Wednesday, October 9, 2013

K vs. M

Monterey County voters have every reason to be confused by two competing measures on the November 5th ballot. Measures K and M would, each in their own way, have a profound effect on the future development of Fort Ord.

The primary development issues at play are:

  1. A massive commercial development called Monterey Downs centered around a proposed horse racetrack.
  2. A long awaited veterans cemetery. 
Theoretically, and frankly, in actuality, these are and should be two separate matters. Unfortunately, in the last couple of years questionable political alliances have hopelessly intertwined these issues so that they have become indistinguishable in the minds of some people.

Briefly, Measure M would permanently preserve the centuries-old oak forest - 50,000 trees in all - where Monterey Downs wants to go. Local recreation and open space advocacy groups are behind Measure M. Measure K would not directly approve Monterey Downs, but it would make it a lot easier to get through the bureaucratic hoops. The developers of Monterey Downs paid most of the expenses of getting K on the ballot as a direct challenge to Measure M.

The veterans cemetery would go next door to the proposed site of Monterey Downs no matter what, but not everyone sees it that way. Veterans say only Measure K would let the cemetery go forward, partly because they believe M would make the cemetery more difficult, if not impossible to build, but mostly because Monterey Downs would help finance the underfunded cemetery.

In the ensuing scuffle between the two ballot measures, conflicting claims and counter-claims have been flying across the land with each side accusing the other of misleading voters. Worse, Measure K promoters are emphasizing the veterans cemetery in a "tug at the heartstrings" campaign designed to distract voters from Monterey Downs.


Enough! 

I'm going to vote for M and against K, and here's why.

I'm voting No on K because it is not about the veterans cemetery. It's all about making it easier for Monterey Downs to get built. Why else would out of town developers have paid tens of thousands of dollars to get it on the ballot? The cemetery angle is a red herring, misdirection, a bait and switch tactic. Frankly, I find it shameful that local veterans would allow themselves to be used as the political pawns of southern California development interests.

My feelings towards Measure M
are a little less straightforward. Some have legitimately argued that it circumvents the standard land use approval process of public hearings with the ultimate decision resting on the shoulders of our elected officials. I almost decided to vote against M for that reason. Unfortunately, our elected officials - the Seaside city council specifically - have already made it pretty clear they want the tax revenue from Monterey Downs and they want it bad. They've turned this into a simplistic "trees vs. jobs" issue and they seem to have their minds made up even though the process has barely begun.

Seaside recently trotted out
an "unbiased" report saying - surprise - that a massive commercial development like Monterey Downs would create more jobs than the trails through the existing old oak forest. Of course, any third grader could tell you that without spending thousands of dollars on a fancy report. But land use decisions are far more complex than that. Our quality of life here depends heavily on our natural resources. A little over a century ago there was a plan to subdivide Point Lobos for a small town like Carmel. A few lots were sold, and the only thing that halted the plan was an economic downturn. Would a town at Point Lobos have created more jobs than the park it became? Sure! Would we be better off if Point Lobos became a town instead of a park? No way!

Then there's the elephant in the room, the blighted areas of Fort Ord that are not being redeveloped a good 20 years after we were promised they would be. This makes the "trees vs jobs" argument for Measure K even more ludicrous. By their implicit support for Monterey Downs Seaside council members are showing that they'd rather develop unspoiled areas than redevelop the spoiled ones. In reality, this isn't "trees vs. jobs" so much as which do we prefer to eliminate, healthy trees or dilapidated buildings?

Thus I have concluded that voting YES in Measure M will send a clear message to decision-makers: Redevelop the blighted areas first!

So I encourage you to vote Yes on M and No on K.

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