Campaign quiz

One of our favorite columnists, Gail Collins, occasionally presents her Saturday column in the New York Times in the form of a multiple-choice quiz.

Today, the Merry-Go-Round will follow Ms. Collins’s lead, but we’ll confine ourselves to three questions.  The topic is politics, money, and the 2018 election in Alameda.

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Battle of Midway

Tonight, Council will hold a special meeting at which the four finalists vying to be selected to develop the “West Midway” site at Alameda Point will make presentations.

Slideshows of proposed designs are banned.  Instead, expect to hear the presenters – and those on Council – blather on about how any development on the site should be “vibrant,” “robust,” “sustainable,” etc.

But what the Merry-Go-Round will be listening for – and what we were looking for as we read the written responses to the request for qualifications – is evidence of the developer’s ability to deliver, on schedule and on budget, a project whose economics are challenging, to say the least.

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Homeless in Alameda

During the last two years, the City of Alameda opened a new fire station/emergency operations center that cost $9 million to build (and will end up costing $14 million when all the debt is paid off).

The City Council also decided to spend around $800,000 a year to add three new firefighter positions for a reconstituted fire prevention bureau that’s headed by the president of the Alameda firefighters’ union.

And the City is continuing to pay firefighters (and cops) the guaranteed annual raises included in the public-safety union contracts Council approved in 2015, two years before the existing contracts expired.  Salaries and benefits for fire department personnel alone are forecast to top $27 million in fiscal year 2018-19.

At the same time, even though the politicians have declared that the City is facing a homelessness “crisis,” they have not tapped the City’s General Fund to any significant extent to fund programs and services benefiting the homeless.  (For FY 2017-18, we calculate the total was $120,000; for FY 2018-19, it will be $145,000.)  Instead, they have focused their efforts on allocating a portion of a $1 million federal block grant received annually by the City to homeless programs ($174,401 in FY 2017-18 and $176,830 in FY 2018-19) and facilities ($350,000 in FY 2017-18 and $60,000 in FY 2018-19).

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What would Hiram say?

“How best can we arm the people to protect themselves?” Hiram Johnson, one politician who actually deserved to call himself a “Progressive,” asked when he was inaugurated as governor of California in 1911.

His answer:  “[W]hile I do not by any means believe the initiative, the referendum, and the recall are the panacea for all our political ills, yet they do give to the electorate the power of action when desired, and they do place in the hands of the people the means by which they may protect themselves.”

The continuing contretemps over the initiative to re-zone as open space the McKay Avenue property formerly used for federal offices prompted us to check out how the mechanisms devised by Johnson and other Progressives had worked locally in the recent past.  So, today, a history lesson.

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Measure for measure

The rhetoric was flying off the dais last Wednesday as four members of the new Council made it clear that they opposed the initiative to re-zone a 3.712-acre parcel on the northern end of McKay Avenue as “open space” in order to prevent it from being used for a “wellness center” for the homeless.

The grandiloquence was not only grating but gratuitous, since, as we will discuss later, there are good reasons to oppose the open-space initiative that don’t depend on paeans or pejoratives.

What’s worse, for foes of the initiative, was that Council took actions that, it can be argued, enhanced, rather than diminished, the measure’s chances of success at the polls.  It might behoove certain of our politicians to take their heads out of . . . the clouds and keep their eye on the ball instead.

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Treating the OGC like a potted plant

When Council unanimously passed the Sunshine Ordinance in 2011, it gave the Open Government Commission the power to invalidate an action by a governmental body – including Council itself – if the Commission found a violation of the Ordinance’s requirements for public meetings.

For seven years, the Commission never exercised that power.  But then, on November 14, the Commissioners unanimously sustained a citizen complaint challenging the notice given for the meeting at which Council adopted a cannabis ordinance permitting four onsite retail pot stores in Alameda.  As a remedy, it ordered Council to re-notice the agenda item for a subsequent meeting at which the ordinance would have to be voted on again.

That hasn’t happened – and the City Attorney’s office (and maybe others) are doing their damnedest to make sure it never will.

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Election Oddi(e)ty

Ever since the election results began coming in, one question has nagged the Merry-Go-Round:  How could so many Alamedans – more than 10,000 at last count – vote to re-elect Councilman Jim Oddie, knowing that he violated the City Charter, caused the City to pay nearly a million dollars to avoid a wrongful termination lawsuit, and then tried to stick the City with his legal bills?

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