If we build it, the water will come.

That’s the messaging in the draft environmental impact report (EIR) for Monterey Downs, a proposed mixed-use development with a horse racetrack on 550 acres of the former Fort Ord.

The city of Seaside released the EIR March 30 after repeatedly delaying it for 17 months. Last December, city staff placed a legal notice announcing the EIR’s imminent release, only to yank it when the Weekly reported on a leaked attorney memo calling for more details on the project’s water supply.

According to the EIR, the complete Monterey Downs project needs more than 852 acre-feet of water per year: 366 for residential development, 167 for a horse racetrack/sports arena, 129 for a horse park, 155 for commercial development, 23 for parks/open space and 12 for the city’s portion of the Central Coast Veterans Cemetery and related endowment parcel. Of that total demand, 550 is for potable water.

As things stand today, that’s more than what’s available. Even if the city of Seaside and the unincorporated county funneled every last drop of their combined 413 acre-feet of unallocated potable water credits to Monterey Downs, the project would be 137 acre-feet short.

“They’re really just interested in the commercial and housing side of the development and will never build anything related to a horse track or racing, ever.” 

That’s a big “if,” because Seaside is already negotiating with developers on proposed Fort Ord projects that would dip into the city’s water-credit bucket.

But Seaside Project Manager Teri Wissler Adam says city and county officials get the final call in divvying up that remaining water. The two jurisdictions are hashing out a pre-annexation deal to transfer more than 500 county acres, and the water credits to go with them, to Seaside for the project.

“The allocation of the water [to Monterey Downs] is not an unreasonable assumption,” Wissler Adam says.

As for the 137-acre-foot water shortfall, the EIR looks to several water-supply proposals in the pipeline: California American Water’s large-scale desalination plant, Marina Coast Water District’s smaller-scale desal plant and Monterey Regional Water Pollution Control Agency’s groundwater recycling project. All of those proposals, however, still face a number of formidable legal and permitting hurdles. Under California environmental law, the EIR can’t assume any of them will be built.

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Without more water, the EIR states, Monterey Downs’ final two phases – 275 housing units and the horse racetrack anchoring the whole proposal – simply won’t be built.

That’s exactly what one insider with ties to the California thoroughbred-owner community predicts will happen: The developers will secure the land for the early phases, sell the entitlements to other developers and scrap the rest.

“They’re really just interested in the commercial and housing side of the development and will never build anything related to a horse track or racing, ever,” says the insider, who asks not to be named. “Horse racing is what they’re using as the economic engine, but they didn’t bring the engine to the party. Once they have the dirt, they can do whatever they want.”

Developer Brian Boudreau did not respond to the Weekly’s repeated requests for comment by press time.

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