Council considers agenda full of controversy

Council considers agenda full of controversy

MONTEREY — The agenda for the Jan. 15 Monterey City Council meeting was a full one that led to a full house in the chamber. Three items in particular attracted most of the interest from the attendees: What should be done with the old depot station on Figueroa Street? Who should represent the city on the Fort Ord Reuse Authority board? And should the ordinance promoting reusable bags be changed

The first item was to select a use plan for the old Southern Pacific Passenger Depot at 290 Figueroa St. The council favored two plans that met the Waterfront Committee’s requisites, which included a lease of 10 years or less, public access, and a way to make use of the historic value of the depot.

The old Southern Pacific Passenger Depot at 290 Figueroa St.

The old Southern Pacific Passenger Depot at 290 Figueroa St.

Sean Allen, owner of the Trail Side Café, outlined a comprehensive plan to use the old train station as a hybrid commercial site that included a restaurant with indoor and outdoor seating. His proposal also included a Railroad Visitor Center, which would house light box displays, touch screens, and historic artifacts that would be garnered from collectors. Allen also brought along a contingent of followers who supported his proposal. Many of them spoke during the public comments portion of the meeting. Allen stressed that his proposal conforms to the Waterfront Master Plan, and that the 14-year success of the Trail Side at its present location would offset the poor success rate of new restaurants.

Other speakers thought there were already too many restaurants in Monterey and surrounding communities. Rick Antle, CEO of Tanimura and Antle, the  Salinas Valley fresh vegetable grower and shipper, said a produce market on the site would be something new to the waterfront that would help it as a destination point. His proposed market would feature Salinas Valley produce along with seafood, bakery products, flowers, and wines from this area.

Developer, Doug Wiele of Foothill Partners said such a use would hinder and diminish the value of his proposal to build a ground floor market and apartments at the burned-out location at 459 Alvarado St. Foothill Partners is the group that developed the Trader Joe’s site on Munras.

One speaker thought the call for proposals was not adequately made known to everyone who might want to establish a business at the site.  Councilwoman Libbey Downey suggested a 30-day period to reconsider the project so that everyone has an equal opportunity to make a proposal. The council voted unanimously to refer the two favored proposals back to the subcommittee, consider new proposals, and to report back to the council at the second meeting in February.

The usual consensus and affability among council members was temporarily suspended during the discussion over item #11: “Appoint Representative to Fort Ord Reuse Authority (FORA).”

The position is presently held by Councilwoman Nancy Selfridge.  Councilman Frank Sollecito sought to replace her with the backing of Mayor Chuck Della Sala. The debate was civil on the surface, but when Sollecito charged that “we need a more forceful person to represent us” it was certainly a dig.

Downey opposed a change.

“It’s the wrong time to change horses,” she said.

The mayor countered that rotating representation would spread the work load among council members more equitably. He noted that Selfridge served on nine committees, while Mr. Sollecito served on five.

“I’ve worked hard to provide FORA with transparency and to correct the mistakes that have been made and cost us money,” Selfridge said. “I want to serve for another year.”

She was retained by a 3 – 2 vote, with the mayor and Sollecito voting no.

Item #14, a request to agendize a discussion of the 25-cent paper bag fee also elicited much discussion. All the council members had received questions and complaints when the paper grocery bag fee was raised from 10 to 25 cents on Jan. 1. It was pointed out that the city does not receive the revenue from the bag charges. It remains with the stores.

Councilman Sollecito said that the ban on plastic bags was not meant to punish the public, but to educate them and that the ban was working.

“We are good stewards of our environment,” he said.

Councilman Alan Haffa said he believed that the fact people were complaining shows an awareness and that the more and more people are bringing their own reusable bags to stores. He suggested the bag fee be reassessed after six months.

The subject will be agendized and discussed at subsequent council meetings.

At the finale of the meeting, Councilwoman Downey said she wanted the council to consider naming the Conference Center after retiring Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta.

“You mean the entire center … or just one room,” asked Mayor Della Sala, rather incredulously.

“The whole center,” Downey replied.

The mayor wondered if there are any policies preventing naming buildings after people who are still alive. Clerk Bonnie Gawf said any policies covering the matter would be provided to the council when it considers whether to move ahead with Downey’s suggestion.

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