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Alameda City Council Holds Private Town Hall Meeting for Pro-Swap supporters

By Erica Madison

The Mif Albright swap forces a race against time, between members of Alameda City Council and the citizen action group Protect Our Alameda Parks.

There is a lot of opposition against the Mif Albright swap for North Loop Road property. The Protect Our Alameda Parks citizens’ action group was created out of outrage over Harbor Bay Isle Associates’ proposal to swap the nine-hole Mif Albright Golf Course for $7.2 million and 12.2 acres of North Loop Road. It’s created factions within Alameda, with POAP and golf supporters leading the opposition and Alameda youth sports boosters on the pro side.

This faction has also spread to the city council level as well. At a special city council meeting on February 21, 2012, councilmember Doug DeHaan showed his support for the opposition.

“There is wording that is ambiguous and could potentially head to a lawsuit,” said councilmember DeHaan about section 22-12 of Alameda’s charter. The charter currently allows the City of Alameda to swap parks.

Councilmember DeHaan tried to have the POAP’s no swap initiative put on the November 2012 ballot, but was shot down by councilmembers Lena Tam, Beverly Johnson, and Vice Mayor Bonta. The meeting erupted into a heated argument where Johnson called DeHaan “confused” and Vice Mayor Bonta stated that he hadn’t heard a reasonable explanation for why they should put the “No Swap” initiative on the ballot.

POAP sent out a press release in response to this development:

“Although we were disappointed by the City Council refusal to put councilmember DeHaan’s initiative on the ballot, we do feel we have a good chance of successfully placing our own citizen sponsored identical initiative on the November ballot. We’re gratified we already have the support of many city notables including former Mayor Bill Withrow, former councilmember Lil Arnerich and Barbara Kerr, councilmember Doug DeHaan, Tony Corica, Eric Cross, Mike Robles-Wong, Jim Sweeney, Marie Kane and many others. And our list of supporters grows daily.”

Our POAP Initative would eliminate the swap loophole, and make such swaps subject to a vote of the people. Our initiative will fulfill the intention of Charter Amendment 22.12 passed 20 years ago. We know Alamedans dearly love their parks and green open spaces.” The group has set up a website www.protectouralamedaparks.org.

The City of Alameda supports the Mif Albright swap, because it will give the city much needed money they don’t have to update the Chuck Corica Golf Complex. In an attempt to hear other alternatives to the Mif Albright swap, which could allow Alameda to maintain the Chuck Corica Golf Complex, Vice Mayor Bonta held a town hall meeting on February 28, 2012 at 6pm.

Traditionally a town hall meeting is an opportunity for the community to be invited to hear from public figures, and it can also be an opportunity for the community to voice their opinions.

But how successful was Bonta’s town hall meeting?

Notice for the meeting was not put on the city’s website, but was put on patch.com only 24 hours before the meeting took place.

One Alameda resident said she attended the meeting because she heard about it from a neighbor. According to the resident, Babe Ruth League President Patricia Bail and her supporters attended the meeting. City Manager John Russo and Vice Mayor Bonta led the meeting. Although the meeting was about alternatives for maintaining the Chuck Corica Golf Complex; a pro-Mif swap supporter quickly took control of the meeting and the conversation turned to the benefits of having a sports complex at North Loop road. The resident, who attended the meeting, but asked not to be named, said it was clear the meeting was a ruse to allow pro-Mif swap supporters the opportunity to sway citizens who were against the Mif swap.

“It was clear that this was a put up job,” the resident said. “The main purpose was to allow Bonta to be able to claim he had come to the neighborhood and met with residents. It is a maneuver well-respected in the political community. It is called co-opting the opposition. Let them speak until they run out of complaints and keep asking ‘what else?’ ”

It seems clear that some members of the City council are pro-Mif swap. The question now is can Alameda citizens prevent the Mif swap from happening?

According to City Attorney Janet Kern, it all depends. It’s very possible that Alameda City Council could approve every item on the memorandum of agreement before November. Many anti-Mif swap supporters believe they have time to get their initiative approved before the Alameda City Council takes any final action. The problem here lies in the key final action.

Kern says the City Council also has time.

“There is plenty of time for action, it just depends on how it’s structured,” Kern said in a phone interview.

Even if it takes nine months for the Mif swap to be finalized, Alameda City Council does have the option of structuring an action before November, which would render the no-swap law mute. This means if the measure passes, it may prevent future park swaps by the City Council, but not necessarily the Mif swap.

“The ‘No Swap’ initiative will not be retroactive,” Alameda City Attorney Kern said.

2 comments to Alameda City Council Holds Private Town Hall Meeting for Pro-Swap supporters

  • cg

    Did John Russo & Rob Bonta belong to the same fraternity @ Yale? [just curious].
    The Filipino Soup Set @ St Al’s tells me they are deluged with Bonta for Assembly flyers, but he doesn’t answer their emails about the swap..

  • Carol – supporters of youth football say that a lack of practice fields is a pressing problem in the near term. That’s what I meant by “acute.” Pat Bail might argue that the problem is both acute and chronic.

    Also, in all my discussions with Pat Bail, she has talked about setting aside money from this deal to seed-fund a sports complex at Alameda Point. She’s very clear on this. For Pat, it’s not “either/or,” she wants both – she wants the fields at North Loop Road, AND a new sports complex at Alameda Point. She will say, however, that any such sports complex is many years away, and not a near-term fix.

    There are also questions about who gets to use the fields – should soccer leagues with kids from outside of Alameda get to use fields that Alameda taxpayers fund to maintain? Some people say it’s good to have Alameda teams play outside teams while others worry that outside leagues lock-up access to the fields at the expense of local kids.

    See my earlier report from discussions with Pat: http://www.action-alameda-news.com/2011/11/16/sports-coalition-proposes-to-develop-sports-fields-in-mif-albright-land-swap/

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