ELECTION 2014: A detailed look at your three City Council candidates

ELECTION 2014: A detailed look at your three City Council candidates

Michele Ellson
Alameda 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.

CANDIDATE WEBSITES

For additional information, here are links to the candidates' websites.

Stewart Chen
Frank Matarrese
Jim Oddie

Comments

Submitted by David (not verified) on Mon, Sep 29, 2014

"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),"

Gee... I guess all three have been reading my comments here articulating that very point.

For those that haven't been following, I'll repeat: Measure A passed in 1973. In 1979, the California legislature passed law that established the density bonus mechanism. It's been in place for 35 years. Even without a local ordinance, developers could apply for the bonus as provided by state law.

So when people, who should know better, i.e. they've been in the planning world for years, say that Measure A prohibits the construction of affordable housing, you can assume they are lying or incompetent.

Richard Bangert's picture
Submitted by Richard Bangert on Mon, Sep 29, 2014

Can someone identify which of the projects currently planned in which multi-family housing is part of the mix - Alameda Landing, Del Monte, Marina Cove II, Boatworks - is using the Density Bonus Law, and which ones are relying only on the multi-family overlay in the Housing Element?

And for Alameda Point, since the Housing Element's multi-family overlay does not include the Point, is the Density Bonus going to be used by prospective developers for the Town Center's 800 units, none of which will be single-family detached homes? How does a developer get a "bonus" for building more of a housing type that is precluded by law? The whole reason SunCal's Measure B was on the ballot was because Measure A had to be amended. It failed.

Submitted by Michele Ellson on Mon, Sep 29, 2014

Hey Richard: I know offhand that developers of both Del Monte and Boatworks sought density bonus (Boatworks got it approved but they're redoing part of the project, and Del Monte has applied and gotten a Planning Board recommendation to council that it go forward). I'd have to check on Marina Cove II and Alameda Landing when things are a little less crazy. And you're right that Alameda Point lacks an overlay - the city didn't include AP in its list of housing opportunity sites for the housing element. My memory is that city staffers have said they'd use density bonus there, but I'd want to double-check that.

Submitted by David (not verified) on Tue, Sep 30, 2014

Richard,

One gets a 'bonus' by agreeing to build below market-rate housing in the project.

That's why I assert that anybody with a planning background that says "Measure A prevents the construction of affordable housing!" is lying or incompetent. In many cases, I believe they are simply pushing for more market-rate housing under the guise of 'affordable housing.'

The density bonus law was created expressly for the purpose of bypassing local ordinances like Measure A to foster the construction of affordable housing.

You can read more here: http://www.kmtg.com/sites/default/files/publications/density_bonus_law_2...

Submitted by David (not verified) on Tue, Sep 30, 2014

Marian,

If you recall, after suncal lost measure b, they regrouped and came back with a density-bonus based proposal...

Richard Bangert's picture
Submitted by Richard Bangert on Wed, Oct 1, 2014

David,

My question has still not been answered as to how the town center's Site A is going to be all multi-family housing, affordable or otherwise.

You state, "One gets a 'bonus' by agreeing to build below market-rate housing in the project."

There has to be a base project upon which to grant the bonus. Measure A allows for only single-family detached homes and duplexes at Alameda Point. There is no base project being proposed for the Site A 800 units (unless I missed something) that involves the construction of duplexes and single-family detached homes. The single-family residential configuration is going to be in the zone directly to the north called the Main Street Neighborhood. RE your comment to Marian, yes, SunCal did come back with a density bonus based proposal, but that included the entirety of Alameda Point, with a lot of fat in it on which to create bonus points.

Furthermore, there is already a legal requirement that 25% of new residential construction at Alameda Point be affordable. In the statements of qualifications from the two finalists, I did not read that either of them were proposing to exceed that legal requirement in order to get a bonus.

Again, someone explain how the Density Bonus law is invoked for Site A's 800 units. And secondly, explain how the entire Site A skirts Measure A, regardless of whether the Density Bonus is used.

I'm not against amending Measure A to construct apartments and condos at Alameda Point. It just seems that we are not being told that that is where we are going to end up in order to complete a deal on Site A.

Submitted by David (not verified) on Wed, Oct 1, 2014

Richard - the california density bonus law says that the developer can bypass local ordinances such as Measure A.

So when the developer applies for a density bonus, de facto, Measure A does not apply.

The density bonus law was created for the express purpose of invalidating laws like Measure A when the developer agrees to provide the requisite number of below-market-rate homes.

Measure A doesn't need to be amended, using the density bonus means it simply doesn't apply to the subject development. It's that simple.

Submitted by Judith A (not verified) on Wed, Oct 1, 2014

Mr. Chen continues to maintain he is not guilty of fraud although everyone else who was arrested for being part of the insurance fraud ring was. There was proof that he was part of it and he had to pay $50,000. as part of restitution. He is not to be trusted.

Submitted by Laura DiDonato (not verified) on Wed, Oct 1, 2014

Thank you, Richard, for your consistent efforts in distinguishing what seem to be nuances in our city's development but in actual reality can manifest with grave impacts (if we stop paying attention).

Submitted by neil (not verified) on Wed, Oct 1, 2014

David, Does this mean that I could replace a Victorian house with a multi-unit development providing I meet the criteria of the density bonus in terms of provision of affordable housing? Is it really that straightforward?

Richard Bangert's picture
Submitted by Richard Bangert on Thu, Oct 2, 2014

What is the point of the multi-family housing overlay in the Housing Element if the same goal can be accomplished with simple residential zoning plus Density Bonus?

Regarding Alameda Point, following the law, i.e. mandatory 25% affordable housing, should not entitle anyone to a bonus or relaxation of existing laws, i.e. Measure A density, parking requirements, setbacks. The developer should first have to exceed the requirements of the law for affordable housing to be granted relaxed code.

The idea behind the Density Bonus is that a developer gets to build more of the profitable market rate units if they exceed the requirements of the law for the affordable units. I don't believe either of the Site A developers is proposing more than 25% affordable.

Submitted by David (not verified) on Thu, Oct 2, 2014

>>Does this mean that I could replace a Victorian house with a multi-unit development providing I meet the criteria of the density bonus in terms of provision of affordable housing?
Yes.

>>Is it really that straightforward?
Yes and no. You have to develop the plan, apply for the bonus, navigate the waters of the planning department, and otherwise meet zoning requirements, etc.

>>What is the point of the multi-family housing overlay in the Housing Element if the same goal can be accomplished with simple residential zoning plus Density Bonus?

From an article on another local site - "City officials blamed the State of California and bill SB 375, approved in 2008, for forcing the City of Alameda to include Measure A overrides in the Housing Element."

SB375 site: http://www.arb.ca.gov/cc/sb375/sb375.htm

My belief is that 'city officials' who knew better long ignored density bonus law because it weakens the case to eliminate Measure A island-wide. How could they justify killing Measure A when the density bonus law provides for the very thing they say - affordable housing - they want to kill Measure A for?

Certainly, however, there have been some Measure A proponents who didn't want to hear about the density bonus either, because they don't want multifamily housing. That approach is short-sighted, however, to my mind.

>> I don't believe either of the Site A developers is proposing more than 25% affordable.

Developers will never build more affordable housing than the law/zoning absolutely requires, and often even less.