COUNCIL REJECTS DEL MONTE REPEAL
COUNCIL REJECTS DEL MONTE REPEAL
The City Council unanimously rejected a proposal Tuesday to rescind the prior council’s approval of the Del Monte warehouse development.
Even Mayor Trish Spencer, who put the rescission discussion on the council’s agenda, voted against a repeal, saying concerns about the project could be addressed by the council in other ways.
Council members Marilyn Ezzy Ashcraft and Tony Daysog said the benefits of retooling the development project to address lingering concerns didn’t outweigh the risks of rescinding approvals for it.
“I would just implore my fellow council members to consider all the implications of this,” Ashcraft said. “We could make something very positive about this, or we could go down a deep hole we’ve been down before.”
The city was sued by SunCal Companies in 2010 after council members opted not to extend an exclusive agreement to negotiate a development deal at Alameda Point, a lawsuit that was later settled for a fraction of what the Irvine-based developer originally sought. But it wasn’t clear what the city’s exposure to litigation might be if it backtracked on the Del Monte deal.
Legal advice to legislative bodies typically isn’t made public, though it could be released if the entire council determines it would be beneficial to do so.
Councilman Jim Oddie said it wasn’t clear to him or the public what Spencer’s reasons were for putting the request to rescind the Del Monte approvals on Tuesday’s agenda. Some of the nearly 50 speakers who attended Tuesday’s meeting questioned the lack of explanatory materials detailing the pros and cons of such an action – materials that are typically made available to the public.
“We really don’t know why we’re doing this. The public doesn’t know why we’re doing this,” Oddie said.
Spencer told The Alamedan on Monday that she wanted to give the new council members a chance to weigh in on the project and also, a chance to take the temperature of council members to ensure they are united as they move forward with it. She said she opposed the project as it was approved, listing concerns about the number of units to be built, the height of the building, the transportation plan and the decision to separate housing for low-income residents from market rate units.
On Tuesday, she said speakers raised good questions about whether the process for approving “bonus” units developers are allowed to build in exchange for more-than-required affordable housing, and also that she wanted to give Daysog – who cast the sole “no” vote against the project – a chance to more fully air his concerns.
The development is set to include up to 380 new homes and 30,000 square feet of retail space and to deliver benefits that include $2 million for a new Jean Sweeney Open Space Park and an extension of Clement Avenue intended to divert truck traffic off Buena Vista Avenue.
The vast majority of speakers who addressed the council and an overflow crowd on Tuesday – nearly three dozen of them – said they opposed the proposal to rescind the development approvals, while another 13 speakers were in favor of doing so.
Repeal opponents – who included community and business leaders, housing advocates, neighbors of the Del Monte building and even its owner, Peter Wang – said the project has already been subject to a long and rigorous public process and that the concerns raised by Spencer and repeal proponents had been addressed during negotiations between the developer, the city and neighborhood and community groups.
Several speakers said they thought a repeal would send the wrong message to developers and others seeking to invest in Alameda, and some angrily denounced the repeal proposal as an embarrassment for the Island and the new council.
“You’re sending the wrong message to people that a deal in Alameda is not a deal,” one speaker said.
John Piziali said Spencer’s decision to consider rescinding the Del Monte approvals served only to widen the split over development on the Island.
“Instead of trying to see if you could bring the two sides together, it seems like you’ve decided to drive them further apart,” said Piziali, a former Planning Board member and current Historical Advisory Board member. “To go back over the past year and have the same battle all over again, or go to court – are you really going to win in the long run? I don’t think you will.”
Others questioned whether the council followed the city’s government transparency rules in putting the item on the agenda, while repeal proponents said the prior council was wrong to approve the development in a special session that ended moments before the new council was sworn in.
Felice Zensius of the League of Women Voters of Alameda said the city’s failure to make public materials explaining the pros and cons of the rescission proposal violated its Sunshine Ordinance; other speakers said it wasn’t even clear who put the item on the agenda until Spencer publicly claimed responsibility Tuesday night.
“Our question from the League is, ‘Who made this referral? On what factual information is the rescission even based on? What are the impacts of the rescission?’” Zensius said.
Spencer, who has promised to broaden government transparency, said she put the item on Tuesday’s agenda because the earlier council’s vote to approve an agreement with developer Tim Lewis Communities was set to go into effect 30 days after the December 16 vote.
While most of the speakers opposed rescinding the approvals, some said they still thought the development proposal was pushed through too quickly and needed more scrutiny.
“If you take this off the table, I am sure you are not canning the whole program,” former Councilman Doug deHaan said.
But others said they felt they have waited long enough for the property to be redeveloped.
“The project has been studied to death,” Ann Bracci said. “It is time to move forward. I’d like to see the project decided in my lifetime.”