Caring for Wildlife Is Our Business, Too
At the insistence of Vice Mayor Frank Matarrese, with the support of Mayor Trish Spencer, there will be a written contract between the city and the Water Emergency Transportation Authority (WETA) that ensures a new dock will be built for the harbor seals that rest at Alameda Point. The existing haul out will be destroyed to make way for WETA’s ferry maintenance facility.
Advocates for the seals didn’t think a contract was much to ask for and neither did WETA. But Councilmembers Jim Oddie, Marilyn Ezzy Ashcraft, and Tony Daysog saw the simple request as tantamount to killing the project, even going as far as pitting wildlife against jobs.
"There are two competing values," said Oddie. "We have to weigh those competing values and weigh which one is more important. On the one side we have the hundred jobs created in Alameda. Then on the other hand we have our concern for wildlife and the environment." He continued, "I’m prepared to support it [the project] and move forward today."
Ashcraft and Daysog agreed that the city wanted to send the message that we’re open for business (as if making sure another dock gets built would prevent that). Daysog even said that the city, not WETA, should pay for the replacement dock.
Oddie and Ashcraft said they trusted that WETA would build a dock without a written assurance. Daysog said he trusted the city to build it. Matarrese didn’t see it as a matter of trust, but as a business transaction.
Matarrese couldn’t see any problem with including a provision in the lease for building a replacement dock, considering the agency had already made a verbal promise to build it. Mayor Spencer said the provision should have been easy to include and wondered why it had become so complicated.
Kevin Connolly, WETA’s manager of planning and development, didn’t waste any time setting the record straight. Emphasizing that WETA is "more than happy" to promise it in writing, Connolly said, "Money is not the issue. We are spending $50 million. … We provided an MOU (memorandum of understanding) to the city with the hopes that it could come to you tonight, but the city had reservations about that moving forward. If those reservations can be overcome on the city level, we’re happy to execute that. But really, on our side, we were prepared."
Seeing that its lease might not have been approved for lack of four votes, city staff regrouped and came back saying Matarrese’s requested contract, known as a memorandum of understanding, would return for approval at the next meeting. If the council is not satisfied with it, then the council can opt to not approve the lease.
The proposed MOU says WETA will provide $100,000 for designing, building, permitting and delivery of a harbor seal haul out. In addition, WETA will maintain the haul out and replace it when necessary for the next 60 years.
Thanks to the leadership of Matarrese, the city and WETA will be able to codify steps to protect the harbor seal habitat at Alameda Point when the City Council approves going forward at its March 17 meeting. No false choice here. Staff and elected officials change, but binding contracts stand. Matarrese listened to concerns and worked to achieve wildlife protection and economic development at the same time.
Yes, we are open for business at Alameda Point. Wildlife is our business, too.
Richard Bangert is Alameda Point’s guardian angel. Check out his blog at https://alamedapointenvironmentalreport.wordpress.com.