Comment: What’s the Point?
I had hoped to have an editorial for you this week that would tell you whether to vote for or against Measure B. But the truth is, I’ll be sitting this one out. Because it has become crystal clear to me that the city has decided that they’re going to do whatever they want on this one, regardless of what voters think.
At the beginning of this debacle, a majority of our City Council members were clearly in favor of SunCal’s development plan for Alameda Point. They should have put a Measure A exemption, which is the only thing we really need to be voting for or against, on the ballot. But in a supreme display of cowardice (who wants to touch the third rail of Alameda politics?), the council passed this responsibility on to SunCal. And then they acted surprised when the for-profit developer larded a development agreement onto the ballot that would basically cover their own butts, at a potentially steep cost to the city.
Since SunCal decided to go to the ballot, Alameda voters have been caught in the middle of an epic ping pong match between the developer and city staff. Faced with a wealth of conflicting (and often inaccurate) information, many people who are genuinely concerned about the future of this Island are unsure how they should vote. But here’s a dirty little secret: It doesn’t matter. Because ultimately, the city can do an end run around any decision we make.
How can they do that? If voters say yes to Measure B, we will have a Measure A exemption for the Point on the books and a land plan, plus a development agreement that no one can credibly argue is good for the city. But SunCal may never get the chance to exercise them. If the city and SunCal don’t strike a development deal for the base by July 20, the city could send the developer packing. And city leaders may already be preparing for this outcome: the Interim City Manager told SunCal in November that the city could work directly with the Navy on a Plan B. One scenario Gallant outlined includes offering long-term leases for existing Point tenants, which she said could pay for the infrastructure repairs that have so far played a major role in stalling the former Naval base’s redevelopment. And three members of the council have been taking field trips to other redeveloped military bases to see what else we could be doing with our own.
But even if voters say no to Measure B on February 2, the plan could proceed intact if city leaders decide they want it. The city’s existing agreement to negotiate with SunCal allows the developer to submit its development plan directly to the city’s planning department to be considered like any other development project, and in the face of mounting evidence that their ballot initiative will fail, the developer exercised that option on January 14. It’s the same land plan that’s on the ballot. And in a letter to the city, SunCal’s Pat Keliher said he thinks his company could build it using an affordable housing ordinance that was just placed on the city’s books.
SunCal’s decision to put its plan on the ballot could cost the company $1 million when all is said and done. Meanwhile, we’ll pay hundreds of thousands of dollars for the privilege of being made to feel like we have a vote on how this decision gets made.
So what’s a good citizen to do? Personally, I’m reserving my vote for November, when we choose a new mayor and fill some City Council seats with some fresh bodies. I’ll be looking for candidates who are willing and able to exercise the leadership our current crop of dais-sitters hasn’t. I don’t see the point of making a decision that my elected leaders are unwilling – or unable – to carry out.