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YCCR - January 29, 2008

Article Launched:01/30/2008

Big Fishes in a Small Pond, Redux

A few fishes shrunk a little…but some grew!

This is definitely a redux; Triad’s downtown development plan—continued from the January 8th meeting and continued yet again to another meeting. Since staff requested it be continued and the council agreed, they took public comment and that was it. But some public comment was bizarre…

There were no presentations

Consent Calendar:

First the public comment (We all missed John Osborne, I hope he is feeling OK, or better yet, I hope he took some time off)…

Item 6.B: Mustafa Abdul Ghanee indicated that Bethel students from the Country Club Crest are taking short cuts under the Hwy 37 tunnel. Ghanee asked if this issue be included in item 6.B, approval of the “Safe Streets to School” Program. Mayor Davis asked that the resolution be changed to include language about the getting a solution to the Bethel/Country Club Crest students’ short cuts.

6.A was moved to 6.1: This was a “waiver of claims and indemnification” agreement between the Metropolitan Transportation Commission and the City of Vallejo, due to Vallejo’s participation in a regional study. Councilmember Schivley asked this be pulled from the consent calendar because she wanted to make sure complaints by citizens about signal timing are addressed. Public Works Director Gary Leach indicated that they would, and this was one of the purposes of the study.

Agenda, Consent Calendar and item 6.1 were all unanimously agreed upon.

Public Hearing 8.A

If you want to read the details of this item, approval of the Triad amendments, you will have to read the report from January 8th (nothing has changed). This was just a continuation of the public hearing because on the 8th, the council (the ones who didn’t recuse themselves) did not feel they had enough information (hmmmm, where have I heard THAT before?) to make a decision. And the vote tonight was to continue the hearing again because…the council (the ones who didn’t recuse themselves) did not feel they had enough information to make a decision. Groundhog Day

The same recusals: Tom Bartee because he has real estate interests in the project area, Stephanie Gomes because 30 feet of her yard is in the project area. Michael Wilson because he is a part owner of ARC Inc. Council member Schivley asked that these three recusals be looked at since recusals of three council members puts an undue burden on other members (that is an understatement since the others don’t seem to know about the plan except Schivley).

Mayor Davis offered resolutions proposed by staff to continue the hearing until March 11 so that the Council has a chance to study it in more detail. There was some public comment regardless, since it was advertised as a public meeting.

  • First speaker was Marti Brown, who picked up from her fantastic “My Turn” in the 1/29 edition of the Vallejo Times Herald. She spoke of the process and reminded the council that Triad has been working on the amendment since last summer, and even met with candidates and council members, and that issues should have been addressed in the last 4-5 months instead of addressing them now at the eleventh hour. She reminded the Council that the Waterfront Coalition requested a public meeting in October where questions could have been raised and answered. Triad and City staff both returned her calls promptly and she was sure they would return calls from council members and candidates. Brown pointed out the irony of the council’s complaints over Triad’s delays at the January 8th meeting, and here the council was again delaying the decision, this time until March 11th. There has certainly time for folks to get up to speed. She reminded the Council that the Triad project was originally approved in Sept 05 with enormous support from the community, including the Downtown Advisory Group. Back then, parking was raised, and there has been 2 ½ years to address this concern, and that the project’s success is our success and that Triad would not want to see a shortage of parking either. Also reminded the council that the Planning Commission and Design Review Board both upheld the plan and that although 30-40 owners “own” the downtown, the downtown belongs to the 112,000 residents and it is the heart of our City.

  • I reminded the Council that I was on the Downtown Advisory Committee (DAG), and gave them my old DAG list that had more than 40 members representing practically every group in Vallejo and that back in 9/2005, people with many divergent views on other issues supported this project. I also indicated that I believed the Virginia Street location was the right place to start. On January 8th, some spoke that locations on York Street would be a better place to build the first condo development, but Virginia Street is a perceived as much more of a community and safe place with the Empress and beautiful buildings. York Street has large, vacant, windowless buildings that do not inspire a safe and inviting place.

  • Diana Lang stated that it would be nice if parking was our biggest problem. Other communities with performing art spaces have parking that is blocks away. She believes the parking is a red herring—that people who don’t want the project are using parking problems as subterfuge. And, if we take Triad’s $200,000 fee and they don’t build, then we have $200,000. As a realtor, Lang believes that if we build it they will come. We have many lower-income folks downtown, property owners that don’t care about their properties. No to Triad would be no to any developers for possibly 10 years. Does not believe in “something, anything” but she believes that the involvement contributed by the community in the DAG including Lang, created a transit oriented development that Vallejo is perfect for. We need people in the downtown who are affluent enough to afford the downtown. If the project starts now, by the time the project is done the market will have turned around.

  • Tom Morgan stated that he saw the 1/8 meeting and disagreed with the council member who thought the developer was not going to move forward. People don’t want to live in DT since currently it’s not clean and not safe and there’s nothing to do. Current residents who live in the downtown can’t support the downtown. We need to bring in the housing, shopping, restaurants and residents who can afford it. Economy & real estate has nose-dived and will be down for a couple of years but if Triad starts now, project will be ready in two years when the economy has turned around. Longer delays will hurt the project; construction costs will go up and will be passed on to the City. Triad can afford the $200,000 more than the City can, and delays will hurt the City, especially the downtown.

  • Mustafa Abdul Ghanee again did not think there were enough affordable housing opportunities in the downtown. He thought that if the affordable housing is removed, we are in for another “Buchongo Settlement”—the city was sued years ago for not developing affordable housing that they were requirement to create. When this was discussed on 01/08, Iris Yang, an attorney for the City said this type of lawsuit couldn’t happen in the downtown because we have the reverse situation; lots of affordable housing and no market rate housing. He feels that it’s an issue of fairness with the shrinking middle class; more folks should be able to buy a home in the redevelopment project area, since a portion of redevelopment funds must be set aside for affordable housing.

  • The bizarre and shrinking fish comments came from Buck Kamphausen (owner of downtown properties including the car museum) who did an absolute 180 degree turnaround from the prior meeting. As a reminder, in the last meeting, Kamphausen said that he was planning to sue the City because he believed that he, as a major owner of Downtown properties—has some sort of right to ownership to Downtown’s city-owned properties. He stated that because these were “paid for” with tax-increments created by Downtown property owners’ property taxes from the last round of redevelopment. Kamphausen also complained about parking and that he is ready to sue the City for the parking situation including the use of new lift technology in the private condo development. He also said he was never in favor of the project. He must have forgotten that at the 9/20/2005 meeting where the Triad project was first approved: his attorney, Al Moore, gave support of the project on behalf of Kamphausen. On January 8th, Kamphausen went as far as calling the Empress a “boondoggle.”

    Who knows what encouraged him to completely change his mind, but this evening, Kamphausen came out 100% for the project and didn’t even seem to be worried about the parking. He even said that the City should not charge Triad the $200,000. He did say that Councilmember Schivley got him to understand that Triad has already invested a large amount of their own money.

  • Sam Kurshan stated that he also changed his mind about the project. His was not a 180% turn-about though; his concerns last time were regarding the removal of the affordable component and he continues to support opportunities for first time home buyers to buy affordable units in the downtown. But overall, he is now supportive of the project because he has gathered more information and spoke to Councilmember Schivley about the project. He now believes the project is a good for Vallejo. He is concerned about charging Triad $200,000 because no one else is interested in Vallejo.

  • Fred Grimm, president of Triad, spoke about Triad’s interest in continuing to move forward and that they are not opportunists, they still believe that the project is good regardless of the current market. He said that they are not saviors but they see the broad interest in the project and want to continue. He did say that if the City does not approve the amendment, he did not want to see it based on the assumption that Triad is not committed to completing the project (I hope Sunga was paying attention), because they are committed to completing it.

The item was unanimously approved to continue until March 11.

There were no policy items, no administrative items, no appointments to boards, no written communications, no city managers report, no city attorney’s report.

Community Forum:

  • First speaker was Edward Schindler, who announced the 30th anniversary of the “Longest Walk” starting in the Bay Area on February 11th after giving the council a message in his Native American Senec language about caring for the earth and saving mother earth. The walk starts at Alcatraz and will go through Glen Cove as it moves east to D.C. He encouraged folks to visit, which has a wish list of supplies that folks can donate to support the walk, and money is accepted as well.

  • Sam Kurshan notified the Council that ex-Fire Chief Parker is still active on the City’s web site. Interim Fire Chief Sherman’s bio and link were on the same page and Kurshan believes the existence of both is insulting to Sherman. The City’s IT department was insistent that Parker’s name, etc had already been removed. I just checked and Parker is now removed but I am not surprised if reference to Parker was there for months because it took months to change City Clerk Villarante after she left the City.

  • Susan Anthony requested an extension of her project due to the real estate market, financing and that her business partner and friend has died. Davis took it to pass on to staff.

  • Diana Lang and Marc Garman reminded us that some fish aren’t shrinking—instead they are growing into huge piranhas. I wonder if the four Henkettes are growing with them? If anything, I hope their hubris will be their downfall—hey a girl (or an ADQ) can dream, yes? Lang and Garman reminded the Council of the extremely generous pay and benefits for the growing big fish in our tiny pond, Firefighters and Police, and the Firefighters’ abuse of union business leave. I watched the Henkettes—council members supported by the Fire Union IAFF 1186—as Lang and Garman spoke. Sunga and Bartee seemed calm, they are used to it I suppose after hearing it for two years. Wilson maintained a frown. Hannigan fidgeted, looked quite peeved and ducked under the dais occasionally to retrieve something, maybe her composure?

  • Lang reminded the Council that labor negotiations are going on behind closed doors and in closed session—the public has been shut out of the process. The public should be part of this extremely important conversation. Lang reminded the council that the large component of our current fiscal crisis is due to enormous raises in exchange for short-term deferments and contract extensions for Firefighters and police. The former mayor and council gave them concessions and benefits that have driven us to near bankruptcy. Lang encouraged the council to look at the benefits that were added on when each raise deferment and contract extension was given. It’s the envy of every Union in the state: the safety staff is well paid but the benefits are obscene. We have an enormous beast on our back and she warned the council to not hobble us with another contract extension and/or another obscene and greater benefit package. Her (very sage) advice was for the City to cut up the credit card because they are spending our future. They all must live up to what they stated in their campaigns and do not sell our future off.

  • Marc Garman spoke of the Firefighters union’s paid Union Business Leave (UBL) abuse that is not getting enough attention. The grand jury stated in their 2005/06 report that the members of the IAFF 1186 Fire Union should only get paid for actual hours required to conduct union business. Garman indicated that he would also like to get paid for hours not worked; just doesn’t seem to happen.

    The grand jury report also advised that management level employees should not hold rank and file union offices to eliminate any possible conflict of interest. (This advice refers specifically to Assistant Fire Chief Kurt Henke—leader of the Henkettes—who also is the president of the Fire Union IAFF 1186. Talk about having and eating one’s cake at the same time).

    Garman reminded the council that this conflict of interest seems to have resulted in misappropriation of hundreds of thousands of taxpayer dollars repeatedly, year after year. This misappropriation was outlined in a report on Union Business Leave Abuses by Investigator Douglas Friefield in November 2007.

    • Fire Captain Richard Mackenzie was quoted in the report saying that UBL was used for political games playing with the city.

    • In the report, Fire Captain and Union Vice President Jon Riley stated that he would not go back to work (but continue to be paid) if he drank too much during a UBL event.

    • Henke stated that the City “decided to screw with [them] so they decided to use UBL more heavily because they had to fight the City because the City “is screwing with us.”

    • Henke admitted being paid for 24 hour on June 25& 26, 07, to plan and participate a union-sponsored BBQ connected with rallying support for union issues at the City Council budget session that evening, appear at that budget session, and then follow up as he saw necessary afterwards (like—maybe celebrating by getting drunk with certain council members?)

    • Riley stated he believes it is up to the Union President Henke to decide the legitimate purpose for how to use UBL (fox watching the hen house?)

    • Henke stated that while on 24 hour paid duty, some UBL usages would require refraining from returning to duty if the union member consumed alcohol during a particular UBL event. (More getting paid for not working—getting paid for sleeping off a drunk—and folks, the person filling in for them generally gets one-and-a-half-time!)

  • Garman asked that the City Council give this abuse the attention it deserves and not sweep it under the carpet but rather, look into it to make sure it is not continuing, especially while all these contract negotiations are taking place. The City should look at this issue with the proper diligence.


Council Member Reports:

Councilmember Schivley announced the council goal setting session to be held on Tuesday, February 5th in the JFK Library’s Joseph Room, and encouraged all to attend since important discussions about Vallejo’s future will be discussed.

Someone pointed out that in prior years the goal setting would last two days—but hey, we can’t afford goals anymore so why waste time setting them? Cut the meeting short—makes sense, eh? (But attend anyway!!! I’ll be there!)

Adios, Au Revoir, Aufwiedersehn, GOODNIGHT (until next time!)