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Updated: Signature gatherers accused of improprieties

Submitted by on 1, April 7, 2009 – 7:00 am21 Comments


Updated 10:44 a.m. Tuesday, April 7

This weekend, I got several emails from folks accusing signature gatherers working to put an Alameda Point redevelopment measure on the ballot of misleading the public on what the measure is about.

They’re saying signature gatherers working at Alameda Towne Centre and elsewhere over the weekend were telling voters that the measure’s intent was to allow Point developer SunCal to clean up the former Naval Air Station, and not that the developer needs an exemption from Measure A to build the housing they want to build there.

SunCal’s folks say they stand behind what their signature gatherers are telling prospective voters.

Meanwhile, both the Alameda County Registrar of Voters and the City Clerk have gotten complaints about the signature gatherers, and I understand that in the midst of all of this a supporter of the plan was arrested at Towne Centre today.

“While I have no qualms with obtaining ballot access, I believe this is a disingenuous marketing strategy. It’s just as bad as saying amending Measure A for Alameda Point would be the beginning of the end for Measure A throughout Alameda,” said Richard Bangert, one of the folks who has written to us about this over the past two days. “The only reason to vote is to allow higher density. And it is patently false that the Navy has been doing nothing.”

Bangert said signature gatherers were telling people that they need to vote on the plan so that SunCal can clean up the base.

Irene Dieter said she spoke with several signature gatherers over the weekend and was told her the measure was being put on the ballot so that developer SunCal can get the base cleaned up because the Navy wasn’t doing it.

Dieter said she’s not against the development and that she’s glad it is headed to the ballot. “But to put it there on false pretenses is unacceptable,” she said.

SunCal spokesman Adam Alberti said he takes issue with the way people are characterizing the signature gatherers’ pitch. “Fundamentally, it is an issue about cleaning up the Point and reusing it,” Alberti said.

He said SunCal will clean up the site faster than the Navy and that it will do more cleanup than the Navy plans to do, including $60 million worth of lead and asbestos abatement in base buildings and additional money to make part of the base safe for residences.

“Clearly, there are folks against the development. But we stand behind what was said,” Alberti said.

I checked in with California Secretary of State Debra Bowen’s office to get a handle on the laws regulating signature gathering are; a spokesperson there referred me to the Alameda County Registrar of Voters. The registrar’s spokesman, Guy Ashley, said his office has received a number of complaints about the signature gatherers and that they are referring calls to the City Clerk’s office.

Vivian Moran at the Clerk’s office said they have checked in with the city attorney for guidance on this one and are waiting to hear back. She said she hopes to have more to say about it today.

According to the state elections code, anyone who “(w)illfully and knowingly circulates, publishes, or exhibits any false statement or misrepresentation concerning the contents, purport or effect of any state or local initiative, referendum, or recall petition for the purpose of obtaining any signature to, or persuading or influencing any person to sign, that petition” is guilty of a misdemeanor.

I went over to Towne Centre to check it out myself on Sunday, and the signature gatherer I spoke with told me his intent was to get the Point plan on the ballot.

Updated: Police arrested one of the signature gatherers for trespassing on Monday. Police said Paisley D. Hudson, 41, of Lancaster was arrested on a trespassing charge after she refused to leave the spot she was in as directed by mall security.

I guess they had warned signature gatherers over the weekend and again on Monday that they hadn’t properly followed procedures to gather signatures at the mall, which include registering with the mall management and setting up in one of two designated spots. Mall security told four signature gatherers on Monday that they needed to move, and police said that Hudson refused, leading mall security to make a citizen’s arrest. She was cited and released.


  • eyes open and watchi says:

    Oh great, City Attorney Theresa, "we didn't break any laws", Highsmith is going to give guidance on signature gathering and ballot initatives. Does anyone see the irony here given the City is suing the firefighter's union for trying to get an initative on the ballot?

    There must be a higher authority than the City Attorney, otherwise it's just the fox watching the hen house.

  • AD says:

    So according to the election code excerpt (BTW, Michele, the link is broken), and as far as I saw and heard, the signature gatherers did break the law. They misrepresented what the initiative is about (anyone see housing, or measure A, anywhere in the hand-lettered sign?) and for sure either they or the agency that employs them knows that. So who enforces the election code? The city attorney? I share the misgivings in the first comment. Is there another neutral body to whom a complaint can be made?

    • Oh, that's a bummer. I'll include the section of law that I found that sounded relevant below.

      And as far as answering your question about whether they broke the law: Honestly, I don't know. I am but a humble reporter, not a lawyer.

      18600. Every person is guilty of a misdemeanor who:
      (a) Circulating, as principal or agent, or having charge or
      control of the circulation of, or obtaining signatures to, any state
      or local initiative, referendum or recall petition, intentionally
      misrepresents or intentionally makes any false statement concerning
      the contents, purport or effect of the petition to any person who
      signs, or who desires to sign, or who is requested to sign, or who
      makes inquiries with reference to it, or to whom it is presented for
      his or her signature.
      (b) Willfully and knowingly circulates, publishes, or exhibits any
      false statement or misrepresentation concerning the contents,
      purport or effect of any state or local initiative, referendum, or
      recall petition for the purpose of obtaining any signature to, or
      persuading or influencing any person to sign, that petition.
      (c) Circulating, as principal or agent, or having charge or
      control of the circulation of, or obtaining signatures to, any state
      or local initiative, intentionally makes any false statement in
      response to any inquiry by any voter as to whether he or she is a
      paid signature gatherer or a volunteer.

      18601. Any person working for the proponent or proponents of an
      initiative or referendum measure or recall petition who refuses to
      allow a prospective signer to read the measure or petition is guilty
      of a misdemeanor.
      An arrest or conviction pursuant to this section shall not
      invalidate or otherwise affect the validity of any signature obtained
      by the person arrested or convicted.

      18602. Any person working for the proponent or proponents of a
      statewide initiative or referendum measure who covers or otherwise
      obscures the summary of the measure prepared by the Attorney General
      from the view of a prospective signer is guilty of a misdemeanor.

      18603. Every person who offers or gives money or other valuable
      consideration to another in exchange for his or her signature on a
      state, county, municipal, or district initiative, referendum, or
      recall petition is guilty of a misdemeanor.

  • AD says:

    "An arrest or conviction pursuant to this section shall not

    invalidate or otherwise affect the validity of any signature obtained

    by the person arrested or convicted."

    Does that mean that if it is determined that the signature gatherer lied to get your signature, your signature is still valid? This sounds incredible. The registrar of voters told me you can request withdrawal of signature in writing, from the city clerk. I wonder which is true.

    Michele, do you know of any other body, other than the city attorney, to whom a complaint can be made?


  • David Howard says:

    If you see someone breaking the law, you call the police, it's the same in any circumstance.

    SunCal wouldn't need to lie if there truly was broad support for the proposal in Alameda. However, they know there isn't from their ongoing telephone surveys.

  • Lauren Do says:

    Errr…it says "appropriate county elections official" so in our case it's probably the City Clerk.

  • AD says:

    I just spoke with the city's office about the false information by the signature gatherers and guess what they told me: Sorry, wish we could help but it's not a city initiative. Except when the city mayor gets behind it with robocalls and her mug on Suncal's brochure! What a disgusting, filthy game by Sincal, Tramutola and the mayor. There'a council meeting tonight, people should go and call this hypocrisy what it is. Get it on camera.

  • Barbara Thomas says:

    Well I am an attorney, and what SUNCAL is saying and doing does not comport with either the letter or the spirit of the law. They made factual misrepresentations including: the Initiative will not affect the General Plan for the City of Alameda, the federal government will not clean up the land although legally obligated to do so, and the best, that SUNCAL will pay all costs including the Ferry – forever!!!

    There are always unforseen costs that the taxpayers will get stuck with forever. I suggest that SUNCAL deposit $1 billion in an interest bearing account to pay for everything we discover, now and in the future.

    Who do you think pays for the re-sanding of South Shore Beach, after UTAH CONSTRUCTION filled the bay in the 1950'S, homes were built, and then the lovely beach started to erode (due to natural current action)? We do and will do so forever. Who knows what Alameda Point is going to require in terms of Global warming? Let's wait 20-30 years and see if any of it surfaces after a wet winter.

  • Barbara Thomas says:

    Oh, yeah I forgot. Just ask to take a copy of the 100 plus pages home to review before you sign.

  • Lauren Do says:

    You can withdraw a signature by writing to the County Registrar prior to submission of the filing.

  • dave says:

    Well said, Mr. Bangert. You should submit that verbatim as a letter to the editors of the local print papers.

  • Richard Bangert says:

    From the news story above: SunCal spokesman Adam Alberti said he takes issue with the way people are characterizing the signature gatherers’ pitch. “Fundamentally, it is an issue about cleaning up the Point and reusing it,” Alberti said.

    Wrong Mr. Alberti. It is about how we reuse it after it is cleaned up (and after we have made a change to our city charter). Rearrange the words and they describe a different scenario.

    It is true that base reuse law provides for “early transfer” of land that is contaminated, and then the reuse authority cleans up the land. It is also plausible that land will be transferred from the Navy which is cleaned to industrial standards, and SunCal can clean the land to a higher residential standard. But neither of those cleanup options require a vote of the people.

    I will remind readers that our first master developer, Alameda Point Community Partners (APCP), touted their expertise with early transfer of military bases. This was seen as a plus for APCP because it would allow for some development to get underway at Alameda Point while cleanup was taking place. The reason the early transfer idea was not accepted by the City of Alameda is that the City’s estimate for cleanup costs was $200 million more than the Navy’s, meaning that the Navy-funded cleanup escrow fund would run dry and leave Alameda owning a superfund site. Not once during the sojourn of APCP was it ever suggested that a public vote would be sought to approve anything, whether it be cleanup, housing, traffic, etc.

    What we will be voting on is a specific mixed-use building plan that will become operational if the density limiting provision of our Charter known as Measure A is amended for Alameda Point. The plan and the amendment are codependent.

    After all of the impassioned arguments for allowing multi-family housing, saving the hinterlands from sprawl, enhancing public transportation for the entire Island, generating tax revenue, building a world-class sports complex and saving historic buildings, the message is “we need to pass this initiative to clean up the base.” It’s obvious that no one from HOMES was volunteering to gather signatures at Towne Centre or Harbor Bay this past weekend because their message would have been entirely different. So I guess the message from SunCal to HOMES is, “Thanks for helping us get this far. We’ll take it from here and close this deal by any means necessary.” Or, is HOMES going to denounce this kind of campaigning?

    I listened to some of the signature gatherers. They clearly stated that the Navy has not been doing the cleanup that needs to be done, and that this is why we need to vote. This is lying, both about the Navy’s efforts and the need to vote on anything in order to facilitate cleanup. Mr. Alberti, you disgrace the initiative process. You are showing how thoroughly money has corrupted politics from Washington, DC, right down to the little table with a homemade sign made by someone who most likely doesn’t even live here, someone just trying to make a little money reciting your message.

  • Helen Jefferson says:

    Question: the Navy has said the purchase price is based on current value; the Navy has said they will "spend" $XX (unknown) on cleanup. WHICH comes first?

    Whatever SunCal spends, the City AUTHORIZES and we (citizens) pay – – – SunCal is paying for nothing. Even the signature gatherers are paid and ultimately SunCal is reimbursed. SunCal was hired by the City to develop; that cost is borne 100% by us. Where is the disconnect in peoples' minds about this? Think about it: you hire someone to clean your drapes, you pay. You hire someone to watch your kids, you pay. WE PAY FOR EVERYTHING.

  • Jayne Smythe says:

    SunCal is only in to do the infrastructure. They have said that all along. Then, chunks of the land will be sold off by them to developers who will handle the "vertical" building–supposedly following the plan they made. If we vote on this sucker initiative, we do not have it carved in granite that anyone who comes along will do what the plan says.

    What about the Gann limits on bonding? How can our city, even if the entire population is stupid enough to sign off on this monster, bond for even $200 million, never mind the $700 million the SunCal "vision" said it would cost to do up the whole thing. And, yeah, I READ it in that pile, so don't be coming at me saying they never said that, it was there and the opposition was telling the truth about it.

    And nobody's ever answered my question about the price tag on the point. What is it EXACTLY and who is PAYING? Will the cost of the land transfer from the Navy come from that $200 million dollar MAXIMUM the city CLAIMS they will limit their bonding to?

  • Jack B. says:

    >>> and sell it to other development companies to build on.

    They (D.E. Shaw) will want to flip it as soon as possible.

  • Jayne Smythe says:

    What I cannot get over is how huge this initiative is. Have they done this here with other developments? I haven't lived here that long to know. I never saw anything like this when I was in Berkeley or Oakland.

    How can a city cause the people to legislate an initiative that is this long? There is something suspicious about asking folks to really take a look at all this and understand it.

    I cannot get over the feeling that there is always going to be something we all collectively MISSED that will keep us taxpayers on the hook for 40 years. Hell, I won't even be alive that long!

  • R M says:

    Thank you for mentioning D.E. Shaw, better known as the MoneyBags behind or under this new Dubai by the Bay

    The New York Times had a very intersting article with much information about D.E. Shaw on April 6.


  • Okay. Now that I have a sec, let me summarize for you all what I know about this issue around density bonus and Alameda Point to date and what I’m working to find out.

    The state has an interest in making sure that affordable housing gets built, so in 1979, they passed a density bonus law. The law doesn’t require developers to provide a certain percentage of affordable housing in their developments, but it does provide a list of incentives that cities – who are required to enact local density bonus laws – can offer to developers who build x amount of affordable housing.

    Alameda is way, way overdue in passing a local density bonus law. They were supposed to have one passed by 2004, but it didn’t happen. The city is just in the process of doing that now.

    In the meantime, the city does have an inclusionary housing ordinance that requires developers to build 15 percent of the units in their projects as affordable, and 25 percent as affordable if they’re in a redevelopment area. Pretty much all of the city’s buildable space is in a redevelopment area. At 25 percent, every developer would qualify for a density bonus, which includes a list of breaks from planning rules and, depending on what’s built, up to 35 percent more homes.

    The squishiness I referred to earlier has to do with the fact that city leaders are considering reducing that 25 percent number down to 15 percent so that developers don’t automatically qualify for the bonus. The planning board was kind of ambivalent about it but they passed it along for further study by some other city commissions. In any event, my assumption earlier was that the shift from the earlier plan (25 percent) to the ballot language (15 percent) could be a product of that ongoing discussion.

    But as I learned last night, there’s a twist. Apparently, there was a lawsuit over the Point that ended in a settlement requiring any development there to have 25 percent of its homes built as affordable (affordable being a few separate strata of income levels below area median incomes).

    So we still have an open question here, which I have posed to the SunCal folks: Is the number of homes in the development proposal (4,841) a hard number, or could the folks who develop the Point ask for more once a density bonus is approved?

    By the way, I think now would be a good time to note that SunCal likely won’t be the outfit that builds the homes, offices etc on the Point. They will “improve” the land (that’s grading the site, putting in the water pipes, etc) and sell it to other development companies to build on.

    So that’s what I know … and if I can get an answer to the above question, I will post. Stay tuned.

  • dl morrison says:

    My computer has been malfunctioning and evidently I’ve missed a lot. I’m borrowing one at this point.

    Regarding the density bonus: I’m not a lawyer either, but I have read up on the density bonus quite a bit, and it’s my understanding that a developer automatically qualifies for a density bonus if it offers to create a sufficient number of affordable units. So in other words, the city has no control over whether SunCal gets a density bonus, and if the (thoroughly bogus) initiative passes, then the city will be REQUIRED to give SunCal a density bonus IN ADDITION TO the 4300+ units it is building.

    (It would also be required to do so if a developer offered to build the Measure A compliant number of units as well, but without Measure A, we’re toast.)

    If the density bonus applies only to the NEWLY constructed units (4300+), then hypothetically, if SunCal qualifies for a 25% bonus, it would be entitled to build an additional 1100 units. (I say “hypothetically”, because under some conditions, SunCal could qualify to build an additional 35% more units, so I’m just giving a general example.)

    If the bonus applies to ALL the units referenced in the initiative, both the newly constructed and the existing low income housing, and if very low income housing is provided, then the number of additional units (with 4600+) could be closer to 1400+, for a grand total of 6,000+, which is what SunCal said it wanted in the first place.

    I think that SunCal would need to make a specific statement up front indicating that it does not intend to seek the density bonus, and even then, I have no idea how that statement would be made binding. Even if a total number of units appeared in the proposed charter amendment (such as “not to exceed 4400 new housing units” for example), it would not make any difference, because the state law overrides local law, including charter amendments.

    What’s more, it doesn’t really matter at this point whether the city passes a final version of its density bonus ordinance, since state law now says that all cities have to comply with the density bonus, with or without an enabling ordinance.

    I agree w/ those who say that the issue here is not about “BevJo”, but, truthfully, I don’t know how she could face the people in this community after trying to hype this patently misleading initiative.

  • dl morrison says:

    Here's something further on the subject of the density bonus, taken from pg. 3-3 of the Specific Plan, accompanying Table 3-1, Land Use Summary:

    “Variations in the size, configuration, and development program for each of these districts are permitted pursuant to Chapter 9, Plan Review (regarding density transfers, DENSITY BONUSES, changes in use, minor changes in district boundaries and historic preservation);”

    Translation: The stated number of units per acre under the Specific Plan can increase if the density bonus is applied. The language of the Specific Plan therefore acknowledges that this could happen.

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