Sunshine Needed on Land Swap

The news about the deal between the Alameda Unified School District (AUSD), the city of Alameda and the Alameda Housing Authority is getting some much needed attention. This deal, which has been reported to have been the subject of many closed sessions of the city council and school board, seems to be in need of some “sunshine” to get the facts out, to provide public input to the city council and school board as they give direction to staff and to preserve accessible public record of discussion, directions and decisions made by these governing bodies.

Funding the repairs and upgrades to the two public swim centers has been long awaited and it is good that the city and AUSD are working together to figure out a way to pay for facilities used by both AUSD students and a cross section of city residents. The transfer of approximately $4.6 million former redevelopment agency funding money intended for developing from the AUSD to the City of Alameda Housing Authority, despite some past hopes to provide some affordable housing for teachers, is understandable since the housing authority is in the business of providing housing and AUSD is not.

It is the land swap that really raises questions and fuels skepticism. The transfer of 6.37 acres of waterfront land from AUSD back to the city in exchange for $750,000 when compared to the reported $1.8 million bid by Tim Lewis Communities for the 3.988 acres of surplus federal property on the shoreline near Crab Cove looks out of balance.

Then there is the transfer of 12 acres at Alameda Point from the city to AUSD and the housing authority’s interest in the former Island High School site. With no published appraisals of any of the parcels in these swaps and it is any wonder that there is a clamor for answers, answers that are necessary in understanding the flow of money that will pay for pools, housing and whatever else is associated with the land being swapped. Despite this, the city council and school board have a golden opportunity to provide the details of the deal to the public.

What is missing from the picture has likely been discussed at length in closed sessions. While discussions of land deals may be held in closed session, the law does not appear to require it. In this case the owners of the property in question are all public entities, it would be in the best interest of the public for the city council, school board, and housing authority board to conduct all sessions, especially those where they are briefed or are providing direction to staff in open meetings.

The public will be given the opportunity to question and comment and there will be a public record to the proceedings preserved and accessible to the public.

The benefit of opening all city council, housing authority board and school board discussions related to this land swap to the public far outweigh any risk to the deals between the city, the housing authority and AUSD.

Frank Matarrese is a former City Councilman.