Bruce Delgado doesn’t present as a guy who’s fighting for his political future.
Late on a chilly August afternoon when I meet him outside the Marina Dunes Preserve, he’s moving through a normal day, wrapping up his daytime job as a wildlife biologist. There’s nowhere to sit and we end up flopping down in a field of ice plant to tackle the topic at hand: How is Delgado, who’s been the mayor of Marina since 2008, planning to remain in office when a pair of former council allies are questioning his relationship with a developer and actively backing his opponent, an affable and likeable former police commander campaigning on a platform of bolstering the city’s police and fire departments?
That challenger, Bob Nolan, who describes himself as a former “big supporter” of Delgado, thinks the city could be more responsive to citizens’ needs.
Put simply, Delgado says he’s been working hard for a long time to make changes and not everybody agrees with what he thinks are the no-brainers: enacting a plastic bag ban (which the city did in 2015); matching $275,000 to a developer’s $275,000 to bring a five-screen cinema to town (it opened in 2015); and incentivizing a hotel developer who struggled to get his first project off the ground and plans on building a second hotel in Marina, but has said he’ll take that second hotel to Seaside if his demands aren’t met.
Plastic bag ban aside, the other two moves were meant to bolster Marina’s tax base. The city’s population is slightly smaller than that of Monterey – 24,424 compared to 28,323 – yet it spends far less per resident, $1,781 compared to Monterey’s $5,619. Delgado maintains that the transient occupancy tax (TOT) generated by developer Harvey Dadwal’s hotels will go a long way toward bringing spending per resident up to acceptable levels, enabling the city to add a new fire company, maintain its streets and add other long-desired services.
Things went off the rails between Delgado and Councilmembers Frank O’Connell and Gail Morton this spring, when Delgado advocated for Dadwal, developer of the SpringHill Suites at the Dunes on Monterey Bay, to be given an incentive package that included forgiving $734,000 – $634,000 in impact fees, plus $100K in penalties – he owes the city. The incentives were promised, but went away when the hotel didn’t open on time.
Marina is going to have two new faces on the council after this election, as Councilmembers David Brown and Nancy Amadeo are stepping down. Marina Planning Commissioner Adam Urrutia and Lisa Berkley are running unopposed and will take office alongside the two incumbents, O’Connell and Morton, who have traditionally been Delgado’s allies.
Urrutia thinks both sides on the Dadwal issue are taking principled stances, but also believes the city has to be realistic about what a second hotel development could mean for Marina.
“There’s the principled stance that says working-class people shouldn’t subsidize the business ventures of millionaires,” Urrutia says. “But we have to look at our budget and what the people say they want and serve our citizens and provide the means with the cash flow to do that.”
Dadwal, who has one hotel project in Salinas in the works, is planning a second hotel in Marina and claimed that the Marriott-branded SpringHill would go into foreclosure without the debt forgiveness. The underlying message has been if Marina didn’t acquiesce, he could take that second planned hotel to Seaside.
Morton proposed an elegant motion that would have had Dadwal secure bridge financing using another piece of his property, but Dadwal said all of his parcels are encumbered. For Delgado, it’s a bigger picture. The first hotel has already generated $500,000 in TOT, and he wants more of that.
“Let’s do what is prudent,” Delgado says. “We have to start taking better care of ourselves and that second hotel can be an infusion. With $900,000 a year (in TOT) over the next 40 or 50 years, it would be worth waiving impact fees.
“If we don’t treat our successful business partner better,” Delgado says, “someone else will.”