Eve Pearlman: How do you solve a problem like the Point?
Updated 1:33 p.m. Friday, January 8
First of two parts (Part two)
On February 2nd – or earlier, for absentee voters – Alamedans will be asked to vote on Measure B, the 280+ page plan for the development of Alameda Point.
If you’ve received pro-B fliers, you’ve been told that the Point will be a happy, happy place with lots of green space and smiling, healthy families riding bicycles and picnicking. If you’ve gotten the anti-B materials, you’ve been told the plan spells financial doom for the city and, if passed, it is possible that Satan himself will be shacking up down on Alameda’s western shore.
I thought not.
I am generally a curious person, but I do confess a weakness: I become almost immediately snoozy when I turn my attention to the nitty-gritty of Point development: ARRA, density bonuses, redevelopment bonds, and CEQA mitigations. Perhaps this is because the Point discussion has been on rhetorical high for more than a decade? But outside the narrow sphere of the scrappy political dialogue, most Alamedans ask a basic question: “What’s happening with the Base?”
“They’re working on it!” I have said. “I think they’re on the third development partner.”
“When will it be developed?” people want to know. “I don’t know,” I say.
Generally speaking, what I hear from your run-of-the-mill, trying-to-live-a-good-life-in-Alameda folks, is that people are ready for base development – and that they like the mixed-use vision of Measure B. People want the site cleaned up and used for parks, fields, homes and businesses. But few have the time or inclination to become experts on traffic analysis zones or disposition and development agreements. That is what professionals and civic leaders are supposed to do, no?
To boot, Alameda has a vocal, strident, dogmatic and fierce NIMBY contingent that seems to rise to oppose any and all change to the Island. In their hyperactive imaginations it seems a Target will destroy life as we know it, an Orchard Supply Hardware will cause local businesses to spontaneously melt, a theater will cause the rat population to quadruple, and a new library will precipitate premature death for all who enter. “You would think that we were talking about putting a nuclear waste dump in Alameda,” said Mayor Beverly Johnson of the tenor of opposition to the library before it was built.
Johnson, who supported both the theater and the library and once supported Measure B, now says no to the initiative. “SunCal put me on the side of some of the people I am never on the same side with,” said Johnson. “It makes me angry.”
And so we have a divided city leadership: Council members Lena Tam and Marie Gilmore support B; Doug deHaan, predictably, opposes; and Frank Matarrese, with Johnson, switched in the tail of 2009 from yes to no. (UPDATE: Gilmore told The Island this and this. She has not yet returned calls for comment. I apologize if I mischaracterized her view of B, and I eagerly wait a return to my phone calls so I can better clarify her position.)
City staff’s “impartial” analysis – how can an analysis conducted by a party to an agreement be impartial? – highlights apparent flaws in the terms of the initiative: public amenities will cost more than SunCal has allotted, Measure B grants SunCal rights to sell development rights without city approval, a 2 percent cap on property taxes might not be enough to fund needed services, etc.
How are we regular folk to know whether or not, as the city manager seems not to know, the more detailed agreement that would need to be negotiated between the city and SunCal if B passes would supersede the initiative itself? “This is untested,” Interim City Manager Ann Marie Gallant said on this point of law. Great, that helps.
So are the terms governing sale of development rights a deal breaker? Should the 2 percent tax cap trigger our ‘no’? Will the public amenities cost $371 million, a figure the city is advancing, or about $170 million, SunCal’s estimate?
We’ve gotten in this mess of uncertainty in part because a fiscally viable Point development plan requires amendment of the hotter than hot button Measure A – which caps multi-unit dwellings at two. Instead of putting a plain-as-day modification of A on the ballot – who had the political will to advance that? – we got Measure B, which asks you and me to know, for example, if things not explicitly spelled out in B – the number and locations of schools, for example – can later be successfully negotiated in the interest of our community.
Frankly, as a citizen, I resent being asked to cast a vote on this. I want a city leadership that can say, “We negotiated aggressively, we protected your interests, we got a good deal, and this is right for Alameda.” Instead I have staff telling us how the agreement is weak and the mayor taking a hard “No!” And I can’t help but wonder if we will be left with a decade more of answering, “What’s happening down at the Point?” and a victory for the NIMBYs.
More next week.