Ranked Choice Voting Gaining Steam

Ranked Choice Voting gathered steam in the 2022 election.  From statewide to county and city races, the voting method of ranking candidates by preference was adopted by voters in eight more places.  Plus hundreds of thousands of voters across America, including the Bay Area, are already using it.  In Alameda, ranked choice voting was a topic of discussion at candidate forums and in written questionnaires.

“RCV is on a clear path to becoming the norm, not the exception,” said Deb Otis from FairVote.org.  “In large parts of the country, voting equals ranking.” Continue reading

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Encinal Terminals Project Approved

In a nail-biter finish, the Alameda City Council approved the revised Encinal Terminals project, including the proposed land exchange.  The project promises to turn a blighted industrial site into a mixed-use development with 589 homes, a Bay Trail waterfront promenade and plazas.

Councilmember Trish Herrera Spencer was the deciding vote after she received two concessions from the developer, North Waterfront Cove, LLC,  during the meeting.  Her vote was conditioned on getting a greater number of units designated as “for sale,” because for-sale units would provide more opportunities for middle-income people to start building housing security, especially when augmented by first-time-homebuyer programs.  She also ensured that all residential buildings will be designed to the extent possible with operable windows to facilitate natural air flow and ventilation.

The development agreement now allows 100 more of the units originally slated for rent to become available for sale as condominiums.  Thus, rather than 294 units available for sale, there will be 394 units.  Because these units are typically smaller than townhomes, they are said to be more affordable by design. 

No one from the community publicly voiced opposition to the project.  However, there were letters to the council calling for strengthening the development and disposition agreement.  Because no land appraisal had been provided to the public showing the value of the land being swapped, environmental groups had proposed a monetary contribution to the city’s Tidelands Fund in exchange for transferring public tidelands to a private developer.  Others had asked for better financial protections for the city in terms of sea level rise, shoreline maintenance and liquefaction, while others wanted more affordable units.

The city responded to these concerns by saying that the State Lands Commission staff had recently been provided with a land appraisal of the overall site once it is developed so that they could evaluate whether the land the state would receive is equal to the value being traded.  State tidelands are lands near navigable waterways that are held in trust for the people of California and cannot be sold.

Every acre has the same value in a master plan development project, according to the city’s retained legal counsel.  Looking at the project as a whole, commission staff deemed the proposed land exchange to be fair, if the project is completely built as proposed in order to achieve the highest and best value.  “Completely built” assumes that the city will hire a third-party marina developer to build a new marina on the newly designated state Tidelands in the Alaska Basin, which is an option but not a requirement of the land exchange.

In terms of financial liabilities, City Planner Andrew Thomas reassured the council that there is a fiscal neutrality and municipal services agreement requiring residents who live on site to pay for all ongoing costs associated with maintaining the public shoreline in perpetuity, at no cost to the city.

The final mix of housing types (townhomes, apartments and condos) in the Master Plan is not yet fully defined so the developer has flexibility to “respond to market conditions.”  The developer has 15 years to complete the project. 

Four votes were needed to approve the project.  Councilmember Tony Daysog voted no because he wanted some of those additional for-sale units to be designated as affordable.

The newly approved project will replace the plan previously proposed by the developer and approved in 2018.  The exchange of tidelands spelled out in the development agreement will have to be formally approved by the State Lands Commission.

The Encinal Terminals project sits behind the Del Monte Building on Alameda’s northern waterfront.  It is next to Marina Village and across the estuary from the Brooklyn Basin.

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Waterfront Housing Proposal Returns Again

The Encinal Terminals project is coming back before the city council for the third time on January 4, 2022.  [Continued to January 18.]  The proposed project would be located on an old shipping site along the Oakland Estuary, behind the historic Del Monte building.  But part of the project site sits on state public tidelands controlled by the city, which cannot be used for residential development.  So a land swap that would allow the developer to build housing on these public tidelands is being considered, again. Continue reading

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Cliffs at Crown Beach

More than five inches of rain pummeled Alameda on October 24, making it the wettest October day ever. The storm washed away tons of sand along Crown Memorial State Beach and Alameda Beach, leaving cliffs at the edge of the vegetated sand dunes.

“The most significant damage of our shoreline parks was at Crown Beach,” Jim O’Connor told the Park Advisory Committee.  O’Connor is the Assistant General Manager of Park Operations for the East Bay Regional Park District.  “A lot of rain came at one time and there was significant erosion,” which “may be an effect of climate change.”

The so-called atmospheric river of rain washed away nearly all the sand that was placed there almost eight years ago to the day, exposing the original yellow sand some of us remember from before. Continue reading

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Crab Cove Park Expansion Options Being Vetted

The East Bay Regional Park District is gathering community input about how to further develop its park at Crab Cove on Crown Beach.  The park district acquired an extra four acres there in 2016.

The park district has grouped possible uses into three design concepts: recreational destination, open space retreat, and educational bayfront.  The recreational destination approach is geared toward active uses on the site.  The open space retreat approach would include dense vegetation with a winding path for passive exploration.  The educational bayfront concept allows the public to learn how sea level inundation of the park would affect habitat over time.  The main purpose of the outreach is to find out which features, regardless of the concept, the community desires. Continue reading

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Trial by Data

The verdict is in.  Alameda’s current voting system falls short on a number of counts.

On April 27, the Alameda League of Women Voters hosted a forum that compared various election methods:  Alameda’s current plurality-at-large system, plurality by districts, ranked-choice voting by district, and ranked-choice voting at large.  The findings were telling.

Continue reading

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Democracy on Front Burner

Democracy is at the forefront of today’s political debate.  Alameda is no exception.

Alameda’s plurality voting system allows top vote-getters to win, even when a majority of voters did not vote for them.  And lopsided expenditures contribute to the impression that the election of certain candidates is inevitable.  There are ways, however, to ensure that a minority of voters or big-monied interests do not control the outcome of our elections.

This month the Alameda League of Women Voters, a nonpartisan organization dedicated to empowering voters, is hosting a two-part online forum to educate voters about ways in which democracy can be strengthened in Alameda.

Continue reading
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Funding the Police

Alameda is joining numerous cities across the country in rethinking how we provide policing before next year’s city budget is prepared.  What level of policing we want and expect from the Alameda Police Department (APD) will determine the funding we provide.

Recently the League of Women Voters and AAUW hosted an online discussion with the APD to inform the public of current police policies and practices, and the challenges and opportunities we face.  Michele Ellson moderated the discussion.

The panel featured Interim Police Chief Jeffery Emmitt, former Police Chief Paul Rolleri (Ret.), and Captain Matt McMullen.  They fielded questions about recruitment and training, daily operations, staffing, accountability and oversight, data collection, use of force, and building trust and legitimacy.

The populist rallying cry to “defund the police” lost some steam by the end of the discussion when it became apparent that the APD has already been defunded. Continue reading

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Shameful Demolition of Homeless Housing

Rehabbed units on right

What a shame.  What a waste.  There is decent former Navy housing for the homeless near the Main Street Ferry Terminal just two blocks from Target, but our city is tearing it down.  Meanwhile a for-profit developer has upgraded similar units that were built next door in the same year and is getting market rate rent for them.

The three- and four-bedroom apartments were constructed in 1969.  Their interiors were remodeled and new dual-pane vinyl windows installed shortly before the Coast Guard families vacated the Navy-owned site in 2005, leaving the units pretty much in move-in condition.

In 2019 the Navy gave the city 13 acres containing 96 units of vacant housing in this area known as North Housing.  The sole purpose of the land conveyance was to provide housing and services for the homeless. Continue reading

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Start Paving the Way to Recovery

There is no better time than now to finish repaving and restriping Park Street.  The COVID-19 shelter-in-place directive provides an opportunity to get the job done with the least amount of disruption to our local businesses.  Plus, the upgrade would be a nice welcome-back gift to our merchants when things return to normal.  The city’s Public Works Department has pointed out some challenges to making this happen though. Continue reading

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