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Alameda council holds off on new Point direction, charter changes; OKs budget

Submitted by on 1, July 28, 2010 – 5:00 am2 Comments

City staff will begin work on a list of options for redevelopment Alameda Point to present to the City Council in the fall.

The council asked staff to get cracking on the list at the tail end of an action-packed, seven-hour meeting Tuesday night, the council’s last schedule meeting until September. The request came in lieu of a proposal by Councilman Frank Matarrese that would have focused the city on exploring the formation of a nonprofit corporation to handle base development and on job creation instead of housing.

“I think it would be a mistake to start giving specific direction on little component parts of this. We’ve got to offer an overall vision, and we can only do that when we know what our options are,” Mayor Beverly Johnson said, adding that she thought Matarrese’s ideas were good ones but that a broader range of development options should be considered.

Councilwoman Marie Gilmore said she wanted the public to have an opportunity to offer their ideas on what should happen next at the Point, while Councilwoman Lena Tam said she wants a funding source identified first for any plan that might be considered.

SunCal’s Pat Keliher asked city leaders how long the plans Matarrese proposed just one day after SunCal was effectively fired as Point developer were on the drawing board. And he accused the city of working on other plans while they were supposed to be negotiating toward a deal with SunCal.

“While we were paying city staff in good faith, it appears the city was working on a secret Plan B,” Keliher said, referring to a talk Interim City Manager Ann Marie Gallant gave at a 2009 Chamber of Commerce breakfast where she reportedly said the city had a Plan B for developing Alameda Point. Keliher said the developer paid more than $17 million in it quest to seal a development deal for the Point.

Gallant didn’t respond to Keliher’s claim, though Councilman Doug deHaan disputed it.

“I’m just appalled that someone says we’re doing secret plans in the back room. I don’t think that’s the case,” deHaan said.

Matarrese said he was always gathering information and considering alternatives for Alameda Point.

“My mind doesn’t shut off when the signatures were gathered or when the measure was on the ballot or when the measure went down,” Matarrese said.

The council also voted, 5-0, to hold off on putting city charter changes on the November ballot that would eliminate binding arbitration for the city’s firefighters and require any initiatives, including the firefighters’ upcoming minimum staffing measure, to have a funding source before they could be put in place.

Tam asked her dais-mates to reconvene a council subcommittee to vet the proposed changes and to consider them for the November 2011 election instead, the date the firefighters’ initiative will be decided.

Gilmore said she thought the council shouldn’t rush to put the amendments, some of which had been in the works for over a year. She said the public should have more time to talk about the proposed changes before they go on the ballot.

“I don’t think this is something that should be taken lightly. The public should have the opportunity to ask questions and have input on this,” said Gilmore, who said she thought city staff should have brought the proposed charter changes to the council sooner.

Gallant said several of the proposed charter changes – which included adding another member to the Public Utilities Commission and removing the city manager as a voting member of that body, allowing the city clerk to reject legal bids and allowing the city to change its business hours – weren’t new ideas, and Highsmith said the changes were being proposed for the November ballot because it’s the next available general election.

Domenick Weaver, president of the Alameda firefighters union, asked the council not to put a measure on the ballot that would eliminate the union’s right to binding arbitration, which he said had been used just once in the 30 years it’s been in place.

He said the council can’t put the binding arbitration matter on the ballot, citing a state Supreme Court case that would require the city to meet and confer on it. But Highsmith said the city disagrees.

Ann Spanier of the League of Women Voters of Alameda asked the council to wait on putting the charter amendments on the ballot so the public could have more time to learn about and comment on the proposed changes, which haven’t had a prior public hearing.

The City Council also unanimously approved a $71.1 million general fund budget for 2010-2011 early this morning, an increase over the $68.7 million budget it okayed for 2009. The budget covers public safety, recreation and other services.

“The budget is tight this year. What we think we are bringing in in revenues, we think we will expend,” Gallant said, adding that the city hasn’t spent more than it has taken in over the last 18 months. She said 2009 layoffs and other departmental cuts helped bring the city’s budget in line.

The budget shows an anticipated $12.1 million cash balance at the beginning and end of the year, and Gallant said she expects the city can build toward a recommended balance of $13 million, or 20 percent.

Gallant said the city has resolved much of the $7.6 million deficit that had built up in the city’s internal service funds as city departments failed to repay their worker’s compensation and other fixed costs. She said the deficit is now $200,000, and she expects that deficit to disappear by the end of 2011.

But she said the library is running a deficit because of the way bond debt the city incurred to build its new library is structured, which she said she will work to fix midyear. The city’s budget figures show a projected negative balance of $866,984 for the library fund at the end of this fiscal year.

The city’s overall budget of $297.9 million includes money for the Housing Authority, Alameda Municipal Project, debt funds, redevelopment, money for capital projects and additional funds.

Separately, city staff offered information on a $24.3 million capital improvement program to maintain and fix the city’s sewers, roads, parks and other infrastructure.

The council will also consider changes to the way the city handles the council’s access to legal opinions at a future date. Gilmore said she wanted the discussion after she said she was required to view a legal opinion in Highsmith’s office. She said that when she questioned the restriction, Highsmith offered “vague comments leaks coming out of closed session,” a reference to allegations of leaks from Tam.

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