho San Carlos, of which 18,000 acres will purportedly be set aside in perpetuity as a nature preserve; the announcement by the Pebble Beach Co. that it will proceed with development of a new golf course and more than 300 new homes in Del Monte Forest, and the Fort Ord Reuse Authority''s proposal to convert Fort Ord from a military base to a full-blown city, bringing tens of thousands of new residents to the area in the coming decades.
In the Salinas Valley, the most significant changes in land use beyond the loss of ag land and the growth of cities, has been the emergence of the Valley''s wine industry. With approximately 36,000 acres of land in wine-grape production, and thousands more to be converted to vineyards in the coming years, the Salinas Valley will confront new impacts on water supplies, potential environmental impacts from pesticides, and impacts from increased tourism generated by the wineries.
The most signifcant environmental change in the past decade, and the one that portends the greatest impact in the future, is the overdrafting of county water supplies.
In the Salinas Valley, seawater intrusion, nitrate contamination and overdrafting of coastal aquifers has created a crisis that could threaten the viability of the ag industry, and that could force construction of a massive, state-mandated water project that would further encourage development.
On the Monterey Peninsula, overdrafting of the Carmel River has already led to state intervention and has created the impetus for a new dam that will inevitably stimulate more growth, notwithstanding Cal-Am''s assurances it wants to build a dam solely to meet existing water needs.
Among the more positive outcomes of Monterey County''s ongoing environmental problems has been the establishment of a core of residents willing to use the political and legal system to fight excessive development and protect our limited resources.
The Ventana Chapter of the Sierra Club remains vigorous in its defense of the environment, and over the past decade has filed numerous lawsuits challenging the Carmel River Dam and the assignment of water rights, Rancho San Carlos, Ca¤ada Woods and Fort Ord.
This past year saw the creation of LandWatch Monterey County, a group of concerned activists dedicated to providing more comprehensive information and better monitoring of land-use planning.
While there is no predicting whether the forces of preservation will prevail over the forces of unrestrained growth, and while there is neither cause for optimism nor despair, the changes in Monterey County''s environment over the past decade have at least awakened residents to the fact that if Monterey County is to survive as one of the last best places on earth, it must protect what is left of its environmental legacy.
Middle of the Road
The political path in Monterey County remains towards the center, with no sign of any super-majority.
By Jill Duman
Monterey County residents like their politics the way middle America likes its Chinese food--a little of this, but definitely not too much of that, and nothing too extreme. Ten years of Monterey County political history shows slight variations, but few wide swings, in the political persuasions of county voters.
In 1988, Monterey County was represented by Congressman Leon Panetta, Assemblymembers Sam Farr and Rusty Areias, and state Senator Henry Mello--an all-Democratic line-up. Today the line-up is evenly split between two Democrats and two Republicans. The Democrats include Congressman Farr, who succeeded Panetta and former Santa Cruz Councilmember Fred Keeley, who now sits in Farr''s former assembly seat. The two Republicans are state Senator Bruce McPherson--a moderate GOP member with what voters perceive to be a strong environmental record--and Peter Frusetta, a conservative Republican representing the agricultural Salinas Valley (which was for years represented by conservative Republican Eric Seastrand).
Voters have also kept their preferences pretty moderate while choosing county supervisors. While the roster of county supervisors has completely changed since 1988, no supervisor has been voted out of office by constituents. And, county voters seem to reject candidates they perceive as representing extreme positions. In the recent race for District 5 supervisors, voters rejected both fiery environmentalist attorney Zad Leavy, and real-estate scion Jeff Davi--this despite Davi''s considerable fortune and ability to buy campaign advertising--and chose Dave Potter, a more moderate environmentalist.
Over the past 10 years, Monterey County residents have said at various times that they want steady, reliable sources of water, good schools and safe roads.
But a look at the political record of the county in the past years shows those wishes stymied by a variety of factors, including an inability to muster the super-majority required to pay for those improvements and a board of supervisors reluctant to go to the mat on issues relating to water conservation and sea water intrusion.
And the result: Many of the same, persistent problems continue to haunt the county.
Witness the 1989 vote on Measure B, which sought to raise the county sales tax by half a percent to put $37 million into a variety of county-wide projects--among them, the Prunedale bypass that proponents believe is sorely needed to stem the blood-red tide of accidents on Highway 101.
The measure narrowly passed, on Nov. 7, by less than a dozen votes, but was promptly challenged by the Monterey Peninsula Taxpayers Association (MPTA.) MPTA filed suit in Monterey County Superior Court, arguing that the California constitution required the measure to be approved by a super-majority of two-thirds of the votes cast. In the end, California Court of Appeals granted the taxpayer group the victory it was seeking, the county spent several years paying back the tax back via a reduced sales tax. And the Prunedale bypass? Well, that''s back on the ballot nine years later (this November) in the form of Measure N, which seeks a super-majority to impose a half-cent sales tax increase for transportation projects, including the bypass.
School bond advocates have also fared poorly in the face of super-majority requirements. Advocates of school bonds in Pacific Grove and Salinas have seen their measures win by a majority--but not the two-thirds required for passage. The Salinas Union High School District this fall faces its third such try in as many years when voters go to the polls to decide the fate of Measure H.
The county''s political paralysis is perhaps best summarized by the utter failure of any agency to get a grasp on the area''s ongoing water problems. On the Peninsula, voters have rejected plans for a desalination plant (1993) and a dam (1995) while in the meantime, the state Water Resources Control board has imposed a mandatory pumping limit of approximately 14,000 acre-feet of water from the Carmel River. The state board established that limit in July 1995, after ruling that the Monterey Peninsula Water District was exceeding its legal pumping limit and jeopardizing fish as a result.
As for that pesky Peninsula water supply issue? The privately owned California-American Water Company is in the process of trying to get PUC permission to raise rates to finance a dam --the same dam voters didn''t want anyway.
In the Salinas Valley, water officials have actually backtracked over the course of the past decade in their efforts to get a handle on agricultural over-pumping--which has led to an influx of sea water into the Salinas Valley''s aquifer--and nitrate contamination, which has closed wells in the south part of the Valley. Five years ago, the state Water Resources Control board was poised to take over management of the Valley''s water resources. That adjudication has yet to come to pass, although by all obvious indications, the Valley''s water problems have not improved.
Lawsuits filed against the county by angry South County growers and budget cuts mandated by the taxpayer-group supported Prop. 218 have effectively gutted many programs in place to curb sea water intrusion and nitrate contamination in the Valley.
As a result, county supervisors and the Monterey County Water Resources Agency (MCWRA) have completely backed away from a January 1993 plan to force Valley growers to meter their wells--a policy considered by many growers as a first step toward a pay-as-you-pump plan for agriculture. And, what political pressure from growers couldn''t accomplish, a victory in the state''s polls by taxpayer groups did. In 1996, state voters approved Prop. 218, requiring a super-majority two-thirds votes on all assessments. Failing to get that majority in a poll of landowners last year, MCWRA this year slashed its water conservation programs and reduced its water quality program--leaving the possibility of ever controlling sea water intrusion or nitrate contamination a question mark, at best.
If there has been a significant shift in the political winds of Monterey County, it has been the rise of Latino power in the Salinas Valley. Fueled largely by advocates like the late Jesse Sanchez, who felt that the county''s Hispanic population was long overdue for adequate representation, Latinos pressured--and in some cases, sued--for the right to create districts that would bring to the table people who had long lived in the county, but whose voices had been ignored.
In 1988, voters in the city of Salinas held a special election to change the city charter requiring councilmembers to be elected by district, instead of from the entire city. In 1989, the city held its first district elections, with a dramatic shift in power away from a mostly Anglo board to one governed predominantly by Latinos.
For the county, the path to re-districting was much more complex. A restricting plan inspired by the 1990 Census was challenged by a group of Latino activists, who filed suit against the county with attorney Joaquin Avila at the helm. Their concerns were upheld by the U.S. Department of Justice, which was required to sign off on the plan before its implementation.
Eventually, a new plan creating new district boundaries and virtually assuring more racially diverse reputation was put into place in time for elections in 1993--but not before a redistricting plan was tossed out by county voters, rehashed by the county, challenged by voters in Seaside, Marina and North County, and eventually settled by the U.S. District Court of Appeals.
What will the next 10 years hold politically for Monterey County? As the Latino population grows and exercises its political will, there are more opportunities for Latino leadership. As younger families push away from the Bay Area to build their homes along the 101 corridor, they may begin to demand and support school bonds and safer roads. Peninsula and Valley residents, tired of the back and forth over water issues, may begin to pressure their representatives for long-term solutions.
Or everything could remain just the same.
Palm Reader Wanted
The year was 1988. You want to open a business--if only you can cut it at Hard Knocks U.
By Bradley Zeve
Welcome to the orientation class for Hard Knocks University. No pansies allowed. No wishy-washy "I-think-I-want-to-try types" welcome. It''s all or nothing. The cost for our services: no charge. Your potential competitors are picking up the tab for your session. How curious. Why would they do that? The year is 1988. And you want to start a business.
Pull up a chair, remove your rose-colored glasses, and take that rags-to-riches gleam out of your eye. Take a look at the curriculum and assess what minefields--and gold fields--lie ahead as you consider your new school. Open the textbook and read the economic forecast. Get an edge on your competition, because you''ll know what to expect. Remember what Francis Bacon said: "Knowledge is power." Then again, Alexander Pope cautioned, "A little knowledge is a dangerous thing." How will you know the difference?
The year is 1989. People are running for cover. Earthquake! Concrete sidewalks like ocean waves. The power is out. Windows seem to liquify. It''s a big one. Maybe the big one. People turn on their battery-powered radios to learn it''s a 7.1. San Francisco may have been hit hard. The Bay Bridge collapsed. There are fires in the Marina district. Downtown Santa Cruz has fallen. Little is known about Monterey County. A few chimneys have fallen. The American Tin Cannery sustained damage. The bridge at the Pajaro river is damaged and closed. Psychologically, the entire bay area is badly shaken. The national press is harsh. Your sister-in-law, back in Pennsylvania, says "I knew it would happen." Visitors are canceling their reservations. The economic hit will be severe. You''ll need to make due. If you''re in the newspaper business, you may even need to complete your next issue using a single manual Royal typewriter, passed from reporter to reporter. It''s survival of the fittest.
Sitting upright in your chair, you look again into the book. Stealth bombers and explosions fill a night sky. It''s war, and the U.S. is in it. Locally, Fort Ord''s soldiers have shipped out to Saudi Arabia. There is uncertainty in the air. Nationally, the economy stalls. Again, tourists cancel their reservations. The Iraqi war, though short-lived, impacts the nation''s economy. The year is 1990.
Peeking ahead you see the next chapter is filled with abandoned buildings. Hundreds of houses with no one living in them. Empty streets with no children at play. Closed schools. Looking closer, you recognize Fort Ord, boarded up. It seems an economic bomb has been dropped. The soldiers are gone. It turns out the national budget needed to be cut, particularly the military budget. Bases were closed--and Fort Ord is the largest base nationally to get the ax. It grows dark and gray. Faces are forlorn. How can businesses survive the loss of 30,000 soldiers, their dependents, and their impact on the local economy? The year is 1991.
It grows even darker and grayer. And the skies fill cumulonimbus clouds --big, puffy clouds raging with moisture and turbulence. Rain falls. Sideways. Fields are under water. Rio Road and Highway 68 are submerged. All the bridges are closed. Hurricane Point is sliding. Many Carmel Valley residents are being evacuated. Homes in Carmel''s Mission Fields are inundated by three feet of water--twice in a season. Big Sur residents are being evacuated by helicopter. The national media reports we are an island. There is no access into, or out of, the Monterey Peninsula. Bing Crosby''s golf tournament is postponed for the first time ever. Tourists cancel their reservations. Big Sur is closed for three months. It''s survival of the fittest. The year: 1995. No, wait--it''s 1998. Yikes. It''s both.
Glancing at the chalkboard, you see outlined the upcoming decade. You''ll deal with a little earthquake. You''ll encounter some weather in the next 10 years. You''ll endure the loss of Fort Ord, a slowed national economy, a recession in California. For the first time since WWII, California will have more people leaving the state than migrating to it. Unemployment will hit its highest in 20 years, Bay Area-wide. The real estate market in Monterey County will hit a low-water mark. What should you do?
There''s also massive construction. It''s retail space being built, despite the closure of Fort Ord. Hundreds, maybe thousands, of retail spaces being built in the sand dunes and on previously farmed agricultural lands. First comes the arrival of a new shopping center in Salinas, Harden Ranch. Next K-mart opens a superstore in Marina. Costco opens in Sand City. Then Orchard Supply. Westridge developers pour concrete in Salinas, bringing the nation''s largest retailer, Wal-Mart, to Monterey County. Target opens in Sand City. Then Borders. The Big Boxes have landed. Costco opens in Salinas. But all is not strong for local businesses. H&H Hardware closes in Seaside. And Burdick''s, Dores, and Pacific Office Products. The Granary is bought out by national food giant Whole Foods. The local business community is changing its face. Others may go. It''s survival of the fittest.
But there are also indicators of hope for Monterey County. Leon Panetta, head of the Office of Management and Budget, and local congressman Sam Farr are making an announcement. A new university is coming to the old Fort Ord. CSUMB opens the door to 654 students the following August. The year is 1995. And there''s Leon making another announcement. The Monterey Bay is declared a National Marine Sanctuary. No oil drilling in Monterey Bay! The year is 1996. MBARI expands to spiffy new headquarters in Moss Landing. The Aquarium opens a new wing, and the visitors arrive in busloads. The agricultural economy soars with record exports to the Pacific Rim. The marine scientists work together and position Monterey Bay as the future center for ocean research. Things are looking up.
And now the school bell is ringing; the orientation is over. But...but you didn''t even get to see what your company would look like. Will your employees be motivated and good natured? Will your landlord be a jerk who yells at your employees? Will the lawyers be circling? Will you have any cash left at the end of the day?
No time to dwell on the future. You''ve got some phone calls to make, some planning to do. Got to pick up your child at school. Get some chicken in the oven. It''s time to begin the real class, On The Job Training 101.
It''s crystal clear why the competition made this glimpse into the future so readily available--they thought after having looked ahead at the curriculum at Hard Knocks U., you would just stick with your desk job.
Monterey County''s arts and entertainment has become increasingly sophisticated.
By Chuck Thurman
Remember the Hill Theater? For those of you who just got here, 10 years ago, it was a United Artists-run, single-screen movie theater on Soledad Drive in Monterey. Boxy, and with no particular charm, it was shut down several years ago; its seats were torn out, taken by GroveMont theater and installed in the downtown building that was the former site of the Old Monterey Music Hall.
Now the site of the former Hill Theater is a dance studio. The Galaxy Six Cinemas, which replaced the old Cinema 70, about a half mile away at Del Monte Shopping Center, shows movies in its place. The downtown building where GroveMont moved has undergone two metamorphoses, first to a billiard parlor and now to a fabric store. GroveMont moved again, to Carmel, and changed its name to Pacific Repertory Theater.
In some ways, the last decade in Monterey County''s arts and entertainment mirrors the history of the Hill Theater. Things are a bit more sophisticated and urbane than they were 10 years ago.
There are no single-screen movie theaters operating in Monterey County anymore. Ten years ago, there were several. In addition to the Hill Theater, United Artists also ran the Golden Bough theater in Carmel and the Mid Valley Cinema in Carmel Valley; John Harris and Alan Webber ran the Carmel Village Theater. Now, with the Fox Theater in Salinas sitting in a sort of limbo, there are only the multiplex theaters and United Artists'' cut-up State and Regency theaters in Monterey. And, in fact, United Artists is trying to sell both of those sites; with the competition by the bigger theaters, they want out of the movie business in MoCo. At least there are more screens showing film today than in 1988.
After his partner and companion Alan Webber died, John Harris sold the Village Theater and focused his attention on maintaining The Dream Theater in Monterey. After years of struggle, Harris finally sold the two-screen, art-house Dream to Theatrical Promotions. And now, with the planned opening in downtown Monterey next year of the six-screen Camera Cinemas, part of a San Jose chain that specializes in art movies, it''s an open question how much longer The Dream can hold out.
Live theater in the county continues to flourish with many of the same groups continuing to produce a blend of plays from classic to contemporary. But the biggest story of the decade has to be the growth of GroveMont/Pacific Repertory Theater. This story, too, is one of increasing sophistication.
In 1988, GroveMont had only been in its digs on Hoffman Street in New Monterey for a couple of years. Prior to that, GroveMont was a gypsy theater troupe with no home to call its own. The move into the small, intimate space allowed the company to develop some continuity and focus on the business of producing plays--which they did with a vengeance: both of their major outreach programs, TheaterFest and the Carmel Shake-speare Festival, flourished. In some ways, those outreach productions had to flourish: The space was too small for the company to mount large or elaborate productions. So they bought a circus tent and produced musicals inside it at the Custom House Plaza during TheaterFest--which then lasted for two months or more.
But, when GroveMont moved to the Monterey Playhouse in ''91, with its Hill Theater seats and a larger stage, some of the impetus for producing plays outside their home base was removed. Musicals could be produced more easily at home than away. And TheaterFest began its fade into what it''s become today: a mere month-long affair with the Human Chess Game, some twisted fairy tales, and no full-length plays.
In 1994, when GroveMont couldn''t cut a deal with the owner of the building they were renting for the Monterey Playhouse, they found that United Artists had put the Golden Bough--which had originally been built as a live theater--on the market. The theater company found ready financial backers, and soon bought the building and restored both the main stage and the downstairs Circle Theater. The theater company also changed its name to Pacific Repertory Theater (the Pacific Grove/Monterey moniker would hardly do in Carmel) and embarked on producing plays that were technically more sophisticated than any they had done in the past.
Bringing another level of sophistication to the performing arts, Brian Donoghue''s introduction of Performance Carmel series brought top-name performers to Carmel. Now in its eighth year, the series continues to attract world-class musicians, actors, dancers and some acts that defy categorization.
Similarly, the Carmel Performing Arts Festival showed promise last year, bringing national and regional acts to a variety of venues throughout Carmel during a three-week schedule. Although pared back in number of performances this year, the festival appears to have a bright future.
Early in Coast Weekly''s history, we wrote about an attempt by a group of local citizens to create a state-of-the-art performing arts center on the Peninsula. As of yet, there is no center and, although many of the same group of people continue to cherish the concept, a new performance center seems as far from being reality as it was a decade ago.
A similar situation existed at Laguna Seca, where two separate promoters tried to create a concert venue. Both seemed to have solid plans and determination--and both backed down.
Given the history of dreams in Monterey County, it''s too early to tell if anything will come of the dreams for an arts habitat--a sort of mini-village with living spaces and studios for artists--on the grounds of the former Fort Ord. There''s always a chance.
The proof that dreams sometimes come true can be seen in Monterey County''s landscape which has seen the emergence of three cultural institutions in the last decade. Near Fisherman''s Wharf, the Monterey Maritime Museum shares a glimpse of Monterey''s history and provides a space for special cultural presentations; the Monterey Museum of Art opened the La Mirada wing, giving them more valuable exhibition space for displaying works from their permanent and rotating collections; and in Salinas, this last June, the National Steinbeck Center opened its doors celebrating Monterey County''s favorite writer (and hopefully providing a boost to downtown Salinas business).
In terms of visual art, there has been a slight shift away from experimental galleries to those featuring artists with national reputations. The decade has seen the rise--and disappearance--of a number of galleries featuring eccentric works by local artists (remember Gallery 7 in Pacific Grove and the Enyart Gallery in the Crossroads Shopping Center?). In their place we have come galleries that are often part of a chain (think George Rodrigue''s Gallery Blue Dog and Thomas Kincade).
Photography, always an important part of the Peninsula''s cultural landscape, has shown increased vigor in the last decade. Not only can you find photographs treated as fine art in more local restaurants and lobbies, but director Dennis High has pushed the Center for Photographic Art to new highs and regularly features exhibits by world-renowned photographers. The opening of the Ansel Adams gallery in Pebble Beach added further luster to the already shiny scene.
Spurred in part by the difficulty of finding exhibition space in local galleries, the Monterey Bay chapter of Artists'' Equity began sponsoring the Open Studio tour in 1989, giving artists a chance to interact directly with art lovers from around the county. Although the tour has been renamed the Artists'' Studio Tour, its goal remains the same.
In terms of the younger art community, it may be the story of the three spirits gallery/art center that received the greatest amount of attention from both press and the public. The gallery began in Pacific Grove offering an interesting mix of art in various media. When the gallery moved to its Sand City warehouse, and began mixing art with extravagant events and art classes, it looked like it was well on its way to becoming a local institution.
Then something happened along the way. The organization seemed to lose its focus, and music came to predominate--rather than complement--the offerings at the three spirits warehouse. With Susan and Brad Mallory leading the charge, three spirits produced a series of Sand Jams, offering punk and alternative music that could not be heard anywhere else in Monterey County. They managed to cut a CD featuring a variety of local bands, and they organized a West Coast tour. And the group also produced two rock festivals (in ''97 and ''98). It was an impressive showing by the two young artists/entrepreneurs.
But somehow all the outside events (particularly the artistically interesting but sparsely attended festivals) seemed to sap energy, focus and money from the group. three spirits no longer presents art exhibits and this weekend''s Sand Jam is the first in many months. After its brilliant showing, three spirits is showing signs that it needs to rethink and re-focus on its direction.
Surprisingly, the nightclub scene may be the only one that has resisted a move to a more urbane sophistication. The nightclub scene is largely the same as it was a decade ago--sans cigarette smoke.
Although Doc Ricketts'' is now Doc''s Nightclub, the offerings are much the same as they were: rock, blues and reggae, mostly local bands with occasional headliners from out of town. (But that''s now: With the nightclub for sale, the future of Doc''s is up in the air.) Planet Gemini continues the tradition set by The Boiler Room, with comedy on weekends and infrequent appearances by national, top 40 bands. Owner Brook Lewis changed the name of his nightclub from The Club to McGarrett''s, but it''s still the dance club in town.
There are still no clubs that regularly offer rap or alternative music on any sort of regular basis. And there are still no clubs in Seaside.
Ten years ago, Barbara Murphy ran the county''s first true coffeehouse, and booked acoustic musicians with national reputations. Although she closed the doors to Portofino years ago, as the Peninsula sprouted coffeehouses, Murphy continues to book singer/songwriters at various venues around the Peninsula. And, although Morgan Christopher dropped live music from his coffeehouse earlier this year, he''s vowing to start booking music again in early ''99. (For a retrospecitve on classical music see Scott MacClelland''s column, page 72.)
The city of Monterey saw a surge in the popularity of billiard parlors that was short lived. After Bow Tie Billiards opened its doors in ''95, Monterey Billiards and Blue Fin Billiards followed suit in ''96. This year both Monterey and Bow Tie billiards scratched, leaving only Blue Fin in business.
But if the nightclub scene has remained relatively stable, the festival scene in Monterey County has exploded.
The Monterey Bay Blues Festival has matured and become one of the biggest blues festivals in the country, attracting a bigger audience each year. When Tim Jackson took over the reins of the Monterey Jazz Festival from Jimmy Lyons, he was able to pump new life and excitement into the rapidly aging and predictable festival. This weekend, the Monterey Bay Reggaefest will make its fourth appearance at the Monterey County Fairgrounds with top name reggae stars from around the world. The Big Sur Jazz Festival survived the floods and slides earlier this year to present a scaled-down, second-year concert. And on sunny Sundays, the Seaside Sunday Blues series usually attracts a full house on the lawn at Laguna Grande park during the summer.
In the last two years, we''ve also seen the rise of Sandy Shore as a major musical promoter on the Central Coast. Her Concerts by the Bay series on Cannery Row, regularly attracts crowds of 500-600 devotees of light jazz, and her series at the Seascape Resort in Aptos draws similar numbers.
Of course, there have been a few notable festival failures over the years. Probably the biggest flop was the attempted revival of the Monterey Pop Festival in 1989. But maybe more significant, in terms of bringing top-name rock ''n'' roll to Monterey County, was the decision by Bill Graham to pull out of producing their Laguna Seca Daze concerts at Laguna Seca. After drawing only a marginal crowd for their ''96 extravaganza, featuring Bob Dylan, BGP dropped the "Daze."
Still hanging in is the World Music Festival, which last year brought together around 80 musicians from around the world to the Monterey County Fairgrounds in an ambitious three-day festival. Although the lineup was more than impressive, attendance was limp. The festival is scaled way back this year to less than a dozen performers, who will strut their stuff in Carmel at the Outdoor Forest Theater and the Sunset Center.
And probably more successful than any other new festival in the last decade, First Night Monterey has taken the area by storm. In five short years, the festival has grown to attract approximately 30,000 people on New Year''s Eve in downtown Monterey. First Night was originally started in big cities around the country as a way of celebrating the arts and the new year, without the use of alcohol. Just as the celebration found success in the big cities, it has become a well-loved part of the Monterey County calendar.
And the seats from the Hill Theater?
Just as the county''s A&E scene has evolved over the years, there have been casualties and there are survivors. A lot of the seats got thrown out after years of abuse and too many moves. But some of them are still in service by Unicorn Theater, which took over the Hoffman Avenue location that originally housed GroveMont.
You might try sitting in those seats one day soon; they''re a part of history.
Decade of Dining
Monterey County''s restaurant scene has been in a constant state of evolution.
By Catherine Coburn
The anniversary of Coast Weekly''s first 10 years offers an opportunity to chronicle the history of the local food scene (roughly from the end of the Cold War through Monica Lewinsky). There emerges from this history some clues to what we might expect of the future, at least as they apply to how we choose to eat in Monterey County.
Scanning through early issues, there are restaurant logos that are still very much a part of the local landscape located right next to others that have faded into obscurity. Back then, local artist and restaurateur Fuad Bahou was on deadline every week cranking out ''Fuad on Food'' in the section then known as ''Chow'' ("When you want to know where to go, and what to order.")
It was obvious even at that time that the level of Monterey County''s culinary sophistication far outdistanced most other areas of the country. Bahou''s style of food writing reflected his artistic passion, whether his discussion was on properly grilling a swordfish filet to serve with asparagus, or the interior architecture of bell peppers, whose structure his eye could compare to that of a cathedral.
Responding to the creative culinary spirit that was coming into bloom, the ''Chef Profile'' feature was added, where cooking professionals like Julio Ramirez rightly predicted that the future of Caribbean food had come. Already successful with the two Fishwife seafood restaurants, Ramirez was at work on the El Cocodrilo concept (which he later sold to become Crocodile Grill), the forerunner of his latest project, Turtle Bay Taqueria. In opening Seaside''s Turtle Bay, late in ''97, Ramirez brought the taco shop--that well-loved bastion of authentic hole-in-the-wall, South-of-the-Border food found on almost every street corner in Salinas--into the health-conscious realm of new wave fast food.
Fuad Bahou relinquished the food beat to Terry Fisher''s hip Erma Bombeck-ian style of reporting in ''92, where recipes from peanut butter soup to chicken adobo were likely to be explored. Wanting to turn his full attention to creating a diverse menu at his new restaurant, Bahou opened the precursor to his now-popular Caf Stravaganza: Chutney''s succeeded in creating a strong identity for itself and continued to evolve, out of both logistical need and creative drive.
Locals with an eye on the restaurant scene saw a similar transition evolve with Shabu Shabu, the first traditional Japanese restaurant to open at the Carmel Plaza. Kenny and Tina Fukumoto then went on to open Robata''s in the Barnyard shopping center, have some fun with Jimmy''s American Place (featuring live entertainment and end-of-the-''80s karaoke) and experiment with an East-meets-West identity at Ciao Mein.
After selling Robata, serendipity brought the husband and wife team back to the original site where it all began at the Plaza when they opened The Flying Fish Grill. The Flying Fish has now found its niche, and delights a steady repeat clientele in a fusion of Japanese and California flavors that makes incredibly delicious sense. The Fukumoto''s scenario is one that repeats itself with those drawn to the food scene, life imitating art as it re-invents itself time and again.
It''s also interesting how local landmarks like The Sardine Factory, Casanova, the Whaling Station, Anton and Michel, L'' Escargot, Fresh Cream, The French Poodle, La Coq D''or, and Club XIX have managed to secure what seems an unbreachable place for themselves despite all the obituaries hailing the death of fine dining.
When Fisher departed Coast Weekly at the end of ''95, ''Chow'' had (mercifully) been renamed ''Feast.'' Austin Burn''s ''Fearsome Cooking'' lead readers into kitchen experiments that frequently began in his garden or were inspired by the plethora of interesting cookbooks from his shelf.
Wagering that there were restaurants that needed to be written about, I elbowed my way into writing for the paper by repeatedly dissing Austin, ranting that somebody should take him out of the food section and give him a gardening column instead. Learning later that he was fictional--and really my editor''s pen name--I was amazed that I was hired.
Already, after almost three years, it''s been quite a ride. There has been plenty of cause to celebrate, with places like Taste Caf, Grasing''s, Monterey and Salinas Fish Houses, Nico, Spado, Tutto Buono, Kincaid''s, Zig Zag and the White Oak Grill coming into their own, hitting their stride despite all odds, and putting their own twist on the new style of smaller fine dinner house.
But there''s also been ample cause to mourn the loss of places like Bradley''s, Prima, Cher Chez, The Avenue, the Fish Ranch and even historic Ferrante''s, with one of the best views found anywhere.
The advent of Il Fornaio and the big makeover at Pebble Beach''s Club XIX and Stillwater Grill, coupled with Roy''s splashy entrance into the fray is absolute proof that MoCo has become a serious contender in world-class dining. Observing homegrown John Pisto''s empire expand to what is now five restaurants and a syndicated cooking show leaves no doubt that we''ve arrived. And when Clinton''s in town, he likes Pacific''s Edge.
Of equal impact are the countless little places that we all depend on every day, steadfastly turning out the deliciously tasty, healthy stuff that no one seems to have the time or energy to fix on their own. Eating out is no longer reserved just for special occasions; cooking at home is.
Now in their 15th year, I''ve saved Rio Grill for last. We can all take off our toques and wave them in the air in honor of Downtown Dining, a group that continues to amaze and inspire everyone around them. Tarpy''s and Montrio grew out of the group''s need to continually stretch themselves creatively, without compromising the quality of service or integrity of the food. Asked to explain the secret of their phenomenal success, manager Tony Tollner sums it up, with stunning humility. "It takes having the heart of a servant," he believes.
Undoubtedly there are more places out there, deserving recognition and whose stories we hope to tell in these pages. Whatever other uncertainty there may be for the future, the ritual of good food will remain part of what defines this community.