I wanted to circle back around to a City Council meeting that happened a while ago about the Mif land swap. I didn’t get a chance to cover it in as much detail as I would have liked.
Let me first say that I don’t dislike Ron Cowan. I know people have a lot of issues with him and he has built up a lot of resentment with a very large group of Alamedans. Personally, I don’t have that sort of baggage about Ron Cowan. So I don’t come from a place of suspicion whenever the name “Ron Cowan” comes up.
But here’s why I don’t like the Cowan swap plan as presented right now. First, it comes from a premise that the Mif Albright site is the only developable land left on Bay Farm Island and therefore Ron Cowan’s last chance to get his remaining units built. Second, the plan also is built on the premise that Ron Cowan is owed the right to build these units and therefore the City must find a place for him to put those units. Third, there are other options if Ron Cowan is willing to be more creative.
While the only undeveloped parcel that remains in Ron Cowan’s portfolio is North Loop, I believe that he still owns the Harbor Bay Club. There is potential for him to move that Club to the North Loop Road site and then develop his remaining units on the old Harbor Bay Club site. Of course this wouldn’t be a straight transaction and he would have to put up capital to build the replacement club first, but this wouldn’t involve the City swapping park land.
Also, there hasn’t been any consideration by Ron Cowan to utilize the Density Bonus ordinance to maximize the number of units on a smaller footprint if the land swap goes through. That way, as others have suggested, if the South Course and the Mif Albright could be made better with a new design, the new design should take as much space as necessary and the remaining land could be swapped out and the number of units maximized using the density bonus.
I will note that I understand that way back when Ron Cowan first developed his units on Bay Farm, he was exempt from building affordable units. I think it is a mistake to continue to exempt him from this requirement that is required of all other developers in the City. If he was building units on his own property that did not require the City to step in to consider a land swap or a land sale then, fine, he’s within his rights. But any new development should have to meet the minimum standard that any other development would have to meet. Given that the majority of new affordable housing units have all been concentrated on the west end, any opportunity for new development should spread affordable units throughout the City. Or at the very least Ron Cowan should be pay the in-lieu fee to help contribute to the City’s fund to subsidize affordable housing in other parts of the City. The in-lieu fee is a set amount a developer can pay per unit to opt to not build affordable housing at their project, but to contribute to an affordable housing project somewhere else. It’s not ideal, but at least it allows developers to not shirk their responsibility to add to the affordable housing stock while they are making a profit.
And finally, there seems to be this perception that Ron Cowan is “owed” the right to build these units. I know that some folks really think the court ruling said that, but I would argue that is not what it held. While there was an overall cap of the number of units that could be built on Bay Farm that cap was not a promised number despite his protestations to the contrary.