The Planning Commission Does a
Slam Dunk (sort of)
August 16, 2012 Meeting
By Hatfield McCoy
with editorial comment in italics
Anyone who has paid attention to the Planning Commission over the past decade, and probably even before that, has learned that the commission has been largely made up of a few rubber stamping Chamber of Commerce people, with a few different minded members managing to be appointed on rare occasion. The current commission is no different.
The mantra is “Absolutely positively anything is a good thing because it is better than nothing."
Vallejo is now faced with yet another new project from East Bay developer Joe Callahan. He is the developer who brought us that wonderful looking State Farm building and stripped us of a beautiful redwood shaded park in the process. Callahan now proposes to place over 400 residential rental units on our CENTRAL waterfront, with hundreds of parking spaces. He also proposes to place a large office building at the end of Maine Street for a yet unnamed tenant.
The Planning Commission met at their regularly appointed time last Monday, August 13th. However, after convening, the meeting was cancelled within minutes and rescheduled for Thursday, August 16th. Some feel that city staff was playing games to confuse the public. Only five of the seven members were in attendance at the Thursday meeting: Eschenburg, Graden, Klimsch, Kinney and Adams with Peterman and Cortez absent. Several war veterans were present to state their concerns about potentially losing their Veterans Memorial Park currently situated behind the library. Activist Joe Mickelson stated that over 1400 veterans frequently use that park, and share the park with their families. He reminded the group that the veterans just spent money they don’t really have to put up the granite monument honoring Vallejo’s fallen war veterans. In addition to the Vets, a few dozen citizens peppered the audience. Councilman Robert McConnell was the only member of the city council in attendance.
Several speakers came forward. One speaker said:“It baffles me why you would build a big box office building on our precious waterfront when you don’t even know who the prospective tenant is, or whether or not they will come to Vallejo.” Downtown property owner and merchant, B.J. Conrad asked several rational questions. Among them were: How will the already overburdened police and fire department take care of 400 more rental units? Why are we in such a big rush to do this? Is the contractor willing to finance necessary infrastructure, or will he leave that up to the tax payers? What if we build the office building, and the potential tenant goes elsewhere anyways? Conrad ended her line of questioning with: Where are you going to put over 1,000 parking places, right at the center of our waterfront?
A brand new commissioner, Anthony (Tony) Adams, kicked off the discussion of the proposed project. “I have tried to think of ways to make this work. I have met with Joe Callahan and find him to be a gracious fellow. But I cannot in good conscience support this project.” Adams was one of three planning commissioners in attendance at the “second public hearing” which was part of the City Council meeting on Tuesday, August 14. “The waterfront is one of the few jewels we have left, we must consider this proposal very carefully. Will people come to visit apartments and office buildings? No, but they will come to see a waterfront. We need sound long-term effects and advantages for Vallejo and for Vallejo’s people. Do we want to become a ‘Destination Area’ or a ‘Pass-thru Departure Area’?” he asked. Adams spoke with passion when he further said: “We can separate this into three aspects of reflection: Heart & Soul, Spirit & Intention and Systems Thinking. The Systems Thinking element is the rational lens. We need to look at a long term solution. It’s a natural desire to want to do something – anything. But the symptom now is the poor economy, so we react to the pain, but forget the cure. We do not need a quick fix for the pain, we need to obtain the greatest possible leverage to get the waterfront we all so dearly want. We simply cannot and must not give it away.” Adams finished his address with this statement: “We need to shape our future in a proactive way, not a reactive way. We are no longer willing to simply react to the events around us, please for the sake of Vallejo’s future, let’s do it right!”
Once Adams finished his impassioned statements illuminating the reasons as to his rejection of this proposal (Adams was the sole dissenting vote) , Commissioner Klimsch addressed Jpe Callahan: “I apologize for the way our other ‘division’ has addressed you, Mr. Callahan. You have been here for fourteen years, and have done a lot for Vallejo.” Vice Chairman Graden offered many sound questions, and had obviously put a little more thought into his vote. Klimsch finalized the discussion with: “Change is always painful, I approve this project.” Graden then called for the vote, Klimsch made the motion, seconded by Kinney, and it was a done deal with a ‘Motion carries’ vote on a 4-1 split. Let’s watch Adams carefully. He appears both thoughtful and independent.