Eve Pearlman: How do you solve a problem like the Point?
Second of two parts (Part one)
I have been thinking about Measure B and pondering what to do in the voting booth. As best I understand it, we’re being asked to make three decisions.
1. To modify Measure A for the land at Alameda Point only. (Remember that A is an amendment to the city’s charter, passed in 1973, which caps new construction on the Island at two residential units per building.)
2. To approve the Alameda Point land plan. Do we like the design for the former base? Are we pleased with the mix of businesses, homes, parks, and open space?
3. To approve a Development Agreement. And here is where it gets tricky, because a DA – though a legally permitted step which regulates some elements of a project of this magnitude – is not, as a lay person might think, the document that sets forth all the contractual nitty-gritty – timelines, financials, specifics of construction, the actual sale of the land. Those details are hashed out in a project’s Development and Disposition Agreement – an agreement that has yet to be negotiated for Alameda Point.
But to back up for a moment: If you know you don’t want A overturned – if you know you don’t want any apartments at the Point (the merits of which I am not discussing at this moment), you’ll want to vote no on B. And if you don’t generally like this plan for base development – if you want to continue on with the western third of the Island in its present state with all the pros and cons (all, of course, up for debate in the minefield that is Alameda politics), then your vote is also easy: Vote no on B.
And you’re done! Your vote is relatively simple. See ya!
But if you are OK with amending A, and if you like the community-developed plan for the land, it is much less clear how to proceed. I have not talked to anyone who is shouting, “Yay, Measure B is perfect, top notch A-1 terrific!”
Many of the people involved in the process have in fact have said that they like the land plan – the vision for how the Point will look – and that they are OK modifying A. But they don’t like the DA – which was written by SunCal and contains some nonstandard terms favorable to the developer – all of which have provided ample fodder for those who absolutely oppose modification of A and/or Point development. The DA has in fact become a central argument against B, one that has been picked up by our formerly pro-B mayor and the Alameda Chamber of Commerce.
But there is another point of view about the importance of the DA and the authority it has over the Point’s – and city’s – future. Alameda’s former Assistant City Manager, David Brandt, who was intimately involved with the project for nearly a decade, until he left in August to become City Manager of Redmond, Oregon, says the DA is not at all the end of the negotiation road and that the city does have the power to make deal terms that are favorable to the city.
“Without a DDA, SunCal doesn’t have the property and without the property, they can’t build,” said Brandt. And while there has been much debate about whether, if in conflict, the DA would trump the DDA or vice versa, the bottom line, says Brandt, is without a DDA the deal is dead. “The DA is useless unless you have the property,” said Brandt – noting it is the DDA by which the property is actually transferred. “But a lot of people don’t want to make that distinction because it doesn’t support their position.”
The exclusive negotiating agreement the city has with SunCal until July of this year doesn’t, says Councilwoman Lena Tam, obligate Alameda to anything contained in B, and if no deal has been reached when that negotiating agreement terms out, the city can walk away. “During the negotiation process the city can choose to accept or reject any of the points,” said Tam, who has also served on the Alameda County Planning Commission and worked as an engineer for Santa Clara’s Land and Property Development Department. “As with any negotiation, there is no agreement if the parties do not come to a meeting of the minds on deal points.”
Yes, it is true, Measure B offers an imperfect choice. And surely some who support the Measure B land use plan for the Point are cursing SunCal for including the DA in the initiative. But when has any ‘yay’ or ‘nay’ ever been perfect? When has any candidate for office been perfect? When has any law been perfect? And it seems to me, that if you support this vision for development, then this is not the place to look for perfection. Because if in fact perfect is allowed to be the enemy of the good, then there will never, ever be any development at Alameda Point.
“SunCal is not a bunch of wizards,” said Brandt. “They spend a lot of money on lawyers, but the city does, too. It is not an impossible task to negotiate a good deal.”
It boils down to this: If you’re OK with amending A, and you like Measure B’s land use plan for the Point, and if you think the city can negotiate a satisfactory agreement on our behalf, then vote yes on B with a clear conscience.
Eve Pearlman offers her take on Alameda’s stories, big and small, every Friday on The Island. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org.