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City considering changes to Point measure

Submitted by on 1, June 29, 2009 – 6:00 am3 Comments

Sounds like Councilwoman Lena Tam caused a bit of a stir with her comments on the proposed Alameda Point development initiative at the local League of Women Voters’ annual meeting on Saturday.

As the Leaguers discussed their role in the anticipated election over SunCal’s Point development plan, Tam let it be known that the city is looking at whether it can make changes in the initiative before it goes on the ballot without having to restart the process – and that one of the options city leaders are considering putting their own initiative on the ballot if they can’t legally make the changes they want to what’s already been circulated.

“The delay in placing the initiative on the ballot for November 2009 enables us to negotiate with SunCal to modify the initiative to reflect some changes in the conditions now in discussion with the Navy,” Tam wrote when I e-mailed her over the weekend. “Depending on whether the changes are deemed substantively different than the petition, there are some possibilities that will need to be explored, including one option that is open to the Council to place an initiative on the ballot if a charter amendment is required.”

Specifically, it sounds like the city could be seeking more money for public amenities like a planned sports complex if SunCal is successful in its bid to get the Navy to drop its $108.5 million asking price for the Point.

SunCal’s initiative caps the amount it will spend on amenities and environmental mitigations at $200 million. And a recent report on the initiative generated by city staff questioned whether that will be enough to pay for all that – and who will pay the difference if it isn’t.

The Obama Administration is in the midst of putting its own folks into Navy leadership, renewing hope that they’ll reconsider the price tag for their former Naval Air Station here.

But some are questioning whether the city can put a measure on the ballot without first doing a full study of the development’s potential impacts, something an attorney representing two Chinatown groups who sued the city over its development plans in 2003 is saying must be done before the city takes further action on the SunCal plan.

Tam said the council hasn’t made any decisions yet about what course they’ll take. SunCal has until September 29 to turn in the signatures that qualify their initiative for the ballot. It sounds like the council would like to have a plan by September 1.

They recently told the East Bay Express they don’t plan to make any changes to the measure they submitted. But city management don’t seem to think this is the best deal the city could get.

Tam, by the way, said that she thinks SunCal’s plan is a good one, but the details of how to pay for it still need to be worked out. And she said those details need to be on the ballot, according to surveys conducted on the topic in recent years.

Her comments came as the League discussed a proposed nonpartisan education campaign about the ballot initiative (and were broadcast not too long after she made them, judging from the e-mails I got). According to their meeting packet, the League supports having the measure on the ballot, but the plan was to take no position on it.


  • DL Morrison says:

    Thank you for getting more of the specifics behind these general comments. Personally, I think announcements such as this one should be made in a more formal setting, where some discussion and further explanation could take place.

    In any event, this is a very big deal, and it raises a lot of concerns. For starters, I find it hard to imagine how SunCal could revise the initiative in any meaningful ("substantive") way without starting over, even if it benefits the city in some respects, because the petitionn signatures pertain to this particular document (set of documents), with this particular wording. We'll have to wait and see what the City Attorney says.

    Also, if the Council should put an initiative on the ballot, it would require an EIR which could be time consuming and which could generate legal challenges. As Michele states above, the Chinatown settlement would be out the window and that alone could lead to a lawsuit based on an EIR — the absence of an EIR could as well.

    Incidentally, the "details of how ot pay for" SunCal's plan go well beyond the amenities and environmental cleanup (by SunCal, if any), and would include all the infrastructure costs as well, which SunCal estimated at $700M. The city is now estimating all these combined costs at around $1.6 Billion, and where does this money come from? Based on earlier discussions here, much of this expense would ultimately be covered by redevelopment bonds — something that has not been spelled out at all in the Initiative and never will be.

  • Barbara Thomas says:

    We kind of have to ask ourselves, “If the total price tag for clean-up and improvements is 1.6 billion dollars, which doesn’t include environmental or other unmitigated costs such as traffic, why are we doing this to ourselves?”
    And that 1.6 Billion is going to be financed – which means costing tax-rate and other payers about 4 times the actual costs once interest and fees are added.

    So the infrastructure is declining at the base. We get some rental profit (11 Mil$? per annum) to start with. Everyone takes their teenagers there to learn to drive. Charge for this.

    The suggestion of better leasing techniques in Plan B, strikes me as a smart move no matter what happens. Quit causing good tenants to relocate due to uncertainty and the city will get higher, more consistent rents.

    We are getting the land for the “Sports Complex”. Let’s use it and see how it works out with the wind issues.

    Let’s move on to the next step without SUNCAL. If the Seaplane Harbor is cleaned up to industrial/commercial standards, wouldn’t building & renting the berths for another marina be a fairly easy and cheap move? I don’t know. Somebody tell me. The Harbor is the safest & closest one to deepwater in the area. Owners of boats are not going to be as picky as homeowners living on cleaned up land. If they drive in and get their boats and go out for cruises, will they care so much that the roads are not in the best condition? Or that the land beneath the water may not meet residential standards? How much would a berth for a 30 foot boat rent for per month? Times how many (600) berths? Start with a few add more as they get rented. Before you know it, the City will be making enough money off the berths alone to begin other aspects of the project- the way Alamedans want it done – if they want it done. And this will co-exist with whatever goes in the rest of the Point, even if it is strictly recreational and open space.

    We are spending so much time fighting SUNCAL and their unintelligible, selfish proposals, we should be working on positive improvements that Alameda can afford. SUNCAL is a real drain on our energy and will to get anything done. It is devisive and we should move on and get to work doing what is right for our City. It does not have to be one big SUNCAL project or nothing.

  • William Smith says:

    Alameda Point Activists of All Persuasions!

    Below is a letter to the editor that was published earlier today (Sunday July 5, 2009)on the Alameda Daily News website.

    The letter addresses two main points:

    1) two different views of the future of growth within the environmental community, and

    2) a suggestion that all of us avoid ad hominem arguments.

    From Wikipedia: Ad hominem arguments reply to an argument or factual claim by attacking or appealing to a characteristic or belief of the person making the argument or claim, rather than by addressing the substance of the argument or producing evidence against the claim.

    The process of proving or disproving the claim is thereby subverted, and the argumentum ad hominem works to change the subject.


    Published in Don Roberts Alameda Daily News, July 5, 2009


    Dennis Green in his response to me identified several points of legitimate dissent within the environmental community. Dennis’ no growth positions are feasible and reasonable if one is willing to restrict the growth of the population, presumably more gently than China has. There is a home in many environmental groups, including the Sierra Club, for those advocating zero population growth.

    There is also a large segment of the environmental community that accepts that growth, must, and can, be more sustainable and accommodated. Such growth creates additional wealth and is the basis for prosperity in our current economic system. It will take many years to wean our current economic system from its addiction to capital and consumer goods to less tangible goods such as more sports, arts, culture and educational and health services for a larger part of our population. I belong to the limited growth segment and maintain that sustainable growth can actually improve our communities, make them more walkable by providing more services nearby, and lead to more active and healthier lifestyles. For instance, most transit users walk more than car commuters.

    Dennis’s ad hominem (name calling) comment at the end wondering if I was in SunCal’s back pocket weakened his otherwise valid points. Such statements lead one to ask what other parts of his arguments are based on lazy speculation.

    SunCal is a legal entity entitled to its view and our society, including D.H. Shaw, has entrusted it with enormous resources. SunCal is entitled to make its case. My comments on other blogs though, demonstrate that I am no fan of how SunCal has chosen to make that case. SunCal has tried to distract Alameda citizens from real issues, such as finances, environmental hazards and traffic impacts, by focusing our attention on sports amenities, transportation improvements and accelerated environmental cleanup benefits. Any one of these benefits alone is credible; all of them together are incredible. If the Revitalization Initiative is approved and built with no more financing than has been identified, we, the voters, will likely have pitted one community interest against another as each group tries to stake a claim to the limited funding.

    I’ve contributed letters to this publication for nearly two decades, long before SunCal entered the picture, advocating change to the City charter to allow the construction of new market rate condos, apartments and townhomes at Alameda Point. SunCal at first delighted me when they held an outstanding series of public workshops to gather input for a new plan for Alameda Point, which I find to be very similar to the Vision for Alameda Point endorsed by the Sierra Club. Then they bitterly disappointed me when they wrote changes to zoning (the general and specific plans) and a contract (the development agreement) into the Initiative. I am committed to help someone, maybe SunCal, maybe some entity more willing to negotiate with our City staff and that shows more respect to our citizens in their campaigns, to implement that vision. I very much would prefer that the Revitalization Initiative be modified with a process for ALL elements that is as transparent and inclusive as the process SunCal and the City used to develop the vision.

    If both camps of the environmental community refrain from name calling and stick to the issues, we will be better able to cooperate on identifying the shortcomings in the Initiative that we can cooperate on highlighting – presumably the zero population growth side for permanently stopping developments with condos, apartments and townhomes, and the limited growth side for increasing the involvement of City staff and citizens to better insure that Alameda Point includes condos, apartments and townhomes, with benefits such as open space and toxics removal, for everyone. Both sides can likely agree that that some other course of action for Alameda Point is preferable to the recently circulated Revitalization Initiative now held in limbo by SunCal.

    William J. Smith

    Comment by William

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