Michele Ellson

Alameda's City Council voted early this morning to nix a proposal to swap the Mif Albright golf course to developer Ron Cowan for cash and land he owns nearby and to direct city staff to negotiate with two firms for a management contract at the Chuck Corica Golf Complex. The swap proposal fell on a 5-0 vote, drawing cheers from opponents who packed council chambers.

"I appreciate the input of all the voices that have come this evening and stayed with us to the bitter end. I have been very close to some of the folks who have lobbied us personally," Councilwoman Lena Tam said in a motion to nix the swap. "However the bottom line is that I cannot support the swap even though it provides for some of (our) recreation needs. The swap comes at too high a price to our community."

Mayor Marie Gilmore, who said city leaders had a fiduciary duty to consider the deal, said the city now needs to focus on fixing up the golf complex, an effort that has been discussed since 2007.

"I want to focus on what the original need was," said Gilmore, who said the 11-month discussion over the swap proposal made more people aware of the need for additional sports fields.

City Manager John Russo said staffers liked the proposal for the money attached to it, but said he understood that council members might vote based on quality of life concerns raised around the proposal, including a shorter South Course and traffic concerns. He didn’t offer a recommendation on the swap vote.

Cowan’s Harbor Bay Isle Associates offered nearly $8 million and a 12.2-acre parcel on North Loop Road that he has struggled to win approvals to develop. He wanted 12.2 acres of the Mif property and the right to build 130 homes on it in return.

A little more than half of the money would have gone toward improvements at the golf complex, including a new nine-hole course that would maintain 45 holes at the golf complex. The rest, combined with funds from the city, would be dedicated to sports fields.

Proponents of the swap said it would fund desperately needed fields and could provide seed money for a sports complex at Alameda Point, without harming golfers. They said the new fields could support the sporting needs of many other young athletes.

“Yes, we want the junior golfers to have the courses. They’re going to have them either way. But there are an additional 4,000 Alameda kids who should benefit also and this is our opportunity to do so,” said Ron Matthews, one of the sports leaders who recently formed a nonprofit foundation that is seeking to build and operate new sports fields.

Matthews said the group wanted more time to see if they could put a plan together, and he asked the council to hold off on the Mif vote.

But golfers said they opposed the swap plan, saying they had given up enough over the years as the city used money from the golf complex to balance its budget instead of maintaining the complex. And they offered concerns about the 400-yard loss the short course would sustain under the swap plan, saying better players and the better equipment available now necessitate longer courses.

“Cutting the yardage limits our skills and performances,” Alameda High School golfer Grace Na said.

Residents of Bay Farm Island and the East End neighborhood adjacent to it said they fear more homes will equal additional traffic, and they don’t want to lose what they consider valuable parkland. Opponents said fields could be built elsewhere in Alameda.

“It’s important for that park to be there for hundreds of years, not just the next 20 years,” said Mike Robles-Wong, president of the board for the Community of Harbor Bay Isle.

A mailer to Bay Farm Island residents from Harbor Bay Isle Associates said the traffic concerns posed by the development could be addressed.

The proposal split youth sports leaders who have long sought more fields. A subgroup of them put together the foundation in an effort to partner with the city to build and manage fields with the aid of the money and land being offered by Cowan, a move that angered swap opponents.

In a January 17 letter to youth sports leaders, City Manager John Russo said that $1.5 million of the $5 million to be paid for North Loop Road fields could be reserved as seed money for an Alameda Point complex. The 60-acre sports complex former Alameda Point developer SunCal had planned to build as part of its development carried an estimated cost of $20 million to $30 million, city documents show.

But other sports leaders working with the city said the North Loop property wouldn’t accommodate full-size fields.

The swap proposal also frustrated residents who felt it violated the spirit of a 1992 ballot measure intended to protect parks. A citizens group is gathering signatures for a new measure that would require similar land trades to go to a vote of the people.

“People are amazed and angry that this is still on the table for the council,” said Marie Kane, who is gathering signatures for the proposed measure.

The council had been asked to consider agreements to proceed toward the swap and to negotiate with KemperSports to operate the golf complex long-term and with a newly formed Alameda Youth Sports Foundation to build and manage new sports fields on North Loop Road.

Its other option was to vote against the swap and maintain the Mif course as-is, and to negotiate with both Kemper and Greenway Golf for long-term management of the complex.

Kemper offered $5 million for renovations that would be completed across the complex, and Golf Commission president Jane Sullwold said additional city funding could be available for additional fixes. Greenway offered $5.7 million for fixes that would be focused on the South Course, with costs covered by the company and a partner, the city and value engineering.


Submitted by margaret dos santos on Wed, Mar 7, 2012

Excellant, our City Elected officials stepped up and listened to the People. What a great night for Alameda....Thank you!!

golfwriter's picture
Submitted by golfwriter on Wed, Mar 7, 2012

Nice job, Michele. Good to see you back.