COUNCIL REJECTS DEL MONTE REPEAL

COUNCIL REJECTS DEL MONTE REPEAL

Michele Ellson

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.”

Comments

Jon Spangler's picture
Submitted by Jon Spangler on Wed, Jan 7, 2015

It was truly unfortunate that Mayor Trish Herrera Spencer chose such an inappropriate method to raise legitimate questions about future development and traffic concerns in Alameda. After hours of repetitive public comments--some of them aimed at publicly embarrassing or chastising our new mayor--the substitute resolution that was adopted sounded almost like a Council Referral to staff. (It requested a report on how to clarify development requirements and traffic management.)

Mayor Spencer could have accomplished her stated goals--and been a far more effective and unifying mayor--by simply offered a Council Referral on the topic(s), and Alameda would have looked much better in the process. Now, it seems that Spencer has alienated a number of people who could have been her supporters. As John Piziali commented, she has actually further divided the community--just the opposite of what she says she wants to accomplish--in her first major policy initiative last night.

Although I did not vote for Mayor Spencer, I wish her all the best as our mayor. I hope she finds more effective ways to lead our city--and soon.

Submitted by David (not verified) on Wed, Jan 7, 2015

Governance is not just about the results, it's about the process.

The "reasons for doing this" were to make sure there was a full and proper deliberative process about approval of the project. Not just a bums-rush approval by a lame duck council.

In any event, had the repeal succeeded, it never meant the project wouldn't come back with some tweaks for approval in the future.

As City of Alameda planning staff always like to say, "Just vote in favor of this tonight, and we can always bring it back for review again in the future..." (Rock-soup development model...)

Jon Spangler's picture
Submitted by Jon Spangler on Wed, Jan 7, 2015

David,

My objection to your point--and to Spencer's proposal last night--is this: no city staff report was presented (as is the norm) that detailed the pros, cons, and details about delaying the Del Monte. Without that information, no one knew why the proposed ordinance was even on the agenda before the meeting--all we could do was speculate. (And, no, such reasons are not obvious.) Mayor Spencer herself failed to answer Jim Odde's request last night--she never laid out the reasons why she believed the project should be rescinded or delayed, so the public never heard an official version of why the motion existed.

You said that "Governance is not just about the results, it's about the process." Quite true.

The process (tactic) that Mayor Spencer chose last night further confused the issue and divided the community. That is counterproductive, especially with an evenly divided electorate.

Mayor Spencer needs to be able to clearly articulate her vision and her more immediate objectives far more clearly and constructively than she has so far in order to lead our community--regardless of the direction(s) in which she chooses to lead us. (This is more a matter of her need to develop leadership skills and abilities than anything else, and I hope she can foo that soon. I do not like saying this, but the truth is there for all to see.)

Submitted by David (not verified) on Wed, Jan 7, 2015

Jon,

"The process (tactic) that Mayor Spencer chose last night further confused the issue and divided the community. That is counterproductive, especially with an evenly divided electorate."

I don't think so. I think there is a small vocal band of people that simply don't like Mayor Spencer, and simply objected to the idea of the repeal, and are simply looking for a reason to bash Spencer.

Anyone who chose to speak last night has been following this issue, and knows full well - as it has been documented in the local press - that Spencer and Mataresse, and many members of the public, spoke out against the hasty approval by the prior council.

Submitted by neil (not verified) on Wed, Jan 7, 2015

Complete and utter incoherence in thought and approach on the part of our new mayor.

Submitted by CBell (not verified) on Wed, Jan 7, 2015

Ladies and Gentlemen, please.....this is beginning to sound like our politicians in DC with the only agenda is party against party for no other reason than sounding like toddlers fighting over who has control of the ball. We are Alamedans here for the good of our city and it's residents. Aside from any personal agenda, what is best for our city? During last night's meeting, VM Matarrese showed valid concern in thinking through the NUMBERS, both financial, population and affects of traffic. Something so simple as affordable housing verses rising cost of HOA's and keeping up with expenses to sustain proposed project, the very idyllic thought of providing free transportation via the fees built into "who's" expense, etc. Think it through, please! These are the minute details we need to hear. What is the final impact of all concerns? What is affordable housing....what does that really mean to the community, those who qualify for "affordable" housing, etc., etc., etc. This is what we want to hear and find reasonable, affordable resolve....the details of the impact on Alameda as a whole. How will traffic be funneled both on and off the island? What type of retail within the Del Monte project? Something as simple and helpful as a grocery store? Boutique shops? I would love to see Alameda obtain a Whole Foods in that project but that would require thought toward ample parking because it would be popular with all Alameda residents. I recently returned to Alameda after 31 years in DC area and jumping in at the last minute without thorough knowledge and trying to get up to speed with the history but, it appears that more thought and attention to detail is needed here. Not attention to blaming either administration of whatever. That is just sour grapes and a waste of precious time. If I understood last night's meeting, the intention is to proceed but with a bit more caution and attention to detail that will, in the end, be suffered upon those who live in and around this project. Stop pointing fingers and playing the blame game, just pay attention to the job at hand and get it done....RIGHT. Thank you for listening/reading.

Submitted by frank on Wed, Jan 7, 2015

Jon I have never known you to miss ANY opportunity to address the City Council. The Second Reading was done at a Special Council Meeting one which many Citizens were unable to attend (and Comment) due to their work schedules. They did have their opportunity last night. You have constantly reminded us that the Election was close to a 50-50 split. So the Mayor Gilmore side passed the original resolution and now the Spencer side has affirmed it. Both factions have in a sense taken ownership of this and if anything this should unite the City rather than divide it. People are saying this was 'a waste of time' but look how long the Mif Albright took to resolve. I am content with the results of last night's Session and see it as affirmation of the Democratic Process.

Submitted by AlamedaRez (not verified) on Wed, Jan 7, 2015

Thanks to Trish Spencer for raising the question for public discussion. The discussion has closed, let's move on to the next topic of how to make Alameda a better place to live.

Submitted by New to the Island (not verified) on Wed, Jan 7, 2015

Before I comment, I understand that the mayor and city council in this town are largely a volunteer position. They don't get paid much to do what they do and they have to put up with a ton of criticism while doing it.

But...If this is the Mayor's first act, she may be in over her head. This is the first city council meeting I have watched online, in full. All 3.5 hours of it. I was stunned to find out that the Mayor didn't even vote for her own agenda item. The repeal and argument of slow growth was her main campaign platform. Politically, this was a disaster. She placed this on the agenda to appease those people who supported her, then turned around and voted against it. I am glad she did, because I support the Del Monte project, but from a political standpoint, this was catastrophic.

Perhaps it was the closed door session with legal council that changed her mind. But she could have done that prior to putting it on the agenda. But by putting it on the agenda, she unnecessarily stirred up emotions in an already divided community. What was the point of this? She could have very easily conferred with the city attorney prior to putting on the agenda to understand what the ramifications were if the repeal did pass. But she made everyone get all worked up again for nothing.

I hope she learns from this mistake. Often times she looked like she was in over her head. And while it was her first real council meeting, she better get with it and plan her ideas out a bit more, or this is going to a very long 4 years for both her and the city.

Submitted by Ariane (not verified) on Wed, Jan 7, 2015

I do not think the discussion and outcome of last night's meeting was divisive. Rather, I think it showed a good sign that the new Mayor and all Council Members are making an effort to work well together. What I think was extremely unfortunate was the way the former Mayor rushed the vote right before the new Mayor took office. That was just plain wrong. I am glad that the community is growing ever more involved with the process and I hope adjustments to this and other development plans are made in a way that it will be best for all the residents of Alameda and not just a few.

Submitted by New to the Island (not verified) on Wed, Jan 7, 2015

2 other quick comments, which are bugging me:

First, this is my first time seeing Tony Daysog in a council meeting. What is his deal? Does the man have any conviction? He sounded like he didn't know what he believed. And at times he was rambling incomprehensibly. Particularly when he was trying to figure out what Matarrese was proposing at the end of the meeting. My first impression of him is that his competency for leading is highly questionable. Oddie, Ashcraft, and Matarrese made him look like a child among adults.

Second, why was the mayor talking so much about ending meetings by 11 pm? This was one of the most controversial topics of the last year, she put the item on the agenda, and when so many people turned out to speak on it, she kept talking about how she didn't want the council meetings to run too long so people could get home and sleep. Does she understand what she signed up for? Is she prepared for the next 4 years? Yikes!

Submitted by Gail (not verified) on Wed, Jan 7, 2015

I would like to thank Mayor Spencer for bringing the discussion of the Del Monte to the current city council. I did not care for the quick meeting to pass this issue by the previous city council. I had the feeling that "something" was going down behind closed doors to get this passed. Perhaps dropping the issue of Crab Cove to get the Del Monte passed. Do I want something done with the wonderful building..yes. Do I think this is the perfect plan..no. I don't like the idea that the lower priced units will be contained in a separate building. I believe these units should be in the Del Monte also. After attending a meeting at Mastick School with the representatives from Tim Lewis we were told that their studio and 1 bedroom units were geared to young, mobile and wealthy adults. I have mixed feelings about traffic and also that this complex will not be family friendly. I am also concerned about the 600 or so units to go along with this complex. I think the people in this neighborhood has a few years of consturction headaches in front of them. I am also not looking forward to more traffic through the tube during commute time. Effently lots of Alamedans are fortunate not to have to leave the island. But it is what it is and hopefully it will be successful unlike that dreadful Safeway Gas Station which says "Welcom to Alameda".

Submitted by Angela (not verified) on Wed, Jan 7, 2015

All this reopening of the discussion did was put the city at risk of a lawsuit. The extra reviews of the project could have been accomplished without the risk of undoing the months of work from the community and Tim Lewis. If anything a at divisiveness had dinner nothing but unite many interests in enduring that this project succeeds.

Submitted by David (not verified) on Wed, Jan 7, 2015

Angela - the City of Alameda deals with lawsuits all the time. Check the closed session agendas - there is routinely an item about a potential lawsuit. When Gilmore, Tam and Bonta fired Anne Marie Gallant, it sparked a lawsuit. When AMP sold the cable internet division, there was a lawsuit. When the city fired the the fire chief, there was a lawsuit. In each case, Janet Kern, city attorney, was crowing about winning the lawsuit.

This idea of "there could be a lawsuit!" is not a strong enough one to deter the proper action. Lawsuits are just a cost of doing business, and just negotiations by other means - just like diplomacy is war by other means - for many developers and other companies that do business with municipalities.

A non-issue.

Submitted by b. (not verified) on Wed, Jan 7, 2015

Reading all these comments made me draw the following conclusions:
1. Mayor Spencer did the right thing by bringing it up, since the previous LAME DUCK mayor/council did a rush vote when they shouldn't have. THE FINAL VOTE SHOULD HAVE BEEN LEFT TO THE NEW COUNCIL! All Mayor Spencer did was to provide the chance for that to happen. Anyone complaining about it and calling it "divisive" is just bitter that their rubber-stamp-developer's-pocketed former mayor lost.
2. All the Gilmorites are doing their best to put some sort of twisted political spin on the whole thing. Gilmore forcing the vote before the new council had been seated was just plain wrong.
3. Everyone should stop all the petty bickering and focus on ALAMEDA AND ITS FUTURE. I do not want what this glorious little Island has to be lain waste by wanton and rampant "development" that is unchecked. Alameda will cease to be Alameda if development is not reigned in. It will be just another crappy, congested SF 'suburb' that's too expensive to be lived in except by rich yuppie techies.

Submitted by Gail (not verified) on Wed, Jan 7, 2015

b.
Thank you so much for your comments. You're right on 100%.

Submitted by Karen Bey (not verified) on Wed, Jan 7, 2015

Developing the Northern Waterfront will be the best thing that has happened to Alameda in years. It's exciting to see we're finally moving forward!

Submitted by Rion Cassidy (not verified) on Wed, Jan 7, 2015

b.
I agree with most everything you said, however, "divisive" IS the word for the project and how it has been handled from the start. "Rigorous" is NOT a word I would use to describe the process. It has been political, egotistical, rushed, and evasive. There is no magic number of hearings that make something ready for consideration by the council and we never gave serious attention to all the rules that are potentially being broken by this thing. Those of us who live by it, and those who have been watching all the way know that there was no community meeting with us. We resent the types that just show up at the end and say "it's just better." I resent Ashcraft for claiming she's putting a priority on the neighborhood concerns only to toss that claim out the window when she is forced to realize she has no frigging clue what the neighborhood thinks.

Submitted by b. (not verified) on Thu, Jan 8, 2015

Rion,
Divisive IS the word for the project and how it was handled, but NOT for Mayor Spencer bringing the repeal vote to the first council meeting. That was my point. Calling HER "divisive" is just bull. The project and how the PREVIOUS council handled it, yes...I have friends who live near Littlejohn Park. They are going to be GREATLY affected by whatever happens at DelMonte. They, too, just like you, have told me that nobody from the council or any planning committees ever asked for that neighborhood's input, at least it was never publicized so that the neighborhood residents could attend and put in their views.

My point was just for everybody to lay off the new Mayor. She did the right thing by bringing the "rescind" vote up. Now everybody PAY ATTENTION AND DON'T LET THE DEVELOPERS GET THE UPPER HAND IN THIS!!!!!

As Alamedans, EVERYONE has to be aware and become part of the process. No more "closed door" meetings! Demand transparency!

Submitted by Paul S Foreman (not verified) on Thu, Jan 8, 2015

To those of you who think Mayor Spencer was in over her head, it is evident that you did not take note of the equanimity and grace in which she presided which was commended by councilmembers Ashcraft and Oddie, who were adamantly opposed to repeal, or the approval of her placing it on the agenda by Councilmembers Matarrese and Daysog, nor the final vote to require city staff to completely review their procedure in processing development applications in order to avoid future problems.

To those of who accuse her of being divisive, The divisiveness was created by the previous Council approving this development in the last hour of their incumbency, full well knowing that the new Council had serious reservations about it and that two of the incumbents had been unseated based almost exclusively on their support of the development.

Mayor Spencer is off to a great start, giving us exactly what she promised, courageous, independent thinking.

Submitted by neil (not verified) on Thu, Jan 8, 2015

"full well knowing that...two of the incumbents had been unseated based almost exclusively on their support of the development." The rest of your post is your opinion, to which you're welcome, but this part purports to be factual. There are no data to support this, and my hunch (which is worth as much as yours) is that it wasn't Del Monte that swung things, it was Crab Cove and maybe the stuff on Bay Fill Island.

Submitted by Alison (not verified) on Thu, Jan 8, 2015

I have an incredible amount of respect for Councilwoman Ezzy Ashcraft. She is one of the most "available" people I have ever met in public service, in any town. As far as I know, any Alamedan who has bothered to contact her and ask for her time has gotten it. She has integrity, she is respectful and I am hoping that every single person who makes a comment about what she does and doesn't know speaks from first hand knowledge after a conversation with her.

She doesn't blow smoke and doesn't hesitate to say "no." She was very supportive of PLAN!'s requests when we met, but was forthright about things that she would not support, based on her research of the issues and input from other constituencies.

Ms. Ashcraft is responsible for ensuring that the Northern Waterfront Transit Management Authority will have a neighborhood representative to act as a watchdog. Planning Board and staff were not in favor.

We have a new council with a mix of backgrounds and perspectives. This body isn't even a month old. I don't think that putting a repeal on the agenda was a good decision, but the Mayor took ownership, took a beating and the result was a unanimous vote. Problem areas were discussed and staff instructed to start work on a plan to identify the sources of confusion so that Council can take corrective action. This was no "carte blanche" to developers.

Regardless of the past, regardless of constituency expectations, this city council sent a message that they can work together and find solutions. We all won on Tuesday night.

The best way to ensure that they fail is to stay stuck in the past and make their job harder. Done is done, people. Get over it.

Jon Spangler's picture
Submitted by Jon Spangler on Sat, Jan 10, 2015

Alison is correct--"done is done." I hope the City of Alameda will continue to move forward progressively and proactively to address traffic congestion, land use planning, carbon emissions, and development issues--as represented by the Del Monte project. It is only by shifting to more sustainable patterns of transportation, land use, and energy use that we can resolve our own part of the larger global issues (climate change, sea level rise, air pollution, etc.) that are manifesting themselves here.

Having fewer cars on the road is the best way to reduce traffic congestion and the "parking problem" described by some. Adding higher-density transit oriented developments in appropriate areas and introducing a citywide transportation management plan to reduce auto use will do that.
Let's move forward, indeed--on bikes, on foot, and on transit more than in our cars.

Submitted by David (not verified) on Sat, Jan 10, 2015

Hmm...adding housing where there is currently none, housing that will bring automobiles... is supposed to reduce traffic congestion and minimize parking problems.

Sorry... I don't follow...