Felix Bachofner, candidate for Mayor - Seaside, CA panorama banner image

Monterey Downs

Monterey Downs is a proposal to build on several hundred acres of the former Ft. Ord.  A significant portion of the acreage is in Seaside and a larger portion is currently in unincorporated Monterey County.  Included in the proposal is a horse training and racing facility, a “horse park,” retail and commercial facilities, a hotel and long-term lodging and hundreds of residential units.

Due to an Exclusive Negotiating Agreement (ENA) and a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) entered into with Monterey Downs a few years ago, the City of Seaside is moving forward with vetting the proposal through an Environmental Impact Report (EIR).  The proposal may only turn into a development project after the EIR process is complete.

Procedural Concerns

This process has taken at least two years longer than expected.  The EIR was once again delayed in late summer 2014 and is now expected only to be acted on shortly after the November, 2014 election.

The EIR process should allow significant opportunity for the community to discuss the proposal’s impacts (both good and bad).  The final EIR will reflect the public’s comments along with expert analysis and will propose mitigations where possible and/or necessary.  If the net total impact is positive, presumably the City will move forward with the proposal.  If the net total impact is negative, presumably the City should abandon the proposal and seek out an alternative idea or leave the area undeveloped for an indefinite amount of time.

Unfortunately, there is significant evidence the currently seated council and Mayor will all vote to approve the Monterey Downs proposal regardless of EIR findings and forthcoming public testimony.  The Seaside City council’s reluctance to accept and incorporate public input is described on the Accountability, Transparency and Engaging the Public page.

Impacts and Annexation

Whether one believes (in advance of the completed EIR) that the project is good or bad, certainly there will be significant impacts.  I believe these impacts (good and/or bad) will affect the City of Seaside more than any other jurisdiction, and as a result championed the idea that if the proposal is developed and built that it become completely incorporated into the City of Seaside.

Both the County and Monterey Downs have agreed with my assessment and have agreed to the annexation.  Indeed, Monterey Downs has submitted preliminary materials in support of such an annexation.  This process will be led by LAFCO (the Local Agency Formation Commission).  If there are no objections (particularly from the County), the annexation is expected to proceed quickly.

Conceptual Concerns

While I continue to support annexation should the proposal be deemed (by the community) to have merit, I have significant concerns with the Monterey Downs proposal in the first place.

There is not yet a publicly circulated economic analysis, but concerned residents and businesses have pointed out (with significant credibility) a number of very real concerns:

  • The process takes focus away from much needed development in the existing development footprint of the City of Seaside.  [This means demand for City services (including expensive public safety services) away from areas currently served . . . or underserved, as the case may be.]
  • Environmental losses at the proposed location may be far worse than similar development in other areas of the former Fort Ord.
  • There seems to be inadequate available water.
  • The horse racing industry in the United States may be dying (horse racing is a significant underpinning of the proposal).  New York Times has a particularly penetrating piece about this.  Forbes does too — arguably more balanced and asking as many questions as it answers.  [That’s OK, questions shouldn’t scare us!]
  • Horse racing and its associated betting can introduce crime into a community.
  • Seaside has historically shunned gambling, in part over concerns for crime and for reasons related to personal development.
  • Jobs (theoretically) provided by development of the proposal have lower median salaries than the Seaside Council has expressed it desires for local residents.

My appreciation and expression of these concerns are one of many reasons I have been endorsed by Monterey County Weekly, Monterey Bay Partisan, Seaside Concerned Democrats, the Monterey County Green Party, WaterPlus and Public Water Now.

Other than Jason Cambell and myself, Seaside politicians do not seem to want to even ask deep questions, much less admit there may be shortcomings in the Downs proposal.  Once again, Seaside’s policy makers seem to be shirking their official duties.

One main function of our elected representatives is to ask penetrating questions of proposals which will affect anyone in the community, let alone a large population.

Page Last Edited: Monday, October 20, 2014

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