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Monterey Downs backers are trying to distort reality

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People on Gigling

Plenty of people want the Monterey Downs site just the way it is

At the Monterey County League of Women Voters presentation on April 8, Beth Palmer, chief operating officer of Monterey Downs, stated that nobody wanted the land that Monterey Downs wants to develop, so Monterey Downs stepped up to fill that void. That’s nonsense unless “wanted” simply means “wanted to develop” such as Monterey Downs proposes.

In point of fact, 23 years ago, 11 local and national groups made the case for environmentally protecting the entire area south of Inter-Garrison Road, which includes the now-proposed Monterey Downs site. To be clear, these well-educated and insightful folks wanted the land protected from the type of development such as Brian Boudreau and Beth Palmer are proposing.  As evidence, please review the “Fort Ord Parklands – a Vision Statement” completed in January 1992. Note that among the many groups that prepared and endorsed this report were the Sierra Club and the Native Plant Society, along with nine other influential non-profit groups. Highlighted in yellow are many sections of the report that are relevant to the controversy at hand. Here is one particularly significant paragraph from the introductory remarks.
 
“Fringing the 8,000 acre Impact Zone is a Recreational Land greenbelt buffer area, where recreational activities and trails are proposed. The Impact Zone is designated Open Space Land, where wildlife habitat and natural ecological processes should be allowed to continue uninterrupted. The entire coastal zone and the remaining inland area south of Intergarrison Road is (sic) designated Parks/Wildlife Preserve Lands to protect the unique Maritime Chaparral, Oak Woodlands and Native Grassland areas and high concentrations of rare and uncommon plants and animals. Fort Ord harbors the last large habitat tracts of vegetation that were once typical of the Monterey Peninsula. These lands support many threatened endemic species that are naturally restricted to the central coast region and found nowhere else in the world.”
 
If one reads this scientific report, at least the sections highlighted in yellow, it becomes obvious that Keep Fort Ord Wild and other environmentally concerned groups are just attempting to preserve the same undeveloped wilderness that the 1992 Fort Ord Parklands Group said should be preserved over 23 years ago!
 
Here is the mission statement of Keep Fort Ord Wild:
 
“Keep Fort Ord Wild is a community coalition dedicated to the preservation of trails, recreation, wildlife and habitat on Fort Ord. We support sensible, economically viable, redevelopment of the extensive blight within the urban footprint of the former base. We support conservation of existing undeveloped open space for the enjoyment of current and future generations.”
 
So, clearly, the land in question is not unwanted land. In fact many of us have been fighting for nearly five years now to convince the leaders and populace that this land has been ‘wanted’ for its true intrinsic value as stated so well in the ‘Preservation Goals’ at the conclusion of the Parklands report, and quoted below.
 
“When Fort Ord closes, the primary economic base for the Monterey Peninsula will be tourism, a clean industry well established in this splendid region. Although the large number and variety of hotels and resorts available to visitors provides a great attraction, it is the outstanding natural beauty of the open space landscape that draws most people to the area. It is economically sound to provide recreational opportunities that enhance the visitor experience, fulfill the recreational needs of the local resident community, and maintain the ecological integrity of the natural landscape.”
 
Let’s keep Fort Ord wild!

Bill Weigle is professor emeritus of mathematics and environmental studies at the University of Maine at Machias. He lives in Seaside. His commentary first appeared in the Monterey Herald.

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Monterey Downs EIR to hit the shelves Tuesday

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Business people horse racingThe long-awaited, sure-to-be-debated, gonna-get-people-agitated Draft Environmental Impact Report on the Monterey Downs project is now scheduled to be available for perusal on Tuesday, March 31.

According to the Keep Fort Ord Wild group, Seaside officials made that decision this week. Unless a last-minute delay occurs, the comment period will run through June 1.

The documents should be posted on the city’s Monterey Downs website Tuesday and hard copies are to be made available at City Hall, the Oldermeyer Center and the Seaside Library. A public study session is scheduled for 6 p.m. Thursday April 30, featuring presentations by the city staff and the applicant.

Monterey Downs is the horse race track and residential/commercial complex proposed for property at Ford Ord. The Environmental Impact Report has been delayed several times. Among the many issues involved are the large number of trees to be lost and the lack of an identifiable and sustainable water supply. The horse-racing industry’s treatment of horses is also being raised as an issue by those who would like to stop the project.

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????Although they’re about water, newly available documents concerning the proposed Monterey Downs racetrack and residential/commercial compound make for some fairly dry reading. The only chuckle-inducing part comes early on when project manager Beth Palmer attempts to create a new category of water.

The Marina Coast Water District concluded that there is not “sufficient existing water supply to achieve the complete build-out…” of the huge Fort Ord project. Palmer, however, doesn’t like that conclusion. She writes, “We believe that conclusion is not completely accurate.” And why’s that? Existing doesn’t mean existing. It means existing plus “anticipated future water supplies.” It’s reminiscent of that great Bill Clinton line: “It depends on what your definition of ‘is’ is.”

To Palmer, existing could mean water from the Cal Am desalination plant that remains little more than a gleam in a utility accountant’s eye. Or a desalination plant to be built by the Marina Coast Water District, which shows little interest in such a thing. Or recycled wastewater. Or excess surface water from the Salinas River. It might surprise the farmers of the Salinas Valley to hear that there is much of an excess.

Could it be that when Palmer refers to existing water, she’s thinking of water that exists somewhere but not around here?

Palmer’s thoughts are contained in a supplemental water report  2K.14.02.21.MD.LLC.WSA.with.city.seal for the project, a report prepared for the developer and submitted to the city of Seaside for possible inclusion in the project’s environmental impact report. A draft EIR is scheduled for release in September but it won’t be as comprehensive as anticipated. Rather than serving as a self-contained, all-inclusive environmental impact report, it will be what is known as a “subsequent EIR,” meaning that it incorporates many elements from the earlier EIR prepared for the Fort Ord reuse plan. Less thorough. Less expensive. Fewer elements for legal challenge.

The supplemental water assessment is the Monterey Downs developer’s attempt to argue that the project won’t need as much water as previously believed and that it will have access to more “existing” water than previously calculated. The report was submitted to the city in March but didn’t become publicly available until this month, the result of a public records act request by the Keep Fort Ord Wild group. It doesn’t do much of a job supporting the desired numbers but does make some interesting arguments. Such as this. It was the project’s water provider, the Marina water district,  that determined that there simply isn’t enough water to complete the project. (That determination was made two years ago, when the district was led by a heavily pro-development majority, which has since been replaced by a more conservation-minded group.) Palmer directs her commentary to the city, however, arguing that the law allows  the Seaside City Council to overrule the water district’s opinion. That could explain why Monterey Downs wants to have some key approvals completed by the end of the year–before a potential change in the council makeup.

The lead agency (Seaside) is not bound to follow the determinations and conclusions …  as ‘the lead agency may make a finding that adequate water supplies exist (or do not exist) to meet the project’s anticipated demand, even if that finding is inconsistent with the conclusions in the public water system’s assessment,'” Palmer writes. In other words, “inconsistent” can be turned into “consistent” through the proper application of campaign contributions.

Michael Salerno, spokesman for Keep Fort Ord Wild, says Palmer’s numbers don’t add up and neither does her reasoning. The water district calculated the project would need 852 acre-feet of water annually. Palmer argues for a total of 712 acre-feet because of various poorly defined conservation measures and other factors. Pair that with more water from every direction and, what do you know, Monterey Downs practically submerges itself.

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