20 MONTEREY COUNTY WEEKLY june 13-19, 2024 www.montereycountynow.com boarders and scooters. Since 2021, thousands of native plants have gone in the ground at Hilltop Park, Marina’s newest park, part of the Dunes development plan. While there is an emphasis on parks and open spaces, Marina is also hoping to grow as a tech hub. Joby Aviation, a flying car maker, has committed to an expansion at the Marina Municipal Airport, promising some 600 jobs in aero-technology manufacturing. When Joby won a state grant for nearly $10 million in 2023 to expand in Marina, Maria Elena Manzo, director of the group Mujeres en Acción, celebrated the economic development opportunity for locals: “Joby has highroad jobs and we have an eager, able and hardworking community ready to contribute to, and benefit from, Joby’s success.” Marina has approximately 22,500 inhabitants, and its population is expected to increase to over 30,000 by 2045. According to the 2020 Census, Marina was the second-fastest-growing city, just behind Greenfield, in Monterey County. During Fort Ord’s boom years, ​ Marina’s population grew by 28 percent from 1980 to 1990. Then it dropped by 29 percent between 1990 and 2000. Its current population is still smaller compared to its peak in the ’90s, before Fort Ord closed, when the city had a population of about 26,500. Marina has been rebounding ever since. “We lost a lot of buying power. Housing prices plummeted, businesses closed, it was a pretty depressing time in Marina,” Delgado says. About onethird of the population and 200 businesses vanished. The former Army land was free, but it came with blighted barracks, munitions contamination and chemical pollution. It also came with restrictions for future developments, including affordable housing requirements, habitat protection, and setting land aside in perpetuity for conservation. Attracting developers to the area wasn’t an easy task because it can be difficult for projects to pencil out, as seen with several failed attempts to redevelop Cypress Knolls. Shea Homes/Marina Community Partners, based in Walnut, California started developing in Marina before California’s redevelopment agencies were dissolved in 2012. “If we didn’t have that tool in place, that development would not be happening at all,” Long says. Marina Community Partners is the developer behind the four-phase project called The Dunes, home to a large commercial development with an REI and a Target. For years, the Cinemark movie theater stood alone, flanked by a few dilapidated Army buildings and a trailer that houses the developer’s onsite offices. Development has been slow going thanks in part to the Great Recession, but it is moving quickly now. The central commercial strip in the shopping center, called The Promenade, is being built. There are already regulars at the Brass Tap, a pub with 60 beers on tap, sitting outdoors on a deck that is flanked on all sides by active construction sites. Just across the way, a Trader Joe’s is in the works. New housing is coming too. Terracina at The Dunes, a 140-apartment community with two locations (one at Imjin and 4th Avenue, another at 2nd Avenue and 5th Street) opened its first phase, 92 apartments, in April. Mixed-use buildings on 2nd Avenue and 10th Street are underway, filling in a previously desolate neighborhood around the Maj. Gen. William H. Gourley VA-Department of Defense Clinic, which opened in 2017. This new neighborhood is filling in. But there is still more work to do. While many of Marina’s changes are obvious as new buildings rise up out of empty lots, some change is happening just on paper for now. Through surveys, reports and community meetings, city officials and residents are planning for how the city will look 20 or 30 years in the future. On April 27, dozens of residents showed up to get the latest updates for Marina’s 2045 general plan. They heard about proposed land-use changes in different parts of the city, including CSUMB’s 72-acre parking lot, Cypress Knolls and Preston/Abrams Park. Using colorful post-its, residents were invited to share their preferences about housing, mixed-use buildings, and Monterey-Salinas Transit’s planned SURF! busway project connecting Marina to Sand City. According to the Marina 2045 workshop presentation, Marina lacks basic urban features such as diverse housing, local jobs, shopping areas, gathering places and entertainment. Councilmember Kathy Biala notes the city is growing, and it has to adapt; Marina is no longer a “slow-growth, small town,” she says. A plan to remake downtown so that it feels more like a downtown core has been in the works for decades. The city planning process was revived in 2017, then stalled due to the pandemic, and now is back on track. The vision is to turn Central Marina into a more walkable, higher-density area with four-story buildings that are mix-use (residential above, commercial below). “Marina absolutely deserves a downtown that is enjoyable to spend time in,” says City Councilmember Brian McCarthy. If the plan is implemented, residents and commuters will start seeing changes on Del Monte Boulevard; lanes will be reduced from four to two, and several roundabouts would replace traffic lights. The plan would also enhance active mobility, adding walking and biking paths, increase pedestrian connectivity across the city and improve bus stops. That would come in addition to the Fort Ord Regional Trail and Greenway (FORTAG), which is set to add four miles of bicycle/pedestrian trail connecting central Marina to CSUMB and the former Fort Ord. As far as connectivity between old Marina and new Marina, work on 2nd Avenue is now underway, new asphalt cutting through what was, for decades, decaying, unused Army buildings. While changes are happening throughout the city, there is a space that remains unchanged: Marina City Hall. Since 2022, the city has considered floating a bond measure to fund new facilities. This would include a senior center, a fire and police station, council chambers and city hall. Back then, the price tag was $52 million. Long says prices have increased by at least 30 percent. In a discussion in July 2022, Long labeled these buildings as “critical facilities,” noting their upgrades are linked to the city’s growth. City Hall now occupies a group of double-wide trailers; they were meant to be a temporary solution, yet they’ve been there for nearly half a century. “It was never intended to be here 47 years after the city was incorporated,’’ Long said. If approved, a potential bond would run about $105 a year per $100,000 in property value. Two years ago, surveys showed voter support for a bond measure, but costs need to be recalculated since prices have increased. With new estimates in hand, the city will conduct new surveys. If there is a positive response, there is a possibility the council would discuss including it on the November 2024 ballot. Marina voters have already weighed in on a guiding principle for development. In 2000, led by Delgado and others, they passed an urban growth boundary, trying to limit urban sprawl in the post-Fort Ord redevelopment phase. That measure required a recertification 20 years later and in 2020, Marina voters again voted in support of city-centered growth. They voted overwhelmingly, 81-percent yes, to approve Measure Q and recertify the urban growth boundary. “The younger generation can decide if and how they want to move the city to the north, and what they want to do with that land,” Delgado says. For now, change is happening—and fast—within the existing footprint. Care of USA properties fund In April, a 140-apartment affordable housing community called Terracina at The Dunes, opened its first phase with 92 apartments on Beacon Street. A second location is coming as early as July. It’s under management of Roseville-based USA Properties. “It was affordable, and it was very diverse and that was really important to us.”