Council Sets Initiative Date

After listening to almost two hours of community input and advice from City Attorney Terri Highsmith and City Clerk Laura Weisiger, the city council voted to put the SunCal initiative on the Feb. 2, 2010 ballot.

Councilmen Frank Matarrese and Doug DeHaan joined Mayor Beverly Johnson in voting "yes." Citing the potential cost to the city, Councilwoman Lena Tam voted "no." She called paying for the election "fiscally irresponsible." Councilwoman Marie Gilmore agreed with Tam saying that the city could have found a creative, legal way to put the initiative on the ballot; she abstained from voting.

"We need to get on with this and follow the law," Johnson said just before the vote.

The developer's plan requires voter approval because it does not comply with Alameda's Measure A, which prohibits multiple-dwelling units in the city.

"There shall be no multiple dwelling units built in the city of Alameda," the measure said when the voters passed it in 1973. In 1991 voters amended Measure A to read, "The maximum density for any residential development within the city of Alameda shall be one housing unit per 2,000 square feet of land."

HOMES, an Alameda citizens group, has come out in favor of modifying Measure A once again, saying on its Web site that it believes that "it is essential to Alameda's future to create vibrant mixed use, pedestrian and transit-oriented neighborhoods, enjoyable public spaces and a housing/jobs balance in the city."

"HOMES says that in order to accomplish this, "City Charter Article XXVI (Measure A) must be modified at Alameda Point. Alameda needs to build a variety of housing economically available to all residents."

David Howard of Save Our City Alameda fears that any exemption made for Alameda Point would spread to the rest of the city. "As for Measure A, although the initiative provides an exemption only for Alameda Point, the argument is that it sets a precedent in Alameda and the momentum for undoing Measure A all across Alameda," he wrote in a letter to the Alameda Sun. "We encourage residents to be informed before they vote."

In a memorandum to the council, Weisiger said that she estimated the cost of the election to run between $235,000 to $325,000. This figure does not take into account the cost of printing the 200-plus-page ballot measure, which the city must make available to any voter who requests it. It remains unclear whether the city or SunCal will pick up the tab for the election or for printing costs.

Mayor Beverly Johnson and Councilman Frank Matarrese have both voiced their opposition to the initiative. "I believe that the SunCal initiative will have devastating financial impacts on the city," Johnson said.

The mayor says that she strongly supports development at Alameda Point. She also says that she intends to ask city staff to make a public presentation on the initiative at a city council meeting to ensure that the council and the public thoroughly understand the initiative's provisions.

"Although I publicly endorsed the SunCal initiative this last May, circumstances have changed dramatically since then," Matarrese said. "These recent events have raised serious issues about the agreement in the initiative that is about to be placed on the ballot." He calls SunCal's cap of $200 million to pay for stated public benefits at Alameda Point "woefully inadequate."

Matarrese points to the Obama administration's September decision to not support a no-cost conveyance for closed bases and says that Alameda Point's $108.5 million conveyance fee "likely makes the project financially untenable."

In addition to the mayor and Matarrese both the Alameda Chamber of Commerce and the Alameda Architectural Preservation Society have voiced their opposition to the initiative.

"It's very important for Alameda citizens to know that this Revitalization Initiative threatens significant Alameda historic resources with unnecessary destruction and alteration of facilities and homes at Alameda Point," AAPS said in a letter voicing its opposition.

"We like SunCal's ambitious plan to develop Alameda Point, but we don't like this initiative process," Chamber Board President Blake Brydon was quoted as saying in a press release issued after the board voted to oppose the measure. He said the chamber thinks the measure would create "a long-term financial risk for businesses and residents."

In a letter to Interim City Manager Ann Marie Gallant, SunCal's Pat Keliher tried to reassure the city of his company's commitment.

He says that the developer will draw up legally binding agreements to commit funds in excess of the $200 million cap on public benefits and consent to additional property taxes to assure that construction, operation and maintenance costs are covered.

The voters will decide Alameda Point's future next February.


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