Thursday, February 14, 2013
Of the many great moments in this week’s cover story by Assistant Editor Kera Abraham on the Monterey Downs proposal, I’m having a tough time determining my favorite. The Downs-produced video she describes in the opening of the piece is certainly up there for the sheer bizarreness of it – a young, white, male college student from Monterey travels to the Del Mar Thoroughbred Club for a weekend of concert-going, playing the ponies, drinking and getting laid. The hookup scene with the hot concert-going babe at the end of the video is priceless, but ultimately, the message is this: If Monterey County had its own version of Del Mar, junior wouldn’t have to head to San Diego and blow his tuition or rent money on a weekend of good, clean debauchery – he could get all of that here at home. (I hope one of them had the good sense to bring condoms.)
I can’t yet say whether I support Monterey Downs. It looks beautiful on paper, but between the yet-to-be finished environmental impact report, the wildly uncertain issue of financing and the ultimate impacts to public services in Seaside, many unanswered questions remain. But I can say this: If the Monterey Downs team can get past the EIR process, can get the financing mechanisms in place, can overcome the myriad lawsuits that enviros and slow-growthers are just aching to file, they should be required to spend significant time getting to know the actual people and the real issues of Monterey County before they turn over a single shovelful of dirt.
NOBODY IS JUKING THE STATISTICS TO KEEP MONTEREY DOWNS DRY.
Because based on the mindset of Downs’ financial backer William de Burgh (most notable as the rich thoroughbred breeder whose Ireland wedding had reporters from this and other papers crawling through County Supervisor Dave Potter’s financial statements to see who paid for Potter’s wedding travel), Monterey County is an economic wonderland of untapped opportunity, inexpensive living and more than abundant water for things like a racetrack and equestrian-themed, mixed-use development.
No, seriously. That’s what he said.
“The thing that always comes back to me is how inexpensive it is to live in Monterey,” de Burgh says. “It’s beautiful, you can own a house for $350,000, and I just don’t understand how you don’t have a bigger economy there.”
He went on to say, “I don’t understand why this area doesn’t boom. It seems like Salinas Valley’s full of water. I always hear the argument about water.” And he asked Abraham: Think it’s just an excuse to prevent growth?
Let’s start at the top: how inexpensive it is to live in Monterey.
Penn State University developed a project in the mid-Aughts called Poverty in America. As a companion piece, the Massachusetts Institute of Technology developed the Living Wage Calculator, which looks at the most prevalent jobs in an area and analyzes what’s known as subsistence wages: the minimum amount of money needed to provide for basic needs such as rent, food and transportation.
In Monterey County, a single adult needs to earn $10.82 an hour to have a living wage. A single adult with one child needs to earn $21.34 an hour; with two children, $24.95 an hour and three children, $31.61 an hour.
According to the Living Wage Calculator, the average salary for a food service worker in Monterey County is $9.28 an hour (below the living wage); a building grounds and maintenance worker makes $11.60 an hour (better not have kids), and someone working in healthcare support makes about $13.37 an hour (at which you and your kid are living in poverty).
The Monterey Downs folks say they’ve commissioned a salary study that will lay out exactly what jobs and wages the project will create. But really, Mr. de Burgh, what’s that you were saying about how affordable it is to live here, and how easy it is to buy a $350,000 house? Affordable and easy for whom, exactly?
As for why Monterey County doesn’t have a bigger economy or hasn’t “boomed,” there’s that pesky issue of water.
No, Mr. De Burgh, nobody is juking the statistics to keep Monterey Downs dry. The state court’s cease-and-desist order to prevent continued overpumping of the Carmel River is an actual thing, and unless the Peninsula’s water problems are solved in the next two years, horses can look forward to shorter showers and drier hay. And if you think you’re going to pull Salinas Valley aquifer water away from the farmers to irrigate the Downs, it’s a safe bet that a group of Salinas Valley farmers are going to put up a fight you might not even realize is coming.
But like I said, I’m open to Downs as a concept. I look forward to more answers.
MARY DUAN is the Weekly’s editor. Reach her at firstname.lastname@example.org or follow her at twitter.com/maryrduan