These notes were made during the , at which the public had opportunity to raise concerns about the proposed deal to swap the land where the city's Mif Albright Golf Course now is for land in the Harbor Bay Business Park. (Please forgive any typos; you can always send me email at email@example.com.)
Of the more than 30 speakers who addressed the Planning Board Monday night, not one spoke in favor of the . People's reasons for opposition were many, including that the deal violates the spirit (if not the letter) of the city charter, which requires a vote for sale of public property; questions about the need for sports fields on the East End; concerns about loss of open space; and concerns about traffic if new homes are built.
In one particularly timely argument, after the anger caused by the last week, several residents also noted that there are more than 250 memorial trees on the golf course land where homes are being propsed. Many said that the trees, planted over the years in honor of people's lives, would need to come down to build homes there.
Below are reverse-order notes taken during the meeting (to start at the beginning of the discussion go to the bottom and scroll up).
11:23 p.m. Meeting adjourned.
11:22 p.m. Planning Board President Ezzy Ashcraft thanks city staff for their work.
11:20 p.m. Board Member Lorre Zuppan says the City should look at long-term and short-term impacts of the proposed construction. She also reiterates a point maybe by many speakers about the importance of preserving wildlife habitat. "I want to make sure we are looking at the bigger picture, and not just what is happening on the golf course, not just that one animal, but animals on the food chain," she said.
11:18 p.m. Board Member Mike Henneberry asked what gets relayed from tonight's meeting to City Council. City Staffer Thomas says they'll pass on all the feedback to the City Council. And, if the project does move forward, then all the comments get attached to the Environmental Impact Report.
11:16 p.m. Board Presiden Ezzy Ashcraft summarizes the three pro letters she received: One said Doric made Harbor Bay Isle, another said homes would bring property revenue and another said, in all caps, "Please vote yes."
11:15 p.m. Board member David Burton: "There seem to be so many unknowns about the potential costs of the golf course and the potential fields and I don't really see any accountability from the developer that the city would not be incurring costs."
11:13 p.m. Ezzy Ashcraft raises the issues of who is going to pay for construction as well as ongoing maintenance of the sports fields because of the wording of Paragraph 7 of the MOA.
11:08 p.m. Time for board discussion.
11:04 p.m. Hilary Woo, a Harbor Bay resident, says she's concerned that she has not heard anyone, even those deeply involved in Alameda's sports communities, support the land swap.
10:54 p.m. Trish Spencer, speaking for herself not as a school board member, says she is opposed to selling any golf course land. She says that traffic on Bay Farm also impacts the main island. She says any elected official who has received money from Ron Cowan should recuse themselves from any vote on the project.
10:49 p.m. Jane Sullwold, chair of Alameda's Golf Commision (but speaking as an individual), says the average amount taken by the city from the golf course each year of the last 20 is between $800,000 and $900,000 a year. She says there is now millions of dollars worth of work that needs to be done for the course. She says she doesn't want to sell the Mif, but if it is going to be sold, it should be put to a vote of the people and then the city would get the money.
10:46 p.m. A speaker, Bill M., says the city's report did not address the issue of traffic on the main island. "If you have traffic backup and congestion on one side of the bridge you have backup on the other side," he said.
10:43 p.m. Bill Smith, former chair of Alameda County Planning Commission, says he "advises the developer to drop" the proposal. He says the plan will have negative impact on many aspects of city life. He says the plan undermines if not the letter then the spirit of the city charter which requires a vote on the sale of public lands. He says the swap would mean the exchange one of the largest contiguous existing parcels of land in the East Bay for smaller noncontiguous parcels.
10:42 p.m. Several of the people who handed in speaker slips have left already.
10:39 p.m. A speaker says Alamedans should think about what we would like to see on a golf course development. She suggests that there should be a hotel, a spa, a health club.
10:34 p.m. A speaker says that there are currently two 18-hole courses that function well together. He says that if people can't play on one, they are happy to go to the other. But, he says, that if the south course is shortened people won't want to play on it, and so revenue at the course will not go up.
10:28 p.m. A speaker says VF's on Harbor Bay will bring in hundreds of more cars, compounding the already-existing traffic issues. He also says the FAA will not allow the proposed fields in the flight path of the Oakland Airport to be lit.
10:26 p.m. A speaker, a representative of the North Loop Business Group, says she is asking that a potential project alternative not involve putting houses on North Loop Road in the Harbor Bay Business Park. She says of the 10 businesses she represents eight left other sites because they were too close to residences.
10:24 p.m. "One of the great myths of development is that housing is good for communities," says another opponent of the development. "But that is a myth. Housing never pays for itself."
10:14 p.m. We're back on! Lil Arnerich is up. "I'm not going to blame the developer because they think they're doing what they think is correct," he says.
"The golf course is not in trouble," says Arnerich.
Arnerich says the city government has taken millions of dollars from the golf course over the years. "Each and every year they have been sucking the blood out of it," he says.
"There is no reason we can't have our fields built at Alameda Point," he says. "That's the place to go."
He wonders who would pay to replace the proposed turf field when it wears out.
10:03 p.m. We're taking a 10 minute break.
10:01 p.m. Some people have left. Maybe a third of the seats are empty now. No one has spoken in favor of the deal. We've heard from golfers, main island residents and Bay Farm residents. There are no children here, but many seniors.
10 p.m. Planning Board President Ezzy Ashcraft says we have reached speaker 20 of 46, though some may have left by the time their turn comes around.
9:56 p.m. Another Bay Farm resident, Len Peters, says he wants to talk about safety and noise in the area of the proposed homes. He says both are of concern.
9:53 p.m. "When Ron Cowan wanted to build his homes, as soon as he was rejected, word was going around that he was going to try to get a bit of the golf course and this is what I'm seeing happening," says a Bay Farm homeowner. "I don't see why everyone is bending over backwards to find a place for Ron Cowan to build homes. We don't owe him anything."
9:49 p.m. "I, and most of my neighbors, strongly oppose the land swap deal," says one opponent of the project. "The value of my home is already down more than 10 percent since I purchased it in 2008." He says he concerned about saturating the Bay Farm market with even more homes. "The timing just couldn't be worse," he says.
9:48 p.m. A speaker says the business park should be preserved for business uses. He also says construction of homes, and the resouces they demand, will cost the city money which it does not have.
9:46 p.m. Speaker: "This is not about what the citizens want, this is all about what Ron Cowan wants."
9:40 p.m. Sandy Sullivan, president of a Harbor Bay homeowner's association, is the next speaker. She asks for a report on the quality of the air on the proposed sports fields which are located under the flight path of the airplanes. "I am against this proposal because of the destruction of mature recreation land," Sullivan said. "I do not consider plastic grass under a flight path to be comparable space... the only winner in this deal is the developer. It is not the residents or taxpayers or our children."
9:37 p.m. Red Wetherall thanks Thomas for a coherent presentation on the details of the deal. "Please remember this land belongs to the residents of Alameda, not to the current city council," he says.
9:33 p.m. A speaker, Alexander Stephens, says the reason for the land swap is money. "If successful, Cowan will reap the rewards and the citizens will get the shaft." He references a newspaper article about an attempt in the early 1990s by Ron Cowan's Doric Construction to secure golf course land for development. He says Lil Arnerich, then a councilperson, worked to help pass the now-existing law that requires voter approval for sale of public lands.
9:25 p.m. The speaker thanks Thomas for his report. She says that the city's general plan is supposed to act as a guide for decision-making. "It's supposed to help them make choices about public and private activities," she says. She says the deal does not fit with the city's general plan: "You are to stop the trend toward private use of public property."
9:22 p.m. A speaker, identifies herself a golfer. "I'm opposed to giving away open space of any kind," she says. "Once it's gone it's gone."
"Why make a new Mif when we have a Mif — we have an excellent Mif already," she says.
9:20 p.m. A speaker gets a laugh: "I'd like to invite all of you to breakfast at my house at 8 a.m. when school is in session, but you'd all be late." Traffic is an oft-mentioned reason for opposing this deal. The speaker urges the city to develop an alternate plan.
9:17 p.m. Speaker, didn't catch his name, says Mif is built on what used to be a "garbage dump" what is now called "landfill." He thinks there should be soil borings to see what the seismic response of the land is. He says improvements call for "filling in two lakes" and "cutting down trees" which provide habitat for many creatures.
9:15 p.m. A golfer speaks briefly and passionately against the course. She quotes Joni Mitchell: "Don't it always seem to go, you don't know what you've got, pave paradise, put up a parking lot."
9:09 p.m. Norma Arnerich, former head of golf commission and golfing advocate, is next. Norma explains the memorial tree program at the golf course: "It's very hard to describe the happiness it brings to families," she says, "every tree represents a person's life." Norma says Cowan's plan to place a plaque somewhere with the names of everyone who has had a tree planted for them is not satisfactory. "Ron Cowan's land swap includes having soccer fields and small baseball fields on his barren land in the business park," she says.
9:06 p.m. Lola Brown says she is speaking as an individual not as a member of Alameda's Recreation and Park Commission. She is concerned about traffic, overcrowding, pollution. "One of my concerns is the sale of any park land," she says. "I respectfully request that you hear our concerns ... and consider how the unique community of Alameda can be maintained."
9 p.m. More concerns: The speaker, a structural engineer, says there are regulations governing construction on landfill, which the Mif is. Also, he says the water table is high. He says the field space being offered is not wide enough for high school baseball. He also says fields are not needed on the east end of Alameda, rather they are needed on the west. He says the proposed configuration of the new golf course would no longer qualify for championship play.
8:55 p.m. Michael Robles-Wong, president of the board of the Harbor Bay Isle Home Owners Association (the master board of Harbor Bay homeowner associations), is the first speaker. He reads a letter to the city detailing his association's concerns about increased traffic and the impact of increased pollution on children's health.
8:52 p.m. Board President Ezzy Ashcraft moves the meeting along, saying "I am holding 46 speaker slips in my hand and I have already seen people leaving." The board votes unanimously to give each speaker three minutes to talk instead of five.
8:49 p.m. Board members were admonished by board chair Marilyn Ezzy Ashcraft not to share their opinions; the purpose of the meeting is just to gather info, she said. The board is now asking questions.
8:48 p.m. Still no empty seats in the house — and a very nice man just let me take his seat.
8:45 p.m. Thomas says tonight's meeting was scheduled because city staff felt that "there was an awful lot of concern in the community that this was something that was being done behind closed doors and rushed to the council." Tonight's meeting is to give the public more time to be engaged in the process, Thomas said.
8:41 p.m. Thomas says there will be town hall meetings on the swap in November, though the dates and times have not yet been set. The planning board will not be voting on anything tonight.
8:38 p.m. Thomas is talking about how to improve traffic on Bay Farm, including extending turn lanes and modifying signal schedules."If the city chooses to move forward with the project," says Thomas, "the goal would be to see if there are things we could do to improve the [traffic] flow."
8:33 p.m. Traffic is a major community concern about the project. "Are there improvements we can make on Island Drive that will make it work better and why not just do it now?" said Thomas. There is laughter in the room. Thomas says everyone knows morning traffic off Bay Farm is a big problem.
8:31 p.m. Thomas says there are more than 250 trees on the Mif alone that are memorial trees — trees that were planted in someone's memory. "Those trees would come down if homes were built on this property," he said.
8:29 p.m. Thomas says he took the plan to the Golf Commission a couple weeks ago, and there was not a lot of support for the plan, even from the golf community.
8:26 p.m. Thomas is listing the potential benefits of the swap: $7 million for golf, 12 acres for the city and between $2 and $3.5 million to build sports fields.
8:25 p.m. Thomas says the will either stop the project or start a 9- to 12-month process for studying it. At the end of that investigation, City Council would make a final decision. "We are recommending that the council decide this December if it is something they want to pursue at all," Thomas said.
8:22 p.m. Thomas says that if the deal is approved then Harbor Bay Isle Associates would cover all the costs associated with study of the project, including the environmental impact report, the rezoning, and other hearings and public work associated with the deal. Even then, says Thomas, the city could still say no to the plan at the end of the investigation period and the city would not have to cover those costs.
8:18 p.m. More from Thomas' report: Alameda's city charter says that you can't sell open space without the approval of voters or by trading it for another piece of comparable land. The swap land must be similar in "size," "utility" and "service" area. There are bursts of laughter from the audience when Thomas says a reason not to have the people vote to sell the Mif is because elections cost money. "That option is still available," he said, "but it was not one staff felt was a very smart one to do."
8:12 p.m. Another reason for the swap, says Thomas, is that the city needs more fields. His power point slide says, "land is limited," and then lists Alameda Point, the Beltline and Harbor Bay as places where fields can be built.
8:10 p.m. Thomas says many people ask, why even consider this? The answer, he says, is that the golf complex is in trouble financially.
8:09 p.m. City Planner Thomas explains the four parts of the land swap proposal: 1. Reconfigure golf course 2. Swap land 3. Build sports fields 4. Build 130 homes.
8:05 p.m. The city has received hundreds of letters and emails about the swap. Almost all correspondence is against.
8:02 p.m. City Planner Andrew Thomas is explaining the focus of the meeting. He says it is: 1. To describe the land swap proposal and answer the community's questions 2. Allow comunity to raise issues of concern.
8:01 p.m. When there are more than five speakers at a Planning Board meeting, each speaker's time can be limited to three minutes (if the board so votes).
8 p.m. The scoping hearing on the golf course swap has begun.
7:50 p.m. After a number of speakers addressed the board about between Central and Encinal as part of a streetscape improvement project, the board is now hearing plans for an expansion at the .