Our presidential poll; plus: Not in their neighborhood

When the Merry-Go-Round read this week that such luminaries as House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and our own long-time Congresswoman, Barbara Lee, had remained neutral thus far in the Democratic presidential campaign, we wondered:

Would Alameda’s own elected officials be as reticent about taking a stand?

So we decided to find out.

It was easy to determine Councilman Jim Oddie’s position.  His boss, State Assemblyman Rob Bonta, had tweeted out a flyer showing the three candidates pledged to Hillary Clinton who were running for convention delegates from the 13th Congressional district – and there, right in the middle, with Mr. Bonta to his left and Alameda County Democratic Party chair Robin Torello to his right (figuratively speaking, of course) was Mr. Oddie himself.

The flyer identified Mr. Oddie not only as an Alameda Council member but as a “Clinton volunteer and donor.”  And, indeed, a quick check of the opensecrets.org website showed that James Oddie of Alameda had made three separate $250 contributions to Mrs. Clinton’s campaigns, one each in 2007, 2008, and 2016.

(An Alameda resident with the same name also had given $250 to former Vermont governor and presidential candidate Howard Dean in 2003.  We would have loved to ask Councilman Oddie whether it was he who made this contribution, and, if so, why he wasn’t supporting Mr. Dean’s fellow Vermont firebrand, Bernie Sanders, this time.  But we didn’t want to embarrass Mr. Oddie by letting Mr. Bonta know about his aide-de-camp’s prior flirtation with non-conformity).

Mr. Oddie isn’t the only Alameda Council member in the Clinton camp.  In response to our email request, Councilman Tony Daysog proudly informed us that “I have Hillary Clinton signs attached to the front of my house.”

We’ll take Mr. Daysog at his word – the only signs we’ve seen during our weekend cross-town bike trips on Santa Clara Avenue are for Senator Sanders – but, unlike Mr. Oddie, he appears not have put his money where his mouth is:  opensecrets.org lists no contributions by Mr. Daysog to Mrs. Clinton.  Then again, based on the results of our search on the website, Mr. Daysog never has contributed to any presidential candidate.

Two other Council members favored us with their responses.

Councilwoman Marilyn Ezzy Ashcraft played coy.  “Re the presidential race, my first choice is Barack Obama for 4 more years,” she told us.  “Unfortunately, that option’s not on the table, so I will support any Democrat who can beat Donald Trump in November.”

(Why aren’t we surprised that, of all of our Council members, it was Ms. Ashcraft who mimicked Ms. Pelosi and Ms. Lee and hedged her bets?)

And just when we feared that no one on the dais was feeling the Bern, Vice Mayor Frank Matarrese weighed in with a terse note that, “I want a Democrat in the White House and prefer Sanders.”

What about Mayor Trish Spencer?

We never heard back from her.  Perhaps the Mayor chose not to respond because she resented the plethora of petty personal attacks to which this column has subjected her since her election – oh, wait, that’s some other blog.  But could it be she was afraid of revealing that she actually was backing The D. . .?  Nah, even her most delusional detractors wouldn’t stoop so low as to accuse her of that.

We also didn’t hear back from the one non-incumbent candidate who’s announced she’s running for Council – Teamsters lawyer Malia Vella, to whom Ms. Ashcraft graciously offered to forward our request.

Ms. Vella’s silence came as no surprise.  After all, the parent organization of her sponsor, the Alameda firefighters’ union, has stayed on the sidelines in the presidential race.  According to the New York Times, the national IAFF backed off endorsing Mrs. Clinton last October because the union’s president “worried that a Clinton endorsement could deeply divide the firefighters,” whose members “tilt Republican.”

Perhaps Ms. Vella will keep mum until IAFF Local 689 president Jeff DelBono gives her the go-ahead – or until she gets a talking-to from Mr. Oddie and Mr. Bonta.

* * *

Not in their neighborhood

So what should the so-called Main Street Neighborhood at Alameda Point look like?

Well, it depends on whom you listen to:  City staff, current residents of the neighborhood, the Alameda Architectural Preservation Society, respondents to a 2011 community survey – or Planning Board chair and Inner Ringleader John Knox White and his sidekick, Board member David Burton.

The “Main Street Neighborhood,” shown below, is the designation given to the approximately 100 acres west of Main Street and north of West Tower Avenue that had been used for Navy housing.  At present, the area contains 268 housing units, of which 200 are managed by the Alameda Point Collaborative.  The other 68 units – all market-rate rentals – include the former senior Naval officers’ homes known as the “Big Whites” and the “Admiral’s House” as well as 30 bungalows once occupied by non-commissioned officers.

Main Street existing neighborhood

As Alameda Point Chief Operating Officer Jennifer Ott told the Planning Board last Monday, all of the prior development plans for this area “had a pretty consistent framework in terms of what we want to see here, more like a traditional Alameda residential neighborhood, that’s what’s been the vision throughout that process.”  Indeed, according to the staff report, the Alameda Point zoning amendment adopted in 2014 requires that “neighborhood land uses in the Main Street Neighborhood should complement the historic housing and network of neighborhood oriented streets that define the Historic District which includes the ‘Big Whites,’ former Navy Married Officer’s Quarters with large 2-story houses on large lots with green space, the Bungalows, small cottage-style homes and the beehive street network.”

At the Board meeting, Ms. Ott presented an outline for development consistent with these principles.

Staff divided the Main Street Neighborhood into three sub-areas.  The housing managed by the Collaborative (and its non-profit partners) would be re-located to a new “campus” on the south side closest to Site A, where “opportunities for market-rate development” needed to pay for infrastructure also existed.  The Ploughshares nursery and the urban farm run by the Collaborative would continue to occupy the northeast side closest to the Main Street ferry terminal.  In between was where the bulk of the non-subsidized housing would be found.

According to Ms. Ott, the Big Whites (and perhaps the bungalows) would remain in this area.  Any newly constructed housing would “mirror what’s going on in the beehive network and the historic area and also be very respectful of it,” Ms. Ott said.  “We really took seriously the idea . . . that we’re using Alameda’s neighborhoods as an inspiration for what we want to see in this new neighborhood. . . .”

To illustrate what staff had in mind, Ms. Ott displayed a slide showing single-family homes, duplexes, and small apartment buildings found elsewhere in the City that would be appropriate for the Main Street Neighborhood:

Main Street building types

In addition, Ms. Ott stated, staff believed that building heights should be limited to two stories in the Historic District, with three-story buildings permitted in adjacent areas to the east and southeast.  Four-story buildings could be built only around the north and south rims of the district.  Here’s her diagram:

Main Street building heights

This stated preference for a “traditional Alameda neighborhood” echoed the comments made by 28 current residents who attended “outreach” meetings conducted by the City’s consultants.  Characteristics of the neighborhood “worth preserving,” the consultants were told, included:

  • Calm, peaceful, neighborly environment; “Leave it Beaver” style neighborhood

  • The layout of homes, with spaces between them, greenery throughout and variation in styles. This is the antithesis of the cookie-cutter “Toon Town” development and architecture that is popping up all over, i.e. Alameda Landing.

  • Economic diversity of residents. In addition to supportive housing residents, this is a place where the forgotten middle class and working class can live–those who don’t qualify for assistance but can’t afford to buy. “Alameda Point is seen as a problem by the City, but we see it as a solution” to the difficult economic environment of the Bay Area.

  • It is a “time warp” where community is strong and neighbor-to-neighbor support still exists.

  • The trees! The impact of the trees on aesthetics, neighborhood feel, family friendliness, can’t be overstated.

  • Families and children still feel as if this is a safe zone.

  • Seniors are accommodated here. Rarely do single story ranch homes get built anymore–all new development is 2 or 3 stories, which is inaccessible to the elderly.

  • Grass, parking availability, bucolic feel, “I call it old Upstate New York.

  • Family-oriented streets: cul-de-sacs and spacing give parents a sense of views in all directions, so that we feel our children can roam freely. This is rare today.

Likewise, the stated emphasis on “respecting” the historic character of the Main Street Neighborhood seconded the comments made by the Alameda Architectural Preservation Society.  AAPS supported keeping the Big Whites, the Admiral’s House, and the bungalows.  Its “central concern regarding new land use in Main Street,” the organization told the consultants, is that “new development is visually subordinate to priority historic structures and existing historic visual character.”

Finally, the appropriateness of the building types shown in the slide for the Main Street Neighborhood was underscored by the 2011 community survey in which 97.6 per cent of respondents stated that large-lot single-family homes belonged in residential neighborhoods at the Point, and 96.5 percent stated that small-lot single-family homes should go there. (The corresponding figure for “stacked flats/multiplex” was 50 percent).

If one were seeking a shorthand description of the “community vision” for the Main Street Neighborhood, it’s hard to improve on Ms. Ott’s phrase:  a “traditional Alameda residential neighborhood.”  As new developments sprout up around town, the rest of the island may begin looking like Emeryville, but the Main Street Neighborhood is the one area that should remain recognizably “Alameda.”  Or so the ordinary folks seem to be saying.

And then there are Mr. Knox White and Mr. Burton.

Sounding like a teenager worried about acne spreading across his face, Mr. Knox White recoiled at the idea of the Main Street Neighborhood being “covered” with single-family homes.  “If we’re not careful,” he warned, “we’re going to build a neighborhood that generates a lot of traffic and is very, very difficult to serve with transit even if it’s near a ferry terminal.”  To prevent such dire consequences, “I would like to see less flexibility for where single-family homes can go,” he said.  “Any plan that comes back I’d like to see enumerate how we’d like to spread that out.”

And if construction of single-family homes was restricted, what should be encouraged instead?  Mr. Knox White, of course, knew best.  “Do we want [new residential development] to be slightly higher density units of 3-4 stories?” he asked, rhetorically.  “If we do, probably we want them to be closer to Site A.”  In addition, “we should think about infill” – by which he apparently referred to “smaller, accessory dwelling units” shoehorned among the existing historic buildings.

By the time Mr. Knox White spoke, Mr. Burton already had given his comments, but he hastened to interject his complete agreement.

If anything, Mr. Burton’s aversion to the kind of residential development favored by the current residents, survey respondents, and AAPS ran even deeper than Mr. Knox White’s.  “We want to make this as transit-oriented as possible,” he said, “and single-family homes are going to be the worst possible way to do that.”

Mr. Burton grudgingly acknowledged the Big Whites might be allowed to remain.  But if so, “[w]e should make a small area around the Big Whites where we allow single-family homes and then take them off the list for the rest of the areas.  So provide sort of a transitional buffer zone for the Big Whites but then get rid of them everywhere else.”

Like Mr. Knox White, Mr. Burton had a preferred alternative:  high-density housing concentrated close to Site A.  “Let’s not encourage low-density housing that’s going to discourage use of transit, increase traffic, and make everybody unhappy,” he concluded.

Other than late-arriving Kristoffer Koster, Messrs. Knox White and Burton were the last Board members to speak, so the rest of the Board didn’t get a chance to react to their remarks.  But we can be sure that City staff, and the consultants responsible for preparing the “specific plan” for the Main Street Neighborhood, were paying close attention.  It will be interesting to see whether, when the draft is presented, the credo of the cognoscenti has managed to drown out the vox populi.


May 9, 2016 staff report: 2016-05-09 staff report to PB re Main St. Neighborhood

Exhibits to May 9, 2016 staff report: 2016-05-09 Exs. A to staff report to PB re Main St. Neighborhood

May 9, 2016 staff presentation: 2016-05-09 staff presentation re Main St. neighborhood

Alameda Point 2010 Community Forums Summary Report: March 2011 Community Forums Summary Report

About Robert Sullwold

Partner, Sullwold & Hughes Specializes in investment litigation
This entry was posted in Alameda Point, City Hall, Development, Firefighters, Housing and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

2 Responses to Our presidential poll; plus: Not in their neighborhood

  1. tony daysog says:

    I contributed to Clinton in 2008 — I think something like $50. Also: I did contribute to Clinton this year by way of purchasing my signs (cha ching: $20!). As an aside: my running gag line to the Bernie folks I often see at the Farmers’ Market when they ask who I’m supporting has been that, “while I am still a registered Democrat, as a quasi-Republican (albeit quasi moderate-Republican), of course I’ll support the Republican on the ballot — Hillary Clinton!'” That’s a gag, folks.

  2. dave says:

    White is Alameda’s Robert Moses.

    That’s richly ironic, considering Moses’ strongly pro-automobile stance, freeway building, etc, but the similarities between the two are numerous. Each is/was an un-elected True Believer, intent on remaking a city in their holy image, viewing with disdain anyone who didn’t adhere to their particular theory (perhaps theology is a better term?). Both are willing, indeed happy, to ruin existing neighborhoods in pursuit of their utopia. The two are more alike than different….

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