Downs Time

Seaside Mayor Ralph Rubio has long been viewed as a supporter of Monterey Downs. He faces three challengers in the Nov. 8 election, all of whom oppose the project.

After six years of public meetings and countless hours of public comment, Monterey Downs is finally on the precipice of potential Seaside City Council approval. But even if that happens, the controversial project will still face a long gauntlet of further approvals.

The process to move the project forward is very complex, in large part because it involves annexation, water negotiations and the sale of about 500 acres of unincorporated county land.

Only the next step is straightforward: On Nov. 10, two days after the election, City Council is expected to finally vote on the mega-development on the former Fort Ord. (If they approve the project, City Manager Craig Malin says the council will hold another meeting Nov. 17 for a required second vote.)

Then things get interesting, and a slew of moving parts will be set into motion. Among them is a consistency determination with the Base Reuse Plan, which the Fort Ord Reuse Authority board may consider as early as Dec. 9. Unless the vote is unanimous, a second vote on the matter would happen at the board’s January meeting.

At the second meeting – and perhaps the first, depending on how soon election results are certified – there could be a twist: A handful of FORA board members could get unseated in the Nov. 8 election, including Seaside Mayor Ralph Rubio and Councilman Ian Oglesby. That means the second board vote could swing differently than the first.

If either of those two candidates lose their seats, there could also be a twist at the city level: Project opponents have said they plan to bring a referendum if the council approves it. After project approval, opponents have 30 days to collect about 1,200 signatures – or 10 percent of Seaside’s registered voters – in support of a referendum, and file a petition with the Seaside city clerk.

If that occurs, City Council – which may have different members – can either rescind its approval and deny the project, or send the matter to the voters.

Michael DeLapa, interim executive director of Landwatch, a local land use watchdog nonprofit says Landwatch intends to file a lawsuit if the city approves the development.

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“This project can be killed in a bunch of different places,” he says.

Then are the moving parts between the city and county, with whom Malin says he will promptly move into negotiations if City Council approves the project. Among the things to be decided are the sale price and transfer of 500 acres of unincorporated county land and a tax-sharing agreement between the city and county. The city will also negotiate to acquire some or all of the county’s remaining water allocations on Fort Ord.

Malin is optimistic the negotiations will only take a few weeks, and “not longer than a few months,” although a 2015 memo from Senior Deputy County Counsel Wendy Strimling outlines the extremely complex set of rules regarding disposition of county-owned land in Fort Ord. Among the requirements is a minimum four-fifths vote by the Board of Supervisors.

The project also calls for annexing land into Seaside, and a timeline provided by the county’s Local Agency Formation Commission estimates it would be about nine months before a public hearing on the matter.

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