University Mulls Proposal to Grow Gilia for Developer

CSU-Monterey Bay may be getting into the environmental mitigation business -- for a price. The university is considering a proposal from developers to grow 150 acres of the endangered sand gilia plant on campus.

CSU-Monterey Bay may be getting into the environmental mitigation business -- for a price.

The university is considering a proposal from developers to grow 150 acres of the endangered sand gilia plant on campus.

Such an agreement would remove a huge roadblock from the path of the Marina Heights residential development, inching it closer to actual construction. The subdivision would be between Imjin and Reservation roads on a 248-acre site, not far from CSUMB.

In exchange, the developers of Marina Heights would financially compensate CSUMB, in scholarships and program funding.

But as of now, "nothing has been decided," Steve Reed, assistant vice president of university relations, said earlier this week. "Discussions are in the earliest stages."

Approved by the city in March 2004, the 1,050-unit Marina Heights development has faced opposition on two fronts: a citizens' lawsuit and the lack of a basewide Fort Ord habitat conservation plan.

The Marina Citizens for Accountability in Government claim the development's environmental impact report gives short shrift to water and traffic concerns. Superior Court Judge Robert O'Farrell denied a request from the city and the developers earlier this month to dismiss the lawsuit.

The second issue, the lack of a conservation plan, is a basewide dilemma.

To get around a requirement that any sand gilia lost on their proposed site be replaced on another site, Marina Heights developers took their ideas to CSUMB President Peter Smith, said Reed.

Smith was out of the country Tuesday and could not be reached for comment. Repeated calls to the Marina Heights developers, Watt/Chadmar Companies of Santa Barbara, were not returned.

Compensating CSUMB

If a deal is approved, the developers would compensate CSUMB with scholarships and by bolstering science programs. They would also establish an endowment to care for the sand gilia. Reed said it's not unheard of for developers to buy tracts of land for the sole purpose of satisfying environmental requirements. Both the CSUMB Education, Science and Technology Center and the Fort Ord Reuse Authority found alternate sites to plant sand gilia that would be lost in the construction of their office structures.

Although future CSUMB growth plans call for wide swaths of university property to be left open, a tract of sand gilia plants would require a permanent ring of protection to keep them from being trampled on. Sand gilia, a short annual plant with purple flowers, grows along the Central Coast and on Fort Ord.

To mitigate for about 23 acres of sand gilia that grow on the Marina Heights site, the developers would have to plant 150 acres at the university.

Carl Wilcox, regional habitat conservation manager with the state Department of Fish and Game, said last year there was no area left on the former Army base where Watt/Chadmar would be able to make up planting to replace other sand gilia.

There is no guarantee that even if CSUMB agrees to the plan, the state and federal agencies would also agree.

And any urgency on the part of the Marina Heights developers to get a deal struck isn't shared by the university, Reed said. CSUMB science staff will be asked to weigh in on the matter as well. "We are not under any particular mandate."

Management plan incomplete

Originally, Fort Ord Reuse Authority officials had said they didn't want developers to seek individual solutions, saying it would take away from the resources the state and federal officials have to process the basewide plan.

But the united front dissolved when it became evident a solution was going to be a protracted one.

Fort Ord's 28,000 acres are broken along two tracts -- 18,000 acres that are never to be developed and are supposed to shelter the 18 threatened and endangered species on the former base, and 10,000 acres that are supposed to bring in a windfall from new housing and jobs.

However, the habitat management plan required by the federal government outlining how those species will be cared for and how the program will be financed through developer fees is still incomplete.

Once the habitat conservation plan is completed, developers will have license to kill or "take" species that are located on their properties in the course of construction under a basewide permit.

Fort Ord Reuse Authority officials complain that the U.S. Department of Fish and Wildlife and the California Department of Fish and Game are dragging their feet to complete a process that started over a decade ago. The federal and state agencies respond they've been doing their best to move along the complicated process.

The federal and state agencies are still deciding whether they want the reuse authority to complete an environmental impact statement on the habitat management plan, a federal environmental impact report, or whether a less time-intensive environmental assessment will suffice. Officials continue to say it could take a year or longer.

Trying to secure permits

The situation has forced reuse authority officials to face a reality they don't like.

"It's understandable at least to me why the Marina Heights would be proceeding with their own take permit given that they want to go forward," said Steve Endsley, director of planning and finance for the reuse authority. "It is not unreasonable that they are exploring all their options."

The East Garrison developers are also trying to secure their own take permits for the sand gilia plant. In that case, the county apparently has some property where the Woodman Development team will likely be able to plant the gilia that would be lost in the course of that development, said Wilcox of the state Department of Fish and Game.

Both Woodman Development and Federal Development, the Washington D.C. group building the golf course/resort hotel project in Del Rey Oaks, have secured separate approval to deal with any tiger salamanders that might appear on their construction sites. The salamanders received federal protection as a threatened species last year.

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Source: Knight Ridder/Tribune Business News