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Back in the 1940s, when I was in seventh grade, I took a class in home economics. Once a week, my classmates and I would divide into groups of about five. Each group would cook something. Then we’d eat it.

Every student would have a specific group task. One day my group was making spoonbread. My task was to stir the batter. Suddenly, the gum I’d been chewing fell out of my mouth and into the batter. Since I was decorous back then, I was too embarrassed to tell anyone what had happened. So I just kept quiet and passed the bowl containing the batter (and the gum) to the next student. S/he didn’t notice the gum when pouring the batter into the baking pan and placing it in the oven.

After the spoonbread was baked, another student removed it from the oven and dished up some for each of us. Our group was the only group that had marbled spoonbread.

This created a stir. The teacher came to our group to see why we were not eating our spoonbread. She marveled, saying she’d never seen such a thing before. By now, there was no way in the world I was going to tell anyone what had happened, so I just kept quiet.

I think a similar thing happened in Pacific Grove during 2016 in connection with the April election regarding whether to rezone the American Tin Cannery site to allow hotel use. Voters were told by the mayor and others that if the 4.88-acre site was rezoned to allow hotel use, the purportedly prestigious development group Domaine Hospitality Partners LLC, of which Gen. Wesley Clark was a partner, would construct a world-class, LEED-platinum certified hotel there. An economic analysis projected that such a hotel would increase Pacific Grove city revenue by $3 million to $4 million annually, and the classy Domaine website showed world class hotels that Domaine Hospitality Partners purportedly had developed. The vote on April 19 was 3,016 yes and 2,111 no.

One of the selling points for voting yes was that venture, Project Bella, would not financially burden Pacific Grove since Domaine was going to pay the processing costs. Two months before the election, on Feb. 17, the City Council had approved a reimbursement agreement with Domaine Hospitality Partners LLC. However, that agreement didn’t get signed until June. In the meantime, the city incurred substantial Bella-related expenses on Domaine’s behalf. But the City would be reimbursed for everything, right?

Here’s where the chewing gum analogy applies. The February reimbursement agreement is for Domaine to cover the city’s “additional costs associated with the acceleration of City’s Local Coastal Program entitlement process,” whereas the June agreement omits any mention of Coastal Program acceleration costs. In May, the Council approved paying a consultant $101,056 for such costs, but in September the city manager said the city has no agreement with Domaine to cover such costs. Domaine will reimburse the City for everything, right?

Another example is that the February version of the reimbursement agreement was with Domaine Hospitality Partners LLC, whereas the June agreement is with Domaine Pacific Grove LLC. That switch hasn’t been explained either.

There is a discomforting Bloomberg News article  about Gen. Clark lending his name to some sketchy companies. Additionally, Domaine’s classy website has been edited to delete some of its earlier claims, and a former representative of Domaine alleges Domaine is more than six months overdue paying $150,000 to its contractors.

Now, here’s where the keeping-a-secret analogy applies. As far as I can tell from listening to videos of council discussions about Project Bella and reading accompanying agenda reports, neither staff nor the council has disclosed the discrepancies between the reimbursement agreement approved in February and the reimbursement agreement executed in June.

And here’s the culprit analogy. Just as I never confessed to how the spoonbread became marbled, Domaine may be silently preparing to drop its gum into the batter. By this I mean that Domaine now has a much more valuable lease on the American Tin Cannery site than the lease before the site became zoned for hotel use. The lease is with the Cannery Row Co., owner of the American Tin Cannery, and is for a term of 99 years.

Suppose Domaine transfers that lease to a less desirable hotel developer, pockets the increase in value, and waves goodbye to Pacific Grove? The city would be obligated to approve any hotel meeting applicable standards. Thus, Pacific Grove could wind up with a low-revenue-producing, ordinary hotel on the site of the former cannery, which is not what city officials and Domaine said would result from passing Measure X.

Am I concerned? You bet. I love Pacific Grove. I think the city staff needs to look into these matters, tell the public what’s going on and guard against that lease being transferred. Then, if facts so warrant, city officials should say, “Dear Voters, we goofed. Let’s have another election to eliminate hotel uses from the American Tin Cannery site.”

Jane Haines is a land-use activist and retired lawyer.

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On Wednesday the Pacific Grove City Council approved a special election, scheduled for April 19, asking the townsfolk to change the zoning of the American Tin Cannery site to allow for a new hotel on the property. The hotel, code-named “Project Bella,” is being billed as an economic necessity for PG, and a much better use of the site than the existing indoor retail mall that never lived up to expectations.

Project Bella may indeed be the best thing to happen to Pacific Grove since Holman’s department store, but why is a special election necessary when a regularly scheduled election will come just eight weeks later? The answer is simple. A special election favors the developer.

Special elections tend to attract fewer voters, those most interested in the subject, so the results may not reflect the town as a whole. Also, it gives voters less time to scrutinize and discuss the project, giving the developers more control over the information presented to voters. It therefore comes as no surprise that the developer, Domaine Hospitality Partners, is perfectly happy to pay the full cost of the election, about $40,000, according to KSBW News.

So far Domaine has had complete control over the messages to the community, and they’ve painted an awfully rosy picture of their hotel plan. They boast that Bella “will be designed, built, and furnished to the highest standards shared by only a very few of the world’s best hotels,” a tall claim considering even the local competition, much less the world. And, strangely enough, they expect to fulfill their promise of unparalleled luxury with an architectural design reminiscent of the industrial history of the cannery building that currently occupies the site.

Which brings me to my biggest concern. Both the developer and civic leaders who are supporting Project Bella have been pretty vague about the fate of the historic American Tin Cannery building, which turns 89 this year. It was the only Cannery Row cannery built in Pacific Grove, and arguably has the most attractive facade of any cannery on the row.

After the local sardine industry shriveled, the building was occupied by NAFI (National Automotive Fibers. Inc.), a division of Chris-Craft Industries. NAFI (pronounced “naffy”) manufactured carpeting for automobiles in the facility for many years. When I was third-grader at Carmel River School, locally made NAFI carpeting was installed in our classrooms. After NAFI went the way of the sardines, the American Tin Cannery entered its retail phase, first as a big box type store called Ardan and later the outlet mall we all know but rarely patronize.

I know this little bit of history because my dad was an accountant at NAFI in the 1960s. His office was  near the base of the smokestack a few steps from Eardley Avenue. One day he gave me and my mother a tour of the plant. I think it was just after quittin’ time because there were very few people there. I remember the cavernous space with north-facing windows built into the angled roof that provided a source of light. On the floor I saw rows and rows of industrial strength sewing machines, the kind you see today only in documentaries about Chinese textile mills. It made a strong impression on my 7-year old mind.

Descriptions of the proposed hotel in the local press have been hazy as to how much, if any, of the existing building would be incorporated into the new. Most reports ambiguously say the hotel will be built “at” the American Tin Cannery. Nowhere have I seen it stated explicitly that the American Tin Cannery will be demolished, but neither has it been said the building will be spared. One recent report suggested that the hotel will be an “homage” to the cannery. An artist’s rendering of the interior displayed on the developer’s website shows features that look similar to the existing structure, but the aerial site plan shows the hotel with a very different footprint, most of it set well back from the street. Curiously missing from the website are any street-views of Project Bella.

Put it all together and it becomes evident that the American Tin Cannery will be no more. Yet for some reason PG preservationists don’t seem to have picked up the signals yet. If the demolition of an old pump house could attract their attention, the destruction of the American Tin Cannery should raise alarms like mad, yet they haven’t said a word.

Do Pacific Grove voters really know what they’ll be getting on that property? I suspect Project Bella supporters don’t want Pagrovians to know too much just yet. It appears they want to lure voters to the special election with glowing promises of economic benefits and unsurpassed luxury before the townsfolk realize they must sacrifice a unique piece of the town’s heritage – hence the need to conduct the vote two months before the scheduled June 7 election.

James Toy lives in Seaside and is a regular contributor to the Partisan. This first appeared on one of his blogsMr. Toy’s Mental Notes.

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