ELECTION 2014: A detailed look at your three City Council candidates
ELECTION 2014: A detailed look at your three City Council candidates
Stewart Chen, Jim Oddie and Frank Matarrese are running for two open City Council seats. Photos provided by the candidates.
A legislative staffer who has served on several local committees and a pair of city councilmen – one incumbent and one former – are vying for two open City Council seats this fall.
Incumbent City Councilman Stewart Chen, who joined the council in 2012, faces former Councilman Frank Matarrese and Jim Oddie, whose has served as chair of Alameda’s Open Government Commission and as a member of the city’s America’s Cup Ad Hoc Committee, on the November ballot.
Chen, a chiropractor, has served on the city’s Social Service Human Relations Board, Alameda County’s Human Relations Commission and the Alameda Health Care District Board that oversees the hospital. He said the current council and city administration have made Alameda more attractive to new residents and that he wants to continue aiding that work.
"This current administration and City Council, we have done a lot," Chen told attendees at The Alamedan/Alameda Sun city candidate forum on September 18. "All of these good things are happening because of the current administration of Alameda. And we want to continue that."
Earlier this year, reporters from The Alamedan and the East Bay Citizen learned Chen was convicted of insurance fraud in the 1990s. Chen has maintained his innocence, saying he took a plea deal at the behest of an attorney who was later disbarred for his handling of unrelated cases.
Oddie, an attorney and certified public accountant with a master’s degree in business administration, serves as Assemblyman Rob Bonta’s district director; he’s also a member of the Alameda County Democratic Central Committee, an elected position. He said he thinks the city’s headed in a positive direction and has largely staked out positions that will maintain its current course.
"We have a few challenges, but for the most part I think people are happy," Oddie told attendees at The Alamedan/Alameda Sun forum.
Matarrese, a consultant to biotechnology firms, served on Alameda’s Planning Board and Economic Development Commission before earning two terms on the City Council, from 2002 to 2010; the city’s rules prohibit more than two consecutive terms on the council but do not bar a run following a few years off. Matarrese said his goals are to increase jobs and parks at Alameda Point.
"Jobs have been created over the years at Alameda Point, but more are needed to replace those lost when the Naval Air Station closed," Matarrese wrote in his Alamedan candidate questionnaire. "I see expanding habitats and recreational open space as a realistic future for much of Alameda Point, especially given climate change."
Whoever wins will be charged with managing development of Alameda Point and other areas of the Island and addressing the city’s growing unfunded retiree health liability (new city worker contracts are due in 2017). They’ll also decide how to handle concerns about evictions and rising rents.
Here’s what the candidates said they would do to address a list of key issues confronting the city – and how the sitting and former councilmen voted to address some of these topics as they arose.
ALAMEDA POINT: The City Council has signed off on a development envelope for Alameda Point that will allow up to 1,425 homes, 5.5 million square feet of commercial space and 291 acres of parks, and they’re looking at finalists to develop commercial space on an 82-acre parcel and a mixed-use development with up to 800 new homes on another 68 acres. Chen voted in favor of the plans and has expressed support for them. He’s also touting a compromise he brokered between council members who want to stick to the plan and others who want more homes built at the Point that would allow additional developers to build additional housing on the 68-acre site beyond the 800 units permitted if they pay a $50,000 per unit fee ($50,000 is the amount the Navy demanded for every home that’s built over the total cap of 1,425). Oddie said he’ll evaluate any proposal for the Point based on whether it generates revenue to pay for roads, utilities and other infrastructure at the Point, has a concrete traffic mitigation plan and is green and provides parks – most of which is already required of development there. Matarrese, who originally supported developer SunCal’s plan to build more than 4,500 homes at Alameda Point, is now advocating jobs-and-parks-only development there; he doesn’t want any homes there except for the ones already built and required housing for formerly homeless people. When questioned by a reporter regarding the about-face, Matarrese said he concluded SunCal’s plan was bad for Alameda Point after learning details on costs and that visits to other shuttered bases and further research convinced him job replacement should drive redevelopment at Alameda Point.
NORTHERN WATERFRONT AND OTHER DEVELOPMENT: As a councilman, Matarrese consistently voted in favor of development, supporting a plan to build more than 4,500 homes at Alameda Point, 300 homes at Alameda Landing and additional housing on the Northern Waterfront (though he did express concerns about traffic). He has since recanted his support for homes at the Point and said the city should place “reasonable controls” on development, and while he concedes the Del Monte development will be a done deal before new council members are seated, he has said developers should be able to make a reasonable return from fewer units on the Northern Waterfront. (The original Northern Waterfront plan that Matarrese voted for had 107 units at the Del Monte, and at the time it was discussed, Matarrese remarked that the adjacent Encinal Terminals property – where 500 units may be considered – would be too expensive to develop and should be turned back into wetlands.) Chen will likely have his say on the Del Monte development in late November, though he has said he thinks fees and traffic mitigation plans could blunt the impacts of development across the Island. Oddie expressed some concern about amount of development proposed for the Northern Waterfront, and said he thinks the city should have its own branded transportation system.
HARBOR BAY DEVELOPMENT: Matarrese has earned a nod from the powerful Harbor Bay Neighbors group for his apparent opposition to Harbor Bay Isle Associates’ proposals to build 80 homes or a hotel and conference center where the Harbor Bay Club now stands (a proposal that isn’t currently active) and to build a new club on North Loop Road; he told forum attendees that Island Drive is “maxed out.” But he also said he probably will have to "steer clear" of voting on the proposals because he has a business in the Harbor Bay Business Park. Chen said he needs to remain mum until the proposal to build a new club comes to the council, though he allowed that any proposals would be subject to “a very stringent review process.” Oddie also demurred on this question, saying that he wants a chance to review the facts around any proposal but that he is “skeptical” of the developer’s earlier claim that its agreement with the city gives it the right to build more homes.
MEASURE A/AFFORDABLE HOUSING: Candidates walked a fine line on development-limiting Measure A, which could be considered the third rail of Alameda politics. Oddie said he appreciates the impact and success the measure has had in preserving Alameda’s Victorians and other vintage homes, while Matarrese – who as a councilman supported a contentious proposal to hold a forum on the measure – said he’d uphold it if given another term. That said, all three candidates pointed out that the state’s density bonus law trumps Measure A and that it has always given developers the ability to seek permission to build multifamily housing in exchange for affordable units that exceed the city’s requirements (even if that fact wasn’t exactly promoted by prior generations of city leaders), and all three said they intend to abide by it. Oddie said that any Measure A exemptions beyond the ones council members granted when they approved a 2012 housing element for the city’s general plan should go before voters.
As councilmen, both Chen and Matarrese supported the development of affordable housing. Matarrese was part of a unanimous vote for a city-specific density bonus ordinance, and he also voted to approve the acquisition of the former Islander Motel and exchange of a city-owned property for the development of affordable units. The Alameda Landing development approved by the council Matarrese sat on also includes dozens of affordable new homes. Chen voted in favor of the 2012 and 2014 general plan housing blueprints that permitted the development of multifamily housing on a host of to-be-developed properties in Alameda. And a quarter of the housing to be built at the Alameda Point development he signed off on will be affordable to lower income Alamedans.
UNFUNDED PENSION AND MEDICAL LIABILITIES: All three candidates said they’d seek to curb the city’s unfunded pension and retiree medical costs in cooperation with the city’s labor groups, at the bargaining table; both Matarrese and Chen said they think the city needs to shift more of its costs to workers. All three members have also articulated strong pro-union views; as councilmen both Matarrese and Chen advocated for an agreement that would bring union labor to Alameda Point, and when the city was facing budget cuts, Matarrese was the city’s strongest advocate for maintaining police and fire service levels. As a councilman, Matarrese, who advocated for a Fiscal Sustainability Committee that looked at the city’s budget numbers, advocated for a retiree health trust fund and regular contributions; he’s now saying unfunded retiree health costs are one of a list of items that should be covered by one-time funds not already programmed for an annual expense (like staffing or office supplies, for example). Chen noted that the current council, himself included, voted to put a trust fund to save for retiree health in place.
RISING RENTS: In what may be the strongest stand he has taken in two years as a councilman, Chen led the City Council’s September 16 decision to forgo a city-sponsored task force on rents in favor of a community-led process mediated by a well-known local attorney. He told residents who attended The Alamedan/Alameda Sun city candidate forum that the city needs more information about evictions and rising rents here before forming opinions and taking action. At the same forum, Matarrese said it's "very difficult" to see what role government plays on rising rents and questioned the effectiveness of rent control, which some are advocating; he also said more data is needed and that the city’s Rent Review Advisory Committee should be hearing cases and that they should be more widely publicized; he said the city’s housing authority might also be able help address renters’ housing needs. Oddie, who said he’s a renter and that he handled cases for both renters and landlords as an attorney, said he thinks the local rental market has done “a far job” of policing itself but that he, too, needs more data before he can say what he’d do to tackle evictions and rising rents. But one potential solution could give broader powers to the city’s Rent Review Advisory Committee.
BUSINESS ATTRACTION AND RETENTION: Matarrese, who touts his service on the Economic Development Commission (which he said helped produce a plan to revitalize the Bridgeside Shopping Center), said he wants the commission restored; the current council voted to disband it in favor of a less formal group that reports to the mayor. In addition to completing existing improvement projects on Park and Webster streets and maintaining an active dialogue with the Island’s other commercial centers, he wants a strategy similar to the one employed at Bridgeside Center to be used to rejuvenate the ailing Harbor Bay Island Shopping Center. As a councilman he was a consistent advocate for growing business, and the Island’s maritime industry, industrial and office jobs in particular; he also voted in favor of a big box ordinance banning large-format stores with a prominent grocery component. Chen said the current city leadership is forming alliances between large and small businesses to benefit the community, citing a decision to charge new businesses at Alameda Landing extra fees to support the West Alameda Business Association; he supported chain stores being built there and elsewhere on the Island, saying they attract customers who may also shop at local businesses. He also cast the sole vote against dissolving the Economic Development Commission. Oddie supported the growth of chain stores on the Island, saying they provide sales tax revenue to fund police and parks, but he said he feels Park and Webster streets are thriving too. Oddie, who said the city can do more to make it easier for small businesses to set up shop in Alameda, said proposals to develop a town center at Alameda Point and 30,000 square feet of retail space at the Del Monte warehouse “are creative solutions to attract small businesses near housing.”
PARKS: All three candidates have voiced some degree of support for the expansion of Crab Cove onto a 3.899-acre property the federal government shuttered and auctioned off to a homebuilder. Matarrese said he worked on a ballot initiative to prohibit homes there and to zone the property, dubbed Neptune Pointe, for a park; Chen voted to codify the measure as law – and pushed to strike language that would allow the city to suspend the change if it is challenged in court. Oddie said he signed a petition to put the open space initiative on the ballot. Oddie and Chen touted the city’s plan to construct 291 acres of parks and open space at Alameda Point, while Matarrese said more parks and wetlands should be built there. On the dais, both Chen and Matarrese worked to increase and improve park space in Alameda. Matarrese voted to acquire Estuary Park and draft a parks master plan while Chen voted to approve the plan and designs for the park. Chen also drafted and won approval of a resolution calling for assurances that hundreds of acres of the Alameda Point property acquired by the Department of Veterans Affairs become a wildlife refuge.
DISASTER PREPAREDNESS: Both Chen and Oddie said they think Alameda is doing enough to prepare for a disaster. In their responses to The Alamedan’s questionnaire, both cited the imminent construction of a new emergency operations center and Fire Station 3 as proof, along with the Island’s force of trained community emergency response volunteers. Oddie’s list of things Alameda has done to prepare for a disaster also includes the fire department’s new fireboat and disaster preparedness officer, and police and firefighters' participation in training exercises. Matarrese said the city could be doing much more to prepare. He said Alameda should update its emergency plan if the city hasn’t done so already – the plan he’s seen dates back to 2008 – and that it should feature a coordinated medical response between Alameda hospital, the fire department and other agencies on the Island, including the Maritime Administration, or MARAD, and the Water Emergency Transportation Authority, which runs the ferries. Matarrese said preparedness should be featured on the home page of the city’s website and that the city should coordinate with the Department of Veterans Affairs, which plans to host emergency preparedness exercises at Alameda Point after its new facilities are in place there. A disaster preparedness plan was one of the deliverables a Rockefeller grant the city earned in 2014 was supposed to produce, but the city lost that grant.
For additional information, here are links to the candidates' websites.