Monterey Spins Itself as Cultural Kaleidoscope

Once better known for its golf, jazz, and grapes, Monterey, Calif., is emerging as a hub of high-tech research and international studies

ON Alvarado Street, a paisley-shirted tourist overhears two students speaking Mandarin Chinese to an Iranian jewelry vendor. In quick succession, pairs of strollers are heard kibbitzing in Urdu, Arabic, Farsi, and Korean.

Such international flavor is the main reason Bill Pendergast felt comfortable relocating here after 15 years in Europe.

''My family found a perfect continuity to the cosmopolitan atmosphere we had grown used to after living in several cities abroad,'' says the new graduate-school dean at the Monterey Institute of International Studies (MIIS). ''Nowhere else in America throws you into as truly international an atmosphere as you find here.''

The anecdote is startling to many Americans and foreigners who equate this craggy seacoast community with just three words: golf, jazz, and grapes.

True, there are seven world-class golf courses here that play host to prestigious international tournaments, drawing upscale crowds from several continents. There is also, every September, the oldest jazz festival in the country, which attracts be-bop-starved crowds to a wine producing region that connoisseurs claim rivals Napa, Burgundy, and Bordeaux.

But today, a new profile is emerging of the Monterey region as a polyglot bastion of international studies, language training, and global environmental research.

The new Monterey is sprouting from a long tradition of higher education and research. No fewer than 22 academic bodies are located on this tiny knuckle of Cypress and shoals jutting into the Pacific.

Well-known names include MIIS, the Naval Postgraduate school, and Hopkins Marine Station-Stanford University. The National Oceanographic Atmospheric Association has two labs, the US Navy has one. There are related programs at nine local or regional colleges, and six more institutions ring the bay just miles north.

The region's move to fortify its education and research base is being spurred in part by two outside shocks: one when the earth literally shook, in the 1989 earthquake, damaging broad areas of the peninsula, and the other when a major military base closed.

Yet the transition to a more diverse economy won't be easy, and some residents who cherish the region's bucolic ways are already lamenting the arrival of large numbers of Mandarin-speaking professionals in their Range Rovers. Still, local officials believe becoming a sort of UN by the Pacific is the best way to thrive in the economy of tomorrow.

''We want to be for international education and ocean studies what Silicon Valley is to computers,'' says Congressman Sam Farr (D), who represents the district.

In two symbolic acts this fall, for instance, the city of Monterey copyrighted the phrase ''the language capital of the world.'' And a new regional logo has been created, honoring the area's status as the nation's largest marine sanctuary, highlighting an underwater geology that produces more marine flora and fauna than anywhere on the Pacific coast.

Aided by a fresh infusion of public and private money, the region's roster of academic programs is now expanding. Take the Monterey Institute of International Studies. Once virtually unknown, it has emerged as one of the nation's flagship language schools.

It is also now offering two unusual degree programs: master of arts in international environmental policy, and master's in international public administration. The institute recently received $5 million to start a international trade center.

The Defense Language Institute Foreign Languages Center (DLIFLC), already one of the world's largest language-training facilities, will soon begin accepting civilian students for the first time.

The Monterey Bay Education Science Technology Center has been deeded land from the recent Fort Ord base closing. Backed by $2.6 million in federal funds, this research and development arm of the University of California will try to set up public-private partnerships.

''There is no doubt in my mind that the potential exists for the educational and research facilities in the Monterey Bay region to combine and cross-fertilize into a potent research-park unmatched anywhere in the world,'' says Peter Smith, incoming president of California State University, Monterey Bay.

With so many PhDs moving in amid the pines, the Monterey crescent is beginning to rival other ''brain'' centers, such as Research Triangle Park in North Carolina, as a research hub.

For now, the various institutions aren't fighting over students and money but are trying to combine resources - faculty, staff, libraries, and classrooms.

''It is not the intent of schools here to try to put each other out of business with competing programs but rather take advantage of the strengths we all have and build on them as a unit,'' says Robert Gard, president of MIIS.

''The interaction between students in this whole area is probably the most amazing thing about the place,'' says Jennifer Harris, a MIIS graduate student. ''I am networking with people from Africa to the Far East.''

Monterey's transition to a more diverse economy, though, is far from complete. For now, the region is being hit hard by the closure of Fort Ord.

There is also the displacement of long-time retail establishments in communities near the base. Many commissaries, restaurants, and furniture stores have already closed their doors. Theaters, cafes, and other businesses are expected to take their place - but haven't yet.

''The transition did not come in time to keep many of these long-established retailers from going bankrupt,'' says Fred Cohn, Monterey assistant city manager.

Others oppose the shift to becoming an educational hub because of concerns about growth. But partly because of the Fort Ord closing, there is an usual consensus that the push to expanding education is more opportunity than imposition.

''The leaders of every community from labor to business to politicians have spent a lot of time looking at this,'' says Veronica Ferguson, a Monterey County official. ''They are embracing this single vision as a common way out of a host of problems.''

Still, the need to kick in money for the overall redevelopment of Fort Ord - expected to cost $400 million - ''is causing no small amount of friction and collision of interest'' among communities, says Kevin Howe, veteran reporter with the Monterey Herald.

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