Thursday, April 18, 2013

That's Chutzpah!

Ever since Fort Ord closed almost twenty years ago local veterans groups have been trying to establish a veterans cemetery on the former military base. It is and always has been a laudable and appropriate tribute to the soldiers who passed through Fort Ord prior to putting themselves in harms way for their country.

Unfortunately, their progress has been slow, apparently due to the massive bureaucracies and sluggish processes that affect most land use matters around here. Funding also appears to have been a problem. Understandably, cemetery proponents have grown frustrated by the whole process. 

But sometime in the past couple years the veterans' tactics took a dark turn. Cemetery supporters hitched their wagon to the controversial Monterey Downs project, a proposal to build a massive horse racetrack, hotels, and other big things on a pristine old-growth oak forest. Monterey Downs and the cemetery would then occupy different areas of the same parcel of land. Evidently, the arrangement the veterans made with the racetrack developers would have provided the cemetery with a suitable piece of land and funding to develop it. In return, Monterey Downs would gain a veneer of civic responsibility and a political wedge to help justify their own development.

It was sneaky politics, and nasty things followed. Suddenly anyone who dared question Monterey Downs, and there are a lot of legitimate questions, was branded as being anti-veteran. If you opposed Monterey Downs you were, in the eyes of cemetery supporters, against the cemetery plain and simple.

As the past year wound down some sensible public officials found a way to disconnect the cemetery project from the Monterey Downs planning, allowing the cemetery to occupy a portion of the parcel without being contingent on the approval of the racetrack. A more appropriate source of funding was also found.

Fast forward to recent weeks. A new concern has been raised about the cemetery plans. Some people are saying that the land was cleared of hazardous, and possibly explosive, materials only to a depth of four feet. Since graves are dug six feet deep there might be a problem. I'm not qualified to assess the legitimacy of this concern, but that's not why I'm writing now, anyway.

No, I'm here today because I read a guest commentary in Tuesday's Monterey Herald written by Richard Garza of the Central Coast Veterans Cemetery Foundation. I almost fell off my chair when I read this sentence:
"The most frequent tactic used to try to derail [the veterans cemetery] involves attempts by various groups to link it to the proposed Monterey Downs development."
WHAT??? It appears that cemetery supporters are now blaming others for their own stupid mistake. The cemetery wasn't even remotely controversial before its proponents linked up with Monterey Downs. Now they're suggesting that this well-documented relationship was a myth cooked up by cemetery opponents to discredit the cemetery project. What chutpah!

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