Home » Headline, Island News


Submitted by on 1, April 7, 2011 – 12:03 am27 Comments

Harbor Bay developer Ron Cowan is going public with a long-rumored plan to swap land he owns on North Loop Road for the city’s nine-hole Mif Albright golf course, where he hopes to build homes.

Cowan said he’ll consider giving the city up to $6 million in financing for improvements at the Chuck Corica Golf Complex and a new nine-hole course, and $3 million to build baseball and soccer fields on his North Loop property. In exchange, he wants to build 112 homes where the Mif stands now, which he said will complete his Harbor Bay development and allow him to pay off debt he incurred building schools, roads and other infrastructure for the project.

“What we really ought to do is all get into a room, move some of these holes around, and we’ll finance the whole thing. And what you end up with is a win-win-win proposition for everybody,” Cowan said during an hour-long interview Wednesday in a conference room lined with plans for new, North Loop athletic fields and ideas for reconfiguring the golf complex.

On Tuesday he met with Mayor Marie Gilmore and Acting City Manager Lisa Goldman to discuss the proposal, and he said he plans to meet with a host of sports and community leaders in an effort to earn their support.

City officials said they’re intrigued by the plan, as did leaders of Alameda’s golf community. But golfers worry that consideration of Cowan’s plan could further stall their own efforts to preserve the complex’s two 18-hole courses and to secure a Mif lease for the nonprofit Alameda Junior Golf Association and a $250,000 cash grant that will help them improve the nine-hole course. Cowan said he wants the city to take 60 days to consider his plan.

“I’m concerned further delays could jeopardize our efforts to move forward at all,” said Joe VanWinkle, who has been negotiating with the city on behalf of the Alameda Junior Golf Association for a Mif lease. He said the junior golf association has worked out business terms with the city to run the Mif, and that KemperSports, the company the city hopes to hire to operate the rest of the golf complex on a long-term basis, is expected to offer city leaders a plan to operate its existing 18-hole courses at a meeting Tuesday.

But Cowan said that if golfers fight his proposal, he’ll fund the 27-hole proposal Kemper offered to the city in January, which golfers have opposed.

“The only thing on the table is 36 holes, or 27,” Cowan said, adding that he’d still offer athletic fields and a new, nine-hole course. “If the golfers refuse to cooperate on the design of the 36, we will lend Kemper the money to do their 27-hole plan.”

The announcement offers the latest twist in a pair of complicated political sagas that became intertwined when Cowan’s efforts to build a final phase of his Harbor Bay development, Village 6, hit a crossroads.

Cowan wanted to build 104 homes on 12 acres he owns on North Loop Road, and he asked the city to rezone the land so the development could proceed. But business owners who operate across the street from the proposed development – which also sits a half mile from the main airstrip at Oakland International Airport – objected, and in May 2008, the Planning Board declined to recommend the city rezone the property.

Cowan had sued the city a year earlier, saying his agreement entitled him to build 200 more homes. He said Wednesday that the settlement that followed guaranteed him the right to build the homes, though minutes from an October 16, 2007 council meeting where the settlement was discussed say it didn’t commit the council to any future action. (Acting City Attorney Donna Mooney didn’t respond to a reporter’s request for the city’s position on the matter.)

Cowan said Wednesday that a few days after the Planning Board meeting, then-City Manager Debra Kurita and then-Assistant City Manager David Brandt asked him to hold off on taking further action on his plan. He said they told him that golf was on the decline in Alameda, and that they might be willing to exchange the 12-acre Mif Albright property for athletic fields on his North Loop Road land.

Both Gilmore and Goldman said Wednesday that they had no knowledge of any such discussions, and representatives for Kemper wouldn’t comment on whether they were working with Cowan.

“KemperSports has been working with the City of Alameda since 2009 to explore all options to improve the Chuck Corica Golf Complex,” a Kemper spokesman said.

Cowan said he wasn’t interested at first, and in February 2009 – when the proposed swap made its way onto a City Council agenda and both the North Loop businesses and then-Mayor Beverly Johnson urged it be considered – he told The Island he hadn’t seriously been approached about a swap and that he intended to build homes on his North Loop property. But on Wednesday, he said city staffers convinced him to change his mind.

He said he stayed silent about the plan at the city’s request until VanWinkle began contacting him, several weeks ago. Cowan, VanWinkle and Tony Corica, who has been working to preserve the golf complex that bears his father’s name, said they have met in the last two weeks, after Cowan said he won approval to go public with the plan.

Golfers’ relations with the city have been strained over the last few years as city leaders sought to trim the size of the golf complex on claims it has been bleeding red ink. They have accused the city of misrepresenting the golf complex’s finances and have fought efforts to shutter the Mif course and reduce the complex’s two, 18-hole courses by nine holes.

Golfers have expressed concern over what they see as the slow pace of efforts to both hire a private company to operate the golf complex and to sign a lease with the Alameda Junior Golf Association to manage the Mif Albright course. The City Council voted in March 2010 to negotiate deals with the junior golf association and KemperSports, which has been managing the complex since January 2009, and more than a year later, both are still pending.

They have also expressed frustration about the swap rumors.

“You know of course, the rumors that have been flying around for years that the Mif Albright property is a goal of Ron Cowan for a new Harbor Bay Club. I’ve been getting calls and e-mails that what’s really going on here is some kind of land swap, that they’re going to get that property, tear down the Harbor Bay property, and build homes there. Everyone thinks that’s really what’s going on,” Golf Commission president Jane Sullwold told the council in February 2009, when the Mif swap was placed on the agenda.

“We’ve heard that. There are a lot of rumors going on around the golf course, and we’re aware of that,” Johnson had responded.

Both the golfers and Cowan said they want to do what’s best for the city. Corica said golfers understand Alameda is facing fiscal challenges and that they want to work with city leaders to address them; Cowan says he wants to provide deeply-desired athletic fields and financing to upgrade the golf complex – money he believes might otherwise be difficult to find.

Gilmore said the latest developments at the golf complex, including Cowan’s proposal and Kemper’s anticipated 36-hole plan, are set to be discussed at Tuesday’s special council meeting.

“We’re going to throw everything out on the table for discussion,” she said.


  • John says:

    Should get interesting… Nice work Michele.

  • Jack says:

    I remember Ron from a long time ago. He is tireless and if anyone can get this done, he can. Have you seen the sports fields in Berkeley? This could be a big win if done right.

    • John Piziali says:

      Jack, He didn’t say he would build sports fields at north loop for the city, he said the would put up $3,000,000.to help build them. I would like to see him build them out at his cost. If that comes to pass.

    • Steve Taddei says:

      For three years the City Council did everything they could to make the case that the Golf Course was a drain on the city budget. When the golfing community asked for evidence the Council stonewalled. This is the sweethart deal they want to make with a developer

  • Mike says:

    Thanks for the article.

    I believe this is a bad deal but we are already getting a bad deal with Kemper and the city. It’s time to get someone else to run the course.

    1. Mowers don’t work
    2. Range balls need to be replaced and the quality of the last batch was so poor the a good many of them split
    3. The rental carts (old) are in disrepair and course marshals spend most of the day shuttling out replacements and hauling the dead ones back to the barn. They get brought the next day only to die on the course again. Many have long ignored safety issues as there isn’t any money to fix or replace them.
    4. The only improvements are the fixes to Tees 4 and 13 on the north since kemper became involved.
    5. Drainage is still a major problem at the course

    That said I might be able to support something like this as long as Kemper is replaced with a company that cares about the community and golfers. Previous bidders who are willing to invest “their” money in improving the course for all are still on the sidelines. Bring them back into the conversation.

    Kemper lost Harding because of mismanagement and poor course supervision. We are seeing the same thing now in Alameda.

  • Fergus Jones says:

    “The only thing on the table is 36 holes, or 27,” Cowan said, adding that he’d still offer athletic fields and a new, nine-hole course. “If the golfers refuse to cooperate on the design of the 36, we will lend Kemper the money to do their 27-hole plan.”

    Really, who is kidding who or who is trying to pull the wool over our eyes? I love the statement that Cowan will loan Kemper the money. From what source? Or yeah, he will re-finance the club again or take more money out of HB Realty again.

    This smells of back room discussions with then councilwoman Gilmore. Mayor Gilmore, where is the transparency? Come on, what is the real deal here?

  • Jon Spangler says:

    I am glad that all the rumors and back-room dealings are finally out in the open. It is really too bad that this has all been so secretive for years. And this story leaves me with some real discomfort and lots more questions than answers.

    This all seems entirely too “convenient” – and too beneficial -for Ron Cowan, and I am suspicious.

    First, Cowan’s offer to fund either the 27-hole Kemper fiasco or a 36-hole revamping of the Corica smells vaguely like blackmail to me: “your golf course rehabilitation goes unfunded or you make a deal with me.” Doesn’t he owe the City of Alameda already for schools and infrastructure that he promised to pay for but the city funded instead?

    Why does the City of Alameda “owe” Ron Cowan the opportunity to break even or pay for his (agreed to and appropriate) expenses in building Harbor Bay? I do not see how the City of Alameda needs to assure his profitability.

    Does Ron Cowan have any “right” to build 200 more homes on the land he originally bought to develop? The courts decided against him, correct? Why should the court’s decision not stand?

    It will be a while before I can be convinced that this is not just a sweetheart deal to line a developer’s pockets at City expense. It sure looks a lot like that so far, at least.

  • Betty says:

    Wow, John Spangler we finally agree.

  • Karen Bey says:

    And what happened to the new club house? I can’t see making $6m in improvements to the golf complex with no club house.

    I think the council needs to carve out enough land from the Cowan parcel for a new hotel/club house. Title to the hotel/club house parcel should remain with the city for future development. This coupled with the $6m in improvements Cowan makes, plus the new 9 hole course will extend the life of the golf complex for many years, and could add much needed revenues to the city coffers to offset future budget deficits.

  • John Piziali says:

    The only problem I have with Ron Cowan becoming involved in the Chuck Corica golf complex is the fact that his involvement will only benefit one person and we all know who that is. Come on folks its Ron Cowan Developer. Not Ron Cowan philanthroper. His comments about how he will tell us what the deal will be or else shows a disregard for the entire community. But then he does not live in Alameda.

  • John Piziali says:

    Yes I’am a dummy, its philanthropist not philanthroper. The latter is not a word, sorry.

  • Stevn Adams says:

    I really hope this happens as a father and long time coach we need the field space, it’s been crazy this spring trying to find space to hold a soccer practice. Improved golf, more athletic field and more homes to provide taxes to the city? Sounds like a win to me.

  • Matt McFall says:

    Fergus, John: Why so cynical? Did you have a paper route go bad 30 years ago that keeps you distrustful of anyone with a job? What “deeper digging” is there to do? Ron Cowan’s only “past performance” is the development of a FANTASTIC community of which I am proud to be a part. It is also now home to many past naysayers who love it. Ron Cowan’s son and grnadchildren live there. On these merits alone he is the perfect person to do this project. And yes, he is a businessman. So what. Do you actually think it would still be sand dunes today if Ron Cowan hadn’t been the man to develop it? No way! Too many people move into Alameda one day only to try pulling up the gang plank to everyone else the next. This deal is a no-brainer for a city that can’t afford to care for the existing parks, much less keep up with demand. I hope that the vocal 5% like you don’t drown out what is best for for the other 95%.

  • Karen Bey says:


    I think some people object to his tone — “agree with me or else”. I think he can approach the golfers better than that. I actually like some of his ideas but I think the city should carve out land for a hotel/clubhouse for future development which would further enhance the golf complex and put money into the city enterprise fund.

  • Barbara Thomas says:

    Matt: Ron didn’t develop a fantastic community. He built a lot of homes, made a lot of promises of benefits such as schools, fire station, roads, shoreline park, etc. that he failed to provide. (He originally promised 11 schools, then built 1) It was not until the Council threatened a construction moratorium that Cowan was forced to provide the amenities that he had promised. It may be a fantastic community but he was broke most of the time, renigged on the promised benefits until forced legally, and the residents paid for those benefits with bonds secured by their homes. The transmutation of his first promise: that Alameda would get every acre it needed free for needs created by his development, into you want another school, you buy it at what I say is the market rate, with your money. . . . .
    And the actual straw that broke his back, was that the councilmember he bought and paid for, had required the dedication of 4 acres of land for a park, which after all the changes through the 30 years ended up being smack dab in the middle of his last Village. What a laugh! And by the time the City forced the 11 million settlement agreement and the 2nd school was underway, state laws concerning placement of schools had changed requiring more years of delay. When they finally set the pilings, they struck oil in one of the battleships used for fill under the site where BFI school is now. The only thing more fantastical/worse than a Cowan development is a SUNCAL development!!

    Remember the crash of his helicopter in the bay because he was too arrogant to zero out his altimeter before take off? Or his ads in the LATIMES personals for buxom blondes? Ask Lance Williams for the inside story of Ron. Hasn’t this man made enough off the dirt in our City? How old is he any way? He and Al Davis need to take really good looks at themselves, and enjoy what time they have left. Leave the hard stuff to those who are young and have the energy to do a good job, and complete the task before falling asleep in the cockpit.

  • Matt McFall says:

    That’s not the tone I get from the written proposal submitted to the Mayor. Others may inject some tone based on personal filters. Be that as it may, some deals are proposed as is. If you are selling a car and ask for $5,000 it doesn’t mean you will get it. If you advertise, “$5,000 but I’ll take $4,000” you can guess what will happen. The process will work itself out.

  • Matt McFall says:

    Barbara, Barbara, Barbara: Shame on me for taking your bait.
    #1: You are not permitted to tell me how to feel about my own community. It is fantastic and you can’t tell me to feel otherwise.
    #2: I’d LOVE to hear where you would put the other NINE schools on Bay Farm. No, really, I’m begging you to tell me. Maybe one next to Angel Fish would make sense.
    #3: The mere fact that you bring up the 30 year-old helicopter incident tells all that you have a deep seeded issues that blogging can’t resolve. Good luck with that.

  • John Piziali says:

    Matt, Matt, Matt, The one common thread one would notice if you are familiar with Alameda is the fact that people like myself, Steve, Barbara, Jon and others all have a great distrust and dislike for Ron Cowan because of his land deals here in the town that we have lived in for so many years.

  • Barbara Thomas says:

    The other 9 schools were when Ron was planning to put 12,500 homes at HBI. As the building occured, and traffic increased, the residents became enraged. The economy changed. People didn’t buy the homes, businesses didn’t flock to the business park, even with the 75 million tax dollar road to HBI. Numbers dropped, as did the need for schools. And Ron refused to dedicate even the land for BFI School, claiming whatever, he was broke, it wasn’t included etc. My goal was to get a middle school at HBI, but nobody seemed to think students would go past the 5th grade.

    The point is simple, Ron, like any developer, will promise whatever it takes to get whatever he or she wants approved. And once that approval is obtained, nothing else matters. And there may be no Ron, no money, and no will to complete the promises upon which the approvals were based. Whatever the community decides to do, it would behoove that community to get funding for any promises committed and locked into stone. One can never tell what the economic future will bring.

    I don’t have any feelings one way or the other on this issue. Just experience with Cowan that many have forgotten, or were not around when it happened.

  • Barbara Thomas says:


    I assume that the reason for the parcel exchange is that the land proposed to be swapped is too close to the airport safety zone for homes. So exchanging this land for safer land upon which a profit can be made by building homes is the goal. How does one value the increased safety risk for the planned sports facilities being in a higher risk area? Those who have chosen to live at HBI have already accepted additional fire risk due to the FDP stategy to not put out the fire in one’s home, but to save the neighboring structures due to the design closeness. And complete structural annilation due to liquifaction and subsidence in case of earthquake. Sooooooo, I guess its OK for someone else to take those risks for their children as long as the City is held harmless.

    Cowan is not a Steve Jobs, or even a Bill Gates. He is a salesman. If you want to count on a former Alburt’s salesman whose claim to fame was selling a newly widowed woman a suit with 2 pair of pants for her husband’s burial attire, that is your choice.
    All the people who fought so hard to force Cowan to provide what he promised in the first place are gone. Chuck Corica, John Barni, Rosalie MacPherson, Walt Moeller, too many to name. It’s on you.

  • John Piziali says:

    so Matt, your telling us that we are the five percent and you are the ninety five percent. Oh I get it now thanks.

    Good luck trying to find people on this Island to defend Ron Cowan.

  • Michael Morgan says:

    WOW! I have been a part of Alameda on and off since birth. I have 4th generation Alamedans’ in my family… I have watched the development of Bay Farm Island into Harbor Bay and I am amazed at the way this community has developed.

    I look at those on here who would argue that Ron Cowan did not do what he said he would do! I would say to you grow up! In the real world kiddies, developers build communities in anticipation of making a profit. Now John would like to point out that this will benefit Ron Cowan, yes John it is called CAPITALISM and our country is based on the premise…..

    Barbara you are quick to jump to conclusions about things you really do not know the finite workings of. You believe that what you read in the media is not slanted and gospel obviously. Oh yes I know you wanted a middle school and you have burned over it for 30 years but, seriously, you bring up a man’s age as though it has relevance and an incident regarding a helicopter crash from 30 years ago. You even bring up the man was so arrogant, that he did not reset his altimeter, really? So you were sitting in the cockpit and said “hey Ron you really need to reset that altimeter” and Ron said “Hah, no I don’t, I am Ron Cowan the all knowing” you laughed quietly to yourself knowing he would crash. I am assuming you are not a Buxom Blonde and that is why you think that comment is appropriate in any discussion of a developer’s qualification to complete the job.

    I have watched Alameda get in its way so many times when it comes to growth here. I am not talking about 30 years worth; I am talking about 50 years worth. This city can be its own worst enemy. This small community get’s so bogged down in the minutia of residents who believe they have some extra god given rights through osmosis and attrition. The facts are skewed to facilitate a vendetta.

    The only thing worse than a developer in Alameda, is a resident in Alameda who feels they have entitlement and truly believe they know more than the city officials they voted into office.

    If you do not like what you see, try stepping up and running for office. Do not sit back here and bad mouth an individual who has done more positive things for this community, than the handful of whiners on this page.

    Instead of focussing on the negative things in the past and regurgitating congecture instead of fact, try coming up with some positive support or better yet a realistic idea.

    Guess what? Economies changes, budgets change, markets in the past have dictated historical economic changes that cannot be foreseen in an estimate or proposal for a long term development plan.

    You all want to crucify the developer, but step outside your little Alameda bubble and see what is happening in every single major community in America. Economic bail outs of epic proportion, ridiculous out of control government spending. Yet a developer takes a risk in a very uncertain economic time and offers a viable plan to improve the community and all we get is a 30 year sob story.

    I for one applaud the fact that someone has stepped up who has a proven track record of starting and completing the important things he had set out to accomplish at Harbor Bay. The absurdity that there are not 9 schools in a state economy that would have already closed half of them and consolidated, is a mute point. Oh yes, wow how horrible, he does not live in Alameda, again, not relevant.

    Fergus is concerned that Ron will refinance the club or take money from Harbor Bay Realty. Guess what Fergus? Last I checked when you own a business; you can refinance or do whatever you want with it! Again, not relevant!

    Bottom line, Matt is crucified for speaking positively about a community he enjoys.

    I can see based on the sentiment here, that my words will be twisted to fit an agenda of those who have no real answers but, enjoy an anonymity that they probably have never expressed in an open forum. I don’t really care what you think of me or my ideals. I move forward with my life knowing there will always be those jealous of individuals who strive to be successful and embarrassed of things like wealth and prosperity.

    By the way, Yes John you are in the 5% and I am defending Ron Cowan. The true reality is Ron Cowan has created opportunity, jobs and helped carve futures for those who are not as narrow minded as the Alamedan who believes growth is bad and that once they landed on the island the bridges should have been drawn and the tube sealed!

    • fergus jones says:

      I have no problem with re-financing an asset. I own property and have used this tool many times. I should have been more clear about my comment. Refinacing the club under the assumption and representation that the funds would be used to improve the existing facilities as opposed to taking the money and using for other purposes. The net result is an over-leveraged debt position on the property. This approach was also used on the business park. I will be more clear in the future.

  • John Piziali says:

    O.K. Michael, you said it. Ron Cowan benefits. So why as a citizen of Alameda should I want Ron Cowan to benefit at the expense of my self and other taxpayers. Profit is one thing but screwing the taxpayers is another.
    Michael if you prefer developers to citizens then you are either a developer or a fool. Michael I spent 8 and 1/2 years on the planning board trying to keep developers from stealing everything that wasn’t tied down, I don’t recall ever hearing from you one way or another at that time.

    No sob story here, because Ron Cowan wants to build 112 homes where we now have a golf course, don’t make any sense to me.

    Michael, this isn’t in the belief that growth is bad, its the belief that there are projects that can be beneficial to all the citizens and not just the developer. In this case the only person that will benefit from this project would be Row Cowan, I would like to see a project that was good for all the citizens of Alameda.

Leave a comment!

Add your comment below, or trackback from your own site. You can also subscribe to these comments via RSS.

Be nice. Keep it clean. Stay on topic. No spam.

You can use these tags:
<a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <s> <strike> <strong>

This is a Gravatar-enabled weblog. To get your own globally-recognized-avatar, please register at Gravatar.