On Point: The silent treatment
Should SunCal’s plan to develop Alameda Point make it on to the ballot, there’s one group of people who may not join the large, dissonant chorus of voices who have put their two (and 10) cents into the mix: Leaseholders out at the former Naval base.
And why’s that? Because of a clause that is standard in their lease which appears to effectively prohibit them from speaking out against redevelopment activities at the Point.
Ed Owens, who’s the U10 coordinator for the Alameda Soccer Club, said the club’s leaders discovered the clause last year as they worked out a new lease with the city for Hornet Field. The clause says this:
As a material inducement for Landlord to enter into this Lease, Tenant agrees not to take any actions, oral or in writing, in opposition to such activities (or the planning thereof) by Landlord (or its successor).
Owens said club leaders didn’t like being told what to say (and that he personally is skeptical about some of the plans for the Point), but given the fact that the club has dumped tens of thousands of dollars into creating and maintaining the field, they didn’t feel like they had much choice but to agree.
Two club leaders contacted by The Island did not return phone calls or e-mails seeking further information and comment. According to the soccer club’s minutes for its January meeting, the club’s board decided to send a letter to the Alameda Journal stating it is in favor of SunCal’s proposal for 12 soccer fields at the Point, including Hornet Field.
City officials said the clause is standard lease language that was requested by an attorney for Alameda Point Community Partners back when they were the master developer for the base. City Attorney Teresa Highsmith said she couldn’t speculate on whether activities like writing a letter to a local newspaper opposing the city’s redevelopment plans would violate the lease language. But she said the clause has never been enforced.
Members of the City Council said the leases at the Point were intended to be short term (back when folks thought the base would be cleaned up and in the city’s hands by now). And they said they think the clause was intended to keep leaseholders from fighting changes at the Point that could ultimately send them packing.
“I guess they wanted to to try to avoid a battle with existing tenants who knew that they at some point were going to leave because of redevelopment,” Mayor Beverly Johnson said.
Johnson, who said she didn’t know the language was in the leases, said people can contract away their rights. But one tenant on the base contacted by The Island said he doesn’t think that’s the case.
Allen Michaan, who runs Auctions By the Bay and the monthly Alameda Point Antiques and Collectibles Faire – and who has earned a reputation as being outspoken on a host of issues – said he didn’t think the clause is enforceable when a reporter contacted him to ask about it.
“I can’t speak to the intent. But the First Amendment trumps a muzzle clause from a local government agency,” Michaan said.
Councilman Frank Matarrese said that while he can understand how the language ended up in the leases, he thinks it may be worth revisiting – along with the rest of the thinking behind the leasing strategy at the Point. (And he mentioned that the council is set to talk about Tidelands Trust leases this coming Tuesday.)
“We’re in another situation now where – my though adjustment is, we should encourage leasing at the Point and instead of focusing on the short term, I think we should focus on long term. So we start building that group of businesses that occupies the future commercial development of the Point,” Matarrese said. “I think that’s more important than people speaking up against whatever the city’s doing.”