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On Point: The prisoner

Submitted by on 1, January 7, 2010 – 5:50 am7 Comments

apThe City Council and School Board got what was, for the council at least, a brief summary of the 288 pages of Measure B and a pair of city staff-generated analyses of the measure Tuesday night. I meant to write you a story about it to read Wednesday, I really did. But after nearly five hours of presentations, points, counterpoints, accusations and a heaping serving of political theater, I realized there wasn’t really much new to say.

About 120 people showed up for the presentation, almost all recognizable advocates for or against the measure and perhaps the only people in town who care about the development agreements, CEQA mitigations and transportation demand management plans that were subjects of debate and the occasional sharp exchange between city staff and SunCal’s reps – exchanges that, I couldn’t help thinking, might otherwise have occurred behind closed doors had SunCal not opted to take the unusual step of placing a development agreement with the city on the ballot.

I think we were just rounding the bend on hour four when Perforce Software chief and B booster Christopher Seiwald offered the most quotable moment of the night, when he pleaded with the council to “end this embarrassing parade of ignorance and stupidity.”

It was another 40 minutes or so before he got his wish.

Tuesday night’s borefest was followed today by an announcement from School Board Trustee Mike McMahon that he supports Measure B.

“I believe the overall benefits of choosing to develop Alameda Point using the existing framework presented by SunCal is better than the alternative of another sixteen years of doing nothing but plan to plan,” McMahon wrote in an e-mail to about 900 people Wednesday afternoon. “While there are no guarantees in Measure B, I am confident that AUSD is in a strong position to negotiate a mitigation agreement that will serve Alameda Point and the West End residents.”

SunCal’s representatives went back and forth with board trustees Tuesday regarding the company’s commitment to providing schools for residents of its proposed development. District officials have said they don’t yet have a deal with SunCal about what schools the developer will provide, and they’re concerned the money and land offered in the development agreement on the ballot won’t be what they need. SunCal’s reps said the measure doesn’t address schools and that they are willing to talk with school district representatives – they just haven’t gotten there yet.

Trustees Tracy Jensen and Trish Hererra Spencer have come out against the measure, signing a ballot argument opposing the measure for the February 2 vote.

Before I wrap up for this week, I want to dial it back to this whole business of development agreements, and specifically, whether the development agreement on the ballot can be changed and under what circumstances.

SunCal’s Pat Keliher has told city officials his company is willing to write side agreements to address problems they have raised about the initiative, including a cap on the amount of money the developer will have to spend to pay for parks and other “public benefits” of the project that they fear could be exceeded. And Measure B proponents have said a second Point development agreement that SunCal will negotiate with the city’s redevelopment agency, which is called a disposition and development agreement, can be written to correct problems the city sees in the development agreement. But City Attorney Teresa Highsmith told the council she wasn’t sure if those agreements would “trump” one approved by Alameda voters.

In response to the council’s questions on the matter, Highsmith issue an eight-page memo on December 17 laying out some answers. Her opinion? SunCal could amend the development agreement on the ballot if it is passed by voters, but given the fact that they wrote it this way, she doesn’t think the council should assume they’ll do so. (The measure allows SunCal, but not the city, to amend the development agreement to be decided on by voters; otherwise, changes can be made only through another initiative.) And she said that a new agreement that can be enforced by the city won’t be inked before the February 2 election.

I asked SunCal for any legal opinion they had on this one, but haven’t heard back. If I get anything, I’ll update you.

In the meantime, here’s the memo for your reading enjoyment.


  • Richard Bangert says:

    Here is one aspect, among others, of the joint meeting that was new. It was the assembly of the city staff team at one table explaining how they arrived at their election report conclusions. It conveyed to me, at least, an image of professionalism, not an "embarrassing parade of ignorance and stupidity." We heard for the first time a more thorough explanation of how there can be this seeming contradiction between ongoing good faith negotiations and ongoing criticism of the ballot language. The contradiction exists because the four-foot high stack of "business plans" that Pat Keliher referenced with a gesture, and which the city manager referred to as a pro-forma, is a) not what we are voting on, and b) subject to change at a later date because it is what? not yet signed. And so the city staff has been analyzing what it is that we are voting on, not what we are wishing and praying for.

  • RM says:


    You used the word "prisoner" in the headline of this post.

    If B were to pass at the ballot box, Alameda's residents and taxpayers would be effectively captured (held prisoner)by SunCal/DE Shaw, (or whomever they sell their rights under Measure B)–for at least 25 years. They reserve the right to do nothing. They reserve the right to sell pieces of land. They reserve the right to build what they want when they want.

    Basically, they reserve the right to do whatever they want whenever they want, according to their business fiancial formulas.

    There is no good reason why we should allow this to happen.

  • Tracy Jensen says:

    Thanks for the unbiased overview of the meeting, Michele, and for continuing to be the only impartial resource for information about Measure B. I appreciated the diligence of the City Manager and the Superintendent in responding to questions from Council and School Board members before, during and after the joint meeting. Superintendent Vital has stated publicly on several occasions that Measure B does not contain any fiscal protections for the District, that the developer has not negotiated in good faith, and that the initiative does not contain any requirement for school construction. Despite her belief that the District is at risk, she and her staff continue to work to develop a mitigation agreement with SunCal. Unfortunately, according to the District and City legal counsel, any such agreements would not be enforceable.

    I oppose Measure B because if it is passed the Developer would have no incentive to negotiate with the District. Measure B gives the Developer the legal authority to make all decisions. If Measure B put the District in a strong negotiating position I am certain that the Superintendent would have recommended supporting the Initiative. Instead, Superintendent Vital along with City Manager Gallant have determined that Measure B is bad for the school district and the city. It is out of respect for the opinions of District and City staff and love for Alameda that I am opposing Measure B.

    Looking Forward ~ Tracy Jensen

  • ct says:

    When two parties enter into a business venture together, is it possible to identify every contingency and anticipate every outcome before actually starting the enterprise? The real world is a dynamic place, filled with change and the unexpected (tax revenue affected by a local/state/national/world economy; the reach and severity of toxic waste lurking beneath Alameda Point), so continued communication and negotiation between partners is essential to keeping a business venture together as they face changing parameters and unexpected challenges.

    The City has good reason to take a careful and measured approach to development at the Point. But when taken to such an extreme, being overly careful and measured becomes counterproductive and turns into a kind of analysis paralysis. Measure B opponents claim to be holding out for the right development plan, but if the right plan means a money-losing, scarcely populated open space, who would invest in such a scheme?

    If Measure B fails, I don't see why SunCal would continue to fight the seemingly unwinnable battle to develop the Point. Our local government appears content to let the Point deteriorate for another decade or so; if that's what they want, that's what we're stuck with.

  • Mary Fetherolf says:

    Several folks in City government and local publications have worked hard to analyze the tedious details of Measure B in service to voters, who'll go to the polls on February 2nd.

    For those who have no appetite for detail, please consider just these two key conditions of the deal:

    * Section 2.9 says “Nothing in this Development Agreement is intended to create any affirmative development obligations to develop the Alameda Point Project at all or in any particular order or manner, or liability in Developer under this Development Agreement if the development fails to occur.”

    * Section 7.4.2 says “In no event shall either Party… be liable for damages for any default under this Development Agreement.”

    Would you buy a car or a house under terms like those? Vote No on B!

  • Michael Krueger says:

    Measure B also explicitly says that these very issues will be addressed in other agreements that must be negotiated before the development can begin. Measure B does not convey the land to the developer; it explicitly states that the land will be conveyed directly from the Navy to Alameda's redevelopment agency, which is governed by the elected members of the city council. Because they will go into the negotiations with full control of the land, our city leaders will have plenty of leverage to ensure a good deal for Alameda.

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