Alameda Point was going to be the largest housing development that the East Bay had seen in years — certainly the biggest on this side of the hills since the 1970s. The 4,000-plus homes proposed for the former Naval Air Station would have housed about 10,000 residents. But last week, the Alameda City Council snuffed out plans for the new mini-city on the island when it voted to kill its deal with private developer SunCal. The 4-0 vote also ended an often-contentious relationship with the Orange County developer that in recent weeks even included allegations of illegal wrongdoing.
In truth, the beginning of the end for SunCal’s grandiose plans came in February when 85 percent of Alameda voters rejected the developer’s ballot measure. SunCal, already rocked by the bankruptcy of its financial partner, Lehman Brothers, had attempted to make an end-run around the normal negotiating process with the city by asking voters to approve everything that the company wanted for Alameda Point. The decision failed miserably.
A contrite SunCal then attempted to resurrect its housing proposal with the wary city council. But after the ballot-measure debacle, the company only had one sure-vote on the council — Lena Tam. Then that support unraveled earlier this month when Tam became embroiled in a red-hot controversy.
Alameda Interim City Manager Anna Marie Gallant and Alameda City Attorney Teresa Highsmith had begun to suspect this spring that Tam was leaking confidential city information to SunCal, in violation of state law. So they hired an outside lawyer to investigate. The lawyer concluded that Tam had illegally leaked information to SunCal via e-mail, thereby harming the city’s negotiating position with the developer. City officials asked the Alameda County District Attorney’s Office to impanel a criminal grand jury and possibly oust Tam from office.
Tam immediately claimed that the investigation was politically motivated because she had been critical of Gallant and Highsmith and because she’s running for reelection this year. SunCal, meanwhile, alleged that Gallant had opposed its Alameda Point development for more than a year and that the Tam investigation was a smokescreen designed to kill its plans. The company said it was Gallant who should be investigated.
In the end, Tam abstained from voting on ending the city’s exclusive negotiating agreement with SunCal last week. But Tam didn’t cite the probe into her actions as a reason for not casting a vote. Instead, she said she wanted to see SunCal’s final offer, submitted only days before the vote, before making a decision, according to the respected Alameda blog The Island. As for SunCal, it likely will file a lawsuit against the city, which now plans to review its options on what to do with the former Navy base.
Silicon Valley of Pot
In an effort to turn Oakland into the Silicon Valley of medical cannabis, the Oakland City Council voted last week to award permits early next year for up to four giant pot farms in the city. Oakland thus became the first city in the nation to approve the industrialization of medicinal marijuana. The council also plans to set up a permit process for mid-size growing operations after growers said the huge cannabis farms would put them out of business. The council also will ask city voters in November to levy a tax of up to 5 percent on the cultivation businesses, in an effort to cash in on the new industry.
AC Transit Sickout
Angry AC Transit bus drivers launched a sickout after the agency’s board of directors imposed a cost-cutting contract. About 20 percent of drivers failed to show up for work last week, causing bus service delays and inconveniencing riders. The bus drivers’ union contended that the board should have held off on imposing the new contract until after an arbitrator decides the dispute. But the board maintained that it needs the new contract now to achieve $15.7 million in savings for the cash-strapped agency.
Extremist Targeted the ACLU
A heavily armed right-wing extremist who fired numerous gunshots at CHP officers in Oakland allegedly told investigators that he was about to launch an attack on the ACLU and a San Francisco environmental group when he was pulled over on Interstate 580. Alameda County prosecutors charged the shooter, Byron Williams of Groveland, with four counts of attempting to murder a peace officer; he faces four possible life terms in prison.
Johannes Mehserle supporters held a rally in Walnut Creek but were outnumbered by Oscar Grant supporters in a demonstration-turned-shout-fest that remained mostly peaceful. … The number of people charged with felonies in connection with the Mehserle verdict demonstrations in Oakland rose to fourteen … The BART board of directors resurrected its controversial proposal for a $500 million tramway to Oakland airport, approving a new financing plan for the project, the San Francisco Chronicle reported. … The Oakland City Council agreed to pay $6.5 million to settle lawsuits filed over the police department’s search-warrant scandal, the Oakland Tribune reported. The cash-strapped city will have to pay $2 million while its insurance carrier will pay the other $4.5 million. … And Oakland Police Chief Anthony Batts has asked several federal law enforcement agencies to help fight crime in the city in the wake of the police layoffs, according to the Tribune.