(An edited version of this article was published in the Alameda Sun December 26, 2013).
In keeping with the time-honored tradition of political columnists, the Merry-Go-Round presents its predictions for the coming year in Alameda politics.
Fire station No. 3
State Assemblyman Rob Bonta will attach an amendment to an earthquake safety bill appropriating $6 million in state funds for construction of a new Fire Station No. 3 in Alameda. The funds will be raised by deferring seismic work on the Posey-Webster tube. “Why should we protect automobile drivers instead of our firefighters?” Bonta will ask.
Thanks to the efforts of newly hired lobbyist Don Perata, the Bonta amendment will sail through the Legislature, and Governor Brown will sign it. The Governor will join Bonta, Mayor Marie Gilmore, and former IAFF Local 689 president and current fire chief Mike D’Orazi at a combination fundraiser and ground-breaking ceremony the week before the election.
Waterfront Town Center
Plans to develop a waterfront Town Center at Alameda Point will hit a snag when the American Association of Retired Persons (“AARP”) files suit to enjoin the project on the grounds that it discriminates against older people who don’t ride bikes and can’t afford to shop at high-end retail stores.
The suit also will challenge the last-minute decision by the Planning Board to promote cardiovascular health by replacing elevators with stairways in the high-rise apartment buildings envisioned by the plan.
In an effort to settle the litigation, City Planner Andrew Thomas will announce that the City has changed its mind and now will allow retail development at the Point to include a Walmart store, where AARP members can be employed as greeters.
The City’s contribution rate for public safety employee pensions will rise from 39.5% to 49.5% as the result of another change made by CalPERS in its methodology for computing annual required employer payments.
Assistant City Manager Liz Warmerdam will assure Council that the City will be able to maintain a balanced budget despite the increased payments to CalPERS by projecting surpluses in future years and “carrying back” the profits to the present.
No cost-sharing will be sought from public safety employees, whose new contracts limit increases in employee contributions to 1% per year. “Let ‘em try and claim that was a mistake,” IAFF Local 689 political director Jeff DelBono will say.
Developer Ron Cowan will propose a real-estate transaction in which he swaps the land on which the Harbor Bay Club is now located with the “surplus” federal property adjacent to Crown Beach.
Under the proposal, the East Bay Regional Parks District would dismiss its pending suit against the City and take over operation of the Club, and Cowan would acquire the Crown Beach site from the federal government and build luxury homes there. A ferry will convey passengers across the Bay between the two locations.
Cowan will credit former Assembly speaker Willie Brown for coming up with the idea for the swap. “Willie is a master of the ‘Heads I win, tails you lose’ solution,” Cowan will say. “They ought to name a bridge after him.”
Campaign finance reform
The League of Women Voters will complete its efforts to draft a campaign finance reform law by proposing an ordinance limiting campaign contributions in municipal races. The ordinance will apply, however, only to contributions by corporations; unions will be exempt because, in the words of longtime LWV president Kate Quick, “we cannot still the voice of the working family.”
The proposed ordinance also will prohibit door-to-door distribution of campaign literature except by licensed process servers or off-duty members of IAFF Local 689. Brochures and flyers must use the words “transparent” and “sustainable” in the same sentence.
Russo for Mayor of Oakland
City Manager John Russo will shock political observers by announcing that he is resigning his post in order to run for mayor of Oakland. “I’ve saved Alameda,” Russo will say. “Now it’s time for a challenge worthy of my talents.”
Russo will promise that, if he is elected, Oakland City Council meetings will follow the format currently used in Alameda. Council members and citizens who favor the administration’s plans will be offered staff-prepared talking points. Opponents will be held to a strict three-minute time limit, with Russo given unlimited opportunity to ridicule them.
Under a severance agreement with the City, Russo will continue to be paid his full salary and benefits for the period remaining under his contract. He will, however, be responsible for his own dental insurance upon retirement.
Mayor Marie Gilmore will run for re-election on a platform proclaiming that she has secured labor peace, balanced the budget, and obtained Alameda Point from the Navy for free. Fact-checkers will point out that the labor peace cost the City not less than $6.2 million in wage and benefit increases; that the budget was “balanced” only by drawing $2.5 million from reserves, and that development of Alameda Point is unlikely to result in any significant net economic benefit to the City.
No one will care, and Gilmore will be re-elected in a landslide.
Having done nothing in the last two years to offend his core constituencies, Councilman Stewart Chen, D.C., will be easily elected to a full term.
The other open Council seat will be hotly contested between former Council member Frank Matarrese and current Planning Board member John Knox White. Matarrese will attack Knox White for having supported SunCal; Knox White will attack Matarrese for not having supported SunCal. No one will know what they’re talking about.
In the end, the race will go to Matarrese after his supporters leak to the Sun a photograph of Knox White pumping air into his bicycle tires from a City-owned air pump located at Fire Station No. 1.