On Point: Point payments
Last week, I wrote a post about campaign expenditures for and against the proposed ballot measure to develop Alameda Point, which got folks talking about the payments developer SunCal makes to help cover the city’s costs for working on the Point development plans.
Some of the money is used to pay the staff costs of moving the development along – which has some people concerned that staff is being unduly influenced operate at SunCal’s behest.
A list that details the amount of SunCal’s money that could be used to pay portions of city staff salaries has been making the rounds, and one commenter linked to it from the site (it’s on the last page of the city’s Exclusive Negotiating Agreement with SunCal). So I called to check it out.
SunCal makes quarterly payments to the city to cover costs associated with moving through their negotiating agreement to develop the former Naval base, which covers a two-year period. When last year’s budget was drawn up, costs for staff time plus legal and consulting expenses were estimated at close to $1.4 million, which is what shows up on the list.
Development Services Director Leslie Little said this amount was an estimate in last year’s budget; she put the actual amount SunCal paid at just under $1.1 million. She said three-quarters of that money was used to pay outside consulting and legal expenses.
The list shows payments toward the salaries of 13 city employees for their work on the base redevelopment project, with SunCal three-quarters of Base Reuse Manager Debbie Potter’s salary, half of planning manager Andrew Thomas’s salary, 30 percent of redevelopment manager Jennifer Ott’s salary and a quarter of Little’s salary (though Little said the actual amounts for this past year ended up being less).
Little said the payment system was put in place when Alameda Point Community Partners was the Point developer, in order to pay costs the city – which had little lease revenue from the base and no tax money, since the base is not on the rolls – couldn’t afford.
“With lease revenue small in the first few years, it made sense for the developer to pay for the outside services and staff time and was probably the only way to pay for base staff,” Little said.
She said the payment system is common in California and beyond, and she likened it to the building and permit fees a homeowner or other property owner would pay the Planning and Building Department.
But some fear that with an election to come over the fate of development plans at the base, the payments put city staff squarely in the developer’s corner when they should be working to negotiate the best deal the city can get.
“Negotiating implies two sides, and who are these two sides? Who speaks for the citizens in this process if the staff is paid by SunCal (and) D.E. Shaw?” said Gretchen Lipow, a critic of the payments, referring to the developer and their financial backer. She said she thinks the city is siding with the developer.
SunCal, incidentally, made its most recent quarterly payment in July.