By Royal Calkins
Back in the days of Ila Mettee McCutchon, the Army colonel turned mayor, Marina was a developer’s dream. McCutchon dominated city politics and was hellbent on seeing her city grow however the subdividers and shopping center builders saw fit. Trees? Maybe later.
In the decade since her departure, city leaders have taken a more measured approach, pushing for more open space and walkable neighborhoods. The results have been mixed, largely because McCutchon’s departure pretty much coincided with the nation’s descent into recession and an overall slowdown in construction.
Now, signs of a growth spurt are visible throughout the city in the form of new houses, new apartments, a long-awaited movie theater and a shiny new hotel, but division over how to proceed from here is reshaping Marina politics once again.
Disagreement over the city’s role in lending a financial hand to the developers has stripped longtime Mayor Bruce Delgado of two of his strongest allies on the City Council, which was already heading to a shakeup in the November election because of the announced departures of incumbents David Brown and Nancy Amadeo.
Council members Gail Morton and Frank O’Connell have broken their general alliance with Delgado, largely because of his insistence on using city resources to prop up the new hotel, the Spring Hill Suites, and potentially a second hotel planned by the same developer.
Morton, O’Connell and several other former Delgado backers are now supporting the mayoral bid of Bob Nolan, the popular retired Marina police commander who is campaigning largely on a platform of improving public safety services.
Delgado, a wildlife biologist, has been a fixture in the Peninsula’s progressive political wing but his standing started to erode when he voted in favor of allowing Cal Am to install a controversial test well in Marina as part of its controversial desalination project.
Delgado also caused some grumbling among his admirers when he supported a city subsidy for the cinema project but the rift didn’t become obvious until disagreement broke out about how much support the city should provide the Spring Hill hotel venture by developer Harvey Dadwal.
Although the hotel apparently is doing well in terms of occupancy and generation of hotel taxes for the city, Dadwal has repeatedly pushed the city to waive more than $600,000 in development fees, variously threatening that the hotel would go into foreclosure without the help or that he would abandon plans for a second hotel.
Delgado and Amadeo have supported Dadwal’s plan but not so Morton and O’Connell, both lawyers. They argue essentially that Delgado has been seduced by Dadwal and is in over his head.
Delgado doesn’t see it that way.
“The hotel has been a great project for Marina,” he said in an email interview. “As an environmentalist I lament the sand and wood and other resources needed as for rest of our hotels in the Monterey Bay area and the water it will use. I was elected mayor by some hardcore environmentalists and by others who want me to make progress on public safety, economy, and sustainability. This is a balance act.”
He said a negligible investment by the city helped the hotel reward the city with $550,000 in taxes the first year while helping spur the city’s economy overall. And, he says, if Marina voters agree to increase the hotel tax Nov. 6, the take from the Spring Hill would amount to about $650,000, almost as much the WalMart store in Marina and the big box stores in the McCutchon-era Dunes shopping center.
“A big part of the job as mayor is to find revenues for basic city services,” Delgado continued. “Not talking anything extravagant but really basic like getting our streets to a C-minus grade of 70 on the pavement management index, up from the 60 score where they sit now.”
Delgado said the city urgently needs to upgrade other elements of the infrastructure and to add another fire company.
He said the Spring Hill project would not have been required to pay any impact fees if it had been built in Seaside.
“Marina is about to chase off what is now a proven biz partner in the hotel owner instead of helping him do well so city can do even better,” Delgado wrote in his email. “We have basically drug him through public stress and mud after he built the most beautiful hotel in Marina despite our negative treatment of him. What does this say for our reputation, our appreciation of the first hotel owner that has had the courage and follow through in 18 years to crack the Fort Ord hotel challenge?”
Delgado said his support for the hotel project has created “drama and hard feelings toward me (but) I try to stay clear of the drama and do what I think is best. I don’t think anyone evil for having different thoughts than I or voting different but the anger I see in others is perplexing.”
Councilwoman Morton says there are two core and closely related flaws in Delgado’s thinking about the hotel.
The first, she said, is that the developer needs to have the impact fee waived. Based on occupancy, the hotel clearly is a success and the taxpayers of Marina obviously need the money more than Dadwal needs it, she said. Second, the developer argues that he needs to be relieved of some of his debt in order to obtain favorable financing for a second hotel. In Morton’s view, Dadwal says he owns several businesses and considerable real estate, some of which could be liquidated in order to buy down the debt.
Morton suggested that Delgado may have gotten too close to the developer and doesn’t seem to understand some of the financial intricacies.
“Clearly you have to have some basic understanding of finances to understand what is in front of you,” she said.
Brown, the councilman who will leave office at the end of the year, has been something of a middleman. He was the swing vote on the theater approval and says he likely would have voted for the hotel subsidy except he had to bow out because of a conflict.
“The rift between Bruce, and me, on one side, and Frank and Gail, on the other, is that especially Frank, but also Gail, appear to be completely against subsidies to developers for anything. As far as the hotel subsidy issue, when it was thought that the hotel faced foreclosure, Frank and Gail, on the one hand, were adamantly against it, and Bruce and Nancy were adamantly In favor. I would’ve been the swing vote.”
The issue remains unresolved, so it seems as though the voters will decide the future of the hotel ventures though not directly. With Brown and Amadeo departing the council, two council seats are open in the fall. As of mid-afternoon Wednesday only two people had returned papers to run for those positions. They are Lisa Berkley and Adam Urrutia. The deadline for returning papers was 5 p.m. A third potential candidate had taken out papers but had not returned them as of 2:30 p.m.
In the Marina Coast Water District, the three incumbents up for re-election have all filed papers to run again. They are Bill Lee, Jan Shriner and Howard Gustafson, who manages to stir up controversy every few months by casting gratuitous insults at fellow board members and others. Most recently, he sparked a protest through a series of tweets, including one calling Barack Obama a “black bitch.”
Since all the incumbents are running for the water board, that filing deadline was last Friday. Making their way onto the ballot will be former water board member Peter Le, an engineer, and Matt Zefferman, who, like board member Tom Moore, is a professor at the Naval Postgraduate School in Monterey.
From his web site, here’s how Zefferman describes his work:
“I am a quantitative social scientist who uses mathematical models and ethnographic field research to understand human ultrasociality – our ability to organize ourselves into societies capable of large-scale cooperation and large-scale conflict – especially in the contexts of war, political organization, and environmental sustainability.”
Also of interest to Marina voters, Yuri Anderson, the highly regarded aide to Monterey County Supervisor Mary Adams, has filed to run for the Monterey Peninsula College board seat now held by retired Army officer Margaret-Ann Coppernoll.
Semi-final list of candidates in key Monterey County races
Among the most interesting political developments of late are Kimbley Craig’s decision not to seek re-election to her Salinas City Council seat and longtime Monterey Planning Commissioner and City Hall critic Bill McCrone’s announced run against Monterey Mayor Clyde Roberson. McCrone has led the effort to reform sweetheart leasing policies at the city-owned Fishermans Wharf. Also notable, veteran activist Regina Mason’s entry into the Seaside City Council race.
For most races, the filing deadline was Friday but for races in which the incumbent failed to file papers, the deadline was 5 p.m. Wednesday.
Clyde Roberson, incumbent
Willard “Bill” McCrone
City Council, two seats:
Timothy Barrett, incumbent
Ed Smith, incumbent
Councilman Rudy Fischer
Councilman Bill Peake
City Council, three seats:
Joe Gunter, incumbent
Amit Pandya, businessman
Wes White, homeless advocate
City Council District 2:
Steve McShane, incumbent
Councilman Ian Oglesby
Councilwoman Kayla Jones
Lisa Ann Sawhney
City Council, two seats:
Incumbent Jason Campbell
Incumbent Bruce Delgado
City Council, two seats:
Incumbent Steve Dallas
City Council, two seats:
Incumbent Carolyn Hardy
Incumbent Carrie Theis
DEL REY OAKS
Incumbent Jerry Edelen
City Council, 2 seats:
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