New mayor, council sworn in after Del Monte gets final approvals

New mayor, council sworn in after Del Monte gets final approvals

Dave Boitano

Future residential development was on everyone’s mind Tuesday night as a growth-friendly City Council gave way to two new members who support a slower approach to development.

But the old council members didn’t exit without leaving their mark on the city’s landscape. In the final hour of their tenure, the council members approved a plan to develop the site of the former Del Monte warehouse for up to 380 new homes.

While the 4-1 vote was applauded by some in the audience, the lame duck council’s action drew heavy criticism from residents who wanted the new council to decide the matter and sought more time to discuss the proposal.

Two of the critics included new Mayor Trish Spencer and returning Councilman Frank Matarrese, who were sworn in Tuesday along with new Councilman Jim Oddie.

Spencer edged out Marie Gilmore for the mayor's job in November, while Matarrese defeated Councilman Stewart Chen. Oddie takes over for Councilwoman Lena Tam who is being termed out of office.

Spencer and Matarrese campaigned on a slower approach to the building planned for the Island. They argued that the council needed to take into account the effects of growth, including increased traffic, before signing off on any new projects.

The Del Monte project was controversial, with speakers on both sides forcing a council meeting two weeks ago into a five-hour marathon.

Tuesday night’s hearing featured 33 speakers who were given strict time limits to avoid running into the new council’s 8 p.m. swearing in.

Matarrese argued that the project should be considered along with all the projects planned for the Northern waterfront.

Resident Helen Sause urged the council to approve the plan because it would provide homes, remodel the historic warehouse and jump-start a new local park.

“On the while the benefits will outweigh any of the concerns,” she said. “It will make many contributions to many people’s lives.”

Kurt Peterson said the council’s decision to vote on the project before leaving office reflected hasty actions like its stand on the proposed Neptune Pointe project and a land swap involving the city, its housing authority and the school district.

“Once more we are rushing to a conclusion,” he said. “If this plan to so great I don’t see any reason why we should rush and why the new council won’t see the benefits of it and agree.”

Jane Sullwold called the council’s vote “disgraceful” because it mars what is an otherwise good project, she said.

“It should have slowed down, it should have had full opportunity to be discussed,” she said. “Shame on you for going forward with this and have that great project with a stain on it.”

But the council approved the necessary land transfer and plan, with Councilman Tony Daysog voting no. Daysog wanted a more detailed traffic study to measure the project’s impact on surrounding areas.

The transfer of power to the new council didn’t lack for emotional moments.

Chen, Tam and Gilmore were given city and state proclamations honoring their years of service, but Gilmore got an extended standing ovation from the residents and staff.

Gilmore, the city’s first elected African American mayor, spoke of Alameda’s changing demographics and how the outgoing council was the most diverse the city has ever had.

“I’m proud to have been part of that change in the city,” she said.

Gilmore spoke of the council’s accomplishments, including adopting an open government ordinance, creating a budget surplus and avoiding conflicts with the city’s labor unions. She acknowledged the change taking place that evening and offered advice for the future.

“I want or urge all of you to embrace change and not be afraid of it,” she said.

Supporters of Spencer and the new council packed the council’s chambers and some had to wait outside until they could switch with the crowd already in the meeting room to avoid exceeding fire regulations.

A beaming Spencer took the oath of office with a youth from the crowd, a possible nod to her years on the Alameda school board.

After being sworn in, Matarrese said he was ready to serve on the council.

Oddie thanked supporters recalled his days growing up a pro-labor family and his work on the City of Alameda Democratic Club. He is the third club president to serve on the council, he said.

Spencer spoke of her rise from a paralegal to an attorney, her years on the school board and the support she receives from her husband. But it was Spencer’s last statement that brought the audience to their feet.

“I am extremely humbled by the opportunity,” she said. “We will do good work.”


Submitted by Adam (not verified) on Wed, Dec 17, 2014

Al DeWitt was Alameda's first African American Mayor, not Marie. The distinction was that he was appointed, and she was elected.

Submitted by Michele Ellson on Wed, Dec 17, 2014

Thanks Adam, you're right. I just made the fix.

Submitted by Michele Ellson on Wed, Dec 17, 2014

Thanks Adam, you're right. I just made the fix.

UPDATE: Just got a note from someone who said Al DeWitt chose to remain as vice mayor, rather than step in as mayor, out of respect to Ralph Appezzato after he died. I will have to check for the minutes on this; will update when I get my hands on those.

UPDATE 2: I stand corrected (again). Someone at City Hall just passed me official word from City Clerk Lara Weisiger, who said that DeWitt "only served as acting mayor. He was not appointed because the mayor term was ending a few months later and he still had two years of his council term remaining, which he did not want to give up."

I am going to leave the verbiage about Marie Gilmore being the city's first elected African American mayor since that's the language she used to describe herself in her remarks last night.

Submitted by David (not verified) on Wed, Dec 17, 2014

Check the video on Marie's concession speech - that day, she described herself as Alameda's first African-American mayor.

Reportedly DeWitt's wife wanted her to take his seat on council.

Regarding Stewart Chen, the resolution for him last night repeated the statement - a stretch, lie or mis-characterization - depending on your view of him, that he was "elected" to city council.

In fact, he was appointed to council by virtue of a process in the city charter that says when there is a vacant seat, the highest-vote getter "not elected" shall be appointed to fill the vacant seat. Rob Bonta's vacant seat, in this case. In that election, Chen came in 3rd in a two-seat race.

That's two city council elections now where Chen was not "elected."

Submitted by Loves Alameda (not verified) on Thu, Dec 18, 2014

Agree with Jane! Shame shame SHAME on the outgoing council, I guess they have no shame! Disgraceful to say the least!

Submitted by Loves Alameda! (not verified) on Thu, Dec 18, 2014

Looking forward to Trish and Frank!!!!! I had a laugh and cry reading an editorial in this weeks Sun, for now in this traffic is Gilmores legacy called "Gilmore Gridlock"!!!!!

It was a very good editorial:

Mayor Marie Gilmore pointed to Mayor-Elect Trish Spencer’s 120 vote margin of victory and proclaimed that it was not a mandate for change. This sad and inappropriate display of sour grapes came from a mayor who, despite seven years as a city councilmember prior to becoming mayor and hundreds of thousands of dollars spent by out-of-town interests on her behalf, was elected Mayor in 2010 with only 36 percent of the vote.

Did Gilmore’s one third plus 3 percent give her a mandate? I think not. Yet, she ran the city as if she had been elected by an overwhelming majority and unfettered development and increasingly jammed tunnels and bridges are her legacy. (Should our worsening traffic problems now be referred to as Gilmore gridlock?)

Gilmore’s tenure is an excellent case for charter reform and runoff elections. Four years ago five candidates ran for mayor. Two candidates, Frank Matarrese and Doug de Haan, both City Council veterans with similar slow-growth platforms, collectively garnered 47.4 percent of the vote. The "clown" candidate, Kenneth Kahn, who was quite serious about overdevelopment and essentially agreed with Matarrese and deHaan, received 3.5 percent.

This means that four years ago a majority of voters cast their votes for slow-growth candidates. The fifth candidate in the race, Tony Daysog, seemed to be in neither the slow-growth camp nor the give-the-developers-whatever-they-want camp (a position he still seems to hold) and he received almost 12 percent of the vote.

Of course, it is impossible to say with certainty who would have won if Matarrese and Gilmore had faced each other in a runoff. What is a certainty is that four years ago, even with overwhelming financial support, almost two-thirds of Alameda’s voters voted against Mayor Gilmore and her policies. Nonetheless, Gilmore became mayor. This sad circumstance cries out for change.

Before Oakland had ranked-choice voting, Oakland elected its mayors with a primary in June and a runoff in November. These elections were consolidated with regularly scheduled elections to save money. Alameda could adopt Oakland’s previous system of runoffs insuring that our mayor is elected by a majority of voters.

Alameda’s city council will soon have two people who can clearly claim they were elected by a majority of Alameda’s voters, Mayor-Elect Spencer and Councilman-Elect Matarrese. Matarrese’s vote total for council equaled 53 percent of the total number of votes cast for mayor. This is a good beginning.

To avoid a future mayor, elected with a minority of votes but who still has the power to contradict the will of the majority, Alameda needs runoff elections for mayor. (A re-examination of how councilmembers are elected might also be in order.) To accomplish this Alameda’s charter must be amended. The most practical way for charter reform to happen is for the council to form a charter review commission to hold public meetings to discuss such a change. Whichever direction Alameda chooses it should be chosen by a majority of Alameda’s voters.

A mandate is winning an election by winning a majority of votes, not by winning only 36 percent.

Submitted by old native (not verified) on Thu, Dec 18, 2014

Developer$ = 1
Residents = 0

Submitted by neil (not verified) on Thu, Dec 18, 2014

David's point about Chen is just a cheap shot. It's more appropriate for blogs such as Alameda Action News, not for a real news site.

And Alameda-lover, all of us get the Sun (in this, we have no choice). We can read their angry little opinion-pieces old-school, should we want to.

Submitted by David (not verified) on Thu, Dec 18, 2014

Neil - as I acknowledged, one will view the bit about Chen in light of their overall perception of him. I gather for your comment you take a more charitable view of assertion that he was "elected."

As for blogs versus a 'real news site' versus paper distribution, here is the Oxford definition of a blog:

Submitted by David (not verified) on Thu, Dec 18, 2014

And this just in...maybe our host will append it to my previous comment...

Lena Tam reportedly received 39.8% of the vote in the City of Alameda, in her race for the BART board.

Submitted by Bluchvon (not verified) on Fri, Dec 19, 2014

In a December 10 article, The San Jose Mercury News quoted City Manager John Russo's characterization of the recent Alameda vote as "A lot of the fear about rampant growth that caused a lot of people to vote the way they did is nonsense, a fantasy narrative that was never on the table." That arrogance highlights the twist the "old regime" and its axis of development gives to the Alameda electorate.