Blight Bites

The plan sounded perfect: raise money to demolish the abandoned and unsalvageable buildings of Fort Ord now by borrowing against future property tax collected on the redevelopment of the former military base.

At $55 million, blight removal would be expensive, but affordable if paid over time. That’s because Fort Ord real estate generated $2 million in local tax revenue in 2018, a figure that was forecast to grow as more projects break ground.

The plan was not only financially smart, it also garnered widespread support from the board of the Fort Ord Reuse Authority, whose members often bicker over power, policy and jurisdiction. “This is quite the kumbaya meeting,” board chair Jane Parker (also a county supervisor) said on Dec. 13 after a discussion about borrowing money on the bond market.

It is easy to see why blight removal is one of the few consensus issues when it comes to Fort Ord. Unsightly structures spoil everyone’s view along Highway 1 and they hamper CSU Monterey Bay as it tries to grow its campus. Meanwhile, the health and safety of the public are at risk as old buildings disintegrate, releasing hazardous materials into the environment.

And yet, just as political will and finances have aligned, the plan might fall apart. A letter from the state Department of Finance arrived on Dec. 2, saying that FORA might not have the authority to commit future tax property revenue for bond repayment.

It doesn’t make sense to issue bonds as long as the state letter is outstanding, according to Peter Said, a senior project manager at FORA. “The rubber hits the road when investors consider whether to invest in this bond,” Said says. “Without certainty, they are not likely to.”

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The pressure on FORA to resolve the legal question is mounting as the agency’s charter comes closer to its dissolution date of June 30, 2020. A bill introduced by State Sen. Bill Monning, D-Carmel, would have given FORA two more years of existence, but Assembly leadership quietly killed the bill in August for unknown reasons.

After FORA dissolves, the responsibility to demolish the dilapidated buildings would belong to the cities of Marina and Seaside, and to Monterey County. They’d inherit the blight but not FORA’s financial tools. State law granted FORA – as it did the now-defunct redevelopment agencies – special access to property tax revenue not afforded to local governments.

Said is optimistic, citing the potential for “creative” thinking by officials. But if no progress is made in the coming months, Said adds, blight removal could take another 10-15 years to figure out.

This story was update to reflect that the leadership of the California State Assembly, and not the Senate leadership, killed the bill to extend the Fort Ord Reuse Authority.

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Asaf Shalev is a staff writer at the Monterey County Weekly. He covers higher education, the military, the environment, public lands and the geographic areas of Seaside, Monterey, Sand City, Big Sur and Carmel Valley.

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(1) comment

James Tarhalla

Too bad that the FORA didn't do this 25 years ago. Blight removal was one of the reasons that the Re-Use authority was established but was pre-empted by the rush to to make developers rich(er).

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