8 MONTEREY COUNTY WEEKLY May 9-15, 2024 www.montereycountynow.com news As Salinas is celebrating its 150th anniversary this year, there is a quest to bring back to glory a historic local theater: El Rey. The downtown venue has been closed since 1989, and for the past five years has been undergoing restoration. From removing the 30-plus layers of paint from the walls to reveal beautiful frescos, to finding the right 1930s-style fixtures including screws and light sockets, to matching the color and wood, the details rate high. “We’re very proud of what it’s going to look like,” says owner Kurt Mayer. Mayer says he tried to purchase the theater more than once, and the third time was the charm. He paid $350,000 for the building in 2019. “I wasn’t specifically looking for a theater, but opportunities,” he notes. “[Mayer] has meticulously brought back the beauty of the wood and the Art Deco interior,” says outgoing City Councilmember Steve McShane. El Rey is a remnant of Salinas’ affluent era in early 20th century and the decadence of its downtown; it later became a X-rated movie theater. Located on the 300 block of Main Street, it’s surrounded by new businesses like Alvarado on Main and Live@Heirloom Pizza Co., as the neighborhood has been coming back to life. The plan is to turn El Rey into a multipurpose facility to host concerts, weddings and meetings. On April 9, the Salinas City Council approved the building’s historic designation. “This designation will offer some opportunity for grant support and low- or no-interest loans through the state or even federal sources,” McShane says. The doors of El Rey are still closed, and restoration is expected to take at least two more years. Stage Time A jewel of Art Deco architecture in Salinas envisions a second life as an entertainment hub. By Celia Jiménez After more than two hours of theoretical discussion about how to create more housing, it was the personal story of County Housing Advisory Committee Chair Jose Luis Barajas that brought the realworld need into sharp focus during a public meeting in Salinas on Monday, May 6. Barajas, 25, recounted how when he and his family immigrated to the U.S. many years ago they lived in shared garages in Salinas. “That was an issue then and it’s still an issue now,” he said during a joint meeting of his committee and the Health, Housing and Human Services Committee. The failure to create more housing over many decades called for “dire action,” he said. The joint discussion was billed as a listening session two days after the County released its 985-page draft 2023-2031 Housing Element, a state-mandated plan encompassing zoning and policies regarding the building of more housing. The county is required to plan for at least 3,326 units in the unincorporated areas, with 2,190 units designated for very low-, low- and moderate-income households in unincorporated areas in the eight-year period. To do so requires zoning or rezoning land to allow for densities of 20 units or more per acre. A staff presentation provided some context: The East Garrison development, with 1,400 units on 244 acres, is 5.75 units per acre. Several of the county’s most active developers told committee members they want to build more housing but are being held back by outdated policies and onerous requirements. “The process of getting projects approved is quite difficult and quite costly. There’s a really high barrier to entry,” said Kathryn Avila of Avila Construction, noting that few developers have the upfront money to risk in the face of a possible denial down the road. “Sometimes a project dies before it even gets to you.” Developers asked for changes that included a streamlined approval process with more projects OK’d by staff instead of through the Planning Commission and Board of Supervisors, as well as allowing for higher building height and less parking requirements. They also said inclusionary housing, requiring for-profit developers to include low-income units in projects, has been a failure over the 45 years it’s been in place. By requiring those units, it makes it nearly impossible for a project to pencil out. “What you get is 100 percent of nothing,” said Mike Avila, owner of Avila Construction. Developer Brad Slama called for the creation of a coalition of policymakers and developers to give a thumbs up or thumbs down at the beginning of the planning process, so that developers have the confidence to move forward. “The closer we are to ‘yes’ without having to invest a half a million to a million dollars” in environmental review and other work ahead of a final decision, the faster they can build, he said. The link to the county’s draft housing element is available at bit.ly/ MoCoHousingElement. A 30-day public comment period ends June 6. The County Planning Commission is scheduled to hear the plan on Wednesday, May 15, followed by the Board of Supervisors on Tuesday, June 4. An image from the County’s draft housing element shows one parcel in Carmel Valley that could potentially be upzoned for future housing. Zoning In The County of Monterey releases a hefty plan to increase housing—now comes the hard part. By Pam Marino Owner Kurt Mayer shows off an iconic element at El Rey Theater, a colorful fountain that features similar shapes to those that appear in frescos on the walls. “The process of getting projects approved is quite difficult.” County of Monterey cleia jiménez