Alameda Mayor Trish Herrera Spencer’s
future planning board nominations might
face indefinite uncertainty. 

Alameda may be in the midst of a City Charter crisis. Earlier this week, two of Alameda Mayor Trish Herrera Spencer‘s nominations to the influential Planning Board were rejected by the council’s progressive majority.

Under past mayors, the periodic appointment to various boards and commissions was typically uncontroversial. But Tuesday night’s opposition to Spencer’s picks for two seats on the planning board again brought to light exactly what powers to appoint are afforded to the mayor and whether the entire ordeal is an offshoot of the divide between progressives in Alameda and the moderate to conservative nativists.

Spencer’s choices for the planning board to replace termed out members John Knox White and Lorre Zuppan found little support among council progressives Malia Vella, Jim Oddie and Marilyn Ezzy Ashcraft.

According to the City Charter, the mayor is given the power to nominate appointments, pending approval by the City Council. However, under previous mayors, the council traditionally deferred to the mayor’s decision. Over the past two years under Spencer that has not occurred, leading her supporters to label the council’s opposition as overly political.

But rarely has there been a divide in Alameda politics larger than it is today with housing. In fact, you have to go back to the early 1970s and the passage of Measure A, which significantly reduced the city’s ability to create additional housing, for a time when there was bigger chasm than today.

“I’m not naive about this and nobody else should be either,” Oddie said of the warring political sides. “Its about the battle we continue to have in Alameda. We see the same folks on certain sides line up.” He added the composition of the planning board is inextricably tied to the future of Alameda through development and urged the mayor to focus on consensus candidates for the position.

According to the council’s progressives reaction, Spencer did not seek a middle ground by nominating Ruben Tilos and Steven Gortler, and further inflamed them by nominating two additional individuals arguably more hostile to development and the cause of renters.

Later in the meeting, Spencer tabbed Patricia Lamborn and Alan Teague for the planning board. Lamborn opposed placing a hotel on the shoreline at the Harbor Bay Business Park and Teague had publicly-opposed the renters-backed Measure M1 ballot measure. The next council confrontation over their nomination will likely come in September.

Acquiescing to previous criticism, Spencer says she has made the nominating process far more transparent than in the past and attempts to bring new people into the city’s bureaucracy. She also personally interviews each applicant. Spencer also contends the current make up of board members and commissioners is more diverse in ethnicity and work experience than prior years.

Any suggestion that Spencer decided her nomination based on politics and the tastes of her base of supporters is unfounded, she said. As proof, she used her appointment two years ago of Planning Board Member David Mitchell. Subsequently, Mitchell has made clear through tweets and public comments that he does not support many of Spencer’s ideas for the city’s future. “I didn’t hear anyone oppose him,” Spencer shot back at opponents of her current slate of nominations who spoke during public comment on Tuesday night.

Meanwhile, Spencer’s latest picks for the planning board provides an interesting strategy that may develop from now to the November 2018 election season in Alameda. It’s a situation that national political watchers saw when Republicans refused to act on President Obama’s pick last year to replace Antonin Scalia on the U.S. Supreme Court.

The analogy, though, may be disadvantageous to Spencer. By nominating two candidates even further to the right of the three-person progressive council majority, as Spencer did Tuesday night, she is likely forcing them to yet again vote down her picks.

This could go on indefinitely, and while prove to her supporters that she is trying to shape Alameda in their vision, it will not force much change. That’s because if the current termed out members on the planning board are not replaced by council-approved replacements, they will merely continue, business as usual, with their duties.