Pacific Grove’s narrow streets, old homes and love of the past have earned it the title of America’s Last Hometown. But a controversial ballot measure now has residents arguing about how much change is too much change.
The Holman Building is at the center of the controversy. It is the largest structure in downtown Pacific Grove, taking up a third of a city block. Once a department store, it’s now a large antique mall, but developer Drake Leddy has a vision for something even bigger. He wants to build a luxury hotel with more than 200 rooms, meeting space, restaurants and retail. The proposed Holman Hotel would take up the entire city block – that includes the Holman Building, and the parking lot and retail space behind it. Leddy is a stocky man with a quick smile and a soft Texas drawl. He estimates the new hotel will bring in one- and-a-half-to-two-million-dollars a year in new tax revenue for the cash strapped city of Pacific Grove and, he says, the development would be good for downtown. “What we do with this hotel is bring lots of people to town that are wealthy, that have a wallet that is itching with a hole in their pocket. They want to spend some money and that’s huge,” said Leddy.
Under current city zoning, Leddy can’t build the Holman Hotel because it’s too big. But Measure F would change that. A yes vote on Measure F would alter the zoning rules only for this city block, opening the door for the hotel project to move forward. That’s why P.G. resident and hotel opponent Mary Flaig is voting no. “It’s much bigger than anything we have done before and we have a lot of concern about what that allows,” said Flaig. Flaig worries about the hotel’s impact on parking, water and sewage. And she is concerned that it will change the very essence of Pacific Grove. “We come here because you have a wonderful built environment, and you have what we lost in San Jose or we lost in Los Angeles. I think it’s not easy to keep the environments that we have because we see home and a developer sees an opportunity,” said Flaig.
Tom McMahon also sees an opportunity, to revitalize downtown. He is the chairman of the Pacific Grove Downtown Improvement District. On an early weekday evening, he stands outside his Laundromat near the Holman Building and points at an almost empty downtown. “Four people walking downtown. Most of the businesses are closed. There is just not a lot here to attract visitors. If we want to preserve our lifestyle we need to find a way to make it sustainable city, and right now it is not,” said McMahon.
There are no Gallup or Rasmussen polls to gage voter feelings on Measure F. But there is the Barber Poll. Gene’s Barbershop has been a downtown fixture for more than twenty years. You can still get a shave and a haircut and talk politics. Gene doesn’t live or vote in Pacific Grove so he says he is neutral, but his customers aren’t. “Most are against it. They don’t mind telling you flat. They don’t want it. Just get rid of it,” he said. Of course there is nothing scientific about the Barber Poll. It is admittedly confined to men with enough hair to cut. The real poll is next Tuesday.