by phildini on May 5, 2017
This originally appeared as a Letter to the Editor for the Alameda Sun on May 4th, 2017.
The recent article regarding the slowdown with the Alameda Point Site A project (“Point’s Developer Reaches Impasse,” April 27) does an excellent job of explaining the current state of affairs between Alameda Point Partners and the City of Alameda, but doesn’t go into a possible cause for lack of subcontractor bids and increased construction costs: uncertainty around our economic future and the effects of the current national administration.
We have already witnessed adverse effects with other projects in Alameda. As the national tax structure becomes less certain, as our economic future seems to change day-to-day, organizations across the board are becoming spooked and less willing to spend on economic growth.
The fact remains that Alameda is seeing its largest homeless population in years, that the number of empty storefronts on Park and Webster streets keeps growing, and that the there is no guarantee the national climate changes for our benefit over the next four years. I hope the City Council keeps in mind how desperately we need the housing and economic growth this project will bring when they make their decision in July.
by phildini on March 16, 2016
I think last night's Alameda City Council meeting might be my fault. Before the meeting, as I was sitting in the Council Chambers, I looked at the agenda, and tweeted:
With a total of 3 regular agenda items on tonight's #alamtg agenda, I'm hoping for an efficient meeting.
— Philip John James (@philipjohnjames) March 16, 2016
This obvsiously jinxed the whole enterprise, and I apologize to all those involved.
The meeting started out with incredible promise. Some items were pulled out of the consent calendar, like changing the city's investment strategy, and the Alameda Landing Transportation Demand Management Program. These items had some discussion, most notably Councilmember Daysog being strongly for the Alameda Landing TDM (which endears him to me), and continuing to be against the project at 2100 Clement.
The first regular item, the confirmation of members to the various city commissions and boards, also passed unanimously, without comment. Given that members were being confirmed to the Housing Authority Board of Commissioners and the Rent Review Advisory Committee, I was somewhat shocked there was no discussion from the various renters groups in Alameda. There has been months of work and comment about rent control, but no apparent interest in the people who sit on the committees overlooking housing and rent.
Then we come to the big enchilada, the two hour discussion that was both comedy and tragedy in equal measure: the Building 8 project at Alameda Point. There are some important things to know:
- Jonah Henderson, one of the chief developers on the project, is a stand-up guy. This was proved by comments from bankers, lawyers, tenants, Berkeley City Council Members, the Mayor of Berkeley, various artists, various historical committees, friends of Jonah's, and the teachers of Jonah's children. (He's apparently an amazing parent too.)*
- Mayor Trish Spencer is worried about housing. And parking. And whether we're getting enough money from the developer. And whether city staff did their due diligence. There were also multiple occasions where she indicated that the Planning Board was not public enough for the discussion at hand. (Having attended a Planning Board meeting last night, they seemed fairly public and well-managed to me.)
The discussion between councilmembers at times broke into actual barbs and interruptions, with threats from the Mayor of invoking the gavel. I have not been at enough meetings to know how serious the threat of the gavel is.
The meeting ended at 1059pm, with the last agenda item pushed to the beginning of next meeting.
Once again, my apologies for placing a jinx upon last night's city council meeting. Also, city staff: you're doing a great job. Keep it up.
*The title of this post is tongue-in-cheek. Jonah Henderson seems like a really nice guy, the litany of his awesomeness was maybe a tad much.
by phildini on March 15, 2016
Over the past couple months, it has been at times painful to watch civic discourse in Alameda. I believe the City Council has arrived at a good starting point in most of its decisions, but the path taken has often been confusing to follow.
Last night's Planning Board meeting was gust of fresh air in comparison. Two major issues were discussed by the Board: street names for the 2100 Clement Street project, and Design Review Approval for block 11, block 8, and phase 1 of the waterfront park at Alameda Point Site A.
- The Planning Board wants to put more consideration behind the street names for the 2100 Clement project. There's a worry about the current suggestions being pronounceable to the average Alamedan, as well as a worry about the appropriateness of the some of the alternates.
- The review for the design of block 11, block 8, and the waterfront park at Alameda Point Site A revolved around:
- Making sure windows are up to city code
- Close inspection of the proposed exterior construction materials
- The color of the street in the shared plaza. Earlier sketches showed a yellowish color, last night's designs had the road returning to a more street-ish gray. Based on the comments of President Knox White and others, there's going to be more thought put into this area, as many on the Board feel the street color helps dictate how the space would be used, and the apparent preference is for it to be pedestrian-focused.
- Discussion on the name of the street currently called West Atlantic, which would potentially be an extension of Ralph Appezzato Memorial Parkway. There's a concern that Alamedans already shorten that streetname to RAMP and so the board should consider naming the street Appezzato Parkway or Appezzato Boulevard.
(To that last point: Ralph Appezzato was the first Alameda Mayor I knew personally, and during these months of turmoil in Alameda civic discourse I find myself missing his presence strongly. I am immensely glad the Planning Board is doing what it can to keep his name in the memory of Alamedans.)
The Planning Board voted to approve the proposed design for the pieces of Alameda Point Site A mentioned above, and I believe the vote was unanimous. In both discussions, President Knox White and the other board members asked informed questions, voiced solid points, and arrived at conclusions that balanced a push for future improvements to Alameda with a sense of keeping Alameda's history and character.
It may seem like I am being extraordinarily complementary to the Planning Board, or that I'm being far too friendly with them. To that I would say: The Planning Board accomplished the business they came there to do, including time for public comments, and did so in less than 90 minutes.
It will be interesting to see how tonight's City Council meeting compares.
by phildini on March 11, 2016
One of the most common concerns I hear about Alameda growing as a city is the congestion at our bridges and tunnels, and the difficulty people have getting on and off the island. To me, it feels like we need a comprehensive plan that increases public transit access and thinks about access to and from Alameda in terms of the whole island and the whole region. Public transit is critical if Alamedans want to maintain the quality of life the island has to offer.
The speakers at Wednesday night's City of Alameda Democratic Club meeting agree that public transit is essential. Speakers from all the transit agencies that serve Alameda spoke in turn about what they're doing already to serve the area, and how they would like to improve.
- BART has about 430000 riders every weekday, riding on an infrastructure that was built in the 70s, and in train cars that are about as old. They want to spend 9.6 billion in improvements, mostly in purchases of new train cars and infrastructure improvements.
- BART has about half the money they're looking for, and will most likely be putting a parcel tax or a bond measure on the ballot in November for the other half.
- AC Transit has about 179000 riders every weekday, mostly people going to work and schoolchildren. Schoolchildren alone make up 30k of their riders. AC Transit's main goal is to increase service by working closely with the City of Alameda; they're expanding lines that run through the city and collaborating on a city transit plan.
- AC Transit hopes to improve its service and its fleet with the funds it already has, although they are also investigating a parcel tax.
- The Water Emergency Transportation Authority (WETA, the agency in charge of the San Francisco Bay Ferries) sees Alameda as its greatest-service city, and wants to deepen its commitment to Alameda by building a maintenance facility and another terminal on the Southwest side of Alameda.
- WETA knows that transit to the terminals, as well as parking at the terminals, is the greatest challenge their ridership faces; they're hoping for stronger collaboration with the other agencies and the city to make it easier to get to the existing Alameda ferry terminals.
- The West Alameda Transportation Demand Management Association (TMA) is running a series of apparently ridiculously successful shuttles from the West End of Alameda to 12th St. BART in Oakland, and wants to see their service expand as well.
- TMA's main focus right now seems to be on education, getting Alamedans, Alameda businesses, and the employees of Alameda businesses thinking about public transit options and how we can all better utilize public transit.
It was an information-dense first half of a meeting, to say the least. The major takeaways for me were:
- Public transportation is on the up in Alameda, and many want to see it increase.
- The transit agencies see themselves in cooperation, not competition. They understand their inter-connectedness to each other, and seem to want each other to thrive.
- They're all trying to buy American and bring jobs to Alameda.
As I am unabashedly in favor of more public transit, I'm thrilled to hear about the programs currently in place, and that those programs are trying to expand. I want Alameda to be more walkable, and bikable, and I want public transit to be a deeply viable option to owning a car in Alameda.
I said above that public transit is critical to the quality of life for current Alamedans, and it will be just as critical for future Alamedans. The second half of the meeting was dedicated to presentations from property developers, specifically the organizations behind the Del Monte project, the Encinal Terminals project, and the Alameda Point Site A project.
I'm not going to go too much into the projects here, mostly because I don't have hard numbers like I have with the transit agencies, and partially because growth in Alameda, and in the Bay Area, is a thorny subject. I think more growth is good for Alameda, and I think these projects have a shot at being a massive net positive to the city. Others feel differently.
What I can say is that both projects feel public transit is a critical need for their developments to succeed, and both are putting plans in place to improve transit in their development. The group in charge of Del Monte/Encinal Terminals seems a bit more on the ball in this regard, as they talked about having an organization like the TMA (potentially joined with the TMA) to continually improve transit in that part of the city, but both groups stressed how transit would be integral to what they're building.
I've talked so far about increasing public transit because it will ease congestion, and make Alameda an even better place to live. But there's another benefit of public transit that the Alameda Point Site A group drove home for me: Getting cars off the road.
The plan for Alameda Point Site A includes raising the level of some streets and buildings, and a terraced waterfront park area. Why? Because global warming has become enough of a reality that property developers are working "sea level rise strategies" into their plans. They're so certain the seas will rise from global warming that they're betting money on it.
Every train car BART adds, every bus or shuttle added by AC Transit or TMA, every ferry added by WETA gets cars off the road and less CO2 in our atmosphere. In a world where major corporations are now banking on global warming happening, increased public transit in Alameda can't come soon enough.
by phildini on March 4, 2016
The Alameda Renters Coalition has published the text of the amendment to the Alameda City Charter they're trying to add to the ballot for November. It's well worth a read, but here's the key points, as I see them:
- Renters and Homeowners should have protection under the law
- Alameda needs a Rental Housing Board to oversee administration of rental units in the city
- Evictions should only be enacted for Just Cause
- Rent should be pinned to the Consumer Price Index
The charter amendment, if enacted, will provide incredible renter protections in Alameda. I haven't read the text of the rent control measures for other California cities, but I'm willing to wager this proposal would put Alameda in the top three cities in terms of renter friendliness.
I'm biased here, but as a renter (and someone who both wants to see more people in Alameda and see the current residents protected), I'm in favor of shifting the landlord-tenant power balance a bit more in favor of the tenants. That said, there's definitely some parts in the measure that gives me pause.
The big one is capital improvements. As I read the amendment, there is no allowance for general capital improvements to a property. The amendment is very explicit about allowing relocation and rent increases for capital improvements to bring the property up to code, but what if a landlord wants to do general remodeling to make a property nicer, or more attractive? The amendment doesn't seem to allow for that. It feels like an oversight that could be taken advantage of, and which would decrease the overall appeal of the housing stock in Alameda.
Also, the Rental Housing Board, again as I read the amendment, seems to operate with absolutely no oversight. They're chosen by general election, operate completely autonomously from the rest of city government, and their budget is approved only by them. Ostensibly, this is so the Board can't be influenced by a city council that is being too partisan to landlords or tenants. However, the way the amendment is currently worded, the Rental Housing Board could decide to charge a $1000/unit Rental Housing Fee, and the only recourse would be a lawsuit or another election. There doesn't seem to be a lot of 'check' to this 'balance'.
Where does that leave us? I think the debate around this amendment, especially in light of the rent stabilization passed by the City Council on March 1st, is going to be intense, and I hope it raises the level of discourse about how to prepare Alameda for the next decade and the next century. I want strong renter protections, I want myself and other renters to feel secure in our homes. Housing is a home, first and foremost. This amendment provides for that idea, but seems focused on solving the problems of the present, without considering the problems of the future.
by phildini on March 1, 2016
Here are some things, learned by myself and others, at the Alameda City Council meeting on March 1st.
- The city council continues to treat its staff in a way I find weirdly antagonistic
- Whenever a council member uses the phrase "Real World", what they mean is: "You researched presentation means nothing, city staffer. Alameda is different."
- Appropriate means you make funds available for. Those funds can be taken back, especially if they aren't spent
- The Mayor and City Council are maybe really underpaid?
- Alameda cares about golf way more than I thought it did. Like, an hour and half more than I thought it did.
- I don't understand Councilmember Daysog's long-term strategy for Alameda
- Councilmembers Ashcraft and Oddie seem like people I would enjoy hanging out with
And, the big one
- Alameda now has rent stabilization.
by phildini on February 28, 2016
Update 2016-03-04 The ARC has published the text of the amendment. Read my thoughts about that here.
The Alameda Renters Coalition is going to be filing an initiative with the City of Alameda tomorrow (2016-02-29). Text of press release follows.
For Immediate Release Media Contact: Catherine Pauling 510.220.2030
Alameda Renters Coalition filing ballot initiative 2/29/16 at 4 p.m. at Alameda City Hall
ALAMEDA, CA - The Alameda Renters Coalition (ARC) will file the “Alameda Renter Protection and Community Stabilization Charter Amendment” initiative at Alameda City Hall Monday for inclusion on the November ballot in response to a crisis of mass evictions and average rent increases of more than fifty percent over a span of only four years.
ARC spokesperson Catherine Pauling says, "We are filing this initiative so the people of Alameda can do what its City Council has been unable to do: enact a firm set of laws to stabilize our community and protect renters from greedy investors."
City officials have deliberated over the rental crisis for three years, recently crafting an ordinance the coalition says falls far short of what's needed to protect tenants.
"ARC recognizes the City Council's efforts but their ordinance has too many concessions to real estate interests and will not keep Alameda renters in their homes" says Pauling.
Specifically, the coalition objects to there being no cap on rent increases, merely a review process triggered by a rent increase of more than 5 percent. Additionally, the City ordinance subjects renters, once again, to the threat of no cause evictions when the current moratorium expires. ARC further objects to what it calls a "poison pill" in the ordinance allowing landlords to escape all eviction controls by simply issuing a "Fixed Term Lease".
"This filing begins the process of allowing voters of Alameda, over half of whom are renters, the opportunity to choose clear protections that renters and owners deserve instead of the cumbersome and un-tested process outlined in the City ordinance," says Pauling.
The Alameda Renters Coalition, formed in 2014, advocates for clear, rational rent stabilization tied to the Consumer Price Index, as is used by many other cities in the Bay Area in determining rental rate increases.
Prior to the 4 p.m. filing in the City Clerk's office, representatives of the Alameda Renters Coalition will be available on the steps of Alameda City Hall at 2263 Santa Clara Avenue to answer questions of the media and provide copies of the initiative.
I'll be linking to the actual press release if I can find it online. I'm very interested to read the text of what they will be filing, and the timing is excellent. Tuesday will see the continuation of the City Council's January discussion about rent stabilization, and I think we all hope this one won't go to 4 am.
It's increasingly clear that housing and rent stabilization will be a critical issue in this upcoming election. As an Alamedan and renter, I am thrilled these issues are getting the attention they deserve.