Development at the Point Divides Candidates in Alameda

Choosing the right path forward is the main issue in the city's mayoral and council races.

In Alameda, five people, including three sitting councilmembers, are vying for the mayor’s chair being vacated by Beverly Johnson. Eight more are seeking one of two open council seats. But when all is said and done, Alameda voters could find the same five faces staring out at them from the dais.

Sitting councilmembers Marie Gilmore, Doug deHaan, and Frank Matarrese all hope to wake up as mayor-elect on November 3, as do former councilman Tony Daysog and perennial candidate (and professional clown) Kenneth Kahn. The list of council candidates includes Mayor Johnson, Councilwoman Lena Tam, businessman Adam Gillitt, Board of Education Trustee Tracy Jensen, Planning Board president Marilyn Ezzy Ashcraft, Health Care District Board trustee Rob Bonta, open-space activist Jean Sweeney, and former Alameda Journal editor Jeff Mitchell.

Daysog said the redevelopment of Alameda Point is his top concern, while the three other major mayoral candidates — Gilmore, deHaan and Matarrese — listed Alameda’s schools as a top priority. Meanwhile, most council candidates said redeveloping the point, attracting business, and keeping the city solvent were their main priorities.

Voters are most likely interested in how mayoral and council candidates would seek to redevelop Alameda Point now that city leaders have sent the developer SunCal packing. And while the candidates have universally denounced the city’s former development partner, their paths forward on the point diverge significantly, with some advocating SunCal’s basic plan sans SunCal, and others looking to simply fix up and reuse what’s already on the base.

Daysog, 44, a planner, said he would favor a plan similar to the one SunCal proposed. He said he envisions a “beautiful, well-planned, mixed-use community” with a mix of housing types, industry, and amenities built by a private developer. And he said he would lead efforts to amend the city’s Measure A housing-density restrictions.

Council candidate Mitchell, 49, who worked with SunCal after voters rejected its development and business plan for the point at the ballot box, said he thinks the city should hire a developer to create a development similar to the transit-oriented, mixed-use one SunCal proposed — albeit “with a serious and effective traffic mitigation plan.” Tam, a 48-year-old water services manager for the East Bay Municipal Utility District, said she wanted a master-planned, transit-oriented development on the point.

Mayoral candidate Matarrese, by contrast, said he thinks the city should take full control of the point by establishing a nonprofit, city-run corporation to develop it. The 55-year-old business owner, whose second term on the council concludes this year, thinks redevelopment efforts there should focus on job-creating light industry. He said he’d look at lifting Measure A for “worthy” projects. And council candidate Jensen, 49, a senior services administrator for the City of Oakland, also supports the creation of a nonprofit local development corporation, which she sees building a mixed-use development. She said she’d let the voters decide whether to change Measure A.

Other candidates want to proceed with a mixed-used plan with less housing than SunCal hoped to build. Gilmore, a 49-year-old attorney who has sat on the council for six years, said she would have the city drive the process for creating a plan for developing the point that includes commercial projects, recreational opportunities, and a “sensible housing plan” that wouldn’t require a Measure A amendment. Attorney and council candidate Ezzy Ashcraft, 58, said she’d like the city to create a similar mixed-use plan on its own and shop it to developers to build while council candidate Bonta, 39, an attorney for the San Francisco City Attorney’s Office, said he’s interested in a city-driven plan that includes retail, an entertainment district, light industry and other businesses, open space and other amenities, and less housing than SunCal proposed. Ezzy Ashcraft would seek to change Measure A for the point and Webster Street, which city leaders are working to improve. Bonta said he’d let the voters decide whether to change it.

Meanwhile, Sweeney, a retired teacher, wants a local development corporation whose plan “recognizes the city’s traffic limits and works within those limitations.” Gillitt said he doesn’t want to see homes at the point at all, and that he’d prefer a plan that focuses on reusing the former Naval base’s existing spaces to generate income for the city.

DeHaan, a business consultant who has been on the council for six years and currently serves as the city’s vice mayor, said he thinks the community should come up with a new plan for Alameda Point.

Johnson didn’t respond to a request for comment.

With SunCal drawing accusations that it’s attempting to influence the election by running television ads and sending mailers attacking Interim City Manager Ann Marie Gallant — who has been strongly championed by Johnson in particular — candidates were almost universally quick to point out they wouldn’t be taking money from SunCal or any other developer. And some went a step further, saying they’ll only take contributions from locals. Jensen, for one, said she turned down money from friends off the island.

Gilmore and Tam took $5,000 and $2,500, respectively, from the local firefighters union, which has been at odds with Gallant over staffing and benefits. Matarrese raked in $5,000 from Assemblyman Sandré Swanson and another $3,000 from the local carpenters union. Johnson transferred more than $13,000 from her failed supervisorial bid, which had included a $10,000 donation from local developer Ron Cowan. DeHaan, by contrast, picked up a host of small, local contributions, and Bonta took contributions from friends, family members, and colleagues from all over California and other states.

Gilmore, Bonta, and Tam have picked up key endorsements, earning the nod from the local and county Democratic clubs, the Alameda Labor Council, Alameda firefighters, and others.

The city’s unfunded pension liability is another major issue on the island, with most candidates saying they’d seek to negotiate fewer benefits, at least for new employees. Daysog said he’d ask public employees to take furlough days and to switch to a 401(k) or similar plan, which private employees have. Tam and Mitchell said they would look at municipal bonds as a way to help finance the benefits.

Transparency at City Hall is also an issue. DeHaan and Johnson had pushed for new campaign finance reform rules just as candidacy papers were being filed for the November 2 race, a move some criticized as a late-game rule change that would benefit incumbents but deHaan has defended as something that Alameda needs to do in order to catch up with other Bay Area cities.

Tam wants the Sunshine Task Force she championed to continue work on a new ordinance that would make city government more open, which Mitchell — who is on the task force — has made a key element of his campaign. Jensen and Sweeney also said they’d support an ordinance.

Gillitt said he’d work on technology upgrades for the city, which faced criticism after city leaders said they destroy e-mails after thirty days because they don’t have the computer storage space to retain them for longer. And Gilmore, Ezzy Ashcraft, Mitchell, and Bonta said they’d work to make council meetings — which often extend into the wee hours of the morning — end earlier, or to allow the public to weigh in earlier in those meetings.

Tam said she’s most focused on preserving Alameda’s quality of life, while Jensen said she’d like to get Alameda’s now-fractious council to start working together. After all, election season opened with the dramatic conclusion of a leaks investigation into councilwoman Tam, who was cleared by District Attorney Nancy O’Malley. It also included a nasty confrontation between council candidate Gillitt and an elderly, wheelchair-bound voter registration volunteer, although no charges were filed.

On the topic of schools, over which the mayor has little actual authority, Gilmore said she would work with the community to determine what steps need to be taken to keep schools open and class sizes small, and that she would support an “equitable” parcel tax. Matarrese and deHaan didn’t offer specifics, though Matarrese has been active in efforts to find city money to redo high school playing fields. Kahn did not respond to requests for comment.


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