This November, Monterey County voters will face dueling initiatives with different visions for a piece of land on Fort Ord. One measure seeks to maintain the original plan to develop some 500 acres on the former Army base, the other to prohibit development of the land.
James Bogan walks a hall at the Veterans Clinic on the former Fort Ord. He’s large man with a soft voice and a quick wit that comes through as he introduces himself. “A beautiful old gentleman, always nice,” he said with a smile. After 21 years of service to his country, including two tours in Vietnam, he now serves his fellow veterans. For two decades, he has championed a veteran’s cemetery on this former military base. Both the land along with some state and federal money have been set aside, but Bogan says more money is needed to complete the project. “We have some other buildings. We want to build a museum, an amphitheater. So this is what this is all about, we need financial help,” said Bogan.
They especially need money to maintain the cemetery into the future. So the Central Coast Veterans set aside some of the land called the endowment property. The plan is to sell it to a developer to raise the million dollars that’s needed for all the improvements and an endowment. After 10 years of looking for a buyer, the developers of Monterey Downs offered to buy it.
Monterey Downs is a proposed equestrian themed development to be built next to the veterans cemetery. It includes a horse racing track, housing and a shopping center. But the future of this project is uncertain. That’s because there’s a ballot initiative to stop this and any development on the 500 acres of land Monterey Downs hopes to use. That has Bogan worried because no chance for development likely means no buyer for the endowment property. “Bill Gates could come down here and they couldn’t build anything because it would be blocked by that initiative,” said Bogan
Supporters of the initiative to ban development gathered outside the Fort Ord Reuse Authority Office as they turn in the signatures needed to get that measure on the November ballot. Jason Campbell is spokesman for the Fort Ord Access Alliance, the group behind the measure. He says development on the former fort should start in the areas that have abandon buildings. “Putting a race course in the middle of a forest is just a bad idea no matter what you are going to do with that property. I don’t think that we should be destroying beautiful Oak forests when again we have plenty of other places to put development,” said Campbell.
Out near the property, Margaret Vivian worries if this land is developed it will end her peaceful walks here. Even though the 500 acres is a small percentage of the 28,000 acres the on the former base, Margaret says this particular space is unique. “It makes you feel good to come out here and spend time doing this. This is a special place. They need to save it,” said Vivian. Brian Endicott agrees. He is about to bike one of the trails with his dog Lucy. He says the trails that have been formed over the years are irreplaceable. There are “relatively few places that can host the number of riders, the parking, the logistics that go along with it and allowing competition for beginner to advanced,” said Endicott.
The Executive Officer of the Fort Ord Reuse Authority, Michael Houlemard says development is already lined up for the fort’s abandoned buildings and paved over areas. When the base closed, his office used biologists and zoologists to survey the former base. They designated areas that contained endangered species and unique habitat as protected. The 500 acres next to the Veteran’s cemetery was not considered unique. “I think anyone can go out and look at these open space areas and say it is wonderful open space, they have nice trees, great places to walk but they aren’t distinctly different from other areas of the base,” said Houlemard.
Back at the Veteran’s Clinic James Bogan reflects on the November election. His group is behind the other, competing measure on the November ballot. It would allow development to move forward on the 500 acres adjacent to the cemetery. Bogan says without some sort of development on that land, the endowment parcel to support the Veterans Cemetery has no value. Still he’s is philosophical about the outcome of the vote. “Well remember we live in a Democracy and majority wins. We have to learn to live with that. We as veterans put our lives on the limb so that we can live within those bounds. We have to accept it and we hope they accept it,” said Bogan. Now the issue is up to voters. If both measures pass this November, the one with the highest numbers of yes votes will win.