Thursday, May 20, 1999
Sand City doesn''t need another park. At least that''s what Sand City Community Development Director Steve Matarazzo says. And talk of negotiations between SNG Development Company, the Big Sur Land Trust and the California State Parks Department has Matarazzo feeling more than slightly exasperated.
"Why State Parks wants another 32 acres when the developer will likely provide them with acceptable access and additional parking is beyond me," exclaims Matarazzo, "especially when they''re poised to acquire over 700 acres next door on the former Fort Ord."
State Parks'' hopes of acquiring 32 acres of coastal property at the end of Fremont Avenue were apparently invigorated on May 12 when the California Coastal Commission put off a decision on SNG''s Monterey Bay Shores project, a 495-unit hotel and residential development slated for that site.
Considering that the commission''s staff recommended denial and identified 17 violations of the Sand City Local Coastal Plan (LCP), the project may require serious revision before the commission will approve it. The project came before the commission as a result of a Sierra Club appeal of Sand City''s approval of the project in December.
The violations cited by Coastal Commission staff include several environmental problems, such as the permanent loss of 13 acres of dune habitat and the disruption of the endangered Smith''s blue butterfly habitat. Moreover, the project lacked an approved water supply and acceptable traffic mitigation measures.
Last Saturday, Zad Leavy, executive director of the Big Sur Land Trust, was quoted in a local newspaper saying that the trust was looking into purchasing the oceanfront parcel and perhaps converting it into a state park. Leavy told the Weekly that conversations have occurred, but negotiations are confidential. SNG''s front man Ed Ghandour confirmed one such conversation.
"It''s a well-known fact that State Parks wanted to buy the property for a number of years," Ghandour told the Weekly. "I''ve had one conversation--initiated by Zad Leavy."
But a deal between Ghandour and the Land Trust would, according to Matarazzo, spell bad news for the community of Sand City. The project could rake in an estimated $200,000 per year in tax revenue for the tiny city of 200 residents in need of redevelopment. Matarazzo says Sand City needs $40 million to rebuild city streets and sewers, construct a drainage system and clean up hydrocarbon contamination leached into the city''s beaches, among other things.
"We need tax dollars in order to revitalize a community subject to substantial urban blight, including the coastline," says Matarazzo. "Having nothing but open space provides no revenue to the city and impairs our ability to clean up the area and impairs our ability to become a new town on the Monterey Peninsula."
Moreover, a State Parks acquisition of the Monterey Bay Shores parcel could violate a 1996 Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) between State Parks and Sand City. The MOU expanded the city''s LCP to reserve the majority of its mile and a half of coastline as parks and open space, but allowed for a "development envelope" to provide the city with an opportunity to attract visitor-serving businesses.
But if SNG wants to sell, the city has no say in that decision. "If the owners of this particular property want to sell, we''ll listen," says Leavy. "We don''t have to talk to the city. Property rights are alive and well in the state of California."
Those in favor of the sale are hoping that the problems identified by the Coastal Commission staff present a substantial enough stumbling block to convince Ghandour to sell. In fact, environmentalists are wondering how and why the project ever got as far as it did.
"[The Sierra Club] appealed the project to the Coastal Commission and also filed a law suit because the EIR [Environmental Impact Report] was such a laugh," says Janie Figen, coastal coordinator for the Ventana Chapter of the Sierra Club. "This project has major flaws."
When city councilmembers passed the project, they attached a list of 59 conditions of approval requiring that the LCP inconsistencies be ironed out before construction begins. However, those conditions did little to persuade the Coastal Commission last week.
"Placing a condition on a permit that you need to provide evidence of a water permit, or you need to provide evidence of compliance with the Endangered Species Act, in our opinion," says Steve Monowitz, a coastal planner with the Coastal Commission, "those are fundamental questions that need to be answered before a city approves a project."
Despite the Coastal Commission''s cold reception and State Parks'' bit chomping, Ghandour isn''t ready to throw in the towel yet. "I think the continuance gives us an opportunity to modify the project and wrap it up with the commission," he says. "We want to have a nice resort there."