SunCal gets a date
After a dramatic public hearing that saw some surprising alliances – and at least one local leader voting against their traditional base – the City Council set a February 2, 2010 election date for SunCal’s Alameda Point development initiative on a 3-2 vote.
Councilmembers Lena Tam and Marie Gilmore opposed the plan, saying they couldn’t support the cost of the special election the city will have to hold for the vote. Tam, who voted against the earlier date, and Gilmore, who abstained from voting, wanted the vote to be held during a county general election on June 8, 2010. A February election could cost the city upwards of $325,000, while a June ballot would cost the city $50,000 to $75,000, Gilmore said.
“It’s not only fiscally irresponsible, it’s unconscionable for us to do this,” Tam said, adding that staff has suggested the city cut staff, darken an ambulance on Bay Farm Island and shut City Hall on Fridays in order to save money. Tam had earlier made a motion to hold the election in June, which was voted down 3-2.
Mayor Beverly Johnson argued that the city didn’t have much choice but to approve the February 2 date, based on City Attorney Teresa Highsmith’s analysis of election law. The initiative contains both a charter amendment – to change Measure A – and an ordinance, and each faces different timelines for ballot placement under election law.
“We need to get on with this. We need to follow the law,” Johnson said.
Highsmith said the initiative posed a conundrum for the city because it is both an ordinance and a charter amendment. Each faces a different timeline for ballot placement.
Highsmith said there’s really no case law to provide guidance on which set of rules should prevail in the case of a “hybrid” measure like SunCal’s. So she said she looked at the “totality” of the measure – which was largely focused on the ordinance and which had language that she said spoke to the stricter timeline. She said that if the council strayed from that timeline, they could face a legal challenge to their election date.
An ordinance must be placed on the ballot between 88 and 103 days after the council certifies the sufficiency of a petition, which the council did on Tuesday night. With a charter amendment, the council would have more leeway to select a vote date, as it did when it chose to push off an election on the firefighters’ proposal to mandate staffing levels to 2011.
Tam said she read the election code to say that SunCal must specifically request a special election, and that she thought the city had more leeway in setting a date.
No one from SunCal came to the meeting to voice their opinion on a preferred date. But members of Alamedans for Alameda Point Revitalization, a group that supports the initiative, said they’d like to see the council consider the June date. Doug Siden, AAPR’s president, said the group would prefer the later date if it could be considered.
Initiative opponents agreed, saying they need more time to mount a campaign against the plan and that they think people need more time to digest the 288-page measure. The campaign would extend through the holidays and absentee voting would begin in early January, a month before the election date.
“February 2 is really too soon. How can you do a campaign during the holidays?” asked Diane Coler-Dark, who said absentee voting would begin soon.
Coler-Dark noted the hundreds of thousands of dollars SunCal has spent so far on the initiative. And she said community groups won’t be able to compete.
“The deck would be stacked. We’d be screwed, okay?” she said.
Anne Spanier, co-president of the League of Women Voters of Alameda, said the League opposed the February date, because it will be too costly for the city. But Robb Ratto of the Park Street Business Association said he supported city staff’s recommendation, because he didn’t think the city had a choice.
But some others said they’d like the earlier date – and that they’re hopeful the initiative fails. Bill Smith, a local resident who has opposed the initiative, said he’d be glad to see it go to the voters soon.
Johnson and Councilman Frank Matarrese – who earlier had been lauded by initiative opponents for switching their stance to oppose the ballot plan – said they didn’t think the city had any choice but to okay the February date. And Doug deHaan – a longtime opponent of the plan – also voted for the earlier date, despite the desire of many of the plan’s opponents to push it off a few months.
“My concern is how any citizen group can get their message out in short order. But it does seem the community understands what’s in the initiative now,” deHaan said in casting his vote for a February election.
Several opponents of the ballot measure and plan used the hearing to air their concerns about SunCal and the developer’s plans for the Point.
Speakers and council members also noted recent correspondence from the City of Oakland and Oakland’s Chinatown saying an environmental impact report on the proposed development needs to be done before a vote can happen. Johnson and Highsmith said they believe that would only be the case if the city put the initiative on the ballot.