They’re there in Oakland

For more than a while now, the Merry-Go-Round has been listening as the developers of Site A at Alameda Point and the Del Monte warehouse try to explain why their projects have not broken ground, more than two years after they were approved – with much fanfare – by the Alameda City Council.

The explanation is pretty much the same for both developments:  Construction costs have been escalating, and project financing has proved hard to get.

We’ve been inclined to believe this explanation when it’s offered by the Site A developer, Alameda Point Partners, primarily because one of the partners, Joe Ernst, is a local guy and a Minnesota native.  And we’re willing to give the Del Monte developer, Roseville-based Tim Lewis Communities, the benefit of the doubt.

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Thousands for defense. . .

The same forces – primarily, labor unions and Democratic party stalwarts – that paid to get Malia Vella and Jim Oddie elected to Council now are financing their defense against the charge that they attempted, in violation of the City Charter, to strong-arm the City Manager into appointing the former president of the firefighters’ union as Alameda fire chief.

The legal representation for the Council members, provided by separate politically well-connected and (dare we say it) high-priced law firms, hasn’t come cheap:  both Ms. Vella and Mr. Oddie have spent all of the money given by their union and party friends to their campaign committees in 2017 on legal fees – nearly $50,000 between the two of them.  And Mr. Oddie still owes his lawyers another seven grand.

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Misuse of mixed use

Suppose a developer buys a 10-acre parcel of land zoned “MX-MF” – i.e., “mixed use” with a “multi-family overlay.”  As required by the City’s mixed-use zoning ordinance, it then submits a master plan for the site.  The plan shows that six acres will be used for housing, two acres for commercial purposes, and two acres for a park.

The question is:  How many housing units is the developer entitled to build on the property?

You’ll get a different answer depending on whom you ask.

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Continuing legal education

During the Russo-Gilmore administration, the Merry-Go-Round’s antenna went up whenever a speaker, on or off the dais, asserted that state law “required” or “prohibited” a specific result.

The assertion usually was made as a tactic to put Council members in a box:  If state law dictated the outcome, they no longer had any room to make up their own minds (or any reason to listen to their constituents).  And if they defied the legal mandate, they’d invite a lawsuit, sure to succeed, that would deprive the City of the money needed to fund public safety, parks, libraries, etc.

The problem was that, far too often, the speaker, through ignorance or arrogance, was distorting what state law actually provided.  (Want an example?  The contention that the state Housing Element law “required” the City to put the multi-family overlay on 16 separate “housing opportunity sites,” or that the state Constitution “prohibited” the City from modifying health benefits for public-safety retirees.)  In such cases, the demand for deference to state law was unfounded and the threat of an adverse judgment was an empty one.

Lately, we’ve seen this phenomenon emerge once more – and it is beginning to infect the debate over one of the most important issues facing the City:  the appropriate scope and pace of residential development.

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The self-destructing cap

This is the story of how the one successful effort to limit residential development on the northern waterfront – the 435-unit housing cap on the North Housing site – blew up in its proponents’ faces.

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What got into Jim?

It was, perhaps, no surprise that, at its last meeting of 2017, Council failed to approve a development agreement with Tim Lewis Communities for a project featuring 589 new housing units on the Encinal Terminals site.

After all, approval would require four affirmative votes, and based on their comments the last time the issue of Encinal Terminals came before Council, Mayor Trish Spencer and Councilman Frank Matarrese could be expected to vote No.

But it was surprising to see Councilman Jim Oddie stake out a position far closer to Mr. Matarrese’s (and maybe even to Ms. Spencer’s) than to that of Council members Malia Vella and Marilyn Ezzy Ashcraft, his fellow members of the Triumvirate now ruling Council.

Mr. Oddie didn’t actually vote against approving the development agreement – indeed, when Mayor Spencer solicited a motion from her colleagues, no one spoke up and no motion was made or voted on.  But his remarks raise intriguing questions about the fate of the Encinal Terminals project – and of Mr. Oddie’s upcoming bid for reelection.

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Posted in City Council, Development | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , | 8 Comments

Summon the Chiefs

The agenda for Tuesday’s Council meeting sets aside three hours for the item on the Encinal Terminals development project, and the usual contingent of public commenters, from both the pro-housing and the slow-growth sides, can be expected to queue up to have their say.

But, with all due respect to thoughtful advocates like Laura Thomas and Paul Foreman, there are two people the Merry-Go-Round thinks Council – and the public – really ought to hear from:  Police Chief Paul Rolleri and Fire Chief Edmond Rodriguez.

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Posted in Alameda Point, City Council, Development, Firefighters | Tagged , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment