Mif swap deal appears less likely

Mif swap deal appears less likely

Michele Ellson

A proposal to swap the Mif Albright golf course to developer Ron Cowan for cash and land he owns on North Loop Road would need to earn four votes from the City Council to pass, according to a legal opinion released by the council Tuesday night. But a second of the council’s five members is now saying it’s “not likely” she will vote for the swap plan.

Councilwoman Lena Tam told opponents of the plan who packed City Hall on Tuesday that the council’s earlier request for alternatives to the swap suggest it is “not going to happen.” Councilman Doug deHaan has long said he opposes the swap proposal.

Tam had asked for the opinion to be released in order to inform discussion surrounding the legality of the proposed swap. City Attorney Janet Kern summarized the legal memo Tuesday, saying that while a land trade could be approved by a majority of the council under the city charter, a sale would require a supermajority – four votes. And she said that the Mif proposal “appears to do more than just swap land” because Cowan has offered cash for fields on the property he wants to trade.

“It really does look like, feel like, taste like a sale,” Kern said.

A redacted written version of the opinion is to be released for the council’s March 6 meeting, the date Kern said they may vote on the proposed Mif deal.

The information was released after a group of citizens announced their intent to gather signatures to put a measure on the November ballot intended to halt the deal. But Kern said that if the council were to approve a deal on March 6, a November ballot measure wouldn’t undo that decision.

DeHaan had asked the council to place a measure requiring the swap or sale of parkland to go to a public vote on the ballot instead, since the council does not need to gather signatures to place a charter amendment on the ballot. But his motion died without a second.

Voters passed a charter change in 1992 that forbids the council from selling parkland without a vote of the people, unless a new public park of comparable size and utility is designated to replace it.

Even if it would have no effect on the proposed Mif swap, proponents of changing that charter language said that they intend to continue pursuing a ballot amendment to prevent future deals like it from taking place.

Cowan went public with the swap proposal last April, and has since offered his 12 acres on North Loop Road plus $7.2 million in exchange for the Mif property and the right to build 130 homes there. Cowan had said the city owes him the right to build 200 more homes on Bay Farm Island and that he intended to build on the North Loop property. But after the Planning Board declined to recommend the city rezone the property for homes in 2008, Cowan said city officials approached him about a potential swap.

The City Council voted in March 2010 to negotiate a deal with the Alameda Junior Golf Association to lease and operate the nine-hole course.

The council also directed city staff to work on a prevailing wage ordinance proposed by vice mayor and state Assembly candidate Rob Bonta, which was backed by several union leaders who spoke at the tail end of Tuesday’s meeting.

Former Councilman Frank Matarrese said the city passed a prevailing wage resolution in 1996 after several confused council members said they believed Alameda already had such an ordinance on the books. But Kern said the resolution doesn’t carry the legal force of an ordinance.