Council debates Alameda Point developer selection process

Council debates Alameda Point developer selection process

Michele Ellson

City Council members are calling for more transparency as the city selects developers for Alameda Point, saying the public should be given more of an opportunity for involvement in the process.

“For me it’s a process allowing the community to weigh in,” Councilwoman Lena Tam said Tuesday of what she’d like to see.

But Mayor Marie Gilmore said the alternatives being proposed wouldn’t be welcomed by developers, and she characterized the apparent dispute over the city’s developer selection process as a stumbling block that council members can’t seem to get past.

“It seems to be a point that we keep getting – we’ve been unable to move off of. We keep coming back to it,” Gilmore said.

The city has conducted a slew of public meetings to discuss planning and zoning for future Point development, but specific development proposals are being vetted by staff and considered by the council behind closed doors – a process some have criticized. At Tuesday’s City Council meeting, Tam said she’d like the public to have an opportunity to weigh in on proposals sooner than staffers are proposing.

“It’s about creating a forum to have an opportunity to comment on the sense of place,” said Tam, who noted the broad range of uses that may be allowed in some areas of the Point. “If we’re comparing a Google campus versus a premium outlet mall – are those types of uses (residents) would like to see?”

City Manager John Russo defended staffers’ approach, saying he thinks that the public has had plenty of chances to weigh in on what should happen at the Point over the 17 years the former base has been closed, and that they will have the chance to offer their opinions on specific development proposals at public hearings where the council considers approval of negotiating and development agreements. He said there has been “a great deal of misunderstanding” about how the process will work.

Tam’s comments followed a presentation on the exclusive negotiating agreements top city staffers would like to use as precursors to formal development agreements with companies interested in revitalizing the former Navy base. Alameda Point Chief Operating Officer Jennifer Ott said the agreements assure developers no one else will be allowed to purchase the property while they and city staff determine whether their project is likely to pan out.

The city has entered into exclusive negotiating agreements for Alameda Point in the past, most recently with SunCal Companies. But in that case, the developer competed publicly with three others for the right to negotiate a master development deal with the city.

Ott likened the exclusive agreements to engagements, consummating with a development agreement down the road.

But the city has not instituted a formal process for engaging interested suitors, leading some council members and residents to question whether the city should issue a formal request for proposals to develop the Point.

“How do we know we’re reaching out to all of the international, the regional, the local developers, and what is the process?” Councilman Stewart Chen asked. “What is the procedure for a potential developer to get an appointment with a senior manager or with you?”

Russo said the city’s efforts to attract a second Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory campus and the Navy’s transfer of much of Alameda Point to the city this past summer were well-broadcast signals that the city is ready to deal and that developers are paying attention. Russo said the city has gotten a host of queries from developers who are interested in Alameda Point.

“My feeling is, any legitimate company that hasn’t at this point made an inquiry, either through the brokers or directly to us, or to a council member, or to the mayor, or all of the different ways that people can come in through the door – we have to ask the question, ‘Where were they?’ Why weren’t they paying attention to what’s happening here?” Russo said.

He said that either he or Ott has met with everyone who has contacted the city with a development proposal.

“All they have to do is e-mail us or give us a call,” Russo said.

Instead of attracting innovators who can address the myriad hurdles to developing the Point, Russo said a public call for proposals will encourage developers who have little information about the challenges they’re facing at the Point to sell a vision to the community that can’t be built.

“Now you’ve set up a series of expectations that are doomed to be defeated,” Russo said. “People are going to rightly say, ‘You told us we were going to get all of these things, and you sold us out to the developers.’”

Russo also questioned a proposal from Planning Board member John Knox White to hold hearings on proposals without naming the developers who submitted them, noting that the developers’ names are included in public notices of the closed-door sessions. Both he and Gilmore said the additional layers of scrutiny as proposed would scare developers away and waste time, jeopardizing the city’s ability to sell the Point when the development market is hot.

But Councilman Tony Daysog said that he, too, thinks the public should be involved earlier in the process, and he thinks a request for proposals could be tailored to meet the city’s needs. Daysog said residents should get more information about the companies whose proposals are being considered and about why their proposals were selected for the council’s consideration.

“I think just jumping into the ENA with a particular company – unfortunately, it doesn’t allow the public entrée into that discussion,” he said. “Residents need to be comfortable with why a particular company is privileged with an exclusive agreement. To me, it’s not that complicated.”

And Daysog said that even he is having trouble finding the information he needs about developers whose proposals the council has already begun considering.

“One could conceivably say Charles Company (was) publicly noticed. Who is the Charles Company?” Daysog asked, referring to one of the companies whose proposals have been considered behind closed doors. “I couldn’t even find a lot of information on the Charles Company.”

The company is one of two potential Point developers council members have discussed behind closed doors; the is shopping mall developer DeBartolo Development.

Separately, the council voted to retain property manager PM Realty Group, which manages Alameda Point, and to extend the company’s purview across all of the property the city owns. The national firm bested Oakland’s California Capital & Investment Group in the competition for the contract.

Council members said they thought PM Realty had earned the right to continue at the Point, which the company has managed for over a decade, and they praised the company for bringing Cushman & Wakefield back to handle leasing. And they said they hope CCIG – the Oakland Army Base developer that specializes in restoring historic properties – will consider bidding on redevelopment opportunities in the Point’s historic district.

Related: Alameda Point Explained: The developers debut

Comments

Submitted by Richard Bangert on Thu, Nov 7, 2013

Councilmember Daysog wants the community to know why certain companies' proposals are being considered. The character of one side of a major commercial street - Monarch Street with its spirits companies - has been decided, one could argue, behind closed doors. Yes, the contracts came before the city council for approval, but essentially they were unopposed and everyone was happy to have good companies with long term leases.

PM Realty has been busy signing up companies (without public hearings) to lease space at the Point, which generates cash flow. They don't send out RFPs. They are the RFP (which, by the way, should translate into some companies first learning about Point opportunities through PM Realty and then deciding they are at the wrong office and they need to go to city hall to talk about buying land).

Now some companies want to go the next step and put money into the ground via land sales agreements that carry with them infrastructure investment, and there is concern that the community is not involved? We've elected people and hired people to implement a community reuse plan. It appears that we are on the threshold of breaking through to where we always thought we were going. I'm not getting why some people are uneasy about that.

As for Councilmember Daysog feeling like he doesn't know much about a company being considered for development, I would point out that "you were at the table behind closed doors. Did it occur to you to ask the representative of Charles Company who they are?"

Submitted by Chuck (not verified) on Thu, Nov 7, 2013

Good observation that having an open public process will not solve the problem of denial. The EBRPD said they didn't know that the McKay property was a potential site in the Housing Element despite 7 years of public hearings and meetings.

Submitted by Keith Nealy (not verified) on Sat, Nov 9, 2013

What does this sentence from above mean?

The company is one of two potential Point developers council members have discussed behind closed doors; the is shopping mall developer DeBartolo Development.

Submitted by Dana Sack (not verified) on Sun, Nov 10, 2013

Whatever any developer does at Alameda Point, it will generate more vehicle trips through the Webster and Harrison Street Tubes. Oakland Chinatown's streets are full. The ultimate developer is not going to get away with declaring the traffic Alameda Point adds to Oakland streets is Oakland's problem. Alameda needs to figure out how to solve that traffic problem, so that any developer will know what he needs to pay for.

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