2003 CPEO Military List Archive

From: CPEO Moderator <cpeo@cpeo.org>
Date: 29 Apr 2003 14:36:16 -0000
Reply: cpeo-military
Subject: [CPEO-MEF] The Battle of Ft. Ord
The Battle of Ft. Ord
Monterey County communities fighting over ways to use the abandoned Army
base are discovering a new truth about the California coast  it's for
the rich only.
By Dan Baum, Special to The Times
April 27, 2003

Abrams Park is a subdivision of low-rise duplexes overlooking sparkling
Monterey Bay. Its streets are a tangle of loopy cul-de-sacs, embracing
playgrounds and islands of overgrown shrubs. The city of Monterey, with
its famous aquarium, museums, parks, golf courses and Fisherman's Wharf,
lies 10 minutes away, and the beach is reachable by bike. As a place to
raise a family, Abrams Park would be hard to beat. Yet it is largely
deserted. Weeds grow waist high in lawns and the houses' windows are
either broken or blinded by plywood. The silence is absolute.

I'm on my bicycle, and in the course of an afternoon I've ridden for
miles through one abandoned neighborhood after another, each filled with
residences ranging from boxy cinder-block duplexes to enviable ranch
houses. It's like being in one of those creepy end-of-the-world movies.
A door creaks in the breeze; pushing it open, I find myself in a sunny
living room with a spotless white carpet and clean paint. The stove and
refrigerator appear new. A water heater--its labels still fresh--stands
in a closet.

This ghost city is the corpse of Ft. Ord, one of the largest
installations ever built by the United States Army. Stretching from the
beach to the foothills of the coastal range, it is the size of San
Francisco. In addition to houses, I pass soaring auditoriums, baseball
diamonds, gymnasiums, an airfield, office buildings, steepled chapels, a
hospital and enormous tank hangars encircling 10-acre parking lots--a
skateboarder's dream. There are regimental rows of wooden barracks by
the hundreds, and dormitories stenciled with the names of the rifle
companies that occupied them--"Recon: Quick Silent Deadly." Just about
everything is painted a dreary Army beige and surrounded by wind-whipped
palm grass, untouched for nearly a decade.

Ft. Ord was the largest base to be shut down in a wave of military
installation downsizing after the Cold War ended. When it closed in
1994, its 45 square miles of extraordinary beaches, parkland and
wildlife habitat--along with more than 10,000 buildings--were to revert
to civilian use. For surrounding Monterey County, that gift amounted to
a miracle in a region that has the greatest need for affordable housing
in the United States. The National Assn. of Home Builders surveyed 190
places last year, comparing housing prices with local wages, and found
that Salinas--the Monterey County seat, 16 miles from here--is the least
affordable in the country, followed by Santa Cruz, 25 miles to the
north, and Watsonville, which lies smack in the middle of the bay's
coastline 11 miles away.

Housing is expensive because of the peerless climate and scenery, which
draws trustafarians, and their checkbooks, by the swarms. At the same
time, the primary local industries are agriculture and tourism, both of
which pay rock-bottom wages. Almost half the residents of Monterey
County rent, but a full-time worker has to earn $16.23 an hour to afford
a modest two-bedroom apartment--about twice the average working wage. As
for a chambermaid or strawberry picker being able to buy a house, forget
it. Even one-bedroom shacks are listed for almost a quarter-million

Not surprisingly, people here talk about real estate prices the way
people in 1930s Oklahoma talked about drought. That is, constantly,
anxiously and often in the context of who's been pushed out. "Gone to
Hollister," "Gone to Tulare," "Gone to Modesto" are the modern, local
equivalents of "dusted out." People either move inland and commute an
hour or more to their low-wage jobs, or pack two or three families into
a one-bathroom bungalow and hope their landlords will look the other
way. "On the east side of Salinas," says Fritz Conle, who organizes
salad packers for Teamsters Local 890, "I'm willing to bet you money you
can't find a garage with a car in it."

So when Ft. Ord shut down, its thousands of perfectly serviceable houses
were a godsend. Here was an opportunity to remedy Monterey Bay's
excruciating housing imbalance, to give thousands of working families a
chance at home ownership, to help businesses keep their workers nearby,
to reduce commuter traffic, to relieve local governments of the social
pathologies associated with families crammed into garages and, most of
all, to bestow a measure of comfort on the lives of the dishwashers and
artichoke pickers on whom the economy depends.

As my 10-year-old daughter would say, with a sarcastic roll of the eyes:
Yeah, right.

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