City Council Must Stand for Bay Farm
Now that there is a full slate of candidates for City Hall elections, which of them is going to stand up for Bay Farm and be our a voice in Alameda politics?
They should be falling over each other to court our votes. Bay Farm is one of the biggest, most consistent voting blocks in Alameda. Nearly every candidate to win the popular vote in Bay Farm has also won the city-wide general election.
Plus, Bay Farm has a unifying issue.
For the third time since 2007, Ron Cowan and his company, Harbor Bay Isle Associates (HBIA), want to develop something. First, they wanted to put homes in the business park. Then, it was homes on the golf course. Now, it is homes over the very recreation center they proposed for the community.
HBIA has even proposed a hotel down the street from Amelia Earhart Elementary School (the largest elementary school in Alameda). There is also talk at City Hall about opening Island Drive to the business park, but no discussion about improving the flow of existing traffic.
This absurd cycle of repetition could go away if City Hall just told HBIA to knock it off. HBIA also sued the city four times since the 1970s (and never won).
Unfortunately, no elected member at City Hall lives in Bay Farm. Not a one of them knows what it is like to deal with HBIA on a near constant basis. I have dealt with this company twice since buying my house in 2010.
The really frustrating thing is that every current and future elected member at City Hall needs the votes from Bay Farm to win election. And I mean they literally need our votes.
No City Council winner since 2002 has lost the popular vote in Bay Farm and then won the general election, according to the Alameda County Registrar of Voters. Win the popular vote in Bay Farm and odds are very, very good that the candidate will win the general election.
Just ask Mayor Marie Gilmore. Bay Farm voters accounted for 24 percent of all her votes in both elections for City Council (2004 and 2008). We were 22 percent of her total votes when she ran for mayor in 2010.
Or ask Councilman Tony Daysog. Bay Farm accounted for 29 percent of his votes in 2002 and 20 percent in 2012.
Former Councilman and current candidate Frank Matarrese is another good example. Bay Farm was 24 percent of his votes in 2002 and 25 percent in 2006.
The reason for Bay Farm’s influence is simple: We vote.
Bay Farm voter turnout has averaged 73 percent in every City Council election since 2002, compared just 70 percent for the rest of Alameda, according to the Registrar of Voters.
In the last City Council election, Bay Farm residents were 21 percent of total votes despite being just 18 percent of the total population in Alameda, according the Registrar and the U.S. Census Bureau.
Bay Farm gets City Council members elected. Yet, we have no voice.
Part of that reason is the city charter. It allows for general representation compared to specific district representation.
That makes it possible for a City Council member to publically identify with a specific area of Alameda, but be responsible for representing the interests of all residents.
This style of general representation inherently limits equal representation at City Hall for all Alameda residents. The reality is the City Council has the authority to speak for us, but is not directly responsible to any of us.
The real question is how much longer Bay Farm will lack representation? There are nearly 30 homeowners’ associations in the community with built-in communication networks and regular elections for HOA board seats.
Bay Farm is a great place to live, because we share common interests. We care about our families, schools and neighborhoods regardless of our backgrounds or ethnicities.
We also care about decisions at City Hall and how they impact us. One candidate for City Council has already flaunted his disdain for Bay Farm at his election kick-off. The other candidates should not be so naïve.
Tim Coffey is a resident of Bay Farm, member of Harbor Bay Neighbors and board member of an Alameda-based non-profit.