Alameda Point: Municipal Intent

I left last night’s joint meeting of the city council and school board at 10:30, right as public comment was beginning, you’re reading that right, public comment didn’t start until 3.5 hours into the meeting.

The key moment in the meeting came right before the public comment, when Pat Keliher had explained that SunCal’s intention in writing the initiative was that the Alameda Point TDM program is separate from the Public Benefits package (something I would argue is correct based on the fact that they are separately called out in the initiative) and Alameda’s Public Works Director Matt Naclerio said he disagreed. At that moment, City Manager Ann Marie Gallant summed up the difference as “the problem is the intent and the initiative language are two different things, and we opted to go with what the initiative language says.”

This is really important. First, she’s absolutely correct, and at the same time, she set up a completely false premise, one that says the City’s analysis is not an opinion, and very pessimistic one at that, but an arguable piece of fact. It was reminiscent of the election date scheduling meeting, where the City Attorney presented a vague, complex legal opinion as “the only reading there is,” even though there was no way to be definitive in that case.

Gallant is correct that anyplace where the initiative sets out clear language, the initiative is the ruling document of the day. But she starts to veer into disingenuousness when she presents the election analysis as some sort of “this is what will happen” every time they found the language to be vague or unspecific. In that sense, the city has taken on the role of NIMBY, whereby any argument that can be found, no matter how small the possibility, becomes the ruling fact.

Which is not to say that the City’s election reports are wrong, just that they are presenting a single reading, a “worst-case scenario” if the City Council (and City Manager) turn out to be the worst negotiators in the world.

The Public Benefits discussion is a case in point. SunCal’s argument in defense of the $200 million cap is: 1) The city is including project infrastructure costs that SunCal does not consider Project Benefits, 2) that the cap refers to “hard costs” not including “soft costs” like contingencies, plan review, etc. and 3) that the Public Benefits are separate from the TDM program. Adding “We’ve given you this information in writing.” All of this is consistent with the initiative.

The City’s response is: “The initiative isn’t specific in those areas, so we assume that all of those costs are a part of the public benefits,” a position that is also consistent with the initiative.

The problem, as I see it, is that both views are valid and will be resolved through negotiations of the DDA, where SunCal’s written assurances of what is and isn’t a Public Benefit will have actual weight and legal meaning. Yet the city is promulgating the fiction that only their point of view, which is the worstest case in the world scenario, is valid, and have written a document that does nothing to acknowledge this.

Now don’t get me wrong, the city is doing its due diligence in presenting “what could possibly go wrong.” But they would also be that if they had just presented what they wrote initially, that because of the vagueness of the language, it’s possible that the $200 million cap will not cover all the costs. Instead, they decided to go a step further and define a range for their pessimistic world view and then choose the biggest end of the range as “our number of what those costs will be.” No gray room, no doubt, despite the fact that there is a lot of doubt.

For another day, we can discuss Frank Matarrese defending the “no on B’s” $500 million shortfall number as valid, the way he jumped on it, I wonder if he isn’t the one who developed it. On the day he announced he was running for mayor, it was a real low point showing he either has a hard time with financial numbers (I don’t think so) or he’s willing to stretch his credibility with numbers that not even the City Manager is willing to accept. It was a real disappointment.