Thursday, September 16, 2004
The sun is rising and Bruce Delgado sits in his living room on Vaughn Avenue in Marina, a few blocks up from city hall, with a cup of tea and a plate of scones on the coffee table in front of him. It’s early on a Monday morning.
He went to a fish fry in Big Sur the day before at Congressman Sam Farr’s little patch, called Point 16, way down near the San Luis Obispo County line, a benefit for a new environmental program at Cal State-Monterey Bay.
Delgado has been on the Marina City Council for four years and now he’s staging a bold gambit. He wants the mayor’s seat.
He’s made a name for himself challenging the style and pace of development on Fort Ord. He was one of the organizers of the controversial but ultimately successful urban growth boundary known as Measure E. He’s a botanist for the Bureau of Land Management (BLM), which runs a large piece of public real estate on the old Army base.
His concerns for Marina are what some might call “holistic.” He pushes for affordable housing and the sort of “new urban” development style that mimics the 19th Century pedestrian-friendly layout of old Pacific Grove.
At the last council meeting—which was unusually docile as Marina City Council meetings go—he weighed in on tree terminology. But now he’s locked into a hard race to run the city, to unseat Mayor Ila Mettee-McCutchon.
“Man, it’s intense,” Delgado says from his couch.
Delgado is a member of the Green Party. He’s 42 and grew up in Glendora, which is in the San Gabriel foothills outside Los Angeles. He went to Humboldt State. He spends a few hours every weekend picking up trash alongside Marina roads.
Mettee-McCutchon is a former Army colonel and a proud Republican who wears red religiously. She’s what you would expect from a woman who rose through the ranks of the Vietnam and post-Vietnam Army to run intelligence units, and ended up at one point in a bunker in Panama in 1989 while the US invaded outside. She’s tough and effective.
There’s also a third candidate, a Korean-American real estate agent named Moon Choe, running on the slogan “One of your own.” He admits he doesn’t attend many city council meetings and he’s never held public office, but he says he’s watched city council meetings on television. He says he believes he can run a rapidly growing city, a place that stands to become the new gateway to the Monterey Peninsula, by dint of geography and potential.
Marina is one of the most diverse places in America, with something like 30 different ethnic groups represented in the grade schools, and Choe certainly represents newcomers. He emigrated from Dangjin Korea in 1984. He’s a Democrat, but the party office in Monterey has just learned about him. Asked who he voted for in 2000 he answers, “Of course, Clinton. I’m sorry, Al Gore.”
There’s no mystery that Delgado and Mettee-McCutchon spar regularly up on the dais. He mans the brakes of what might otherwise be a runaway development train and it ruffles the engineer.
Their biggest tussle so far has been the development on Fort Ord known as Marina Heights. It’s huge and now it’s mired in a lawsuit over endangered species. If it’s built it will add 1,050 homes to the city.
Delgado makes no bones about his problems with the developers’ close ties with the mayor. One of the developers’ lead agents, Michael Shaw, helped Mettee-McCutchon in previous campaigns. She and Shaw are friends and she makes no excuses about that.
Even though Delgado was on the negotiation team that cut the deal on Marina Heights, he thinks the city is getting screwed out of millions of dollars of lost profit. Too many concessions were made to the developers, to the detriment of the city, he says.
So rather than get outvoted on the council, he’s shooting for the center chair.
“I think the leadership needs to change from the top for
the best to happen for Marina,” he says. “To take on an
incumbent I need to work really hard and I think I’m going to
win. I haven’t run into anything but good community
There are multiple, very large and potentially very profitable developments in the works in Marina. The city sits beside California State University—Monterey Bay, where the mayor’s husband, John McCutchon, is the chief of staff.
The town’s residents are taxing themselves so they can build a library. They desperately want a high school.
Mettee-McCutchon says she took the reins from the former mayor, Jim Perrine, and made things hop. She showed up in 1994 to serve as commandant of the Presidio of Monterey, which became the caretaker headquarters for the decommissioning of Fort Ord. Her orders were to shed whatever real estate she could as long as it wasn’t “illegal, immoral or fattening.”
Of all the cities around Fort Ord, Marina stands to be transformed by base redevelopment more than any other. Even though it’s all filtered through the hectic tangle of the Fort Ord Reuse Authority (FORA), Mettee-McCutchon has been riding herd in Marina.
“The feedback we’re getting now is, ‘We’re seeing changes and we like what we see,’” she says.
She shows up for an interview with a slick packet of promotional material on Marina, including a glossy brochure with a photo of a guy in suit and tie leaving for work—ostensibly in Marina—in a folder designed to attract industry to “The Wave of the Future” or “City of Marina at Monterey Bay.”
The pieces of the puzzle have already been identified, now it’s a matter of how they will be shaped. Plans for the massive multi-function development known as University Villages for one, are being drawn with a lot of citizen input.
Delgado concedes that at this point, with so much underway, what he can do as Mayor is push for affordable housing, and push for the most livable “New Urban” types of developments. That, in fact, is exactly what’s in the works for Marina Station.
The growth is inevitable, he says, it’s a matter of what it will look like and how it will feel. “We’re talking once in a lifetime and you can’t do it over,” he says.
With growth underway not only on the fort but also on the other side of the city, at Marina Station in Armstrong Ranch, Mettee-McCutchon says she does not want to ignore the existing city, where the constituents live.
With some 5,000 new homes in the works, in addition to high hopes for luring industry, locals might start to feel neglected when, years from now, there are thousands of people in Marina who aren’t here now.
“The biggest challenge over the next three to five years is to ensure the people in what we refer to as ‘central Marina’ don’t feel left out,” Mettee-McCutchon says. “That’s really important to me.”