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NEWSFLASH   1/7/14 -- Cal Maritime Academy has reached an agreement for the purchase of The Vallejo Inn motel near the entrance of the school at 101 Maritime Academy Drive. Looks like this constant source of trouble and high numbers of police calls for service is about to change. 

 

READ FULL PRESS RELEASE HERE

 


Helpful Hints for the (1/7/14) City Council Meeting:

  • The meeting proper starts at 6 PM not 7. Be there early if you want to get your backside into a seat.
  • You can make comments on outgoing council members during the COMMENDATIONS PORTION OF THE MEETING.  Put a card in early and keep it short dammit.
  • New council members will be sworn in at 7. 


 

Missed Opportunities that

 

 

keep us on the Dock!

 

 

By  Chris Platzer

1/4/14 

 

primal_scream_banner.jpgI am writing to thank 3200 voters who casted a ballot for me in the recent Council election. With your vote, you endorsed a bold new vision for Vallejo – the restoration and revitalization of Mare Island as a commercial hub for manufacturing and maritime-related commerce. This was the platform that I put forward and will continue to articulate.  

 

Let us not forget how we got here. In 1986 BRAC announced the scaling back  of U.S. military bases. In 1992, Mare Island was placed on the closure list. In 1996, Mare Island Naval Shipyard closed and 5,900 jobs went away, dealing a devastating blow to the local economy. The City, now in possession of the keys to the front gate of a shipyard, looked around for someone within City Hall to run a shipyard and found no one. An RFP went out and three responses were received. One respondent with a semblance of commercial real estate development was chosen.  In 2002, the City sold 900 acres of Mare Island for $1 to Lennar, a Miami-based housing developer. Lennar took possession of the keys to the front gate only to realize that 350 acres were commercial and manufacturing in nature.  They too looked around for someone who knew how to run a shipyard as they were lacking in that area of expertise. In 2007, Lennar began building what the first of a planned 1400 home community. In 2008 the housing market tanked and 260 homes were left standing on Mare Island. In the meantime, one of Mare Island’s major assets, the 4 dry docks, sat idle until 2011.  Along came a succession of shipyard companies which leased three of the dry docks from Lennar for $60,000/month. You might ask, why did the City allow $10.8 million dollars (15 years of unrecognized lease income) go by the wayside? It  is also worth mentioning that Lennar  inherited several major heavy industrial tenants  (XKT, Jeffco, EPS ) when they took control of Mare Island. These businesses account for hundreds of jobs on Mare Island.

 

Fast forward to the last election. Each candidate at all the forums stressed economic development and attracting jobs to Vallejo.  Here were some of the ways to accomplish this: 1) market and promote Vallejo’s highly skilled workforce and the lowest cost of doing business in the Bay Area.  2) Create good paying white-collar jobs on Mare Island for people living outside of Vallejo 3) Bring eco-friendly, green technology and light industrial manufacturing businesses to Mare Island.  4) Create curb appeal on the north end of Mare Island by demolishing dilapidated buildings and the rest will follow. I wish the newly elected council luck in achieving these goals.


It was and remains my intention to start an adult conversation about the best and most appropriate reuse of Mare Island and its strategic maritime advantages.  As a candidate, I was branded the “Port Parrot” because of my “pie in the sky” idea of establishing a shipping port. I was heavily criticized for not having a specific plan and for having a “silver bullet” to create 10,000 jobs by 2020. All the civic leaders told me that it can’t be done and that I can’t get elected on a single issue. Funny thing is, none of the other candidates were asked to produce a specific plan for economic development. In the last week of the election I was attacked in an article on VIB by outgoing Councilwoman Brown for my “lack of homework” on the port idea. She mentioned that any industrial development on Mare Island would require an Economic Impact Report and that would take 10 years to accomplish and have no guarantee of succeeding. In point of fact, the EIR for Mare Island already exists and so does the Mare Island Specific Plan. Both plans lay out the heavy industrial reuse of large parts of Mare Island, in particular Area 5 which includes the shipways and dry docks. Ms. Brown went on to say that the residential development of the south side of the island is incompatible with the industrial reuse of Mare Island.  Apparently, sometime ago voters decided that Mare Island should not blight the City’s “front yard” with any type of maritime or industrial commerce.  She also stressed that economic redevelopment is incremental and grows from the existing assets and businesses that Vallejo has to offer. She also took offense that my “only” source of campaign funding comes from Mare Island Railroad.  In doing so she does a disservice to my many other campaign contributors who are listed on my campaign disclosure forms.  Rail is the life blood of any port and heavy manufacturing cannot succeed without it.  A truly intermodal center of commerce would by definition include shipping, rail and trucking. A railroad doesn’t make any money without customers who what to ship by rail. Neither do shipping and trucking companies. It is hard to rationalize Lennar’s aversion to allowing rail service on Mare Island. But suffice it to say that existing businesses like Alstrom and EPS would benefit from access to rail service. The fact that my vision for Mare Island over lapped with the business interests of an outside railroad company should come as no surprise to anyone. No more so then the financial backing of Big Labor for the Jump Start slate of candidates.


The other opposition that I heard to the proposal of the creation of a “port district” and a Port of Mare Island is that it would be so successful that, as one city council person told me, he cannot fathom the idea of having to be late for an appointment across town because he would have to wait an inordinate amount of time at a railroad crossing for a train to pass.  Another form of opposition came from a group of people who have this perception that ports and rail and industrial commerce are toxic to the environment. I can only tell you that the idea of a “sustainable port” is gaining hold in the maritime industry. Both the Ports Districts of Oakland and Long Beach have made great strides in reducing pollution and mitigating its environmental impact. As I write this I am on a ship in Yokohama, Japan and you would be amazed how clean and green this facility is.  Ports can very much exist alongside urban areas.  I am at a loss to explain where the idea of Vallejo being used as a transit point for garbage barges comes from. But, that is the perception which is based on a lack of knowledge. Mare Island and its dry docks would be ideal for ship repair and maintenance. There are several ship yards in Alameda that have no room for expansion that would be ideal tenants for Mare Island. It’s a pity that the City’s Economic Development Director doesn’t have a maritime related back ground which would help to recruit maritime businesses. Instead, the department is staffed with Kennedy-Wilson property managers that are doing Lennar’s bidding on the tax payer’s dime. (Kennedy-Wilson and the relationship to Lennar is a matter best suited to a forensics accountant.)


Vallejo owes its very existence to the maritime use of Mare Island. When Admiral Farragaut established the first naval base on the west coast in 1853, Vallejo grew and prospered as a result. I am not saying that the Navy was the best steward of the island, but many of us came to Vallejo to help build and repair the ships and subs that played a vital part in the defense of this country.  Vallejo had a thriving downtown in the 40s, 50s, 60s and 70s and that had a lot to do with the Navy’s 143 year presence on Mare Island. I say we can return downtown to the same prosperity with the reuse of Mare Island as a maritime center of commerce.


I hope that the City Council sees the merit of beginning a discussion on the best use of Mare Island.  We can start by creating an “exploratory committee” that would bring all the stakeholders around the same table.  Invite representatives from the national, state, regional and municipal levels to sit alongside business owners, developers, environmentalists, citizens, home owners and the like to move forward with a vision for Mare Island and Vallejo. Remember, if 3200 voters agreed with the idea of a Port of Vallejo, they are close to the 5 percent of registered voters needed to put it to a test of the voters by placing an initiative on the next ballot.

 

Note: All opinions expressed in the "Primal Scream" column are those of the writer and not necessarily those of the Vallejo Independent Bulletin.