Thursday, December 10, 1998
As the city of Marina forges ahead with its general plan update process, some folks are voicing concern that the city is, literally, headed in the wrong direction: north.
With that in mind, a group of 17 concerned Marina residents, led by Marina resident Ken Gray, and two representatives from LandWatch Monterey County, a nonprofit group dedicated to prudent planning, met last Sunday evening to discuss organizing a group that could put forth a unified voice in presenting a new general plan alternative to the city of Marina, one which would direct new development to Fort Ord and away from Armstrong Ranch and coastal lands.
Many of those in attendance were unfamiliar with the entire concept of city planning. Some had never even heard of a general plan. But all those in attendance said they were committed to bringing citizen voices to a process that is likely to be complex and time consuming.
"There were quite a few new faces," says Gray. "We might have started something here."
At the Marina City Council''s Nov. 24 meeting, councilmembers voted unanimously to accept the staff-recommended preferred alternative of the general land use plan which takes the city one step closer to a new general plan that will guide development for the next 20 years.
The general plan update began earlier this year when the city hired a consultant to facilitate the process. Via a number of Planning Commission meetings and community workshops, the city has worked out the details, arriving at the preferred alternative. The city hopes to have a completed new general plan by next summer.
According to the staff-recommendation plan approved by the council, the so-called "preferred alternative," for the new general plan, if ultimately adopted, will allow more than 3,300 housing units to be developed on Marina''s share of Fort Ord, which is already annexed and within the city limits. The proposed general plan would also allow 3,700 residential units to be built on Armstrong Ranch, an 1,800-acre agricultural area lying directly north of the city and within the city''s sphere of influence, but only partially within city limits.
Development allowed under the preferred alternative general plan could increase the city''s population to an estimated 43,000 residents by 2020, more than twice its current population. Before it could be adopted, the final general land use plan will have to undergo a final City Council vote and an Environmental Impact Report (EIR).
Throughout the general plan update process, says Gray, he has been "urging the city to hold off developing Armstrong Ranch in the time frame of the current planning period." Gray says he has also urged the city to give up plans for the Lonestar project, a resort proposed for development within Marina''s coastal zone.
But, with his suggestions falling largely on deaf ears, Gray was prompted to organize a group of residents who share his concerns. "We''re trying to get [the city''s] attention," he says.
The fledgling residents'' group, which doesn''t even have a name yet, sketched out some rough objectives at their Dec. 6 meeting, including: developing Fort Ord first; preventing urban sprawl; promoting redevelopment and in-fill of the current city, and reserving Armstrong Ranch as open space. The group plans to meet again on Jan. 10.
If the general plan update process stays its present course, residents who attended the meeting said they were concerned that the result could be urban sprawl, gridlocked traffic and the deterioration of dpwntown Marina, sentiments echoed by LandWatch Director Gary Patton.
"The traffic impacts [resulting from the preferred alternative] will be very, very significant and ag land is going to be sacrificed," says Patton, who attended the meeting and said he will act as an advisor to the Marina residents'' group. "Whether this is going to make for a vital and healthy city from a land use perspective is debatable."
But the city''s decision, Planning Commissioner Grace Silva-Santella told members of the residents'' group, was based on economics. The city, she said, is looking at the development of Armstrong Ranch as an opportunity to increase its commercial tax base.
"What''s driving the city is largely a desire to attract higher income people with larger lot homes and better jobs," said Silva-Santella, who says she attended the residents'' meeting as a private citizen rather than as a public official. "That will improve retail opportunities for Marina."
Largely a bedroom community, Marina sorely lacks a solid commercial tax base needed to provide adequate services and infrastructure. Marina has the lowest per capita tax base on the Peninsula.
However, insists Gray, "With the alternative to develop Fort Ord, there is an opportunity to still meet those economic goals [without developing Armstrong Ranch.]"
And, by directing the city''s growth north and away from existing Marina, says Patton, businesses within existing Marina will suffer.
"What typically happens, and has happened in every California city," says Patton, "is the new development sucks the economic vitality out of the existing city, the existing city deteriorates and property values drop."
By in-filling vacant lots and revitalizing the existing city first, the city as a whole will benefit. "We''ll provide a more vibrant city," said Silva-Santella at Sunday''s meeting, "if we can get the in-fill."
City officials explain that development of Fort Ord depends largely on the development of Armstrong Ranch. As the city sees it, Fort Ord will produce the jobs, and Armstrong Ranch will supply the upscale housing needed by employees. The Monterey Bay Education Science and Technology Center (MBEST) and the California State University Monterey Bay (CSUMB) operating on the former Fort Ord are expected to create 12,000 jobs in the next two decades, many of them high-paying research and development positions.
"The opportunities are different," says Susan Hilinski, a city planning project manager who is overseeing the general plan update process. "On the former Fort Ord land...there is not sufficient housing and not the type of housing that will be demanded by the higher income [employees]." As plans currently stand, housing on Marina''s Fort Ord lands will consist predominantly of multi-family dwellings.
But, with Marina''s piece of Fort Ord consisting of 3,100 acres, making up roughly half of the currently incorporated city, critics find that argument hard to swallow. "There is plenty of room for housing on Fort Ord," says Gray.
Nevertheless, city officials say that, at this point, the city may be too set on the concept of developing Armstrong Ranch to make an about face. After 50 years of toying with the idea of developing, the city was informed earlier this year that the Armstrong family struck a deal with a developer, Gibson-Speeno Companies of San Jose. Subsequently, the developer has been involved (some critics say too involved), in the general plan update process. And, Gibson-Speeno presented a proposed plan for a multi-use development to the City Council last September.
Hope does apparently spring eternal--at least in Marina. In the Nov. 24 council meeting, residents were encouraged by a comment made by Marina Mayor Jim Perrine in which he explained that the preferred alternative is not the end of the line.
"What you have here is not even a draft general plan. It''s a draft concept, and it''s one of many versions that will lead up to a draft general plan," said Perrine, "so it is a process that''s still ongoing and we have always welcomed all public input."