By Brianna Sciuto
The city of Monterey stopped providing city services to cruise ships docking in Monterey Bay as of Feb. 7, a decision that has so far been successful in reducing the 12 annual visits from cruise ships to zero, but has sparked controversy in Monterey County, especially among business owners.
“People on the coast of California really care about taking care of our environment,” said Monterey Mayor Tyller Williamson, who voted in favor of the policy. “The business community found value in the cruise industry from an income and revenue perspective, but at the end of the day, it’s a drop in the bucket in the grand scheme of things. We’ve sent a loud message with this vote that we don’t want them here.”
Because federal law characterizes Monterey Bay as public waters for transportation, refusing to service the cruise ships is the maximum political action the city can implement against cruise ships. But since the motion passed in February, cruise ships have yet to dock in Monterey, giving Mayor Williamson hope as to the effectiveness of the policy.
The Feb. 7 city council meeting that finalized the decision was attended by a representative of Princess Cruises, a prominent cruise line that docks in Monterey, as well as four student representatives of Protect Monterey Bay, a local student-led organization focused on protecting Monterey Bay’s fragile ecosystem.
In a concluding vote, the policy to cease city services was passed with the favor of three of the five council members, a decision heavily influenced by the perspectives of the student attendees.
“We have thousands upon thousands of tourists who visit and look at our beautiful bay,” argued 13-year-old Aliya Denton, a Protect Monterey Bay student representative, in response to the cruise industry’s case. “It takes their breath away, and they call it priceless. Well, according to the cruise industry, it has a price: $125 on average per passenger. No amount is worth sacrificing our integrity.”
Anti-cruise ship advocates cite that of the $3.2 billion in revenue generated by the hospitality industry in Monterey County, $1.5 million of that is credited to passengers of cruise ships.
“It’s a very small amount of money, and we don’t need that,” said Brian Denton, a director for Protect Monterey Bay and father of youth advocate Aliya. “Our hotels are filled all the time. We have conventions coming. We have tournaments coming. So to act as if turning down a few cruise ships a year is a huge blow to our world-renowned hospitality source doesn’t make sense.”
Those in favor of servicing cruise ships argue that these statistics don’t take into consideration the publicity the cruise industry gives to the area.
“The city doesn’t really look at the broader advantages,” says Monterey Peninsula Engineering chief financial officer Paul Bruno, who also spoke at the city council meeting. “Not only do the people come and stay as part of their cruise, but at the meeting, the cruise industry also cited that there are a lot of people who will come back after visiting.”
Since the council meeting, pro-cruise ship advocates have been collaborating with Princess Cruises on a weekly basis to ensure their return.
“Princess Cruises wants to be here, and they want their passengers to be able to come into the city,” said Gary Cursio, director of the Monterey County Hospitality Association. “They don’t want to feel unwanted, however, and they want some degree of comfort that they are welcome here. Hospitality and business want them back, and that is why we continue to move forward coming up with a workaround to be able to make that happen.”
Cursio is working with local business owners and the hospitality association, and feels confident that they will be successful in facilitating the return of cruise ships in Monterey Bay.
There is also controversy surrounding how environmentally detrimental the cruise ships actually are. Retired police Officer Ed Smith, who was one of the two council members to vote against the proposition, emphasizes that the newer vessels emit less carbon dioxide.
But the Protect Monterey Bay director maintains that the risks associated with having a vessel so large in the bay are too significant when one considers the minimal economic impact of the cruise ships. Denton cites the enormous amounts of carbon dioxide emitted by cruise ships as well as the noise pollution affecting the ecosystem.
The city of Monterey anticipates legal challenges to the policy in the future given the opposition they have faced so far. Until then, the decision to stop servicing cruise ships will continue to prevent them from docking in Monterey Bay.
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