But we’re not surprised. And we think it even less likely that the League of Women Voters will ask our questions at their candidate forum this Thursday.
So we’ve decided to take a different tack and focus not on the questions, but on the answers.
Having heard the candidates speak at two forums, and having read their responses to The Alamedan questionnaires, we have a pretty good idea of their standard stump speeches. But there are certain things we really wish they wouldn’t say.
We’ll get to specific statements by each candidate that we’d rather not hear again shortly. But our first request is directed to all of them:
We’d really wish the IAFF Local 689 slate candidates – Mayor Marie Gilmore, Councilman Stewart Chen, D.C., and Bonta aide-de-camp Jim Oddie – would stop trying to play down the support they’ve received (and expect to receive) from the firefighters’ union. At the same time we’d really wish the candidates not on the slate – Mayoral candidate Trish Spencer and Council candidate Frank Matarrese – would stop bragging about how they’d pledged not to take union money.
At the forum sponsored by the Alameda Citizens Task Force, and the one put on by the Alameda Sun and The Alamedan, the candidates were asked about the role of the firefighters’ union in their campaigns. All we got, from both sides, was sanctimony – and denials.
“I’ve gotten no contributions from the firefighters union,” Mr. Oddie told the A.C.T. audience.
“I’ve gotten no firefighters’ union money yet,” Dr. Chen told the same group, then added, “although I’m hoping for it.”
We have no doubt that Dr. Chen and Mr. Oddie were speaking truthfully as of the time of the two candidate forums. The campaign disclosure statements filed for the period ended June 30, 2014 list no monetary contributions from the IAFF Local 689 PAC to either of them. The next round of campaign disclosure statements covering the period ended September 30 is due next Monday, and we fully expect not to see any firefighters’ union money going to Dr. Chen or Mr. Oddie before the two forums occurred. (But we will be interested to see if the PAC slipped either candidate a few bucks in the two weeks since then).
But cash contributions aren’t the whole story.
In fact, the firefighters’ union already has provided valuable support for the Chen and Oddie campaigns – and, if its conduct in the last two elections is any clue, it always saves the best for last.
The firefighters’ union joined with the teachers’ union to play host to a “Luau and BBQ” fundraiser for Dr. Chen on July 10. Tickets were $50 per person, but attendees were invited to become a “Mahalo” sponsor for $2,000; an “Ohana” sponsor for $1,000; a “Hula” sponsor for $600, an “Aloha” sponsor for $300, and a “Honu” sponsor for $100.
The same two unions played host to a “Take Me Out to the Ballgame” fundraiser for Mr. Oddie on August 27. This time, the theme was baseball. Tickets were still $50, but $2,000 made you a “grand slam” sponsor, $1,000 a “home run” sponsor, $600 an “outfield” sponsor, $300 an “infield” sponsor, and $100 a (lowly) “bunt” sponsor.
Neither Dr. Chen nor Mr. Oddie has disclosed the total amount raised at their respective union-hosted fundraisers. Not that, as far as we know, state law required them to report the overall take. Yet, if only 100 people attended the fundraisers, Dr. Chen and Mr. Oddie grossed $5,000 from ticket sales alone at those events – a pretty sweet return for a few hours of glad-handing.
And that doesn’t count the money raised from the premium contributors. Now, it may be that no one who attended the galas sought the honor of being designated a “sponsor” in exchange for writing a check for $2,000 (or even $100). And maybe some who did would have forked over that kind of cash anyway. But it surely couldn’t have hurt the fundraising effort to bring a bunch of potential big-dollar donors together in one place at one time – especially when food and drink are being served. For that, the candidates can thank the firefighters’ and teachers’ unions.
More thanks undoubtedly will be due later on. If the past is prologue, we can expect to see significant spending by the IAFF Local 689 PAC on behalf of its slate after the deadline (October 23) for the second pre-election campaign disclosure statement has passed:
- In 2010, Election Day was November 2. On October 28, the IAFF Local 689 PAC gave Mayor Gilmore’s campaign $3,300, the fourth largest monetary contribution that Ms. Gilmore received (the second and third largest – $5,000 apiece – also came from the firefighters’ union; Chris Seiwald, whose investment group later developed a retail complex on the site of the old Goode Chevrolet, was the Mayor’s top donor with $10,000).
- In 2012, Election Day was November 6. On October 26, the IAFF Local 689 PAC spent $10,000 on “mail drop pieces” supporting Dr. Chen. The firefighters’ union reported this as an “independent expenditure” (which it can do only if the spending was not coordinated with or made “at the behest of” the Chen campaign). Had it been characterized as a “non-monetary contribution,” it would have been the largest contribution Dr. Chen received in the entire campaign.
We know of no evidence that the firefighters’ union has promised Dr. Chen or Mr. Oddie that it intends to do any last-minute spending on their behalf in this election. But we wouldn’t blame them if they expect it. And we won’t be surprised if it happens.
Nor will we be surprised if the firefighters’ union also puts its vaunted “books on the ground” to work for the benefit of Dr. Chen and Mr. Oddie. Running phone banks and dispatching precinct walkers reportedly are tools employed by the union in the past. Curiously, this kind of support doesn’t make it onto campaign disclosure statements.
And then there’s Mayor Gilmore.
The Mayor did not attend the A.C.T. forum. (She explained to us in an email that, “After almost a week of trying to rearrange my schedule, I realized it just wasn’t possible – too many moving parts.”). The next night, at the Sun/Alamedan forum, the Mayor did not echo Dr. Chen’s and Mr. Oddie’s denials of having received any monetary contributions from the IAFF Local 689 PAC. (Maybe City Attorney Janet Kern had advised her that she’d be disqualified from voting on any issue affecting the firefighters if she commented publicly. More likely, the PAC hadn’t turned on the cash spigot for her yet, either).
Nevertheless, Ms. Gilmore appears to have benefited already in the same way as her IAFF Local 689 slate-mates. Like Dr. Chen and Mr. Oddie, she’s been the guest of honor at union-sponsored fundraisers. And not just one of them.
The firefighters’ union co-sponsored (with seven other unions) a “Re-Elect Marie Gilmore for Mayor 2014 Lobster Feed and Clambake” fundraiser on November 8, 2013. (Nothing like an early start, we guess). Tickets went for $75 apiece, and, according to the IAFF Local 689 Facebook page, the event was sold out – all 220 tickets. Gross revenue from ticket sales thus amounted to $16,500 – and the PAC itself shelled out $1,600.25 for food and drink.
Then, this June 10, the firefighters’ union co-sponsored a “Taco Tuesday!” – it seems Mr. Oddie gets the sports-themed events, and Dr. Chen and Ms. Gilmore the food-themed events – fundraiser for the Mayor. This time, tickets cost only $50. But that’s another likely five grand in the till.
Additional support undoubtedly is in the offing. The first time Ms. Gilmore ran for Mayor, the IAFF Local 689 PAC contributed $14,300 in cash to her campaign and paid $7,041.44 for a mailer supporting her. She also benefited from a hit piece against one of her opponents for which the PAC paid $9,385.83. We know of no reason the firefighters’ union will be less generous this time. And the union probably will make the phone banks and precinct walkers available to her, too.
So it’s a little disingenuous for Dr. Chen, Mr. Oddie, and Ms. Gilmore to try to minimize the extent of the support provided by the firefighters’ union to their campaigns. But we have a bone to pick with Ms. Spencer and Mr. Matarrese as well.
At both forums, the two non-incumbent candidates made it a point to announce that they refused to accept campaign contributions from entities who “have contracts with” the City – which, of course, includes the firefighters’ union as well as potential developers for the northern waterfront or Alameda Point.
This would have been a noble gesture – if either Ms. Spencer or Mr. Matarrese ever actually had a reasonable chance of getting a campaign contribution from any public employee union or residential developer. In fact, the odds of that happening are lower than those of Mayor Gilmore inviting the proprietor of the Merry-Go-Round to a friendly game of tennis with her and Ron Cowan at the Harbor Bay Club.
True, both Ms. Spencer and Mr. Matarrese have enjoyed support by organized labor in the past. But this time IAFF Local 689 came out with its endorsements for Ms. Gilmore, Dr. Chen, and Mr. Oddie before Ms. Spencer or Mr. Matarrese even pulled papers to run for office. It was highly unlikely any other public employee union would risk the wrath of the firefighters by backing a competing candidate.
Likewise, Ms. Spencer and Mr. Matarrese haven’t exactly endeared themselves to residential developers. Both opposed the scheme to allow Tim Lewis Communities to build 48 new houses on the Crab Cove parcel. Both have criticized the proposals for new housing at the Del Monte warehouse and Alameda Point. The only residential developer likely to give money to one or both of these candidates is one who insists on covering its bets.
The “I’ll take no money from unions or developers” pledge may resonate in some circles. But to us it sounds like empty rhetoric.
Now let’s turn to the specific statements that we wish each candidate wouldn’t repeat. Start with the mayoral candidates.
We really wish Mayor Gilmore would stop belittling the seriousness of the traffic and budgetary issues facing the City.
As we have previously pointed out, Ms. Gilmore’s leadership style (such as it is) is to begin by claiming that the asserted problem doesn’t in fact exist. She has carried this unfortunate practice with her onto the campaign trail.
Take traffic. At the Sun/Alamedan forum, the Mayor responded to a question about development by proclaiming that “the City has done studies” and found that “the average daily trips” through the Posey/Webster tubes “actually have decreased over the last 20 years.” The implication was that, since the traffic situation was improving on its own, there was no need for the City to do anything about it.
It took a careful listener to realize that the Mayor was comparing present conditions – when about 1,000 people work at Alameda Point and the occupied housing consists primarily of the 200 units overseen by the Alameda Point Collaborative – to the conditions existing while the Naval Air Station was operating – when about 18,000 people worked at the base and the Navy provided on-site housing. It would be shocking if traffic through the tubes had not declined after the base closed.
Moreover, if the Mayor wants to talk about studies, we commend to her the analysis prepared by Dowling & Associates for the Department of Public Works in February 2012. The consultants found that traffic in the tubes during peak hours had exceeded full capacity by 2007. It is simply undeniable – no matter how badly Ms. Gilmore wishes to ignore it – that additional traffic resulting from new developments poses a risk of clogging the tubes (and bridges) even further.
So, too, with the budget. Confronted with the projections by former City Finance Director Fred Marsh that the General Fund will run an operating deficit – i.e., expenses will exceed revenues – in each of the next four years, thereby exhausting the entire General Fund balance, Ms. Gilmore has treated with derision the suggestion that this, too, is a problem requiring attention. After all, she says, “we were told” back in 2010 that the City was going bankrupt, and look at us now – we’ve got $21 million in reserves!
At the Sun/Alamedan forum, the Mayor went on, as she usually does, to claim that the current Council deserves credit for this salutary result because she and her colleagues have established a “cooperative relationship” with the public safety unions. Balderdash. In fact, the increase in the General Fund balance during Ms. Gilmore’s tenure had nothing to do with any mutual back-scratching between the politicians and the unions, and little if anything to do with City staff’s managerial skills. Instead, as we previously have pointed out, the vast majority of that increase resulted from funds transfers and other accounting maneuvers.
But even if the Mayor is right about the past, her “success” furnishes no reason for optimism about the future. When Mr. Marsh presented his updated projections, he already had taken into account the impact of the “cost-sharing” features in the public safety union contracts about which the Mayor repeatedly boasts. At the same time, he admitted that he could not quantify fully the damage to the bottom line expected to be done by future employer contribution rate hikes by CalPERS.
Staying friendly with the unions may get incumbents re-elected, but it won’t bridge the gap between revenues and expenses. Instead, just the opposite: reductions in the 74% of the General Fund budget devoted to public safety – which the unions won’t like one bit – will be required. If the Mayor believes otherwise, she’s just whistling past the graveyard.
Enough about the Mayor. Ms. Gilmore’s opponent has her own shtick. And we’re not impressed with it, either.
We really wish that Ms. Spencer would stop decrying the pace of residential development without telling us what she intends to do about it.
At both forums, Ms. Spencer repeatedly voiced her displeasure with the extent of residential development taking place on the northern waterfront and at Alameda Point. And she raised legitimate concerns: By our count, 2,285 new housing units have been proposed or approved by the Planning Board in these areas. Inevitably, development on this scale poses risks of creating gridlock at the tubes and bridges and congestion in the adjacent neighborhoods.
Likewise, Ms. Spencer’s criticism of the City’s reliance on “transportation demand management” to “mitigate” this impact is well-taken: TDM’s track record in places like Berkeley, Palo Alto, and Boulder doesn’t guarantee it will work in an island city like Alameda with limited ingress and egress. And if the new residents are expected to take public transit rather than drive, we’d feel more reassured if the City had obtained commitments from the relevant agencies (AC Transit and WETA) to provide the additional buses and ferries needed to increase their level of service. Merely “having a conversation” with those agencies – as City Planner Andrew Thomas is wont to say – won’t cut it.
As our regular readers know, the Merry-Go-Round has made these points before. But it’s one thing for us to mock the proposals offered by the planners and politicians. That’s our mission. (Afflict the comfortable, remember?) But Ms. Spencer isn’t writing a column; she’s running for office. As such, she should be prepared not just to disparage the status quo but to suggest an alternative. We cannot help but agree with the aphorism offered by Mayor Gilmore at the Sun/Alamedan forum: “A goal without a plan is simply a wish. And you cannot govern a city based on wishes.”
So, Ms. Spencer, the next time you say something like, “We have housing development that is occurring way ahead of, much faster than, any solutions to address the transportation issue,” please also tell us what “solutions” you propose. Pull the plug on the Del Monte warehouse project and/or the Waterfront Town Center? Set up a City-run (and developer-funded) transit service (like Mr. Oddie appears to favor)? Do something like that and your detractors will have a hard time pillorying you as a candidate who can only say, No.
Now on to the Council candidates.
We really wish Dr. Chen would be more careful when he cites “facts” to support his positions.
Especially when speaking extemporaneously, Ronald Reagan was famous for embellishing his opinions by pulling “facts” out of the air that turned out not to be true. Dr. Chen has displayed the same habit on the campaign trail. (And, no, we’re not accusing him of being a Republican).
Development is one example. In defending the projects going up along the northern waterfront, Dr. Chen declared at the Sun/Alamedan forum, “You understand the City budget. Part of balancing the budget is to increase developer fees.”
Not so. The City does indeed charge a “Development Impact Fee” for new projects, and Council recently raised the amount. But, contrary to the Councilman’s claim, these fees are not an additional source of revenue for the General Fund. In fact, as one of the slides in the staff presentation to Council made clear (at a meeting attended by Dr. Chen), DIFs are “used to fund facilities needed by new development” (underlining and italics in original),” not “for operations and maintenance costs.” To put it concretely: DIFs are used to build a new fire station, not to hire additional firefighters.
Dr. Chen is equally unclear on the facts about open space. Trying to endear himself to park supporters at the Sun/Alamedan forum, he informed the audience that “out of 1,000 acres, almost 500 acres” at Alameda Point “is reserved for open space.”
Not so. In fact, according to Alameda Point Chief Operating Officer Jennifer Ott, of the 878 acres at the Point transferred (or scheduled for transfer) by the Navy to the City, 271 have been zoned as “open space.” The rest of the land at the Point is owned by the Veterans Administration, and the City has no control over its use. Council may have passed a resolution – introduced by Councilman Chen – expressing “support” for “creation of a wildlife conservation area” on the V.A. property, but that area is not included in the acreage designated as “open space” available for use by the public.
We have no problem with Dr. Chen saying he thinks development is good and open space is good. But if he ventures beyond generalities, he ought to get his facts straight.
Next, Mr. Oddie. We really wish that, when Mr. Oddie declares his allegiance to “working families,” he meant Alameda’s middle class, not its public safety union employees.
We first heard Mr. Oddie speak publicly when he appeared before Council to endorse the public safety union contracts in December 2012. Before getting to his endorsement, Mr. Oddie delivered his “analysis” of the recent election: the candidates who supported “working families” won; those who didn’t, lost. Perhaps because this statement was so outrageous, it took us a moment to realize that, to Mr. Oddie, “working families” was synonymous with “public employee union members.”
He has repeated this rhetoric about “working families” on the campaign trail. Indeed, he’s even added a riff. “These are the teachers who teach our children,” he begins, and then gives a nod to firefighters, police officers, and other City workers who wear the union label.
Although we, like Mr. Oddie, grew up in a union household, the picture of a firefighter who makes more than $150,000 a year in wages and benefits – and in 2012, there were 86 of them – and lives in Pleasant Hill somehow doesn’t fit our image of an Alameda “working family.” Instead, we tend to apply that term to the Alameda residents who earn the median household income – $77,249 a year, according to the American Community Survey – and who are struggling to find “affordable” housing. (According to the recently adopted Housing Element, a four-person household earning $112,200 – well above the median – can afford to pay no more than $381,862 for a single-family home and no more than $2,655 in monthly rent).
As an alternative – or even an addition – to his paeans to the public employee unions, we’d like to hear Mr. Oddie’s plans to help people who fall into this category. What, for example, would he do to bring employers to the island who would provide decent-paying jobs – even non-union jobs – for middle-income Alamedans? Or what, if anything, would he do to address the rent increases experienced by a goodly number of the 50 per cent of Alamedans who are renters? (And waiting for Jeff Cambra to “facilitate” a “community process” isn’t an answer).
You’ve already got the public safety unions locked up, Mr. Oddie. Now how about paying attention to the real “working families” in town?
Finally, Mr. Matarrese. We really wish Mr. Matarrese would tell us how his proposals for job-focused development at Alameda Point are economically feasible.
Like Ms. Spencer, Mr. Matarrese has raised concerns about the extent of residential development at Alameda Point. But he has gone significantly further. He told the A.C.T. forum that there should be no new housing at the Point. And not only has he urged turning the focus to jobs, he has offered specifics. He wants commercial, not retail, businesses. And not just any commercial businesses. He’d concentrate on the maritime industry and related services. Alternative-energy companies, too.
But whenever we find ourselves impressed with Mr. Matarrese’s willingness to stake out a new strategy for development at the Point, we start to hear a still, small voice: Sounds good – but how’s he going to pay for the infrastructure?
According to the Master Infrastructure Plan adopted by Council, the “backbone” infrastructure at the Point – sewers, storm drains, water lines, roads, etc. – will cost $594 million. Recently, the City’s consultants proposed how to allocate these costs between residential and commercial development. Starting with total costs of $479 million – they omitted demolition and a few other costs shown in the MIP – they assigned $189 million to residential and $290 million to commercial. This in turn led to an infrastructure cost per acre of $1,107,121 for residential developers and $978,965 for commercial developers.
Now suppose we go along with Mr. Matarrese and eliminate residential development from the plans for the Point. Presumably, total infrastructure costs will go down – but not on a one-for-one basis. So commercial developers will end up being responsible for higher costs than they’d bear under the current plan. And, remember, this is just backbone infrastructure. Developers also will need to build the specific on-site infrastructure required for their projects. And that won’t be cheap. (Building 5, anyone?)
Are there really developers out there willing and able to pay these kind of expenses? It can’t be encouraging that only four developers submitted qualified responses to the City’s request for qualifications for the commercially oriented Site B – or that one of the two finalists selected by the City dropped out “due to the uncertainty of the market for commercial uses at Alameda Point.”
Now, maybe Mr. Matarrese has ideas for addressing this concern. If so, we encourage him to tell us what they are.
So there’s our wish list. Don’t tell anybody, but we
intend to bring our rubber duck to the LWV forum this Thursday. Maybe Kate Quick will remember “You Bet Your Life” and know what to do with it when a candidate utters one of the secret words.
Alameda Point zoning: 2014-01-13 PB Exhibit 3-A (AP zoning map)
Alameda Point construction costs: XV. Construction Costs
Five-year projections: 2014-06-03 presentation re mid-cycle update
Traffic at tubes: AlamedaTSM_TDM_Plan_FinalReport
Housing Element:2014-07-15 Ex. 1 to staff report- 2015-2023 Housing Element
Alameda demographics: Alameda household income