At a time when almost everyone with a seat on the dais in City Council chambers seems to be reading off the same set of talking points, it’s heartening to see that one veteran former Councilman is willing to buck the party line.
No, we’re not referring just to Doug deHaan, who has maintained his involvement in civic affairs by showing up regularly to speak (during the public comment period) at Council and board meetings.
Instead, we mean Frank Matarrese, who has published a number of op-ed pieces in the Sun and elsewhere articulating his views about issues such as Alameda Point and Neptune Point. More often than not, those views don’t align with the positions taken by the Inner Ring at City Hall. If Matarrese got the memos, he must have filed them somewhere circular.
Take Alameda Point.
City staff, with the concurrence of a compliant Council, is pursuing a plan to begin development at the Point with a “Town Center” featuring high-density, multi-family housing and high-end retail stores. Egged on by the Planning Board, staff also has requested an Environmental Impact Report that will analyze an “alternative” scenario for building 4,841 new housing units at the site. Re-use of existing commercial and residential structures is considered secondary. And creation of a regional park in the Northwest Territories is barely even mentioned.
That’s not Matarrese’s “vision” for the Point.
Forget the “Town Center” and the thousands of new houses, the former Councilman (who served from 2002 through 2010) has argued. Instead, focus planning and development efforts on preservation of open space and job creation.
Protecting the shoreline is “critical,” Matarrese says. He recommends devoting large tracts of land to open space dedicated to wildlife with restored wetlands. This, he argues, will create a buffer between rising Bay tides and developed areas. Likewise, job creation is “vital” to successful re-development. To generate new jobs, Matarrese urges expanding existing commercial activities in the maritime, environmental clean-up, and specialty beverage sectors. He also advocates exploring Foreign Trade Zone status.
Unlike the majority of the current Council, Matarrese is willing to state publicly an opinion about the type and quantity of housing he wants to see at the Point. He prefers renovating existing housing units to building new ones. Indeed, in his view, new residential developments generate profits for the developer – and leave problems for the city. New housing should be tied to the need to support newly created jobs. If anything, the 1,425-unit cap derived from the City’s re-conveyance agreement with the Navy should be reduced to the number of residential units that exist today.
The Matarrese approach harkens back to the 1996 Community Reuse Plan, which emphasized replacing jobs and preserving open space. We’re not saying Matarrese necessarily has a better overall plan for the Point than the one staff sold to Council. He would need to flesh out the details, most importantly how he proposes to pay for the infrastructure required to support his proposals. Nevertheless, with current Council members allowing staff to take the lead and keeping their own policy preferences – assuming they have any – to themselves, Matarrese’s forthrightness stands out.
Then there’s Neptune Point.
City Manager John Russo angrily announced staff’s position in the wake of the suit filed by the East Bay Regional Park District against the City, and since then it has been regurgitated in op-ed pieces published under the names of Vice Mayor Marilyn Ezzy Ashcraft and Councilman Stewart Chen, D.C. In this telling, EBRPD was simply out-bid by a Sacramento-based housing developer for the 3.89-acre parcel being sold by the federal General Services Administration. The City itself is blameless: it did nothing to facilitate the proposed transfer of public land to a private developer, and it surely has no obligation to keep faith with the voters who passed Measure WW to fund EBRPD’s acquisition of the GSA parcel for the state park.
As the Friends of Crown Beach citizens’ group has pointed out, this portrayal of EBRPD as the villain and the City as an innocent bystander is seriously flawed. And Matarrese isn’t buying it, either.
Originally, when the only information available about the dispute came from City Manager Russo’s jeremiad, Matarrese wrote a piece for The Alamedan urging the Park District to dismiss its suit. As more facts emerged, his sympathy with the City’s position waned. In a op-ed for the Sun in August, Matarrese pointed to Alameda’s “long history” of protecting and expanding parklands and EBRPD’s stated willingness and ability to acquire the GSA parcel. For these reasons, he argued, the City should not have re-zoned Neptune Point for residential use when Council approved the Housing Element in 2012. Instead, it could have re-zoned the parcel for recreational use. He suggested that Council “call for review” its prior zoning decision.
One can fault Matarrese for his initial readiness to endorse the City’s position based solely on the Russonian recitation of events. But he redeemed himself by re-considering his stance as more facts came to light. This distinguishes him from the two Council members who allowed op-pieces to be published under their names defending the City without caring about (or maybe even knowing) the full story. Unfortunately, it is highly unlikely that the current Council will follow Matarrese’s suggestion to re-evaluate the zoning issue unless a court orders – or a voter initiative forces – them to do so.
In an op-ed published in the Sun last Thursday, Matarrese reiterated, and sharpened, his opinions about Alameda Point and Neptune Point. In addition, he disparaged Ron Cowan’s scheme to demolish the Harbor Bay Club and replace it with 80 new houses. “It is pretty hard to ignore the fact that current zoning keeps the status quo when it comes to the commute nightmare on Island Drive,” he wrote. “[M]ore houses will only make a bad situation worse during commute hours.”
(Whether this constitutes a third example of Matarrese diverging from official dogma is hard to say. Based on an email from Cowan to City Manager Russo and Mayor Marie Robinson Gilmore authenticated by The Alamedan, Cowan believed – at least at one time – that he had the City Manager and the Mayor in his pocket. After the email was revealed, City Manager Russo immediately denied the allegation. Mayor Gilmore has yet to be heard from).
Why is Matarrese speaking out more these days? One might suspect he is laying the groundwork for another run for public office, maybe even mayor, in 2014. If he’s after the top job, it doesn’t appear he has cleared his candidacy with Local 689 of the International Association of Firefighters, which held a kickoff fundraiser (co-sponsored by seven other unions with an “honorary committee” headed by Don Perata and Rob Bonta) for Mayor Gilmore’s re-election campaign last Friday. If it’s Council Matarrese is considering, he should be aware that Councilman Chen, who will be up for re-election, has shown the utmost respect for firefighters’ interests since he took office. But there will be one other open seat, and only Jehovah KnoWs who may decide it’s time to claim his reward for years of faithful service to the “progressive” cause.
The Merry-Go-Round, of course, has no insight into whether Matarrese in fact intends to run for office or, if so, which one. (He doesn’t forward any of his emails to us; indeed, we’ve never even met the man). And we’d like to learn more about his perspective on other pressing issues such as the City’s unfunded liabilities for pensions and other post-employment retiree benefits. We hope he continues, whether as a candidate or a commentator, to express his views publicly. Given his long track record in elective office, it will be difficult – and maybe even dangerous – for the Inner Ring and its acolytes to dismiss his opinions as so many fantasies and shibboleths.
“Point Reuse Offers No Easy Answers” (Alameda Sun, March 1, 2013): Point Reuse Offers No Easy Answers (2013-03-01 Sun)
“A Common-Sense Plan for Crab Cove” (Alameda Sun, August 16, 2013): A Common-Sense Plan for Crab Cove (2013-08-16 Sun)
“Rethink Approach to Point Planning” (Alameda Sun, August 30, 2013): Rethink Approach to Point Planning (2013-08-13 Sun)
“Crab Cove, Harbor Bay, Alameda Point: the Importance of Zoning” (Alameda Sun, November 8, 2013): Crab Cove, Harbor Bay, Alameda Point_ the Importance of Zoning (2013-11-08 Sun)