Hail and farewell!
- Wednesday, November 07 2012
Congratulations and best wishes to Marilyn Ezzy Ashcraft and Tony Daysog on their election to City Council and to Stewart Chen for winning the third seat.
Bless 'em all
- Tuesday, November 06 2012
Now the campaign has come to an end, and, before the votes are counted, I wanted to thank the many people who supported my candidacy.
I am a novice at running for political office. At the outset, I knew that I could not expect the political and labor establishment to finance my campaign. And they haven’t. Likewise, I was not willing to spend my own money to hire political consultants to gin up a sales pitch for me. (In 2010, one Council candidate contributed $46,300 to her own campaign, of which $15,000 went for political consulting fees. She came in fifth).
I hoped that my long-time friends and those who toiled beside me in the trenches during the golf wars would support me financially. And they did. But, thanks mostly to people like Bill and Chris Schmitz, my tireless fundraisers, a host of Alamedans whom I’ve never met also contributed to my campaign. The result is that I ended up raising more money from Alameda residents than any other candidate.
Never having run a campaign, I sought and received advice about such essentials as lawn signs, mailers, and walking precincts from current and past officeholders like Doug deHaan, Lil Arnerich, and Karin Lucas. None of them – well, Lil maybe – tried to impose their political opinions on me. Politically savvy friends like Gretchen Lipow, Kathy Schumacher and Emil Radoff also gave me tips – and, more importantly, talked me up to their “networks.” Pam Curtis (with the help of Cece Pereira), Margot Gibson, Nancy Hird, and Karin Lucas arranged get-togethers for me at their homes. (I especially thank Nancy, who couldn’t be present herself because she had to fly back East to be with her ailing daughter). Nadine Barbera interjected an endorsement for me in her thank-you speech at her and Andy’s 50th wedding anniversary party. Those gorgeous photos of me on my campaign mailer were taken by Margot. And my newest friend and supporter, Wendell Stewart, met me at the Farmer’s Market on Saturday and immediately offered to drive me around town in his Model T – festooned with my signs – on Sunday and Monday. That was really fun.
But it wasn’t just my friends who helped me with the campaign. Several times, I got calls or emails from people I didn’t know who had heard me speak or read my Website and who decided I was someone worthy of advice and support. As far as I can tell, none of these people had an axe to grind (or kept it well-hidden). Instead, they volunteered to share their knowledge and insights about the issues that concerned us both. I always accepted the offer and I always learned something. I will keep the identities of these people confidential to spare them from being targeted in the blogosphere for contributing to my ignorance of the party line.
In addition, City staff, including City Manager John Russo, City Treasurer Kevin Kennedy, and Alameda Point Chief Operating Officer Jennifer Ott, took time to talk with me about the City budget and Alameda Point. City Clerk Lara Weisiger always responded pleasantly, and promptly, to the barrage of requests from Bob for public documents that had not made it onto the City’s Website. Mayor Marie Gilmore and Council members Beverly Johnson and Lena Tam graciously met me for coffee to discuss City issues.
As a former high school debater, I was expecting to enjoy speaking at candidate forums, and I did. Without exception, all of my fellow candidates were cordial and respectful of each other’s views. But perhaps my favorite campaign activity was going around town in the morning to elementary schools and handing out my “palm cards” to parents who had just dropped off their kids at school. At first, I feared my presence might be regarded as an intrusion, but it turned out that virtually everyone greeted me with a smile and some even lingered to chat about the issues they cared about.
Finally, as I noted on the biography page, my husband, Bob, was not enamored of the idea of me running for Council. Nevertheless, he agreed to serve as my researcher and speechwriter as long as I promised not to use the words “vibrant,” “sustainable” or “transparent” – or any similar buzzwords – on the stump. I kept my promise, and he kept his, and then some. There is absolutely no way I could have done this without him.
When I decided to begin this great and noble undertaking, I knew I had not followed the conventional path to a seat on Council. I had not held multiple elected or appointed offices. I had not joined numerous civic organizations. I couldn’t tell Don Perata from Donald Trump. The only approach available to me was to stick to the facts and tell people what I thought about the vital issues facing our City. Exalting substance over shibboleths may well turn out to have been a mistake. But that’s the kind of campaign I chose to run. I could do no other.
Plans for the Point
- Friday, November 02 2012
Last month, City Council approved – with my wholehearted support – moving forward with a basewide environmental impact report and a master infrastructure plan for Alameda Point. The work product should reach Council sometime next year. Around the same time, the results of two other less well known but equally important planning efforts may also come before Council: proposed zoning amendments governing the entire Point as well as a specific plan for a “Waterfront Town Center.”
Amending a zoning ordinance may sound like just cleaning up the books. And the draft ordinance prepared by City staff performs that function. But the zoning amendments proposed by staff for the Point are more far-reaching than mere clean-up: they lay out a framework for defining which land uses are permitted or prohibited in what areas. Any future reuse and redevelopment must take place within that framework.
Let me give everyone a heads-up:
The draft ordinance prepared by City staff for presentation to the Planning Board on May 24 proposed dividing the Point into six sub-districts: AP Town Center, AP Residential, AP Adaptive Reuse Employment, AP Employment, AP Maritime and Visitor-Serving, and AP Open Space.
Job-creating uses are concentrated in the Adaptive Reuse Employment sub-district – which encompasses the area in the Historic District where existing commercial buildings are located – and the Employment sub-district – which includes the southeast area where the Lawrence Berkeley National Lab was supposed to go. The draft provides for Open Space along the Estuary and the Bay as well as a Maritime Visitor-Serving Center surrounding the Seaplane Lagoon and running through the middle of the Historic District.
According to the staff report, the proposed ordinance “focuses residential development” in the Residential and Town Center sub-districts, but it does not specify the total number of housing units allowed at the Point. According to the March 12 staff report, staff intended to incorporate into the ordinance the 1,425-unit cap imposed by the no-cost conveyance agreement with the Navy (See “The cost of ‘no cost’” on this blog). The meeting minutes reflect that two Planning Board members objected to including a housing cap in the ordinance, and it was omitted from the draft prepared for the May 24 meeting.
The “Residential” sub-district is located across from the Bayport development. The draft ordinance allows a “variety of housing types” in this area. The “Town Center” sub‑district runs along Atlantic Avenue westward from Main Street and around the Seaplane Lagoon. The staff report describes it as “the retail center and the ‘gateway’” to the Point. Multi-family housing is permitted in this area; single-family housing is not.
Planning for the Town Center actually has gone even further. In April, the City applied for a grant from the Metropolitan Transportation Commission to prepare a “precise plan” for a 125-acre “Waterfront Town Center” that will “include a variety of multi-family residential housing types, recreation and visitor serving uses, retail/commercial space, and maritime commercial uses concentrated within close proximity of” a transit station. Specifically, the plan provides for 400-500 housing units centered in a 25-acre area, including “significant” affordable housing, with an approximate density range of 25-60 dwelling units/acre. According to the grant application, a “critical component” of the plan will be the “development of a master Density Bonus plan that enables the development of multi-family housing in this Area, despite the limitations of Alameda Charter Amendment 21 (Measure A).”
The MTC approved a $200,000 grant for the Waterfront Town Center “precise plan” in June, but the City has not yet issued a Request for Proposals. Nor has the draft zoning ordinance been presented formally to the Planning Board. The item was placed on the Planning Board’s May 24 agenda, but then taken off, and it has not been rescheduled.
My conversations with voters during the campaign have confirmed that the issue of how much housing of what type should be allowed at the Point remains a contentious one. All interested parties should be prepared to make their views known when the draft zoning ordinance and Waterfront Town Center plan are presented to the Planning Board and Council next year. In the meantime, I hope the planning process will not detract the City from aggressively seeking job-creating businesses for the areas to be zoned for commercial use, which I continue to regard as a top priority.
A profoundly bad idea -- update
- Wednesday, October 31 2012
At Tuesday night’s sparsely attended special City Council meeting, City Manager John Russo took off the table a suggestion I previously had described as a “profoundly bad idea” for solving the City’s unfunded liabilities problem: selling Alameda Point. Although three Pension and OPEB Task Force members had endorsed a sale as a way to cover the unfunded costs of future pensions and retiree health benefits, Mr. Russo argued that it would constitute a breach of the Economic Development Conveyance Memorandum of Agreement between the City and the U.S. Navy signed in June 2000.
Right he was. The Agreement provides for a no-cost conveyance by the Navy of portions of the Alameda Naval Air Station to the City (at the time acting as ARRA). Once it has obtained title, the City is free to sell or lease the property. But Article Six of the EDC MOA provides that, “Any proceeds from a sale, lease or equivalent use of the Property . . . must be used to support long-term job creation and the economic redevelopment of, or related to, the Property.” The Article goes on to specify allowable uses of sale or lease proceeds, most of which involve infrastructure. Paying down unfunded liabilities for pensions or retiree health benefits is not on the list.
Before Mr. Russo spoke, others had echoed my prior written criticism of selling the Point to cover unfunded liabilities. Both City Treasurer Kevin Kennedy and City Auditor Kevin Kearny condemned the idea, with Mr. Kearny calling it a “joke.” Now, with Mr. Russo’s pronouncement, staff and Council can focus on more serious solutions to the unfunded liabilities problem. And we can again see Point as a challenge and an opportunity rather than as a panacea.
Staffing off the table?
- Monday, October 29 2012
City Manager John Russo has invited the public to comment at a special City Council meeting Tuesday on upcoming negotiations with the City’s public safety unions. Usually, all of the factors that determine personnel costs – salary, benefits, and staffing – are on table during collective bargaining. Unfortunately, it appears the City’s hands may be tied this time regarding one of those items: firefighter staffing.
This consequence follows from the City’s acceptance in September of a grant from the federal Department of Homeland Security to retain six firefighters who were hired under a similar grant obtained two years ago. Under the so-called SAFER program, the federal government will pay for the salary and benefits – estimated at $142,009 apiece in the first year and $151,950 apiece in the second year – for two years. But during that period no layoffs are permitted. Instead, the City must maintain not only the positions funded by the grant but also the total number of positions it declared at the time of the award. This means that if a current Fire Department employee leaves the job – for any reason -- the City must hire a replacement (at its expense). If the City violates these conditions, the grant will be terminated.
When the City applied for the latest SAFER grant, it told DHS that the Fire Department employed 97 “operational career personnel,” of which 25 were “operational officers.” Under the terms of the grant, if the City fails to maintain staffing at this level for two years, it will lose the federal money and either the City itself will have to pick up the tab for the six firefighters – or fire them.
For whatever reason, the recommendation to accept the grant was placed on Council’s consent calendar rather than the regular calendar. The minutes reflect it was approved without discussion of its implications, or, indeed, any discussion at all.
I would have handled the matter differently. As I have previously described, back in 2009, the City engaged a consulting firm – the International City/County Management Association (“ICMA”) – to analyze whether the City was providing fire protection services in a cost-effective way. Among other things, ICMA recommended restructuring the department to reduce staffing to 86 sworn personnel (78 station personnel, a chief, two deputy chiefs, and five captains). The Interim City Manager shelved the report, and, subsequently, both City staff and the firefighters’ union ridiculed it as full of flaws. But there has been no public discussion of the merits, or lack thereof, of ICMA’s recommendations. Such a discussion should have taken place before staff recommended, and Council approved, the SAFER grant with its staffing-level requirements.
Moreover, I find it puzzling, to say the least, that the City would choose to limit its ability to negotiate in this way. If the City already has committed to maintain staffing at its current levels, the only way to reduce fire personnel costs is to cut salaries or benefits. As the IAFF representatives are quick to point out, salary levels were frozen in the last two contracts. They are unlikely to jump at the chance to take pay cuts. If so, the entire burden of obtaining cost savings will fall on benefits.
I appreciate that Mr. Russo has given the public the opportunity to comment before he sits down with the unions. But I hope staff and Councilmembers will give us an inkling of where they want to go, too.