Future of the Marina Goes Political

By Steven Tavares

A view of the San Leandro
Marina from the bay

In all her years living in the Mulford Gardens neighborhood of San Leandro, resident Audrey Albers says the current plan to redevelop the city’s marina into a housing and commercial playground is the most “unwise” things she has ever seen in the city

The neighborhood, which abuts the marina and whose main entrance to the shoreline area cuts through it, have formed a small, but rising voice in the decades-long quest to make the scenic land profitable, or, at the very least, self-sustaining.

“We’ve been having this conversation for just about 50 years,” said San Leandro Mayor Tony Santos. “The difference now, is with our budget we can’t be losing money every year on the marina. It needs to pay for itself.”

A citizens advisory committee of 33 residents was set up nearly 2 years ago to formulate and study various plans to make the marina more of a destination, in addition to its lush recreational park. Over 18 months and 6 different plans, the marina’s developer Cal Coast Companies, LLC unveiled in July its latest plan which included vastly more commercial office and parking structures and likely choice single-family homes and townhouses placed closer to the existing nine-hole golf course.

The current marina set-up includes the Marina Inn and two stand-alone restaurants. The current working plan would vastly expand the amenities and profile of the marina with the following:

40,000 sq. ft. office/retail
2 new restaurants
250,000 sq. ft. office building
3 story parking garage
200 room hotel with 15,000 sq. ft. conference center
2 story retail building
Over 150 town homes, single family homes, flats

This is not the first time the question of the marina has popped up during the election season. During Santos’ successful run for mayor in 2006 the issue of the marina was also a hot politically along with controversial and expensive dredging of the harbor later paid mostly with federal funds. With the mayoral and city council elections just two months away the question of the marina is again rising as a campaign issue.

Members of the Mulford Garden’s Improvement Association have raised its profile in an attempt to stop the current plan. A recent flyer asks “Save our San Leandro Marina” while deriding the plan for, among other things, its lack of a harbor, additional high density housing and increased traffic on Marina Boulevard. “The Marina is Zoned for recreation,” says the flyer. “It should stay that way!” The group’s web site Save the Marina features a quotation from Santos stating his desire to redevelop the marina and referencing his re-election this November, “We are going to develop the Marina in my time and we are going to fast track it,” says the site.

At last week’s Mulford Gardens homeowners meeting, Albers said she does not believe the current plan will entice people to the shoreline. “Nobody is going to drive down to the marina to go see a bunch of office buildings,” she said.  Albers is also a member of the Shoreline CAC. Another member of the CAC, who wanted their name withheld, believes Albers and a few others make up a small minority of the committee which meets Sept. 15, 7 p.m. at the Marina Inn.

The group’s monthly meeting Aug. 31 featured mayoral candidate Stephen Cassidy, who supported the neighborhood’s positions, but also supported responsible and transparent government in the process. “The goal here is we want responsible development for the marina,” said Cassidy. “We want more than Horatio’s and El Torito.”

Cassidy’s statements regarding transparency hit a chord with some members of the audience who knew little of the city’s possible plans for the marina. In a likely play for those possibly disaffected voters Cassidy said, “Government can’t succeed if it doesn’t have the trust of the public.”

Santos, who was also in attendance for Cassidy’s speech, along with another challenger, Sara Mestas, fielded questions about the committee’s activity leading to the sixth iteration of the marina plan last July and disagreed with the assertion any plans were made outside of the public perusal. “I have made public transparency the hallmark of my time in the mayor’s office,” Santos said afterwards and noted all public meetings have been posted around town and on the city’s web site. Files of PowerPoint presentations and diagrams of past plans have also been posted, he said.

At times, some homeowners did did not appear well-versed in the basics of civic government. A woman asked Santos why six councilmembers and the mayor would decide the fate of the marina and not the public. Another was given a crash course in the different types of public meetings and most were unaware the city’s November election would feature Ranked Choice Voting.

In his speech, Cassidy called for more community involvement from the three neighorhoods surrounding the marina and asked for an advisory vote by citizens for the eventually final proposal. In a slight to Santos, he also called for a “neutral” chair for the Shoreline Committee. The current chair is long-time Santos supporter Kent Myers.

While the current proposal from Cal Coast is a robust selection of office buildings and housing any feature plans will likely be the byproduct of more public vetting than at any time in the past 18 months. “We need a plan,” said Cassidy, “that works for developers, the city and residents.”

UPDATE: Sept. 8, 12:00 a.m. correction made. should have read “did not.”