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Miracle on Santa Clara Avenue

Submitted by on 1, October 7, 2009 – 5:45 am6 Comments

buildingAh, there are precious few things that this writer truly enjoys in life. A dinner with friends. A perfectly brewed cup of coffee. A crisp fall day. And a City Council meeting that ends before the clock winds into the double digits, then back into the single digits again.

Yes, it’s true: The council chamber, which almost every other Tuesday are home to stirred-up citizens and drawn-out deliberations, was quiet at ten to 10, the first time in the 20 months The Island has been watching City Hall that this has occurred (or at least, the first time I remember it happening). The laptop battery? Still juiced. My tea? Still reasonably warm.

The reason? The council had to delay its discussion of whether to give the Boys and Girls Club of Alameda $2 million of its Measure WW park bond allocation to help the club build its new facility. They are waiting for a letter from their bond counsel saying the club is eligible for the money, perhaps for as long as a month, Interim City Manager Ann Marie Gallant said.

“(T)he City Council cannot amend its (project) list without such verification,” the staff report recommending the club get the money but be required to pay half of it back said.

So most of the crowd stampeded out of the room and the slippers went back into the bag.

One thing the council did talk about Tuesday night was a survey the city’s Economic Development Commission conducted to further its efforts to keep businesses in town.

Their findings, in a nutshell: Local business owners think the city has too many fees and regulatory hurdles to help businesses, and were often unaware of some of the programs available to them, even though the vast majority of the business owners surveyed live here in town and a majority have been in business for more than a decade.

They are fans of their business associations and local police. They think knowing people and being known are assets. And they feel the city is clean, safe and well-maintained.

They want the city to be more user-friendly for businesses, with fewer fees and easier access to information online. And they want the city to do more to attract people to local businesses, like increasing signage to business districts and sponsoring more events.

The commission’s 19 recommendations included better customer service and more consistent code enforcement in the Planning and Building Department, a more comprehensive city website and research into other cities’ fees.

(Separately, the City Clerk’s office sent out a press release Tuesday saying they have added a number of documents to the city’s website, including City Council, Alameda Reuse and Redevelopment Authority and Community Improvement Commission minutes from 2000, and packets from 2004; City Council and CIC resolutions from July 2009 to present and all ARRA resolutions; City Council policies from 1995 to present; and campaign disclosure statements from July 2009 to present.)

The effort was led by former City Council candidate Justin Harrison. He said the work was undertaken as a response to the crappy economy. Harrison said a second report, on attracting businesses, is also on the way.

Mayor Beverly Johnson said the merger of the former Development Services Department and Planning and Building could help the city make the requested changes.

The council unanimously okayed the report and recommendations.

6 Comments »

  • Jayne Smythe says:

    Much as I like the B&G Club, I don't think it is right that park projects that have been waiting and prioritized get bumped. It just doesn't seem right that some group can cut in line and get the goodies. In fact, it ISN'T right, not just seeming. I am right with you on this one, Barbara.

  • RM says:

    Ditto to the two previous posts.

    If the city council agrees to the $2,000,000 for the Boys and Girls Club, I believe voters in Alameda will be correct in saying their votes no longer count.

    The prospect of the will of the voters being overturned by the city council gives me the chills. Is this a democracy or what?

  • Barbara Thomas says:

    The decision on whether to fund the Boys and Girls Club with Measure WW funds, will say more about the City Councilmembers themselves than the value of either Parks or the Club.
    Consider a group of persons working hard to get the additional 2 million dollars for their favorite project. They get it on the ballot. They campaign. Voila! They win. Then along comes a group of Johnny come lately tree lovers after the project’s deadline has already come and gone, and ask the Council to say whoa! You the City Council can bend the will of the voters and use this for a dearly needed park. The Council says “Yes you are right. Preliminary indications are that we can do this. Let’s confirm with Bond Counsel that we can actually get away with this,” then if forced to we can make the decision.

    What their vote will show, is how far the Council will bend the clearly expressed will of the voters into doing what the Council thinks is really better for Alameda. What limits are there on their discretion? In good conscience if they think they can turn an approved private building club into public land, or the reverse, what limits, if any, will these Councilmembers set for themselves in the future? Or will they have the courage to say, “I am here because the voters put me here. I respect that. I respect the will of the people, not just for their wisdom in selecting me to represent them, but in voicing their desire to have additional funding for parks?”
    Or will they say, “Hey my term is almost up, I can do whatever I think is best, for my friends and fellow citizens. It is too late for the voters to do anything about it. I am here and the voters are stuck with whatever I choose to do?”

    This is about the Council’s integrity. By definitiion they are going to make hard choices when they choose between projects. But when they chose to overrule an actual vote, because they can, what better prediction of how they are going to act in the future do the voters have, than how they have conducted themselves in the past?

  • Jill Staten says:

    No one I have spoken with about this subject believes the Council should give half of Alameda’s parks money to the Boys and Girls Club. There are so many other priorities that need to be addressed in our existing parks (not to mention the Belt Line property), that I can’t believe they are even considering this.

  • Miriam says:

    And this is why I now tend to vote against bond measures, parcel taxes, sales tax increases, etc. They say that the money is going to protect bunny rabbits and then it ends up going to jackasses. It is all just bait and switch. There will likely be more and more of us who grow increasingly skeptical of these do-gooder measures. For now, I’m going to vote no on funding schemes and keep those dollars in my purse. If I want to write a check to the Boys and Girls Club I will, but I want to do so knowingly.

    Peace,

    Miriam

  • Jon Spangler says:

    I, too, have misgivings about using funds approved by the voters with particular purposes in mind for a different and previously unmentioned project, especially for non-public purposes.

    That said, I believe it is important to remember that many of the Boys & Girls Club’s programs and objectives closely match those f the City’s own Recreation & Parks Department. The B & G Club helps many of the same at-risk kids that City and County programs also target, and often aids them in complementary ways.

    The City would be well served if it supported local businesses and nonprofits with micro- and macro-loans from a large revolving fund that supported research and development, historic building renovations, energy efficiency and earthquake retrofits, and other forms of economic development and redevelopment. Such funds could also be used to support the construction of the B&G Club’s new facility, as the half-payback option proposed by staff suggests.

    The City of Alameda is missing out on some great opportunities to support local business and organizations through such a revolving loan fund, which could also really help reduce our public- and private-sector emissions of greenhouse gases, as recommended by CASA and the Climate Change Task Force. And perhaps one of them is the chance to support a proven nonprofit to better serve the youth of our community.

    Our Ecnomic Development funds have often gone to large “monument” projects (usually on Park Street), rather than to the many smaller-scale projects that local businesses and civic groups feel are needed. Perhaps a new approach to spending our tax-increment financing is called for and it is time to open a local “development bank” instead.

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