Blogging Bayport Alameda

July 6, 2016

Check your privilege

Filed under: Alameda — Lauren Do @ 6:06 am

The Alameda/Oakland Magazine is slowly becoming a good source for reporting.  Since bringing Robert Gammon on board from the East Bay Express they’ve upped the amount of newsy pieces to balance out the overall fluffiness of the publication.  Plus they’ve been actually updating the daily blog.

Most recently there was a piece on the Alameda/Oakland Magazine that was spot on regarding the content and sentiment, but a wee bit off on the actual terminology.


In most cities, including Oakland, if a person or group opposes the planning board’s approval of a project, they must file an official appeal with the city, pay a fee (typically about $1,000), and pay for the city staff time to deal with it. The issue then goes to the city council for a hearing. The process is designed to dissuade frivolous appeals.

Alameda has this system, too, but it also lets any resident appeal a decision by simply calling or emailing the mayor or a councilmember and convincing him or her to use the privilege. City taxpayers must then pay the staff costs of these appeals.

So I totally agree with this.  The way that the City Council is able to challenge a Planning Board decision is completely ridiculous and allows for abuse of the system.  However, in this piece it refers to the system as a “Referral,” but what it really is is a “Call for Review.” I mean, the Referral process is highly abused as well to bring up every single thought that has flickered through the minds of the City Council members, but it’s the Call for Review process that has been used quite liberally since this recent Council formation.

I made a public records request in May for the information about Calls for Review, plus the cost of staff time (I haven’t gotten that information yet)  According to the City Clerk’s office back in May when I requested this information, here is the list of Calls for Review and what happened at the City Council level:

1/6/15 – reconsider prior Council’s ordinances approving Del Monte (Spencer); outcome: ordinances not rescinded; directed density bonus ordinance return to Council for review and possible moratorium

5/19/15 – Cell Towers at 1777 Shoreline (Daysog) and 1538 St. Charles (Spencer); outcome: upheld Planning Board decision; directed inventory of preferred cell tower locations return to Council

6/16/15 – Site A Development Plan (Daysog); outcome: upheld Planning Board decision

9/1/15 – Hotel at 2350 Harbor Bay Parkway (Spencer); outcome: upheld the Planning Board decision with additional conditions

12/1/15 – Design of 1926 Park Street (Daysog); outcome: sent the project back to Planning Board

2/2/16 – Use at 1316 Webster (Spencer and Oddie); outcome: no action was taken (split vote)

5/3/16 – Design, density bonus and parking waiver at 1435 Webster (Spencer); outcome: upheld Planning Board decision with direction regarding to monitor parking and provide outreach to neighbors

The Call for Review has been used eight times in 17 months, more than 60% of the Calls for Review were initiated by Trish Spencer. The other 40ish% were initiated by Tony Daysog.  Jim Oddie has one, but his overlapped with a Trish Spencer Call for Review.  Essentially 100% of the Calls for Review were initiated by only two members on the whole City Council in the span of 17 months.  Only one project had a wholesale rejection, the container project at the entrance to Park Street, but every other vote ended up upholding the decision of the Planning Board.

Essentially a huge waste of time  and money for everyone involved.

So even though the terminology may be wrong in the piece, the sentiment is right:

In interviews, councilmembers from Oakland and other cities were shocked to learn that Alameda has this rule. To them, such a “privilege” is a ripe for favoritism and abuse.

And they’re right. It is unfair. It’s also not good government. But the Alameda council has no plans to change. At a recent meeting, the council shot down a proposal by Councilmember Jim Oddie to reform the process. Councilmember Tony Daysog summed up the sentiment when he said he’s “reluctant to give up his privilege.”

That privilege leads to higher housing costs.


  1. Huzzahs to Spencer and Daysog,

    Comment by jack — July 6, 2016 @ 9:49 am

  2. sounds to me like some council members want to be on the planning board instead of the council.

    Comment by John P. — July 6, 2016 @ 10:20 am

    • The reverse is also true…..

      Comment by dave — July 6, 2016 @ 10:29 am

  3. That $1000 figure is totally arbitrary, but that is where the real unfairness comes in. Think about it: once a project has reached Planning Board approval stage, 99% of the staff time has already been paid for. The appeal to the City Council is simply presenting the same material already developed and presented to the Planning Board to five new pairs of eyes. The same slides will be used in the presentation, same staff reports, same plans & diagrams, etc. etc. If it costs $1000 to simply email the same material to five councilmembers, then City staff is not making a cost-efficient use of their time.

    By requiring such a large fee to buy Council review, cities give preference to wealthy–usually developers–appellants who want their projects approved after rejection by the local planning boards. But what can a group of upset neighbors do when their appeals to the Planning Board fail–or came too late? Individuals usually don’t have $1000 to blow on an appeal to council. But in this city, they can and do lobby their elected representatives. If the lobbying is persuasive, a council member can agendize the matter and the people concerned can be heard.
    You say: “Essentially a huge waste of time and money for everyone involved.” The people bringing the development for Council review certainly don’t think so. Democracy and good government is all about people being heard. Developments affect the neighborhoods around them, and since the radius for noticing neighbors is some absurdly small number like 300 feet, city government should make every attempt to hear reasonable dissent. Hearing citizens out is never a waste of staff time. That is what staff are getting paid to do.

    You call it “privilege”? I call it giving the little guy a fighting chance against Big Development.

    Comment by vigi — July 6, 2016 @ 10:21 am

  4. Was this privilege ever utilized by mayors who enjoyed our blogmistress’s approval?

    Comment by dave — July 6, 2016 @ 10:27 am

  5. You nailed it as usual, vigi.

    Comment by jack — July 6, 2016 @ 12:14 pm

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