The Alameda County Board of Supervisor denied the appeal of the 163-unit San Lorenzo Village Green market-rate housing development, moving forward with a project that has received wide support in the unincorporated area.
But while the appeal by various trade unions was made on the grounds of environmental concerns, most of discourse Tuesday afternoon revolved around a push by the unions to extract labor agreements from the developer and a desire by some supervisors to again postpone a vote on the project, a move that angered Alameda County Supervisor Wilma Chan, who represents the area.
Alameda County Supervisors Richard Valle and Nate Miley attempted to nudge the developer toward one last meeting with the unions to reach a labor agreement before voting on the project. A vote on the San Lorenzo Village Green had been twice postponed since the spring.
I feel very disrespected.-Alameda County Supervisor Wilma Chan to Supervisor Nate Miley at the July 23 Board of Supervisors meeting
“Even though it’s been stated that no further negotiations can take place, I don’t necessarily beleive that,” Miley said. “I do think we can squeeze a few more community benefits out of this before we have to take the vote.”
After several union representatives acknowledged talks had reached an impasse, Valle asked the devloper Terry Demmon to meet with them one more time. Dedmon obliged. However, when asked later by Chan about the propsects of a deal being made, Demmon replied there is “zero chance I change my mind. I just can’t bend anymore.” In fact, Demmon had agreed to labor agreements with two of the four unions prior to Tuesday’s meeting. He stated willingness to reach an agreement with the other two unions if their offer is within 10 percent of the lowest bid.
Miley’s persistence in postponing the vote angered Chan. She tore into him for violating an unwritten rule that says boardmembers should shy away from opposing projects that are supported by the supervisor in their own district.
Without saying Miley’s name, Chan, nonetheless, directed her comments at Miley, referencing her past support for various projects in his district. “I always take into account that the supervisor who represents that distict has done their groundwork and knows their commnity well,” Chan said.
She appeared to become even more upset at any suggestion that her vote for the project represented a slight to union labor. “You all know that I’m a strong supporter of labor on this board. There is no question about that,” she said.
“I ask you to give me the same type of respect that I have given every supervisor on this board for the nine years that have served here. I feel very disrespected.” She added, “There is absolutely no reason and no plus in postponing this for two weeks.”
For a board long-known to play to a hard-nosed brand of politics, the tongue-lashing Chan gave some of her colleagues Tuesday was one of the most ferocious by any supervisor in years. Miley and Valle appeared stunned by the takedown. “I appreciate the candor,” Valled said, stoically.
Miley said he would support Chan, but continued to push for a postponement in order to extract additional community benefits from the developer. “If it were my district, I would probably push that develper a little further.”
The decision was 3-1, with Valle voting no. Supervisor Scott Haggerty was absent from the vote.
The San Lorenzo Village Green is to be constructed on the old Mervyn’s site on Hesperian Boulevard that has been a vacant lot for more than two decades. Various proposals to develop the area with housing and retail have failed over the years to the consternation of San Lorenzo residents. The vacant lot had become a symbol for some in San Lorenzo for the county’s indifference toward the unincoproated area. A similar sentiment exists in nearby Ashland, Cherryland, and Fairview, where development is scant and poverty is growing.
But in a time when large housing developements are routinely opposed by neighborhood groups for increasing traffic, and reducing parking, among other complaints, there was little opposition to the Village Green project, which will also added 11,500 sq. ft. of retail to the area. The developer also plans to refurbish signage on the historical Lorenzo Theater across the street from the project.
Much of the opposition to the project, though, came from construction and trade unions who were seeking to sign labor agreements with the developer. The appeal heard by the Board of Supervisors Tuesday was made a group calling itself Alameda County Residents for Responsible Development. In the appeal they argued the project’s environmental review was flawed and construction would increase the risk of cancer for neighbors..
But the group is mainly backed by the construction and trade unions and is actually more AstroTurf than grassroots. The unions have used the same moniker to gain labor agreeements in other areas, such as Oakland and Contra Costa County. Aside from a presentation on the merits of the appeal by the proponent, very little of the discussion made mention of enviromental concerns.