In the Zone

“We love our city and want to focus on the downtown and urban areas,” says Bill Weigle of Sustainable Seaside, which is behind a ballot initiative to limit sprawl. “It’s about urban infill instead of sprawl.”

In the late 1990s, Bruce Delgado was a biologist on the former Fort Ord and an ordinary resident of Marina, when the city unveiled plans to expand north by annexation and build some 3,500 new homes on existing farmland.

He opposed the plan and helped build a popular movement against urban sprawl. In 2000, the voters of Marina passed a 20-year moratorium on outward expansion via ballot measure. “That’s what got me into politics,” Delgado recalls.

Today, he is the mayor of Marina and the moratorium, known as an urban growth boundary, or UGB, is set to expire at the end of the year. Delgado and his fellow members of City Council plan to extend the life of the boundary by 20 more years. “I think we are going to renew it without any drama or controversy,” he says.

But just to make sure a future city council with a different composition doesn’t reverse course, Delgado would also like to put a measure on the ballot in November. That way, if it were to pass, the boundary could only be overturned by voters.

“The UGB puts all our focus on Fort Ord, making sure we have to deal with that mess,” Delgado says. Expanding the city’s footprint to new areas would be the easier option but not the right one, he adds.

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The neighboring city of Seaside might be heading toward its own decision day on the question of urban sprawl. A group of environmentalists in Sustainable Seaside is pursuing what it calls the Seaside Greenbelt and Housing Initiative. The group has presented its ideas to city officials and plans to collect signatures starting in March to get a measure on ballots in November.

According to a presentation by Bill Weigle, a founding member of Sustainable Seaside, the initiative would block residential and commercial development within a 750-acre zone lining the city’s eastern end, between General Jim Moore Boulevard and Fort Ord National Monument. Currently undeveloped, this strip of land is zoned for about 5,200 units of housing, much of which would be low-density single-family homes. Instead, the land would be “down-zoned” to protect open space and allow some recreational infrastructure. Also, the city would be prohibited from annexing new land without direct voter approval.

“It preserves recreational land and it’s the sustainable thing to do,” Weigle says, adding that access to open space for Seaside residents is a matter of “social and environmental equity.”

Recognizing the tight housing market and the need for more construction, Weigle’s group proposes to offset the loss of potential homes in Seaside East with zoning changes that would encourage development on parcels located within the built-out area. Specifically, the group proposes to allow housing on two large tracts: a 56-acre property near the border with Marina that Seaside inherited from the Army when it closed Fort Ord; and on part of the city-owned land currently hosting the Bayonet & Black Horse golf courses.

Weigle anticipates a political fight over changes that would block some real estate projects that are at various phases of conception. One likely point of contention is the greenbelt would preclude the idea of building a courthouse and civic center at the top of Broadway, east of General Jim Moore Boulevard.

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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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