8 MONTEREY COUNTY WEEKLY january 11-17, 2024 www.montereycountyweekly.com news The 2024 Pecos League baseball schedule has a noticeable absence. For the first time since the independent minor league established its Pacific Division, the Monterey Amberjacks will not be taking the field. Pecos League owner Andrew Dunn and the City of Monterey could not come to an agreement on a contract renewal, with insurance requirements and security among the reported sticking points. “From our side, we need to make sure everything is insured,” explains City Manager Hans Uslar. “It’s a little cumbersome, I get it. We’re looking to get this accomplished by 2025.” Dunn also indicated that the league would be open to returning to Sollecito Ballpark in the future. Monterey was one of the original Pacific Division squads when the league expanded in 2017. “This is not [a city] we would like to leave,” Dunn says. “But we have to move forward.” According to Dunn, after the initial five-year contract expired at the end of the 2023 season, he received notice the city was not going to renew the agreement as it stood. The city said negotiations were ongoing. On Nov. 14, however, Dunn issued a statement announcing an end to the Amberjacks. Among Dunn’s complaints are the limited availability of the ballpark, which is used by city recreational leagues—the Amberjacks could only play home games on weekend evenings—and the fact that the league could not operate a food concession stand. Uslar remains optimistic about the return of minor league baseball to Monterey. “It is exciting to have a pro team,” he says. “It’s January—we can still be flexible.” The team finished 31-18 in its final campaign. No ’Jacks City Monterey Amberjacks drop from the schedule, but both city and league hope for a return. By Dave Faries Last summer, the Monterey County Board of Supervisors was eager to usher in a new era of management of the county-owned Laguna Seca Recreation Area. They voted 5-0 on July 18 to approve a concession agreement with nonprofit Friends of Laguna Seca for up to 55 years, if the concessionaire meets certain obligations and invests millions of dollars into the track along the way to 2078. The vote was met with applause. But the first set of conditions— those that are required to be met before the concession agreement takes effect—have not been met, despite the approved agreement being set to begin on Jan. 1, 2024. Management of the track continues by A&D Narigi LLC. “We’re still running as we always have,” Laguna Seca spokesperson Barry Toepke says. “It took longer dotting the i’s and crossing the t’s [than anticipated].” He’s referring to conditions of approval included in the county’s contract with Friends. Those include: Friends depositing $6 million into the bank; sign-off from the U.S. Department of Interior, due to the old Army deed; and a financial statement both the county and Friends agree to. The contract states that if conditions are not met, the parties have 90 days to work it out or terminate the agreement. The Board of Supervisors has several times discussed negotiations with Friends of Laguna Seca in recent weeks in closed-session meetings. Ross Merrill, president of the nonprofit, did not respond to the Weekly’s request for comment. Meanwhile, the contract also faces a challenge in court. On Dec. 12, the Highway 68 Coalition filed a lawsuit seeking an injunction to block the concession agreement from taking effect. (Friends attorney Jason Retterer says the suit has donors nervous about committing money, hence the organization has yet to meet its $6 million obligation.) Regardless of who operates the track—A&D, Friends, the county itself or some other entity—the plaintiffs claim the volume of racing events, and associated traffic and noise, are a violation of the county’s zoning ordinance. The case hinges on exactly how much track activity—a non-conforming use of the property—is grandfathered in. “What they’re proposing is in excess of historical use,” argues Alexander Henson, representing the Highway 68 Coalition. The parties appeared in Monterey County Superior Court on Jan. 9 to discuss next steps in the case and the scope of what documents need to be produced to litigate exactly what does or doesn’t constitute historical use. “From the county’s perspective, we are asking to get this cleared up so we can continue operations at Laguna Seca, which is a large operation, and doesn’t need this cloud hanging over it,” Deputy County Counsel Michael Whilden said. “Many of us are cautiously optimistic we might be able to come up with some kind of rapprochement with [the Highway 68 Coalition],” says County Supervisor Mary Adams, whose district includes Laguna Seca. “It’s a precious gem and I don’t think it’s ever been properly managed, and that saddens me.” The 2024 event calendar kicks off with the Sea Otter Classic April 18-24, then the Trans Am series, IMSA race and Ferrari challenge in May. A new bridge at Laguna Seca was built in 2023, part of $18.4 million in improvements paid for by the county. A site plan from Friends of Laguna Seca remains TBD. Off Track A nonprofit was set to take over management of Laguna Seca Jan. 1, but the contract remains in limbo. By Sara Rubin Action during the Amberjacks’ second season of Pecos League play in 2018. The team shared Monterey’s Sollecito Ballpark with city Parks & Recreation leagues. “I don’t think it’s ever been properly managed.” Daniel Dreifuss nic coury