by Steve Zmak
The Monterey Dunes are a globally unique ecosystem that stretches from the mouth of the Pajaro River south to Monterey. It is home to many plant and animal species listed by federal and state agencies as threatened or endangered such as Smith’s Blue Butterfly, Black Legless Lizard, and Monterey Spineflower. All of Marina’s Coastal zone falls within this range, and historically there have been strong sentiments throughout the local community to protect, preserve and enjoy these natural treasurers. This strong local commitment to the natural habitat continues today.
The Monterey Dunes at Marina State Beach, home to a unique ecosystem that includes many threatened and endangered species, are enjoyed by visitors and locals alike.
Photo Steve Zmak
In 1986, the City of Marina approved the development of two hotels along this unique coastal dune habitat. The Ventana Chapter contested this development in the Coastal Zone and reached a settlement with the City and two developers that created a trust fund for habitat protection, restoration, and improvements. The two hotels pay a transient occupancy tax (TOT) of $0.35 per occupied room per night into the fund. Since 1986, five more hotels have been built in Marina’s Coastal Zone and also pay the TOT into the fund.
Additional provisions in the two settlement agreements seeded the Habitat Conservation Fund with $29,000, and established a task force to create the Marina Dunes Habitat Conservation Plan and Environmental Assessment to guide use of the trust fund. The task force, comprised of more than 40 landowners, government officials, professional experts, community organizations, and local citizens, met 118 times over five years to create a draft of the plan in 1991. However due to the redirection of community attention to reuse of Fort Ord land, the Dunes Habitat Plan was never finalized or approved. Many of its components, however, were incorporated into the Fort Ord Reuse Authority’s Habitat Conservation Plan and as amendments to Marina’s Local Coastal Plan and Coastal Implementation Program.
Since the trust fund’s creation, it has only been accessed once, about 15 years ago by the Monterey Peninsula Regional Parks District (MPRPD), in the amount of $9,000, to implement a habitat restoration project and gateway for its Marina Dunes Preserve. While the seven hotels continue to pay the TOT into the fund quarterly, the fund, for the most part, has been forgotten. Ongoing attempts by the Park District in the past few years to gather information on the fund met with bureaucratic obstacles.
In the fall of 2006, the Ventana Chapter committed itself to reactivating the fund, and in April 2007 the City and Chapter came to an agreement. The City, Parks District, and Beach Garden Project are all currently working on projects to utilize the funds for improvements to Marina’s Coastal Zone such as dune habitat restoration and better integration of Marina’s six vernal ponds into the city’s parks network. Use of the Habitat Conservation Fund must be mutually agreed upon by the City of Marina and the Ventana Chapter.
The cooperative spirit demonstrated by Tim Jensen (MPRPD), Joey Dorrell-Canepa (Beach Garden Project), Rita Dalessio and Steve Zmak (Ventana Chapter), Michael Stamp (Chapter attorney), Christi Di Iorio and Elizabeth Caraker (City of Marina), and Ken Buchert (City attorney) is a model for how conservation groups and municipalities can work together to achieve conservation goals.