Monterey County Horse-Racing Complex Fought

horse-racingMONTEREY, Calif. (CN) – Two environmental organizations sued the California coastal city of Seaside, claiming its approval of a large-scale horse-racing complex and commercial development violates environmental laws.

Keep Fort Ord Wild and Landwatch Monterey County each filed lawsuits in Monterey Superior Court on Tuesday, claiming Seaside’s approval of a large-scale project at Fort Ord — a large Army base that closed in 1994 — was based on flawed environmental analyses.

“Respondent failed to proceed in the manner required by law, did not apply or satisfy the procedural and substantive safeguards and requirements of CEQA, did not engage in a legally sufficient fact-finding endeavor, and did not adequately identify and mitigate impacts,” Keep Fort Ord Wild said in its complaint.

Seaside is located just north of Monterey and about 100 miles south of San Francisco, perched on the southern reach of the Monterey Bay coastline.

When Fort Ord closed in 1994, the Army created the Fort Ord Reuse Authority to decide what to do with the nearly 27,000 acres of land that comprised the base. The Army stipulated that two-thirds of the land was to be preserved as open space.

Monterey Downs, owned by Southern California-based developer Brian Boudreau, first expressed interest in a 550-acre piece of Fort Ord in 2010. The company has since pursued a development deal, with Seaside agreeing to take the lead as the agency tasked with overseeing the approval process.

Years later, and with concomitant documents such as the draft and final environmental impact statements, the Seaside City Council approved the project on Nov. 17 by a vote of 3-2.

As approved, the project now spans 710 acres and calls for the construction of a horse-racing track, 225,000 acres of space dedicated to horse-related activities, a 6,500-seat indoor arena, a large grandstand and spacious barns capable of housing approximately 1,500 horses.

The project also includes half a million square feet of commercial space, two 200-room hotels and a residential complex containing 1,500 units.

Both environmental organizations claim the public has vehemently opposed the project since its conception and unveiling, although reports in the local media indicate that several community members have expressed support for the project and its potential economic development.

Notwithstanding, Keep Fort Ord Wild says the approval process undertaken by the Seaside City Council was extremely unorthodox, taking public comment before presentations by project applicant Beth Palmer and then allowing Palmer sufficient time to refute and address some of the submitted comments.

“The meeting process was highly unusual and confusing,” the group says in its complaint.

But more importantly from a legal perspective, both groups say the city’s approval relied on environmental impact reports that were inadequate.

“The city failed to proceed as required by California Environmental Quality Act because the environmental impact report fails to provide an adequate description of the environmental setting to support its analyses of impacts to biological resources, air quality, greenhouse gas emissions, hazards, hydrology and water quality, land use and planning, noise, population and housing, parks and recreation, traffic and transportation, waste water and water supply,” Landwatch Monterey County says in its complaint.

While both groups express concern about all the environmental metrics, they pay special attention to water supply since the area – ravaged by drought like much of California – has stretched its groundwater supply to a point that seawater intrusion could harm large and integral aquifers.

The environmental impact report insisted that the water supply is sustainable and that, as a percentage of the much larger Salinas Valley Groundwater Basin, the supply was reliable – even though Fort Ord does not get its water supply from the larger aquifers in the greater groundwater basin, Keep Fort Ord Wild says in its complaint.

Both organizations ask the court to vacate and set aside the approval of the environmental impact report and order Monterey Downs to prepare a document that complies with CEQA.

Keep Fort Ord Wild is represented by Molly Erickson and Michael Stamp of Stamp|Erickson in Monterey. Landwatch Monterey County is represented by Mark Wolfe and John Farrow of M.R. Wolfe & Associates in San Francisco.