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Cavanaugh conversion coming

Submitted by on 1, October 29, 2009 – 5:50 am5 Comments

After two years of working with city staff to come up with a design they liked, Bill Phua got the Planning Board’s okay to move forward with his plans to turn the former Cavanaugh Motors building and an old house behind it into a two-story restaurant, retail and office complex with a parking lot out back.

Monday’s hearing to approve the building design and reductions in the city’s parking and landscaping requirements drew a raft of local business representatives who expressed anger over the slow pace of the approval process and what they deemed outrageous, last-minute demands from city staff.

Staff had asked Phua to pay for a host of bicycle and transit improvements and – apparently days before the hearing – to pull back a corner of his building by three feet, to improve visibility of pedestrians in the event a nearby traffic signal fails or is left flashing.

The draft resolution called on Phua to provide transit passes and secure bike parking for employees and to pay for the construction of a bus shelter. It also asks Phua to consider paying for a NextBus electronic sign in the shelter. (The sign condition was removed, and the three feet … well, they’re still working on that one.)

Alameda Chamber of Commerce past president Bruce Reeves said that people he’s asked to open businesses here in town have said they’d rather open a military recruiting center in liberal Berkeley. He said they have criticized the process as being too drawn out and inconsistent.

Alameda Marketplace owner Donna Layburn blasted the city for putting Phua through several rounds of design changes and for forcing him to pay for traffic and other studies, while his building sat vacant and Park Street suffered from economic hard times.

“People can build in Oakland. And Alameda is being left behind,” Layburn said.

Phua, meanwhile, thanked city staff and local business owners and representatives for their help and support – and also his consultant, Barbara Price.

“Without her, I wouldn’t know which door to knock (on),” said Phua, who owns the Oakland Flower Market. “I would be totally lost in this city.”

Board president Marilyn Ezzy Ashcraft said she thought the revisions improved the look of the building, which is the first project in the city’s revitalization plan for its former Auto Row. And she said that businesses are flourishing on Park Street in spite of a tough economy and concerns about Alameda’s process for creating a business.

But the board’s newest member, Lorre Zuppan, said she had heard several complaints about the way Phua’s project was handled by the city. She said she was pleased the project made it to the Planning Board.

“When I was the chair of the Economic Development Commission and we asked people for their feedback about what we did to support businesses and what we did to discourage them, this was the poster child project. And I had almost a dozen people talk to me about this project as an example of what is wrong and how we discourage development in this city,” Zuppan said. “I hope that in the future, we can work to improve this process so we don’t have these kinds of issues.”


  • William Smith says:

    There are many good ideas in the SunCal/Shaw Initiative for responsibly streamlining the City's approval processes and developments. I encourage the planning board to seriously consider them.

    The slow pace and uncertainty associated with the approval processes was almost certainly a consideration in SunCal rewriting the entire approval process in their Initiative. By rewriting the process without consulting with the City staff, SunCal unfortunately went too far and took nearly all discretion away from the City in the approval process.

    If SunCal would abandon their overreaching Initiative and take the same collaborative approach to working with the community to develop the approval processes for developments and permits as they did to help the community develop a sustainable vision for Alameda Point,we could shortly have a win-win for all who support a business friendly Alameda.

  • Scott says:

    “Alameda Chamber of Commerce past president Bruce Reeves said that people he’s asked to open businesses here in town have said they’d rather open a military recruiting center in liberal Berkeley. He said they have criticized the process as being too drawn out and inconsistent.”

    What a sad but true description of the way things are run in Alameda. Changes need to be made so that statements like this are no longer true.

  • helen Sause says:

    Wow! where to start…these comments on the process of Alameda's business unfriendlyness date back to when I was Economic Developement Chair in the 1980's – a sorry reputation to have. The attempts to stop the Theatre didn't improve our image. These impressions are certinaly being fostered by the treatment Sun/Cal has recieved. The $12 million dollars they have invested in this economy looks like $$ tossed down the drain. the perception of partnership between City staff and Sun/Cal working together has certainly ended in the last few weeks with the hard work of the Chamber and the Interim City Manager doing everthing they can to defeat the plan. The removal of knowledgable staff from the project, misstatements and distortions of the benefits Alameda will realize from the Alameda Point development have led to a perception in the development community that this would be the last place they'd try to do business. Very sad! Even worse the idea floating around that the City can just take over SunCal's plans and work and "do the project" takes us back to the point of beginning. The ineptness of the City dealing with development. Very Sad. h

  • Irene says:

    Helen: Inconsistencies in Alameda’s approval process for opening businesses such as the one proposed for the old Cavanaugh site is a separate problem from the debate over a 25-year business deal on 700 acres of old military base.

    And rewriting history does not help remove inconsistencies in the approval process for small businesses. There was an attempt to scale down the Cineplex and to move the garage to a different suitable location. It was NOT an attempt to “stop the theater,” although that continues to be a convenient one-line dismissal of critics. The Cineplex and garage went through several designs before coming up with an acceptable design-–the kind of design review that is criticized for being burdensome on the Cavanaugh site developer. Most people who like the way things turned out would say that putting the Cineplex and garage through several design reviews was beneficial, and did not create an anti-business climate.

    It is also rewriting history to say that the partnership between SunCal and the city was “certainly ended in the last few weeks” by the Chamber of Commerce and the city manager. To the contrary, the partnership was strained many months ago when SunCal went off and drew up a one-sided ballot initiative. Just because the city council opted not to place it on the ballot does not mean that SunCal could not consult with the city and local leaders, groups and individuals in writing its initiative.

  • Dave says:


    Despite the immediate hand ringing over the approval process for Mr. Phua's project and the epic battle over the redevelopment of Alameda Point. It remains a fact that this is exactly the process that the residents of Alameda have demanded. Over two years to rehab and expand a movie theater, two years and counting to bring (or not ) a Target store into town, two plus years of fighting over the rehab of SouthShore. Lets not rush off to beat the familiar whipping boy, "City staff." New development takes forever to occur here in Alameda, because we are so profoundly ambivalent about it. Please, lets be honest about ourselves.

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