Development project in Alameda escapes mayor’s bid to repeal

ALAMEDA CITY COUNCIL | In an early defeat for her administration built upon a slow growth agenda, Mayor Trish Spencer’s proposal to repeal the Alameda City Council’s decision last month approving the Del Monte Warehouse project, a 380-unit housing and commercial development on its northern waterfront, was unanimously voted down.

Spencer, who built her successful campaign on concerns some Alamedans have about additional housing and traffic, in fact, voted against the item which she requested to be included on Tuesday night’s agenda.

After the long meeting, Spencer said she added the repeal ordinance to the agenda because of the short time frame allowed for reconsideration following the previous council’s approval in December.

“We have a very short time to decide if we want to entertain a repeal and this is only way for us to have that conversation, as far as I know,” said Spencer. “I didn’t know where I was going to land on it. I wanted the council to have the opportunity to look at the question.”

When asked if she viewed the failed ordinance as a defeat, she said, “I actually don’t consider this a loss because I think I did the right thing to put it on the agenda because if I hadn’t done it we would have never had this discussion.”

Aside from a repeal of the highly-vetted project, the most significant takeaway for slow growth activists may have come from a request laid out in Councilmember Frank Matarrese’s motion asking city staff to provide an evaluation of the density bonus ordinance for future planned developments. The request was approved by the council. City Manager John Russo said the report will be due in 45 days.

Matarrese, who like Spencer, ran on a platform questioning the pace of development in Alameda and at one point appeared to be voicing approval for the repeal Monday night, also asked for a moratorium on density bonuses Monday night, but such a decision must be first agendized before the council can discuss and vote on the issue. Not including the additional influx of housing coming to Alameda Point, Matarrese said he wants to avoid “gridlocking the entire west end of Alameda.”

Councilmembers Marilyn Ezzy Ashcraft and Jim Oddie, in addition, to numerous public speakers, voiced skepticism over what exactly was the rationale for repealing the Del Monte project. A representative from the League of Women Voters also faulted the city for providing to the public scant information about the agenda.

Spencer laid the blame on city staff. She told the East Bay Citizen “It goes to staff. It sounds like this is another issue that has happened in the past,” Spencer said of the lack of supporting information provided. “I kind of get the impression from what council members are saying, that as much as we’re trying to be respectful to staff, that we think staff can do a better job,” she added.

The city’s exposure to a lawsuit following a potential repeal was also a determining factor for a majority of the council. “This is high-stakes stuff,” said Councilmember Tony Daysog, while referencing examples of other cities who had repealed large developments with dire financial ramifications later.

The political and economic perception to investors interested in bringing business to Alameda following a repeal also featured prominently in the discussion. Businesses wants certainty from city government, said Oddie. “What does this say? Alameda can’t be counted on? That we are fickle and will change our mind?” He added, “I don’t think the case has been to open this up and look at it again.”