Blogging Bayport Alameda

October 25, 2012

Who I’m voting for: Hospital Board and City Council

As promised — and given that absentee ballots have already gone out — my election recommendations!

First, the sort of lighter stuff out of the way:

Vote YES on A1, because the Oakland Zoo is a regional jewel dammit.   Have you seen those Sun Bears and their habitat?  It is awesome.  Did you read about how the Oakland Zoo saved four tigers that were living in some crazy personal zoo in Texas?  That’s the kind of stuff you’ll be supporting.

Vote NO on Prop 32, I don’t know how this one stays out of the courts if it passes, plus it’s ridiculous.

Vote YES on Prop 37, because knowing what is going into your food empowers you to make better food choices.

Now on to the local stuff:

First regarding Measure D, I’m pretty agnostic about this one.   It will pass because the words “Parks” and “Protect” appear in the ballot blurb.

Hospital Board:  I’m enthusiastically voting for Jordan Battani for this one because there are few people who understand the problems facing the Alameda Hospital Board as she does.   While I am also agnostic about the existence of the Alameda Hospital I can respect the fact that Alamedans voted to keep the Alameda Hospital going by levying a parcel tax upon itself.   While the Hospital is open, I trust Jordan Battani to make sure that it stays solvent and work to create new revenue streams to make the Hospital less reliant on the parcel tax for every day expenses and eventually be able to divert those dollars to much needed capital improvements.

Also, I’ll probably vote for J. Michael McCormick as well, while less impressive than his fellow incumbent, he is definitely leagues better than his challengers, one who has publicly stated that she is only running in order to eventually be appointed to an open seat in the case of a Stewart Chen City Council victory and the other who has used this election to tilt at personal political windmills as opposed to running a true campaign on the issues affecting the Hospital Board.

So Hospital Board: Jordan Battani and J. Michael McCormick

City Council: I actually went into this election cycle believing I would vote a certain way, but this was one of the few elections where going to forums and reading everything written by the candidates actually changed my mind on my top two candidates.

The first candidate that was on my initial short list was Marilyn Ezzy-AshcraftI thought she was great two years ago when she ran, but the timing was a bit wrong, but this year she is the candidate at the top of my list and stayed there.   Two years has done a lot to elevate her as a candidate and in that time, Marilyn Ezzy-Ashcraft has done her homework on all the issues that are important to Alameda right now.   She’s bright and capable and you never have to worry about whether or not Marilyn Ezzy-Ashcraft has read all the information in her packet, her tenure on the Planning Board is proof of her professionalism and her willingness to go above and beyond the information available in Staff Reports.

On the other hand, my other short listed candidate was  Jane Sullwold who is articulate and intelligent and sort of a non traditional candidate given that most of the candidates that eventually have won have come from either the Hospital Board or the Planning Board.   I knew that she was not as well versed in all things City of Alameda, but figured that she would be able to come up to speed relatively quickly.  However it was some of the blog posts that came from Jane Sullwold’s campaign that made me realize that she is not ready for prime time just yet.   It was this post about the no cost Alameda Point conveyance where she suggested that the no cost conveyance might cost the City more than the previous deal that I hit my “ah ha” moment.    The problem with the math that was presented in that post was missing the fact that the $108 million price tag was up to 1800 homes, anything built above that would incur a $75,000 per unit penalty.   In no universe does a $75K/unit penalty with the $108 million price tag cost less than a $50K per unit penalty under the no cost conveyance.   I do look forward to Jane Sullwold running in two years and I know that she will be the one to beat if she does decide to run and commit herself to learning every aspect of how the City of Alameda works.

My eventual second vote goes to Jeff Cambra who occasionally gets to caught up in the process of things, but sometimes that is a good thing.   The benefit of having someone like Jeff Cambra on the City Council is that he will listen. And by “listen” I mean that he will make everyone feel as though they have a voice.   While I believe that all elected officials technically “listen” to their constituents, sometimes some folks don’t feel “heard” because of lack of acknowledgement or whatever.   Jeff Cambra is the type of guy that will never let anyone leave a meeting feeling as though they weren’t heard — at the very least — he will make them feel as though what they were saying was of value and that he would consider it.

So City Council: Marilyn Ezzy-Ashcraft and Jeff Cambra

School Board endorsement tomorrow, I have a lot to say.


  1. Lauren, I agree with your choices with one exception–I am voting for Stewart Chen and Marilyn Ezzy Ashcraft for City Council, both of whom have been endorsed by the Sierra Club for their strong environmental records and stances compared to every other candidate in the race.

    In addition to their stronger environmental records and positions, Ezzy Ashcraft and Chen have more legislative experience than any other candidate (except Tony Daysog) as both appointed and elected members of governing or advisory bodies where they have repeatedly deliberated and voted in public. And public accountability and performance as a legislator and representative is a central job requirement for any elected official.

    We know that Chen and Ezzy Ashcraft both do well handling controversy and pressure in public as both leaders and legislators (Hospital Board, Planning Board, etc.). Their experience is unmatched and their campaigns are more viable than Daysog’s.

    Cambra lacks that public deliberative experience as an appointed or elected legislator or advisory body member and is unproven in the kind of public forum where he would serve a legislator.

    His staff support, task force, nonprofit board, and mediation work is laudable but not equivalent to the public accountability that both Ezzy Ashcraft and Chen have demonstrated repeatedly “under fire.” Chen and Ezzy Ashcraft have done that–
    and done so very well.

    Comment by Jon Spangler — October 25, 2012 @ 10:18 am

  2. Measure A1 gives a private board the power to levy taxes and have total control over how that tax money is spent. If you look up who’s on the board, you will see it’s completely dominated by bankers, etc. As you might expect, what A1 amounts to is the old bait-and-switch routine. Masquerading as “animal care”, in the fine print it authorizes the Zoo to use the money to build almost anything they like. Given their history of bait-and-switch (as in when they first took over the Knowland Park property), and given their high priority for their theme park development, and given that they have been unable to raise sufficient funds so far for their theme park, I think it’s very unrealistic to expect that they won’t use it for that. Knowland Park is a precious heritage. It’s the only open space park of its type in the area. We hope to preserve it as that for future generations. I also think the precedent A1 establishes – to allow a private, unelected board to levy taxes and then decide how those taxes are to be spent – is a very dangerous one.

    Comment by John Reimann — October 25, 2012 @ 10:28 am

  3. What you will be supporting if you vote for Measure A1 is 25 years of no-strings-attached tax funding for anything zoo management wants to do. The Oakland Zoo could be a regional jewel, if it weren’t for the fact that the zoo board’s money-eating priorities overshadow the good work the zoo does. Destroying 54 acres of natural wildlife habitat a gondola ride up the hill in Knowland Park to build an expensive, unnecessary complex of offices, restaurant, gift shop and theme park exhibits about the wildlife the consturction project will destroy is the opposite of its stated mission of conservation. Measure A1 is written to provide the funding for this and any future development projects the zoo chooses. Zoo executives would have voters think that A1 money will be used exclusively for animal care and educational programs, but that is not what A1 actually says. For several years, Zoo execs have tried to keep information from the public about the Knowland Park expansion project, and they continue to do so in their campaign to get this measure passed. Read the full text and see for yourself.

    Comment by Karen Smith — October 25, 2012 @ 10:59 am

  4. Normally, a $12 tax to support the zoo would be no big deal. If they had left Knowland Park alone, I’d vote for their Measure A1. But not now. Getting rid of animal habitat…for the benefit of animals?! Who comes up with stuff like this?

    Save Knowland Park, and bring back a new ballot measure next time around.

    Comment by Richard Bangert — October 25, 2012 @ 11:29 am

  5. Lauren, unfortunately Measure A1 is not just about “humane animal care.” I agree their ongoing animal rescue efforts are commendable, and the Zoo is a local gem, but the Zoo already gets significant funding from multiple public sources and has reported to the IRS year-end surplus funds in the millions for several years running.

    The language of the measure (read it for yourself) specifies these countywide parcel tax funds can be used for “expansion” and “construction of new capital facilities”…so the fund can legally be used for the Zoo’s controversial proposed expansion into adjacent Knowland Park, the largest remaining wildland park in Oakland. The Zoo (now 45 acres) will double its size by expanding into 54 new adjacent acres…bulldozing and developing currently undisturbed, thriving wildlife habitat (e.g., mountain lions, coyotes, foxes, endangered Alameda whipsnake) and ancient stands of rare California native plants that are integral to the rich ecosystem of the park.

    What will they build? The Zoo plans to establish new “conservation-theme” ridgetop exhibits on prime parkland (fencing off open parkland that is now freely accessible to the public, and cutting off wildlife migration paths). Aerial gondolas with up to 60-foot towers will move Zoo visitors up the hillside to a 34,000-sq-ft visitor “conservation center” with a restaurant, gift shop, and administrative offices with sweeping bay views…the same bay views that any park visitor can enjoy now for free.

    I love animals and support children’s education, but shrinking habitat is today’s primary threat to wildlife, and “uncaged” animals living in Knowland Park (not part of the Zoo) must be protected as well as the “caged” ones. Isn’t it ironic that the Zoo plans to pave over stunning natural resources to erect a new complex honoring “conservation”?

    Of course, it doesn’t help that Measure A1 is a 25-year irrevocable annual parcel tax ($12 residences, $72 businesses). And the measure states these tax dollars “shall be used exclusively first, to pay for the costs of the election necessary to enact this Chapter.” What’s that about? The parcel tax money will be channeled directly to the East Bay Zoological Society—not to any authorized tax authority—and EBZS as a nonprofit has no legal requirement to open their books to the public. This tax will bring the Zoo nearly $6 million a year for the next 25 years; how will we know how it’s being spent? Their (appointed not elected) oversight committee would meet just once a year to review how the money WAS spent—after the fact. I simply ask, why is the Zoo asking for taxpayer dollars to fund their basic animal care operations, when at the same time, they’re banking their money to double their size? I’m voting No on A1.

    Comment by Karen Asbelle — October 25, 2012 @ 12:08 pm

  6. Ugh, if you love animals, vote NO on A1! Your tax dollars will go to pave over 56 acres of Knowland Park’s wildland habitat, destroying rare habitat and the homes of rare and endangered animals and plants. Our own California animals will be sacrificed. And for what? A 34,000 sq foot restaurant/gift shop, admin buildings and an exhibit about California wildlife that *used* to be there. Read more about the devastating impact this particular expansion plan will have on Knowland Park at Better yet, go visit Knowland Park and see for yourself what will be lost.

    The core function of any zoo is animal care, and the zoo says that’s what this campaign is about. But do they really need the money for that? Consider this: the zoo has had average surpluses over the past 6 yrs of ~ $ 500,000 per year. They already have about $40 million dollars for their expansion. They’re spending $ 1 million dollars on this A1 campaign. The zoo got $23 million tax payer dollars from measure G, and now they want $127 million dollars more, and they won’t open their books to public scrutiny. It doesn’t sound like they’re broke, does it?

    If that’s not enough for you, read the fine print at the end of the ballot. I hope you like those Lion signs because the first million dollars of tax payer money will be used to cover the zoo’s election campaign costs (!):

    A. Moneys in the Oakland Zoo Fund shall be used exclusively first, to pay for the costs of the election necessary to enact this Chapter, then: to pay for the services and projects of the Oakland Zoo, as defined in Section 2.30.010(H)

    Then they pay for other projects, including the expansion:

    ““Services and Projects” mean the operations of the Oakland Zoo, including but not limited to…constructing, expanding, remodeling, renovating, furnishing, equipping, or financing of facilities; keeping visitor fees affordable; and maintaining and improving visitor services. Financing the construction of new or renovation of existing Oakland Zoo capital facilities is within the definition of services and projects. The Zoo operator may use special tax funds to provide services anywhere in Alameda County.”

    And finally, if the zoo if sued over this tax or use of the tax, they can use our tax dollars for their defense:

    … If this Chapter or the use of special tax funds is legally challenged, special tax funds may be used to reimburse the County and the Zoo operator for their costs of legal defense, including attorneys’ fees and other expenses.”

    Comment by Beth — October 25, 2012 @ 12:31 pm

  7. Beth,
    To be honest I have not seen any advertisement for the zoo expantion or any mail so where are they spending the 1 million $’s. I have been to knowland park and there is never anyone there.

    I will probably vote no on it because it will be another parcel tax. We pay aprox. $14,000 a year in property taxes. I am voteing no on everthing which will increase that. Get rid of prop 13 if you want better schools, zoo’s, roads…I got so angry when a friend of mine was selling her parents house for 1.2 million and they only paid $1,300 in property taxes and have the same benifits. Prop 13 is unfair to first time home owners like us and we just can’t afford to pay more.

    Comment by Joe — October 25, 2012 @ 1:03 pm

  8. Hi Joe, the zoo is spending the money on the campaign to pass Prop. A1 “for animal care” – not on advertizing the expansion. Since A1 says that they can use the tax money to cover the election costs, my saying that the first $1 million would be spent on that is based on Dr. Parrott’s estimate for how much the zoo is spending on the campaign. Maybe I’m wrong. Maybe the zoo can tell us if not all of that money will come from tax payers, should the measure pass. The zoo is NOT advertising the expansion, and if you ask them, they will claim two things: first, that A1 has nothing to do with the expansion and second, that the expansion is a done deal. Both statements are false. The zoo started polling people about a parcel tax 2 weeks after they got initial approval for the expansion last year. The zoo does not have all the money it needs for the expansion (the best estimate is that they have about $40 million), and the zoo still doesn’t have two necessary permits. The expansion has been opposed for a very long time, but the opposition is grassroots organization without the deep pockets of the zoo’s friends, so you may only be hearing about it now.

    Knowland Park is a wildland park – undeveloped, native habitat. It was deeded to the city by the state (it used to be Knowland State Park) on the condition that it remain a park. The zoo is proposing to double its current size by building on 54 acres of wild habitat. They won’t even sign a conservation easement to protect the remaining part of the park, meaning that they’re considering even more expansion. The land is free and open to the public now. Why are we letting a private organization fence it off and charge us for admission to what is already ours? Why are they proposing to destroy habitat (the #1 threat to animals worldwide) to put up buildings? Seems like a very odd thing to do for a group that’s supposed to be about animal conservation.

    Comment by Beth — October 25, 2012 @ 1:32 pm

  9. And guess who is on the Board of directors at the zoo, our very own Kristen Vital , Superintendent of AUSD , who just loves parcel taxes, especially the ones that punish small commercial property owners.
    If it’s not for the poor children, it’s for the poor animals!!!
    Vote NO on A1….

    Comment by GCOBRE — October 25, 2012 @ 1:32 pm

  10. I’m so glad someone else wrote against A1 so I didn’t have to …

    Comment by Tom Schweich — October 25, 2012 @ 2:19 pm

  11. Knowland park is approx. 500 acres which is the largest park in Oakland. Letting the zoo expand would probably make the park more accessible to everyone, because they would know it was there. The few times I have been there….there was only a few cars parked on top and you didn’t see anyone. Why have a park which is paid to maintain which no one uses or enjoys because they don’t even know it is there.

    I am still going to vote no…but just an opinion…but I don’t want to pay for it. I have only been to the Oakland zoo 3 times in my life and it is suppose to be one of the best in the country. I have been to others including the SF and San Diego zoo’s and the Oakland zoo is much better.

    I think it was the SF zoo where they let people go into the barns and they were feeding the big cats with hunks of meat…probably beef…it was so gross…I love beef and will probably never stop eating it but if you think these Cats are special why not a cow. My dad named our cows as we were growing up as “hamburger”, “Roast Beef”, “Stew Meat”, ect…so we would not make them pets. I raised 2 sheep from lambs and wouldn’t eat if I knew we were eating lamb.

    Comment by Joe — October 25, 2012 @ 2:56 pm

  12. Lauren,

    Your comment about Jane Sullwold not understanding the no-cost conveyance and the math is not accurate:

    “The problem with the math that was presented in that post was missing the fact that the $108 million price tag was up to 1800 homes, anything built above that would incur a $75,000 per unit penalty.”

    If your assumptions are correct, then SunCal’s Measure B plan to build 4,800 homes would have put them 3,000 units over the 1,800 baseline. That would have meant that they would have had to have paid 3,000 x $75,000 over and above the base asking price of $108 million. The grand total would have been $333 million for them to purchase Alameda Point and build their development, which would have been an even worse waste of other people’s money than what they paid for Oak Knoll.

    That $75,000 surcharge number for extra housing above the reuse plan number of 1,425 is simply fiction. I’ve never seen it in any term sheet. The $108 million price tag was an arbitrary value that the Navy came up with before the Preliminary Development Concept of 2006 was even finalized. It had nothing to do with exact number of homes. It had to do with a Bush-era policy change that mandated the Pentagon to seek fair market value. It was an arbitrary number. It was $108 million when Community Partners wanted to build 1,800 homes, and it was $108 million when SunCal wanted to build 4,800 homes.

    If there is anything unclear about that post you refer to it is that a reader might assume that the $50,000 surcharge in the new term sheet approved by the council last year would have to come from the city, since the city will be the owner. Technically speaking that may be true. By I think we can all rest assured that the city is not going to fork over millions of dollars to underwrite additional housing units. The developer would have to agree ahead of time to pay the city the x millions for the right to develop.

    Comment by Richard Bangert — October 25, 2012 @ 3:00 pm

  13. Joe, Knowland Park is one of the last open spaces we have and it’s home to many native animals who’s habitat is shrinking at an alarming rate.
    Here in Alameda we are voting to protect our parks , well lets vote to protect the few acres for the animals that have no other place to go.
    Vote NO on A1

    Comment by GCOBRE — October 25, 2012 @ 3:08 pm

  14. Ralph Kanz

    8:56 pm on Wednesday, October 10, 2012

    The East Bay Zoological Society is in violation of its agreement with the City of Oakland to account for City funds. The City Auditor has agreed to look into the matter:
    The Society should not be given any additional funds until they account for the over $40 million they have already received.

    Ralph Kan

    This was posted on another Blog about the Zoo Tax.

    Comment by GCOBRE — October 25, 2012 @ 3:14 pm

  15. Here we go again. The enabling statue requires the tax to be uniform, but it is set to be $12 for residential and $72 for commercial. So one could have a house and a commercial building side by side and the same size with the commercial building paying 6 times as much and they both could be next to a 50 unit apartment house, just paying as much as a small house. When California so badly needs jobs and investment, why send this kind of a message?

    Comment by Ed Hirshberg — October 25, 2012 @ 3:17 pm

  16. This is part of an email I received from one of the Measures opponents , it concernes large apartment compexes and the backroom deals that were made….

    These open records requests have let us discover that the zoo cut a deal with the largest lobby for commercial apartment owners . E-mails received through a Public Records Act request show that in order to avoid opposition from commercial landlords of multi-unit apartment buildings, Zoo executives Joel Parrott and Nik Dehejia, along with Lew Edwards Group consultant Catherine Lew, coordinated a series of promises to the California Apartment Association PAC to secure their neutrality to the zoo tax, Measure A1. The results are that their members get preferential treatment, to the detriment of homeowners and small business owners.

    Comment by GCOBRE — October 25, 2012 @ 3:36 pm

  17. Hey Hirshberg, your enabling act idea is 0-for-3 in court.

    Your attorney, however, is batting 1.000.

    Comment by Scorekeeper — October 25, 2012 @ 4:01 pm

  18. Lauren, I hope you read the comments posted above before YOU vote. Your lone analysis needs work.

    Comment by vigi — October 25, 2012 @ 4:51 pm

  19. RE: Prop 37: So illogical & arbitrary it isn’t going to empower anyone’s consumer choices.

    Comment by vigi — October 25, 2012 @ 4:56 pm

  20. do you realize there is nothing in A-1 saying that the $ needs to be spent only on the animals?? the zoo can spend the $ on salaries or new park benches or resurfacing the parking lots. there’s a reason to vote no.

    Comment by ann — October 25, 2012 @ 5:01 pm

  21. Hey Richard, I don’t have the term sheet, but it is pretty well understood that the term sheet negotiated between APCP and the Navy included a ~$75k per household charge for unit constructed above the PDC. This is confirmed in this staff report (page 2) :

    “in the event more than 1390 residential units are constructed on the property, there is an additional $78,155 per unit payment”

    Click to access June_15_2010_Staff_Report.pdf

    Part of the reason that SunCal’s plan had so many units was to recoup the cost of that penalty.

    Comment by jkw — October 25, 2012 @ 5:47 pm

  22. 21. John,

    Yes, I see the reference to the “additional $78,115 per unit payment.” But that provision obviously was disregarded in private negotiations with the Navy. Their project called for 1,700 homes. That’s 300 more than the 1,390. That would have added another $23 million to the price tag, bringing it to $131 million. The only number for the land acquisition that I have ever seen during the master developer days is the $108 million.

    You say that, “Part of the reason that SunCal’s plan had so many units was to recoup the cost of that penalty.”

    That’s not what SunCal was saying publicly. Here’s what Pat Keliher told the SF Business Times when the housing number was ramped up:

    “The developer said earlier that its residential elements would have to be denser for the project to pencil out financially, because the 2006 development concept underestimated site preparation costs. APCP estimated infrastructure and site preparation costs at $260 million. SunCal did not disclose its estimate in the concept plan or a January letter to the city on the subject.”

    Comment by Richard Bangert — October 25, 2012 @ 7:05 pm

  23. Richard, it would be very easy for you to request clarification from the City. The $78,000 penalty was part of the term sheet, and Jane’s analysis was flawed. You have been pretty good about sticking to the facts so far, don’t blow your reputation on this one. It is a non starter. Having said that, I believe that Jane is an intelligent woman, and would probably do ok if elected (although I wont be voting for her) however she has chosen to surround herself with advisors who often don’t have an accurate grasp of the facts, and tend to see conspiracy theories under every rock. If she starts getting better advice, she might do well in the next election.

    Comment by notadave — October 26, 2012 @ 8:50 am

  24. 23. notadave,

    I don’t share your view that Jane’s analysis was flawed. Let’s go back to Lauren’s statement in which she cited one reason to not support Jane Sullwold this time around:

    “The problem with the math that was presented in that post was missing the fact that the $108 million price tag was up to 1800 homes, anything built above that would incur a $75,000 per unit penalty. In no universe does a $75K/unit penalty with the $108 million price tag cost less than a $50K per unit penalty under the no cost conveyance.”

    Ms. Sullwold was simply comparing the current land conveyance deal that the city has agreed to vs. the previous deal that SunCal was proposing. Lauren would be right if her assumption is correct. Her assumption may well have been true at one time in the pre-SunCal, or early-SunCal days. However, I do not believe that SunCal was going to pay the Navy an additional $75,000 per unit above 1800 units in order to get to full build-out of their 4,800 unit Calthorpe plan. If that were true, then SunCal would not only have needed to lay out the original $108 million. They would have needed to pony up another $225 million to reach their full build-out. If their real cost (not counting infrastructure and public benefits) was going to be $333 million, don’t you think we would have heard that number somewhere along the line? That’s a big number.

    Furthermore, I think it defies common sense that they would incur an additional $225 million expense in the form of penalties in the course of building a denser project when their stated reason for increasing density was to bring in more money to offset the cost of infrastructure and pubic benefits. Adding $75,000 to the cost of each unit would be backwards. They were trying to MAKE more money, not spend more.

    As I read Ms. Sullwold’s math comment, she was merely pointing out a fact that the community should have been better informed on. Personally, I don’t think it would have changed anyone’s opinion, but she apparently sees this as an example of where she, as a council member, would have been in favor of full disclosure and explanation to the public. Not all that much different than what Lauren herself did last year in this post in which she said: “While there are caps on the number of housing units, as well as $50K per unit “penalty,” in the grand scheme of things, if a developer is motivated enough, they’ll gladly eat that cost per unit.”

    I think Lauren’s observation in last year’s post was more on point, but nevertheless, Ms. Sullwold is accurate to state that under the current no-cost agreement, it is theoretically possible that the Navy could end up getting more than what they would have gotten under the SunCal plan.

    If someone wants to dig through the SunCal pro forma or whatever it was that spelled out all their expenses and how they arrived at their internal rate of return, and it says they would have incurred a $75,000 “penalty” for all units above 1,800, then I’ll stand corrected.

    Comment by Richard Bangert — October 26, 2012 @ 10:40 am

  25. Beth here. I made a mistake in something I said and want to correct it. It has been pointed out to me that “election costs” may not be the same as “campaign” costs. “Election” costs may refer to the money that has to be spent to get the measure on the ballot. So, the public may not be on the hook for the 1 million dollars the zoo is spending on its campaign, should A1 pass. I’m not sure why the public should finance the election costs either, but it may be a lot less than 1 million dollars. Can someone from the zoo weigh in here and tell us what their election costs are?

    Comment by Beth — October 28, 2012 @ 6:21 pm

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