The City Council meeting tonight is jam packed, which sort of begs the question of the point of having an August recess. I mean, I guess it’s so the City Council can go on vacation and City Staff can have a break during a “slow” time, but if the City Council comes back to hours long agenda again, it seems to be pointless. Particularly since someone gets super cranky after 11:00 p.m.
While a large portion of the items are on consent, here are a few that night get pulled and might see some level of discussion.
Final passage of the ordinance regarding rent increases and codifying the Rent Review Advisory Committee. The first item has external correspondence from a landlord organization and a “housing provider” aka landlord. As it stands the ordinance is pretty “soft” so any further futzing with it will render it pretty much useless. The second consent item should be a no brainer, it doesn’t actually give the RRAC any new powers or authorities.
On the regular agenda is a revision of the Sunshine Ordinance I believe initiated by staff but heavily wordsmithed by this current Open Government Commission. As a reminder, here is one Commissioner’s opinion on the Sunshine Ordinance and the Brown Act in general. One of the things that the current crop of Commissioners wanted to do was to remove the restriction on using electronic devices during meetings for uses other actual meeting related stuff (aka don’t start emailing or texting people during meetings), here’s the section:
Use of Electronic Communication Devices. Currently, there is a subsection in the Ordinance’s “Findings” (section 2-90.2 (f)) that provides that it is not in the public’s interest to have private communications occur between decisions makers and a limited number of individuals and therefore at public meetings, cell phones and other electronic communications including email, text and instant messaging shall be turned off during public meetings.
Staff had two concerns with this. First, this provision is in the “Findings” section in the Ordinance and hence easy to overlook; staff believes it should be in a “substantive” section of the Ordinance rather than in the Findings. Second, because the City is trying to go paperless, most elected and appointed officials use City issued or personal iPads to access agenda materials. IPads, of course, can be used to send email, texts, instant messaging and the like. It seemed to staff that this provision, in addition to being moved, should attempt to address this apparent conflict. Accordingly, staff moved the provision to a new Section 2-91.4 (h) and added “The use of electronic communication devices, other than for the purpose of a member’s accessing agenda materials that are on a member’s iPad or laptop computer shall be prohibited during meetings.”
The Commission, however, felt that this subsection as drafted was too narrow and did not reflect today’s technological reality that elected and appointed officials should be able to use their personal smart phones or iPads during a meeting to access information relevant to the subject matter then under discussion but should not be allowed to use such devices to send or receive information to/from inappropriate sources, such as third parties. For example, an official may want to access electronically a portion of the City’s Municipal Code, even though such portion is not part of the agenda materials. The Ordinance, both in its current form and as staff had revised it, would not allow that.
Staff continues to recommend the language as originally proposed. If the additional language recommended by the Commission were adopted, there would no longer be a bright line rule as to what is/is not permitted and members of the public may question what information elected and appointed officials are in fact receiving and/or sending when it comes to their use of electronic communication devices at public meetings.
You know what we could do to encourage reducing paper waste (using iPads) but ensure that people are using their devices appropriately? First, each Councilperson could be limited to one internet enabled device during the meeting. If they want their cellphone, fine. If they want their tablet, cool. But you can’t have both. Then the content of their device could be streamed to the internet or on a video screen or something, so if they are looking at the agenda. Cool. If they’re researching Municipal Code, also fine. If someone messages them with comments to say aloud, awesome, we’ll all see it too. If they’re playing Minesweeper, well, maybe not so cool, but voila! Transparency in government. I’m all about problem solving.
In another agenda item (should be short) City Staff is urging caution with regard to the proposed Wetland Mitigation Bank, pointing out that the possible revenue is much smaller than the potential to secure grant funding for open space at Alameda Point.
Tony Daysog is taking on Transient Occupancy Taxes and going after AirBnBers in Alameda. It is unclear if he wants to ban AirBnB units in Alameda or simply regulate them to collect taxes. Probably the latter because the first will bring out angry AirBnB hosts and that would be too much drama for Tony Daysog.
Interestingly the Council Referral on a revision of the TOT tax to put the funding toward a “Visit Alameda” campaign coincides with a call for Review by Trish Spencer and an appeal from UniteHere of a proposed hotel on Harbor Bay. Because nothing says “Visit Alameda” like putting the kibosh on hotel units for people to stay in Alameda. Staff concludes that there is no reason for the City to deny the application and approval is beneficial to the City:
In addition to the project’s conformance to the City’s General Plan, Zoning Ordinance and Harbor Bay Business Park Development Agreement, it is also consistent with the City’s Economic Development Strategic Plan. Strategy #3 encourages development of facilities to serve the business traveler, business conference market and vacationing tourists by attracting quality hotel/conference centers. The Strategy states “Alameda does not have adequate facilities for business-related conferences and events despite the increase in high-tech service sector businesses in the city and the region.” “[A] conference facility and additional rooms for business travelers are needed.”
As noted in the Financial Impact section of the staff report below, the project will generate between $400,000 and $500,000 in Transient Occupancy Tax annually for the General Fund, which will make the project one of the top five commercial business tax generators for the City of Alameda. The hotel will produce a multiplier effect in sales tax revenue with guests spending off-site at local retail stores and restaurants. It will also employ 24 people.
And finally there’s the bit about the City Council approving the Mayor’s nominations to the Planning Board and Transportation Commission. As I mentioned previously current Vice President of the Planning Board Dania Alvarez was not reappointed. Coincidentally or maybe not coincidentally, on referral is a request from Jim Oddie to have staff review the deadlines and requirements for appointees to the various city boards and commissions. Also a request of how other cities go through their process of appointments to these boards and commissions.