At 11 p.m. sharp, Alameda council meeting abruptly adjourns with no decision on ballot measure

ALAMEDA CITY COUNCIL
As the clock inched toward 11 p.m. Tuesday night, Alameda councilmembers not only were concentrating on a decision whether to place a $95 million bond measure on the June ballot, they were also racing against time.

The city’s sunshine ordinance requires the council to vote on whether to extend regular meetings past 10:30 p.m. But with a lengthy discussion on the proposed bond measure intending to aid Alameda’s ailing infrastructure still longing for a resolution, the majority of the council voted against extending the meeting past 11 p.m., thereby, likely scuttling placement of the bond measure on the June ballot.

“I guess we’re not doing this in June,” said Councilmember Frank Matarrese.

Four of the five members of the council, though, found considerable problems with the proposed measure, including a lack of specificity in how exactly the city would use the bond measure’s anticipated proceeds.

Led by Councilmember Malia Vella, the council also questioned whether funding from the proposed measure could be used at Alameda Point. Long-standing fiscal neutrality rules require developers building at the former Naval Air Station to foot the bill for infrastructure upgrades.

Councilmember Jim Oddie noted the roughly 25-year promise that Alamedans would never foot the bill for Alameda Point’s infrastructure, “but now we’re being asked to make a decision in 15 minutes.”

What ensued was yet another comical moment of meeting mismanagement inside the Alameda City Council chambers, a hearing that ostensibly covered only the proposed bond measure.

At around 10:58 p.m., some council members rushed to find a way to extend the discussion to another day. As time ticked away, it was unclear whether a decision had been made or whether the ballot measure had died on the vine, at least, for this June.

At 11:01, an attempt by Councilmember Marilyn Ezzy Ashcraft to finalize another meeting date for the issue was abruptly rebuffed by Mayor Trish Herrera Spencer as she rapped the gavel to the dais and adjourned the meeting. Alameda City Manager Jill Keimach reportedly left the chambers in anger.

“I felt jammed up,” Oddie said afterward. “I thought more due diligence was needed on this or we risk being dishonest with taxpayers.”

Even if the meeting was extended Tuesday night, it is likely the bond measure item still had quite a bit of fine-tuning to be done before it was ready to be placed before voters. The deadline for candidates and municipalities to qualify ballot measures in June is Mar. 9. Tuesday’s meeting was the last regular meeting before that deadline. (A second reading is required at a subsequent meeting for final passage.)

Despite all of that, the council still had not discussed a number of somewhat perfunctory ballot questions, such as, a debate on whether June or November was more suitable for this particularly bond measure. Earlier testimony from the city’s consultant suggested the ballot measure language proposed by the city needed improvement.

Polling from the same consultant was also concerning. Just 66 percent of likely Alameda primary voters supported the measure, which needs a two-thirds majority for passage. In addition, support dwindled as the pollster gave respondents additional information about the measure. Support in the range of 75 percent is typically a good indicator of success at the ballot box.

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