“Our Changing Environment”
By Justin Ebrahemi
Justin is a Human Communications: Journalism and Media Studies student at California State University, Monterey Bay, and Chapter Executive Committee member who will be attending public hearings and writing an occasional blog about issues important to the Chapter from his point of view.
Tension is growing over the fate of the Fort Ord lands. Last year, it was the failed Whispering Oaks plan that received uproar of public opposition, and now the attention has shifted to Parker Flats.
The Fort Ord Reuse Authority (FORA) is in the process of receiving testimony the Monterey Downs project, which includes a horse park and racetrack as well as a commercial center, hotels, Olympic-sized swimming pool, tennis facility and housing for 1,500 residences. The project also includes the long-sought Veteran’s Cemetery. Both developments would be built in the Parker Flats region of the former Fort Ord; however, opponents to the Downs and racetrack are having growing concerns.
At FORA’s September 14th Board meeting, members solemnly listened to the requests and complaints of the county’s citizens, as equestrians, bikers, veterans, and townspeople shared their views.
A CSUMB graduate and engineer expressed dissent not of the project itself, but the method of proposed action. “We don’t want that forest cut down; we can build it in one of the abandoned parking lots... Growth at any cost it not growth, it’s profiteering.”
Gail Morton, cofounder of Fort Ord Rec Users as well as a Sierra Club member, had similar views. She objected to the clear-cutting method of removing the Oaks. She proceeded to speak of the project’s scoping report, which explained that there are no valid water rights for the development of Fort Ord.
California State University, Monterey Bay student, Alexandra Walling, spoke: “I understand it’s easier and cheaper to tear down trees than buildings, but there are bigger costs at stake. When you bulldoze, the coyotes move into the suburbs and start eating our pets.”
Public concern also focused on the recent spate of No Trespassing signs and barriers that have been posted around both Parker Flats and the Jerry Smith Corridor. One speaker accused FORA of “making criminals of healthy citizens who want to enjoy the natural lands.” The audience exploded in applause when he inquired, “Is there anyone with me who supports taking down signs, not oak trees?”
Many of those who spoke in support of the Monterey Down project did so because it provides financial support for the Veteran’s Cemetery. Dan Presser, an Army veteran of Fort Ord, disclaimed the importance of the trees and emphasized the value of having a cemetery to be buried alongside his fellow soldiers. In a raised voice, he exclaimed, “We need the lands already trotted by military boots serving the veterans as their rightful home.” A woman in a wheelchair, who addressed herself as “a causality of the Afghani war” expressed the same thoughts. The majority of environmentalist who spoke also noted their support for the cemetery, but not for the Downs and racetrack development.
Tensions ran relatively lower during the next FORA meeting, which was devised to receive public comments on the Fort Ord Base Reuse Plan (BRP) Reassessment. On October 30th in the Carpenter's Hall, FORA board members met yet again with Monterey county officials and the public to discuss the reassessment process. This time the mood was mellow and docile as speakers made their views known.
The meeting began with a FORA presentation given by Michael Groves, president of the EMC planning group. The first PowerPoint slide asked the simple question: "Did we get everything you wanted on the 'menu'"? Public comment would later answer this question negatively. Following a brief and welcoming presentation, Tom Moore of the Sierra Club FORA Subcommittee showed a PowerPoint presentation that called for "world class chefs" to carefully continue to develop land on Fort Ord.
In the PowerPoint, the utensils were the Scoping Report, the Market report, and the Reassessment Report, the cooks were FORA board of directors and the three main ingredients for this world-class meal envisioned for Fort Ord’s future were: the environment, education, and economic development. According to Dr. Moore, these factors will combine to make Fort Ord one of the most attractive sites in the United States. To ensure the project isn't created hastily and without careful planning, the Sierra Club communicated issues with the new BRP. Firstly, the Club questioned why programs like the Oak Tree Protection program and the Trail Plan Policy disappeared from the Reassessment.
Tom Moore also advocated that FORA should be proactive to adopt a policy to attract high paying, creative, non-polluting jobs. Proposed economic development was compared to Lucas Studios on the Presidio of San Francisco, which now hosts the type of modern jobs the Club could support. Through a vigorous marketing plan, Sierra Club hopes FORA will actively seek creative jobs to satisfy the BRP’s Market Report.
A member of the public critiqued this comparison, making the analogy to apples and oranges. "They're two different worlds. Fort Ord has 42 ranges; basic training, over 400 acres of land...If Sierra Club wants to makes a comparison, and then let's do it fair." A rebuttal to this critique was given later by a woman in the public, who cited the market study, explaining that employers are looking for a mixed-opportunity community as is envisioned by the Sierra Club.
The Club further advocated ensuring that FORA can only enter new contracts under a suggested policy that terminates development agreements if they are not timely implemented. This is in response to the unsightly locations of Marina Dunes and the barren land on East Garrison. A public response to this was that time requirements neglect the current economic status which may alter the need for the development. Sierra Club additionally insisted that FORA reexamine financing for blight removal and that development occurs on lands covered with blight before building elsewhere.
The modified reports for Monterey Downs are available on www.fora.org.
Thanks to the citizens of Monterey County, the subliminal problems of FORA’s plans were elucidated in a demonstration of awareness and passion. Public contention resulted from perceived neglect of FORA’s promise to “balance nature with everyday living”, as expressed on their website.
Progress can and should be made, but when the environmental impact supersedes the need for growth, we must take a stand. The underlying problems with Monterey Downs continue to surface, but the public is actively holding FORA to account.
Changes to our environment appear to be inevitable, so let’s strive for world-class plans and policies to ensure development occurs in a manner that is both sensitive to the environment and conscious of our community.
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