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.