The City of Pacific Grove is holding a special election on April 19th with just one issue on the ballot. It is an initiative to change a zoning restriction and allow a hotel to be built on the site of the American Tin Cannery. While zoning issues generally don’t generate much interest, this one’s become a fight for the City’s future.
The outlet mall is on the edge of busy Cannery Row. On a typical afternoon, a couple of shoppers rummage through the “Door Buster” specials at the Van Heusen Store, and a steady crowd flows into First Awakenings restaurant. The building is a mish-mash with a few successful business and lots of empty storefronts caged-in by chain link fencing.
One of the dozen of shoppers in the cavernous building is Pacific Grove resident Rachael Hunter. She grew up coming to this mall. She says, “it’s kind of sad. It used to be a lot of shops that were really fun to come to. There’s a toy store I remember when I was a kid.”
Michael Crall recalls those times too. He says, “it was bustling and full of business. It was the first outlet west of the Mississippi, but in the past 20 years or so, particularly with the development of the Gilroy Outlets, pretty much all of that business disappeared.”
Crall is a local developer with Domaine Hospitality Partners. He and his partners want to buy the building, tear it down and build a luxury hotel with underground parking. The call it Project Bella.
Crall says, “[The new hotel] will be about 225 separately divisible rooms; about 15 thousand square feet of ballroom and meeting space; a separate museum for art and cultural artifacts, and a second museum that will really be a visitor’s center that will promote and highlight the ocean.”
But the thing Crall is most excited about is its potential to be one of only five LEED platinum hotels in the country.
LEED is a certification by the US Green Building Council. Platinum means the hotel meets the highest standard for environmental compliance, recycling and sustainability. Take water for example. Crall says the hotel will save water by reusing it.
Crall says, “current technologies exist to recycle at a minimum of 50% of the water just by using simple off the shelf measures. And by using some technological advances we can get that up into the 60, 65, 70 percent conservation range.”
Project Bella has garnered the support two former Pacific Grove Mayors and the Chamber of Commerce; in part because of the money it will generate for this cash strapped city. A recent independent report commissioned by the City says when fully operational, the project will bring in upwards of $3-million a year in tax revenues.
But not everyone is onboard with tearing down this old can factory. Pacific Grove resident Leonard O’Neill is opposed to Measure X. He has concerns about the size of the hotel, where the water will come from and traffic.
O’Neill says, “we’ve got traffic problems, congestion problems now. This is only going to get worse. PG will not be the same as it used to be.”
He also has concerns as a member of the Hotel-Restaurant Workers Union Local 483.
At the union hall the walls are plastered with union posters and everyone is on phone. They’re calling Pacific Grove voters urging them to vote no on Measure X. Why would a union that represents hotel workers oppose a new hotel that could mean more jobs?
O’Neill says, “because we have members who live in the community, and we don’t want the community mad as us because we wanted a big Santa Barbara Hotel on the water because it brought us 50 more jobs. You know that’s not a balance that we think is good.”
And then there is the issue of organizing workers at the new hotel. The Union wants the developers to sign a neutrality agreement, which means if workers decide to form a union the company won’t fight it. But the developers say they’ll talk about that when and if the hotel is approved.
O’Neill says, “my experience, because of the 40 years that I have been here, is that once the developer gets the approval you do not end up getting a neutrality agreement with them.”
In many ways, Measure X is about the future of Pacific Grove. Both the union leader Leonard O’Neill and the developer Michael Crall talk almost poetically about the beauty of the city’s coastline. But both have a different vision of its future.
O’Neill says, “Pacific Grove, you know, it’s beautiful here. Just absolutely gorgeous. Right. And I think part of our job is to maintain the stewardship of that.”
And Crall says, “the environmental asset of Pacific Grove is based on the ocean and it’s a gorgeous coast line. And the only hotel that anyone could even dream of for this location is would be the most sustainable hotel in the world and that’s our commitment.”
On Tuesday, April 19th the voters in Pacific Grove will have decide which of those visions they embrace. Polls are open from 7:00am to 8:00pm. If you still have a mail-in ballot you can hand deliver to a polling place or the Monterey County Registrar of Voters office in Salinas.