Thursday, January 16, 2003
Photo by Randy Tunnell: Shine On: Marina Mayor Ila Mettee-McCutchon and Mayor Prp Tem Michael Morrison, left, represent Marina on the Fort Ord Reuse Authority board. At right areFORA Director Michael Houlemard and Seaside Mayor Jerry Smith, who chairs the board.
Walking out of the latest board meeting of the Ford Ord Reuse Authority (FORA) on Friday evening, Jan. 10, Congressman Sam Farr was, once again, growling. Minutes before, the board had taken a vote. With representatives from Monterey and Salinas absent and Carmel abstaining, the board found that the "business terms" in the City of Marina''s deal for the controversial and massive Marina Heights development were consistent with the base re-use plan.
Farr had been joined by Gary Patton of Landwatch Monterey County in outspoken protest of the vote. The board--made up of officials from local jurisdictions--didn''t listen.
"I don''t know what they''re doing," Farr said while leaving. "It was really strange. It means nothing."
Under an agreement approved by the Marina City Council in October, the city will sell 248 acres of Fort Ord land for $10.6 million to developers who will build 1,050 homes. With a severe regional need for reasonably priced homes, Farr and others have asked why the Marina Heights plan has only 85 so-called "bridge homes," priced under $301,000, with the balance in pricey market-rate houses.
For months now, Farr has been demanding affordable housing in new projects on the former army base. He''s threatened to halt federal funds if he doesn''t see results. At a December FORA meeting, Farr complained about the lack of local political will to build reasonably priced homes on the discount government land.
"I feel like it''s one step forward and two steps back," he said after the Jan. 10 meeting. "The issue here is: what makes housing affordable at Fort Ord is that the land is free."
The meeting itself had been tense and messy. Facts were disputed, and thinly veiled insults were hurled. It was bad enough that County Supervisor Edith Johnston asked at one point that they be able to "talk, instead of writing missives and throwing darts at each other."
It started early on when Marina planning director Jeff Dack presented a chart of affordable housing distribution in city projects on the base. The chart showed that in current and upcoming developments, 43 percent of housing is designated below market rate. Last year the Mari- na city council adopted a goal of having no less than 40 percent of its share of Fort Ord housing be considered affordable--25 percent in each new project.
"Marina has embraced a very aggressive framework for affordable housing on the former Fort Ord," Dack said.
Not so, said Bruce Delgado, a Marina City Councilman who rose from the audience to dispute the head planner''s claims. He said that some of the housing being counted as affordable should not be considered so, and that the chart was misleading because it presented numbers that don''t represent actual housing. For example, Delgado said, including transitional housing for the mentally ill was a bit like counting hospital beds as housing. "Be careful before you''re pacified by numbers like this," he said.
Delgado''s warning inspired fellow Marina councilman and FORA representative Michael Morrison to insist that Delgado should not have identified himself as a city councilman while speaking from the floor. "Teamwork, not lone-wolf actions, will make this dream work," Morrison said.
But Delgado wasn''t the only one making warnings. Speaking early and often, Farr urged the board to "reorient" itself to the FORA mission and exert its power rather than merely accept the proposals brought by cities.
"It''s very clear you have the power to plan. You have the power to zone. You have the power to share revenue with all the jurisdictions," he said. "You have the power to set goals that the underlying jurisdictions have to abide by."
Farr was cut off by Seaside Mayor Jerry Smith, the FORA board chairman, who asked him to get to his point. Farr did, telling the officials he wanted them to set a final goal for affordable housing; establish prices for housing; and disclose the profits being made by cities from developing Fort Ord land. Farr questioned if cities profiting from government hand-out property was even legal.
"I''m concerned that FORA is in an awkward position," Farr said.
He asked that his concerns be put on the next meeting agenda, but the snubbing continued. Smith would only say Farr''s concerns could go to a "future" meeting.
Again, Farr brought up FORA''s earlier pledge--which was made in a letter to the head of a Congressional appropriations committee--promising a housing trust that would make it easier for people to own property.
Smith and FORA Director Michael Houlemard said they needed time to think about the Congressman''s comments.
"When are those things going to be done?" Farr insisted. "Frankly I think there''s a lot at stake here."
Smith replied: "We''ll certainly respond to your concerns as soon as possible."
The political dissing continued when Sue McCloud, Mayor of Carmel, spoke about the difference between cities like Carmel and Pacific Grove--which only get one vote each in FORA matters because no land transfers come to them--and cities like Marina, Seaside, Monterey and Salinas, which have two votes because each is granted land.
Ron Schenk, new member of the Pacific Grove City Council and that town''s new representative to FORA, also spoke up about the opportunity to use free land, asking first that the board forgive his "ignorance."
In response, Smith politely said he welcomed their "enthusiasm," but explained that there''s already a "game plan" in the works.
County Supervisor Edith Johnsen proposed taking the FORA members on a retreat in order to bump up the "knowledge base" and find out why "we''re not talking well with each other."
Smith added to the you-don''t-know-what-you''re-talking-about vibe, saying, "There is a learning curve that needs to be overcome if we''re going to work in a constructive manner."
Apparently, the weird inertia was getting to the audience. Gary Patton, who came to the meeting to make a separate point, rose to bellow into the microphone, among other things, "the talking seems to be quite frustrating."
Likewise, former water board commissioner Ron Chessire told the officials, "The more you talk about it, the more opportunity we lose."
But the board had to vote on what it considered a minor point: whether the business terms in the option agreement--which describe the transaction and split the profits 50-50 between Marina and FORA--were consistent with standards in the FORA base re-use plan.
When the time came, Marina Mayor Ila Mettee-McCutchon asked the board to endorse the agreement. Before they could vote, Farr asked to know where the profits for the project go.
He complained again that there is no affordable housing mentioned in the agreement and no system at FORA to keep track of incoming projects. "Frankly if you''re going to get to your ultimate goal, you''ve got to include it [affordable housing] in each project," Farr said.
Gary Patton, armed with a lawyer''s opinion, protested too, saying FORA should not advise Marina or any other local city.
"It''s setting a very bad precedent," Patton said. "I hope you would just get rid of that motion."
Even though Patton had roared his suggestion into the microphone at high volume, the board did not listen. The motion passed. McCloud abstained because she said she had not been provided enough information to cast a vote.