County bridge battle grows
By Rin Kelly
In what’s becoming a burgeoning battle with the county, Mayor Beverly Johnson and Public Works Director Matthew Naclerio say they left a recent meeting with county officials convinced that the suggestion to put up three of Alameda’s drawbridges at night was a serious one.
City council members discussed the bridge closure threats at their last meeting, but Interim City Manager Ann Marie Gallant said the threats to partially close Alameda’s drawbridges – should the state take back gas tax funds from the county – were probably nothing more than a “trial balloon.”
“I was really surprised; I did think that it was really a ploy to say ‘Don’t take the gas tax, Governor,'” Naclerio told Tuesday’s council session. But Naclerio said that at a meeting last week with Alameda County Supervisor Alice Lai-Bitker and county Public Works Director Daniel Woldesenbet, Woldesenbet insisted that the possibility was really on the table.
Per Johnson, it sounds like one of the options the county is offering to resolve the situation is for the city to pony up some cash to help cover the maintenance and operation expenses of the bridges. But she said the city’s already doing that. In a June 10 letter to the county, she said Alameda County already gets $2.55 million from the Island in gas tax, property tax and Measure B transportation funds, and that bridge operations – the only direct service she said Alameda gets from the county’s public works agency – is $1.9 million.
Naclerio said that when the county’s half-cent transportation sales tax was renegotiated in 2001, there was a special line item for the county for the operation of the bridges (that’s the $600,000). But he said the county is disputing that it’s getting the money for bridge operation, and because there is no documentation of the bridge-specific deal negotiated by the then-city engineer, the matter is currently stuck at “he said, she said.”
In response to continuing concerns about bridge closures, said Naclerio, Woldesenbet has written a letter to the Army Corps of Engineers asking for a federal decision that Alameda’s drawbridges remain up in the late-evening and early morning hours. The mayor said in her letter to the county that any changes in bridge operation would trigger a state-mandated process to determine environmental impacts the closures could cause.
“We think that there are significant impacts, not only traffic congestion but also impacts to emergency services that would say that you cannot mitigate this significant impact,” Naclerio said.
The issue may be moot at the moment: Per Deputy City Manager Lisa Goldman, since the state didn’t pass a budget by June 30, the end of its fiscal year, proposals to take money away from cities and counties – including the gas tax the county says it needs to keep the bridges operating – are all dead. But that moment could be fleeting: asked by Councilwoman Marie Gilmore if the budget impasse means that anything is still fair game, Goldman answered, “Absolutely.”
In other financial news, Goldman had an update on the sales tax mix-up that saw the city owing $1.1 million in repayments. Apparently there was an eight- to nine-month overlap in which the company VanStar – which up and left Alameda without telling the state tax folks – was operating in both cities, and therefore Alameda probably won’t owe as much as previously thought. The case is in appeals before the state Board of Equalization. “What we think is we’ll probably not win the whole enchilada; we’ll probably win a part of it and reduce the amount of money that we owe to the city of Livermore,” said Goldman. She expects a payment of $250,000 to be due in March 2010, with the rest of the payments – whatever they may be – to be paid out over the following eight quarters.
One subject not discussed was a possible swap of the Mif Albright golf course for Ron Cowan’s land at 1855 North Loop Road. The subject, which was expected to be part of the evening’s closed-door session, was postponed until July 21 because Interim City Manager Gallant – who’s listed as the city’s negotiator on the deal – was unable to attend the meeting.