Alameda’s favorite Uncle

The Merry-Go-Round knows better than to interject ourselves into the debate over the best way to protect the City of Alameda and its residents from Donald Trump and the Republican party.

We’re confident that our Council members will pass a resolution this Tuesday sufficient to allay the fear expressed by Councilman Jim Oddie a month ago of “sitting here in this room on January 20 and seeing our Muslim citizens lined up at City Hall registering,” and “driving through town and seeing our families broken up and officers arresting people and rounding up people and raiding people.”

And we likewise have no doubt that at least a majority of those on the dais will dismiss, as they did previously, the argument by public commenters that Council should be wary of taking any action that puts the City at risk of losing federal funds upon which it relies to provide services benefiting all Alamedans.

But even though the information may make no difference to Council’s decision, we thought our readers might be interested in just how much money the City gets from the federal government, and what it uses the money for.  So, with the assistance of City Manager Jill Keimach and her department heads (all of whom, as always, graciously responded to our inquiries), we sought to find out.  Today, we present the results.

Here’s what the feds have done for Alameda lately:

  • Gave (and committed to give) the City $5.73 million to enable the fire department to keep six additional firefighters on the payroll and thereby meet its stated “minimum” staffing requirements.

Back in 2009, in response to Interim City Manager Ann Marie Gallant’s decision to close fire station no. 5 and eliminate 10 sworn positions, then fire chief Dave Kapler applied to the U.S. Department of Homeland Security for a grant that would allow the department to re-hire six firefighters and bring the staffing level back up to 98, which he (and his successors) believed was the minimum number needed to ensure public safety.  (Ms. Gallant, and the International City/County Management Association, thought a leaner staff could keep Alamedans safe.)

The application was successful, and the City received a $1.76 million grant through DHS’s Staffing for Adequate Fire and Emergency Response (“SAFER”) Program.  The grant paid full salaries and benefits for the additional personnel for two years.

After this grant expired, the City got a second $1.76 million SAFER grant that allowed the fire department to keep the six additional firefighters on the job.  When funds from the second SAFER grant ran out, current Fire Chief Doug Long told Council, the department used overtime to maintain the “minimum” staffing level.  Then in August 2015 DHS approved a third SAFER grant, this time for $2.21 million, covering full salaries and benefits for six firefighters through February 2018.

  • Gave the City $1.74  million to buy new equipment for the fire department.

The SAFER program isn’t the only source of federal funds our fire department has tapped.

In addition to SAFER grants, DHS also offers “Assistance to Firefighters Grants.”  Since 2011, the City has gotten money through this program to buy:  a new “fire rescue vehicle” outfitted to enable Alameda firefighters to respond to “Multi-Casualty Incidents (MCIs), including incidents involving chemical, biological, radiological, nuclear, and explosive weapons” ($397,216); “wildland firefighting personal protective equipment” for use when our firefighters are dispatched on “mutual aid requests” ($271,135; this includes funds for a “Fire Ground Survival” training program); equipment for emergency medical services training and a “wellness fitness program” providing “cardio and strengthening workouts” and “certified peer fitness trainers” ($161,368);  and 66 “self-contained breathing apparatus” units for use in situations where toxic or hazardous materials are present ($457,839).  In addition, through the AFG program the department obtained $80,954 to fund “education and outreach activities in home fire safety for Alameda residents of all ages and incomes.”

Perhaps the most visible use of federal funds for equipment purchases by the fire department is the “Deanna Jo,” the City’s 32-foot-long fire boat launched in 2014.  Equipped with a pump that can spray up to 2,000 gallons of water a minute and capable of supplying water to a fire engine or a rig on shore, the vessel has been described as “the only one of its kind in the East Bay.”  It cost $500,000, but the City paid only $125,000 – the $375,000 balance came from a “Port Security Grant” awarded by DHS.

(Having confirmed the foregoing grants with Chief Long, we asked Police Chief Paul Rolleri if the cops, too, had gotten any federal dollars.  The Chief replied that the only federal grants received by the police department came from the “Edward Byrne Memorial Justice Assistance Grant Program” and had been used for equipment purchases.  The annual Schedules of Expenditures of Federal Awards to which City Finance Director Elena Adair referred us showed this grant amounted to only $17,006 in Fiscal Year 2014-15.)

  • Gave (and committed to give) the City $2.4 million to build projects beloved by bicyclists.

The City has used, and will use, federal funds to pay for two projects passionately promoted by Bike Alameda and other bicycle enthusiasts.

The first is the “Shore Line Drive/Westline Drive/Broadway Bikeway project,” in which motor vehicle travel lanes were reduced and a cycle track and buffer were installed on a 1.8-mile-long stretch along the southern waterfront.  The total construction cost was approximately $800,000.  The U.S. Department of Transportation picked up $416,000 of the tab.

The second is the section of the “Cross Alameda Trail” – a pathway for bicyclists, joggers, and pedestrians planned eventually to traverse the island from Alameda Point to the Miller-Sweeney (aka Fruitvale) bridge – running through the new Jean Sweeney Open Space Park.  The project consists of building a 3,600-foot long, 21-foot wide trail (10 feet for bicyclists, six feet for walkers, and five feet for joggers) along the old railroad right-of-way.

The City obtained a $2,231,000 grant from the “Active Transportation Program” to design and build this segment of the Cross Alameda Trail.  Recreation and Parks Director Amy Wooldridge told us that the portion of the grant to be used for construction – $2,005,000 – comes from federal funds.

Update: City Manager Jill Keimach told us Tuesday that staff received notice on December 6 that the City had been awarded a $7.3 million “Active Transportation Program” grant for the Central Avenue “complete streets” project (whose total cost, Ms. Keimach said, is estimated to be $12.5 million).

  • Committed to give the City $2 million to build the second phase of the Jean Sweeney Open Space Park.

Federal funds will do more than just pay for extending the Cross Alameda Trail through the Jean Sweeney Open Space Park; they also will pay to design and build “Phase 2” of the Park itself.  According to a City press release, this area – on the eastern end of the property near Sherman Street – will include a natural playground; a large group picnic area with a gazebo, picnic pavilion, and open lawn; a plaza area; bicycle and walking trails; small picnic areas; and a natural open landscape area with California native, drought-tolerant plants.

In July 2015, the City obtained a $2 million grant from the Land and Water Conservation Fund managed by the National Park Service for this project.  (The required 50% match will be supplied by Tim Lewis Communities, the developer of the Del Monte warehouse.)  Already, federal funds have been designated to pay a $200,000 chunk of the fees for landscape design.

To put the federal grants for the Jean Sweeney Open Space Park in perspective:  staff has estimated that the total cost of designing and building the park – including the Cross Alameda Trail component – will be $12 million.  So far, the City has raised $6.5 million – of which $4 million is federal money.

  • Gives the City about $1 million annually to provide services to low- and moderate-income residents.

Every year, the City receives a Community Development Block Grant from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development.  According to the HUD website, the CDBG program “allocates annual grants to larger cities and urban counties to develop viable communities by providing decent housing, a suitable living environment, and opportunities to expand economic opportunities, principally for low- and moderate-income persons.”

The City got $1,189,953 (which includes loan repayments as well as an outright grant) in CDBG funds in FY 2015-16.  The total for the last five fiscal years is $6.65 million.

The CDBG grant is managed by the Alameda Housing Authority and disbursed in accordance with an “Action Plan” approved by Council.  The focus is on housing.  During FY 2015-16, for example, the Action Plan called for AHA to spend $449,113 on residential rehabilitation programs.  CDBG funds also were earmarked for the Alameda Food Bank ($20,000), the Midway Shelter ($95,000), and the Alameda Point Collaborative ($100,000).

  • Makes funds available annually to the City for the development of affordable housing.

In addition to handing out CDBG grants, HUD also provides funds for construction and rehabilitation of affordable housing through a program called the HOME Investment Partnership Program.  The City is one of eight members of an East Bay consortium that annually receives HOME funds and allocates them among its members.  For FY 2015-16, Alameda’s share was $137,230.  The total allocated to the City over the last five fiscal years is $2.02 million.

Since 2011, the City has used HOME funds for three affordable-housing projects in Alameda:  renovation of the Islander Motel into 62 affordable units, for which Council authorized a $1.42 million loan; construction of the 32-unit affordable-housing project at Alameda Landing, for which the City picked up “pre-development expenses” totaling $367,043; and construction of the 31-unit senior housing project at the Del Monte warehouse, for which Council recently approved a $248,740 loan.

To this point, we’ve been discussing federal funds provided directly to the City to pay for services benefiting Alameda residents.  But no discussion of financial benefits would be complete without mentioning the expenditures made by federal agencies at Alameda Point.  And we’re referring not just to the annual lease payments by the U.S. Maritime Administration for the ships berthed in the Seaplane Lagoon, which, Ms. Adair told us, generated $2.7 million for the City’s base reuse “special revenue” fund in FY 2015-16.

The major role played by the feds, of course, involves the environmental clean-up of the former Naval Air Station.  Cecily Sabedra, the Base Realignment and Closure coordinator for the U.S. Navy, told the Restoration Advisory Board last week that, to date, the Navy has spent $550 million to remedy soil and groundwater contamination at the former base.  She described the clean-up work as winding down, but, of 34 “Installation Restoration Sites,” only 14 have attained “closed” status.

Once the Navy deems land “suitable for transfer,” it is eligible for conveyance to the City (and then to private developers).  So far, the City has received 546 acres of developable land (and 1,016 acres of submerged land) in two installments, one in June 2013 and the other in March 2016, but 262 acres are not yet clean enough to transfer.  This property includes the parcels south of Ralph Appezzato parkway where Alameda Point Partners intends to build townhomes and apartment buildings.  It also includes the one-million-square-foot “Building 5” and other structures at the heart of the “Historic District” where commercial development is contemplated.

Alameda Point Chief Operating Officer Jennifer Ott confirmed the obvious for us:  if the Navy stopped its clean-up work, the 262 acres couldn’t be conveyed to the City – and the current redevelopment plan for the Point would need to be revised significantly.

Then there’s the clinic and columbarium proposed to be built by the Veterans Administration on a 112-acre site located at the northwest corner of the former base.  The bulk of this land – 74 acres – originally had been scheduled for conveyance by the Navy to the City, but the City agreed to give up its claim in exchange for the V.A.’s commitment, among other things, to construct a roadway and utilities – including water, sanitary sewer, electrical, gas, telephone, CATV, and storm drains – not only on the V.A. site itself but also along West Redline Avenue and Lexington Street and other City-owned property.  According to a staff report prepared in March 2013, these commitments would save the City $12.5 million in infrastructure costs, which in turn “will help facilitate open space in the Northwest Territories, the Sports Complex and reuse and development in the NAS Alameda Historic District by reducing the infrastructure costs associated with these projects.”

So far, the V.A. has fulfilled none of its promises.  As Richard Bangert, our go-to expert on all things Alameda Point, puts it, “so far the city has been treated like so many of the veterans whose claims sit in a pile.”  According to Mr. Bangert, Congress budgeted $17 million to begin work on the clinic/columbarium in 2011, but the V.A. has spent only $4 million to date.  In any event, if the V.A. were to pull the plug entirely on the project, the City would need to find a way to pay for much of the infrastructure needed to serve the Northwest Territories and Historic District.

Thus far our report.  Please mark it “For Information Only,” because we intend to stay strictly on the sidelines as the local anti-Trump trolls continue to vent their spleens over the outcome of the presidential election.  For our part, we profess no special insight into whether, if Council passed a resolution declaring Alameda a “sanctuary city,” Donald Trump would – or could – yank all of the federal funds for the projects we’ve described.  The odds that Trump, in a fit of pique, would dash off a midnight tweet to Chief Long instructing him to fire six firefighters do strike us as remote (as do the odds that the Chief would comply with such an order).  But Councilman Oddie apparently believes that the new President is capable of effecting roundups, arrests, and raids on the very day he’s inaugurated, so maybe Trump’s power to ordain results is greater than we imagined.  In that case, all of us, not just Mr. Oddie, ought to be worried.

Sources:

The annual “Single Audits” contain a “Schedule of Expenditures of Federal Awards.”  They can be found on the City website at https://alamedaca.gov/finance/other-financial-statements.

SAFER grants: 2010-05-21-article-re-safer-grant2012-09-04-staff-report-re-safer-grant2015-10-06-staff-report-re-safer-grant

Fire department equipment: 2011-02-15-staff-report-re-afg-grant-new-rescue-vehicle2012-04-17-staff-report-re-afg-grant-wildland-firefighting-equipment2012-10-02-staff-report-re-fire-boat2013-05-07-staff-memo-re-grant-for-equipment2014-09-02-staff-report-re-dhs-grant2016-06-21-staff-report-re-afg-grant-scba-equipment

Shore Line bikeway: 2014-03-04-staff-report-re-shoreline-bikeway2014-10-07-staff-report-re-bikeway-contract

Cross Alameda Trail: 2014-10-06-city-press-release-re-mtc-grant-for-cross-alameda-trail

Jean Sweeney Open Space Park (Phase 2): 2015-07-13-city-press-release-re-lwcf-grant2016-03-01-staff-report-re-landscape-architect-for-jsosp

CDBG grants: 2015-05-05-staff-report-re-fy-15-16-cdbg-grant2015-05-05-ex-4-to-staff-report-fy-2015-2016-cdbg-action-plan-summary

HOME grants: 2011-03-15-staff-report-re-home-loan-for-islander-motel2012-07-03-staff-report-for-home-loan-for-islander-motel; 2013-07-23-staff-report-re-home-funds2014-05-06-staff-report-re-fy-14-15-cdbg-action-plan2016-10-18-staff-report-re-home-funds-for-del-mone-senior-housing

Alameda Point conveyance: 2013-05-21-staff-report-re-conveyance2016-02-02-staff-report-re-conveyance-of-phase-iiconveyance-map-as-of-01-12-17

Veterans Administration project: 2013-03-05-staff-report-re-va-transfer

About Robert Sullwold

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

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