Home » Island News

UPDATED Matarrese drops support for SunCal initiative

Submitted by on 1, October 27, 2009 – 1:46 pm10 Comments


Updated 6:45 a.m. Wednesday, October 28

Citing financial concerns that have emerged since he endorsed it in May, Councilman Frank Matarrese has dropped his support of SunCal’s ballot initiative that spells out its development plans for Alameda Point.

Matarrese said he still supports SunCal’s land plan for the Point. But he said that the financial underpinnings of the development agreement on the ballot have fallen apart over the last several months.

He said the $200 million cap on what the developer must pay for public benefits for the project, the state’s taking of millions of dollars in redevelopment money that would have been used to help obtain public bonds to help finance it and the Obama Administration’s announcement that it will not back no-cost transfer of former military properties slated for local development contributed to his change of heart.

He also said that there is no guarantee that side agreements SunCal’s reps have promised to make will be legally enforceable or protect the city financially. City Attorney Teresa Highsmith told a reporter last week that it’s not clear whether such agreements would trump items on the ballot that they conflict with.

“We’re going to be left holding the bag, and with no way to pay for it,” he said, adding that recent, staff-generated estimates showed public benefit cost overruns of at least $30 million.

He also said the company has not signed a labor agreement with local trade unions.

Mayor Beverly Johnson announced that she was dropping support for the initiative on October 14, saying she was persuaded to do so by a city-issued report laying out potential challenges the initiative posed in May. Several groups, including the Alameda Chamber of Commerce, have said in recent weeks that while they like SunCal’s plan, they cannot support the initiative.

Matarrese’s announcement means that a majority of the council opposes the initiative outright, and not a single council member now holds a position in favor of it. Vice Mayor Doug deHaan has said he doesn’t support the initiative or the plan.

Councilwoman Lena Tam has said she supports the plan and residents’ right to vote on it, but has not taken a position on the initiative. Councilwoman Marie Gilmore does not appear to have taken a public position on the plan or the ballot measure.

A SunCal rep, who said he didn’t know about Matarrese’s announcement until a reporter called, had not responded to a request for comment by Tuesday evening.

Matarrese said that voters need to know about the issues the initiative could pose before they head to the polls. The council is set to place the initiative on the ballot at its November 3 meeting. Johnson also asked for a staff presentation and update of the initiative reports authored by staff, and council members asked that SunCal make public financial and other information they have kept confidential.

If the initiative fails, he said SunCal could propose a Measure A compliant plan, though he acknowledged such a plan is not financially feasible. He said the city could also negotiate directly with the Navy for transfer of the land if the exclusive negotiating agreement the city has with SunCal lapses without any further agreement. “We’ve got a very long history of communication with the Navy,” Matarrese said.

City and SunCal staff are meeting weekly to negotiate a disposition and development agreement, the next step in the development process. City staff have declined to characterize the success of the negotiations. The negotiating agreement terminates in July.

SunCal’s plan includes 4,841 homes, 3.2 million square feet of commercial space, 350,000 square feet of retail, adaptive reuse of certain historic buildings, 145 acres of parks, schools, a library and more.


  • Barbara Thomas says:

    Sounds like the election will be a formality at this point. Hope the City got the election costs up front.

  • David Howard says:

    Why bother with the election? Why spend the money which we cannot afford? There is ample evidence of signature-collection fraud, and as I wrote to the Alameda Sun, which was published last Thursday, statistical analysis suggests with 95% confidence that no more than 2,200 or so signatures were truly valid, meaning people really understand what they were signing.

    City Council should vote to NOT certify the initiative, and NOT put it on the ballot, and save us the hassle and expense of the election. It will save SunCal/DE Shaw a lot of money too on a losing election.

  • William Smith says:

    Now the Council is in a position to begin genuine negotiations with SunCal. If those negotiations go well, a true public / private partnership may yet emerge. Such a partnership could include a range of Alameda citizens with different views on the Island's future in the development review and approval process and also set a new standard for transparency for redevlopment.

  • Dennis Green says:

    I came to the island in 1988 to help Ron Cowan try to save KJAZ FM Radio, and worked with Ron, Tim Hoppen, Aiden Barry, Dennis Pagones and Steve Brimhall over the next seven years. I learned the difference between developers who can work with Alameda heritage, respect Measure A and still make a profit, and outside firms who claim to do so isn't "feasible."

    If you want Alameda Point to look like Shoreline Drive's L.A.-style stucco apartment buildings, vote for SunCal. If you'd like to see that one-third of the island, with its stupendous views of the San Francisco City skyline and the Bay and those bridges, built out more in character with Harbor Bay, hold out for a better future.

    I'm glad to see some of our city leaders exercising actual leadership and backing off on their support of the initiative.

    Dennis Green

  • Nick says:

    The organizations that have officially come out against the SunCal initiative have done so because of the development agreement, not because the initiative attempts to amend Measure A. Back in May, William Smith took the lead in drawing attention to the lopsided deal SunCal is trying to push through. Anyone on the email circuit can you tell you that. It's evidence that one person can make a difference.

  • Scott says:

    The last thing we want the point to be like is Harbor Bay. Harbor Bay has no character which is fine because no one goes over there other than the people who live there. The point is going to be something all of alameda can enjoy as well as all of the bayarea. The point is going to flip the westside of alameda upside down for the better. The next 10 years on the west side are going to be an amazing transformation. You can already feel and see the energy the transformation is bringing (new roads, new homes, new jobs, new restaurants) Hopefully it will spread like a wildfire all over alameda.

  • Richard Bangert says:

    “William Smith says:
    October 27, 2009 at 8:09 pm
    Now the Council is in a position to begin genuine negotiations with SunCal.”

    They are in a much better position, but it is still not a level playing field. There are three major elements in the negotiations: 1) Money to buy the property; 2) money for infrastructure; and 3) local approval system. If SunCal, or any future developer, no longer had the leverage of element #1, the city would be on a level playing field.

    We would achieve this “leveling” event if the Obama Administration would agree to a $1 transfer to the City of Alameda. Then we would have something of monetary value that would give us real leverage to end up with a good deal. As it now stands, our only power is to prevent a bad deal. At the end of the day, with nothing of value, a developer can say, “We have all the money, take it or leave it.” If, on the other hand, we owned something of value, then there would be a strong incentive for a developer to agree to favorable terms.

    I don’t believe that the $1 idea is dead. There are plenty of arguments about corporate bailouts and unaccounted for billions in foreign assistance that when juxtaposed to our local request should embarrass the White House. They are denying assistance to a community that was a gracious host to the Navy for half a century.

    Here is an alternative to the recent failed legislative effort to get the base transferred with no up front cost that contained a future repayment scheme, and to the failed effort to get the White House to simply give us the property for $1. Instead of involving a developer in a future repayment scheme tied to economic success on individual parcels, just give the entire 700+ acres of redevelopment land to Alameda for $1 with the following condition: When and if we sell any part of this land, we will split the sale proceeds with the Navy 50/50.

    If we managed to get $108 million, then the Navy would get $54 million. And that may well be all that they would get with an auction, given that only single-family homes would be allowed at the time of such an auction. Also, there would be no new zoning changes in place and no commitment of any public moneys to deal with sea level rise. Time would be on the Navy’s side under such an arrangement due to the fact that land values will increase eventually.

    City leaders should tap into this newly emerging sense of community empowerment to go public on the $1 transfer issue. A news conference on the flight deck of the USS Hornet led by the mayor would be a good way to get a call from the White House.

    You don’t think a good transfer deal is possible? In 1996 the Army was asking $100 million for Ft. Devens Army Base in Massachusetts. The State of Massachusetts said they would give $18 million. The offer was accepted. If Obama can’t do what Bill Clinton did, then embarrass him. He’s goes to bat for Wall Street, but not for patriotic Main Street. He should be embarrassed by his backhanded dismissal of our $1 transfer request. Our story is better than their story. Go public.

  • Barbara Thomas says:

    Ah Scott you are too harsh. The Bay Farm Island branch of library has one of the best remaining cassette audio book collections in the East Bay.

    Don't forget that Harbor Bay Isle didn't give up on its 11,000 homes until after an Initiative was passed that tied improvements to levels of service at intersections. Even then the City had to propose a construction moritorium to force the developer to provide all the public improvements that it had promised and not delivered: the fire station, the second school, and completion of the parks, and shoreline access.

    It wasn't a rosy deal with HBI. But at least HBI left the power in the hands of the council to hold it in check. SUNCAL is trying to usurp that power through the misuse of the initiative process.

    Richard: We should get the property back for the $1.00 the Navy paid, and fully cleaned up. Then we need to ask ourselves, "Why do we need a developer to come and take the profits?" Why can't we build the marina, and get started on improvements that don't cause a 22 minute delay to get out of town on the West End? If the equilibriums of traffic flow don't adjust as the point is developed, we can just stop and say, no more. We can adjust based on reality and not projections designed to maximize profit for an out of town developer.

  • AD says:

    Nick: Bill Smith and a whole lot of other people who put their lives on hold and worked real hard to inform, debate and influence. That according to my email circuit. And it's not over—the inititive could still pass if SunCal keeps throwing money at it. Not time to rest on laurels.

  • William Smith says:

    AD and Nick,

    Thank you both for your words of encouragement for my activities and those of many others working hard to inform, debate and influence. Together we are developing the tools and processes necessary to use the Internet to make our City government more inclusive and transparent.

    Here is a partial list of those who are contributing to a constructive debate on the Initiative. Please post names of other organizations and consenting individuals that I have not included. Note I have also included organizations that support the Initiative. Without their participation the debate would be less informed.

    Activist Focal Points:

    Protect the Point

    Alameda Chamber of Commerce

    Alameda Architectural Preservation Society

    Alamedans for the Revitalization of Alameda Point

    HOMES (Housing Opportunities Make Economic Sense)

    Dozens of Alameda Activists and Bloggers

    Action Alameda

    Renewed Hope Housing Advocates

    Arc Ecology (esp. Berkeley resident and former City planer Eve Bach (primary author of "Doubtful Promises")

    Alameda Greens (some?? most?? all?? few??)


    League of Women Voters

    Sierra Club (to date anyway)

    Information and Opinion Sources:

    City of Alameda – especially for Executive Report on the Initiative

    Alameda Point Info

    SunCal's document web page

    The Island

    Alameda Daily News

    Stop Drop and Roll

    Town Squares:

    Blogging Bayport Alameda – a remarkable and largely good will free-for-all

Leave a comment!

Add your comment below, or trackback from your own site. You can also subscribe to these comments via RSS.

Be nice. Keep it clean. Stay on topic. No spam.

You can use these tags:
<a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <s> <strike> <strong>

This is a Gravatar-enabled weblog. To get your own globally-recognized-avatar, please register at Gravatar.