This week the Monterey County Board of Supervisors pulled its support for a planned transit center on Fort Ord. It’s a victory for a group that aims to preserve recreation on the former Fort.
The effort to get the Monterey County Board of Supervisors to change its mind about supporting a planned office park and transit center on the former Fort Ord started back in late 2010. As Gail Morton tells it, that’s when a variety of groups with interest in the trails on the former fort first got together. They wanted to protect access from the beach to trails miles away on land owned by the Bureau of Land Management. One project was in their way. Monterey Salinas Transit (MST) planned to build its new headquarters alongside a new business park on open land. Right now that land is used by horseback riders and hikers as an access point to the trails. “So all these groups became focused on this issue as it came to the forefront as here’s the first attack that’s coming, and we need to address it,” said Morton. That is how the Fort Ord Rec Users (FORU) was formed. Morton is one of the founders.
FORU’s mission is to preserve and enhance recreational use and natural habitat on the former fort. It plans to organize against any development that’s inconsistent with that mission. Getting the county supervisors to rescind its support of the MST project, with a 4-to-1 vote, is FORU’s first major victory. “We saved the 3400 trees that were slated to be torn down. We saved the habitat for the environment, but most importantly beyond trees, beyond animals, this is going to be here for you, for me,” said Morton. Morton says the groups that make up FORU are not against all development. “Clearly these organizations can agree on one thing. It’s build on the blighted areas first. When I say blight it’s the urban blight that I’m referring too. It’s the abandoned barracks, the abandoned warehouses,” Morton added.
“People point to acres of blighted, paved areas of Fort Ord, but those are owned and allocated to other cities, other jurisdictions who have plans other developments, and they don’t want a transit facility there,” said Carl Sedoryk, MST’s CEO. MST has run out of space. Mechanics don’t have enough bays to work on the fleet of buses, so they work outside. And Sedoryk says MST’s buses are also full. "We have people standing from San Jose to Monterey on buses, sitting in the aisles because it’s such a long route. And so we want to buy longer buses with more seats, but we don’t have the physical ability to hoist those buses in the air,” said Sedoryk. After sinking years and millions into this project Sedoryk says he’s not sure what’s next. He says other sites on the former fort have similar problems: trees to cut down and sensitive habitats. Besides given the county’s reversal of support after MST followed procedure, he’s unsure about relocating there. “Right now I’m concerned that there’s no future for any project on the former Fort Ord given that decision to overrule and turn the back on locally adopted ordinances and plans based on a political issue and an emotional issue,” said Sedoryk.
In that 1-to-4 vote supervisors said their previous support of the project was a mistake. Supervisor Fernando Armenta was the dissenting vote. He’s also on the MST Board. “If this project had a lot of major flaws from day one, the majority of the supervisors would’ve never voted for it,” said Armenta. He wanted the issue to go up for a public vote, since FORU had gathered enough signatures to get it on the June ballot. “They were expressing a request that they vote, and we didn’t honor that request,” said Armenta. The FORU petition called for an election if the supervisors didn’t reverse their support. Gail Morton says this victory gave petitioners what they wanted and FORU momentum. “This is showing our Board of Supervisors, our FORA boards, our MST boards, our City Councils in this county that the people are going to be counted. They’re going to stand up and be counted,” said Morton. Next in FORU’s sights is the Eastside Parkway, a proposed road that would cut through former Fort Ord.