While most Monterey County cities are desperately looking for ways to build up their commercial base (the only way to raise the revenue needed to provide vital services to their residents), Sand City, with its acres of parking lots and big box stores and only a handful of actual residents, is more of a commercial base in search of a population to support.
But that doesn’t mean they aren’t looking for more commercial expansion. Far from it. For decades now, Sand City has been trying and failing to get something really monumental built on its oceanfront dunes. Remember the Sterling Center and all those grandiose plans that fell through in one way or another? Remember those sneaky folks from the Regional Park District who bought up key Sand City waterfront lots at auction, thwarting Sand City’s coastal development dreams? Sand City officials weren’t too happy about that!
But today the smiles are back on the faces at City Hall because the 1st District Court of Appeal has ruled that the Coastal Commission wrongly blocked the development of Sand City’s latest pet project, the Monterey Bay Shores Resort (essentially a hotel and a bunch of expensive condos). The Coastal Commission didn’t like the project because it would have destroyed environmentally sensitive habitat, but the court ruled that they couldn’t consider this habitat sensitive (even if it was) because it hadn’t previously been identified as sensitive in Sand City’s coastal development plan. In other words, the ability of developers to rely on the designations in an existing plan is apparently more important than protecting sensitive habitat. No surprise there.
The real question is why a city (Sand City, for instance) would be so gung ho about creating a project that’s certain to become a disaster in the not too distant future. The developer, of course, can take their money and run, but the city will be stuck with a raft of condo owners whose property is falling into the sea.
Just to the north of the project site, the coastline has been retreating at a rate of over 8 feet per year. To the south, as the protection of the Monterey Peninsula increases, the rate is more like 3 feet per year. While the rate at the project site is probably closer to the rates observed to the north, let’s conservatively estimate coastal retreat there at 6 feet per year (this is especially conservative, since erosion rates are expected to accelerate in the coming years). Even at this conservative rate, 120 feet of the project site will disappear into the ocean in only the next 20 years.
What will happen when the waves start lapping at the feet of these expensive condos? Just look down the beach to the Ocean House Condos in Monterey, where it’s happening already (although at a much slower pace). The property owners will pour millions of dollars into rock piles, seawalls, etc. The beach in front of the project will disappear, the project will become a peninsula as erosion continues on either side of it and, eventually, an island – although this last will not actually happen, of course, because the difficulty of keeping the property safe from the waves will simply become to great.
In the end, after enormous expense, environmental damage, trouble and heartache, the Monterey Bay Shores Resort will become a pile of rubble defiling the beach. And at the rate the coastline is expected to retreat, many of us will likely live long enough to see it.
December 2009 Update
The Coastal Commission has turned down the Monterey Bay Shores Resort (now being promoted as the Monterey Bay Shores Eco-Resort) again. This time for reasons (like coastal erosion) unrelated to the sensitive habitat issue. Developer, Ed Ghandour, has promised to continue fighting the Commission in court, rather than scale down the project.