UPDATED Mayor drops support for SunCal initiative
Mayor Beverly Johnson, whose visage appeared on mailers backing developer SunCal’s plan for Alameda Point and whose recorded voice was heard on thousands of local answering machines saying the same, is now saying she does not support the company’s ballot initiative.
In a press release issued by the city after closing time Tuesday, Johnson was quoted as saying that after reading a city staff-generated report detailing its potential impacts, she has come to feel the initiative, which contains SunCal’s plan and a development agreement, “will have devastating financial impacts on the City.” Still, she said she supports SunCal’s plan for the former Naval Air Station.
Johnson said she has been concerned about the initiative for months and that she chose to speak out now because SunCal submitted its initiative for the ballot. She said that she had expressed her concerns about the initiative to a Chamber committee in late August or early September, as that group was piecing together its position.
“Although I am a strong supporter of development at Alameda Point, this initiative overreaches, usurping the City’s ability to negotiate a fair development deal that financially protects the City. After studying the election report, I’ve come to the conclusion that it is completely one-sided,” Johnson is quoted as saying in the release.
The council has not yet taken an official position on the initiative. The Registrar of Voters told the city on Monday that it had certified SunCal’s initiative petition.
The report Johnson is citing was released in May.
City staff generated two reports analyzing the initiative’s potential impacts. The first one, in May, questioned whether the $200 million it would have the developer spend on a host of public improvement projects including a regional sports complex, Bay Trail extension, parks, transit improvements and a library will be enough to cover the tab. (The second one, issued in September, laid out traffic impacts.)
The report’s authors also asked whether the taxes to be collected on the development would be enough to cover an $4.8 million annual hit to the city’s general fund, and it pointed out that the initiative would give the developer breaks on some fees it would normally pay.
Interim City Manager Ann Marie Gallant had been negotiating with SunCal since June in an effort to come up with something that resolves the city’s concerns about the anticipated financial impacts of the initiative.
In recent weeks, both the Alameda Chamber and Commerce and Renewed Hope, which sued to require anyone who develops housing at the Point to make a quarter of it affordable to lower-income residents, have said that while they support the development plan, they oppose the initiative.
Johnson said she and other supporters of the plan thought SunCal’s initiative would focus on that, and the need to get voter approval of the development-limiting Measure A needed to move it forward. Instead, it included a development agreement typically negotiated between a developer and the city.
“I like the way they’ve worked with the community, and they’ve been very honest and upfront about what can work and what can’t work out there,” Johnson told The Island. “The biggest distinction for me is the plan and the project. This is all about the business deal.”
She said she’s hopeful SunCal will be willing to negotiate a deal that is more favorable to the city.
City Councilmember Lena Tam said she found Johnson’s change of position curious since the council has not discussed its position yet. (Tam was quoted in a SunCal press release as saying she supports the plan and is glad it is going before the voters, but she said she has not taken a position in favor of it.) But she, too, said she’s hopeful that ongoing negotiations with the developer will produce progress on the issues Johnson identified.
“I believe the issues that have been problematic can be resolved, and that all parties can negotiate in good faith towards resolution, as this may be the last, best hope for redevelopment of Alameda Point,” Tam said.
Vice Mayor Doug deHaan, an opponent of both the initiative and the plan, said he’s glad Johnson now sees things his way. DeHaan said he wants to see a plan that adapts existing buildings at the Point for reuse.
“I’m happy to see her join the ranks,” deHaan said.”I think the initiative is just a disaster.”
Johnson said she hadn’t supported SunCal’s bid for the Point project in the first place, while deHaan had.
“It’s actually Doug who’s coming around to my position,” she said.
SunCal’s Pat Keliher sent a letter to Johnson today saying he was confused by her press release. He said the company’s reps have been working with city staff to try to resolve concerns over the measure’s impacts.
“While we understand that there has been concern raised in the election report regarding the fiscal protections and provisions of the initiative, we believe that these issues could and would be resolved prior to the vote on the initiative,” Keliher wrote. “To that end, we have been working in good faith over the past several months in weekly meetings with the City Manager and staff to address the election report concerns and incorporate appropriate protections through legally binding agreements.”
SunCal submitted the signatures for its ballot initiative on September 24, and the council will set an election date in November. Johnson said she expects the initiative to be on the ballot in March or April 2010.
The release says the city is still working with SunCal in an effort to reach an agreement on how to pay for public improvements at Alameda Point. The city’s exclusive negotiating agreement with the developer is in effect through July 2010.
Johnson wants city staff to give a presentation for the public before the council votes to put the initiative on the ballot.
“I think I have a responsibility to make the public understand the downside with the economics, and the risk to the city,” Johnson said. “I’ll have to do what I need to do to protect the public.”