By Anne Carr
The brouhaha over a strong mayor made us forget to share other news from the most recent City Council meeting, and we were too tired to wrap it in a podcast. Sorry audio-philes, we’ll be back with a podcast the next Council! In the meantime, here is some other news from the City Council meeting of 7/23:
Clearing North Mare Island (NMI) — the Council approved the use of a $4.7 million federal loan for clearing seven of the worst buildings on NMI (buildings clustered around “G” St.) Between this loan and earlier efforts, current plans are for the City to demo 10 buildings out of the 30 vacant ones on NMI. Economic Director Sawicki says we won’t have to demolish all the buildings to get developer interest, just the worst ones.
The loan is officially a Section 108 loan that uses our Community Development Block Grant (CDBG) funds as collateral; the interest rate is a low 3.5%. By using a loan, Vallejo can accelerate the clearing of buildings that have hindered the development of North Mare Island, and also keeps its options open for development. Most developers have not wanted to take on demolition and toxic remediation in addition to their own construction costs, with the only exceptions being deep-pocket casinos, an option with its own costs and complications.
Still, the hope for a developer Santa Claus dies hard, even after 18 years of waiting for one. To whit, Mayor Davis decided at the last minute that he *didn’t* want to use a loan for demolition costs, much to the bewilderment of Council watchers. Hadn’t Davis been one of the stronger proponents of the strategy? One wonders: did his change of heart have anything to do with the casinos who have been talking big money? In the end, even casino-advocate Malgapo voted for the loans in a 6:1 vote, with only Osby voting no.
The loan does have its detractors, as it could potentially put CDBG funs at risk, and the interest payments will come out of the already-oversubscribed General Fund. Another concern was whether using the funds will lead to more subsidized housing; thankfully, the answer to that is “no” — using CDBG funds as collateral does not have any housing strings, nor does the loan itself.
Badge & Pass — the Council approved an expedited process for clearing this nuisance building; it could potentially be demolished by the end of the calendar year.
In light of the surprisingly low bid the City received for the next round of NMI demolition (3 buildings), the Council gave permission to use a no-bid contract for demolishing the Badge & Pass. Presumably this would go to the vendor doing the other North Mare Island work. City Manager Dan Keen expects to have a contract for Council approval on August 26; demolition work could start as early as this Fall.
For the long-suffering neighbors in nearby St Francis Park, Vallejo Heights & St Vincent’s Hill, stock up on your barbeque fixings, the demolition of the Badge & Pass will call for a major celebration! In the meantime, report ongoing problems & break-ins on SeeClickFix.
Developing North Mare Island — the City sent out a Request for Quotation (RFQ) on July 18; proposals are due Sept 17. Right now the area is zoned for commercial/light industrial (i.e., business park), so for that kind of proposal, the zoning would allow development to begin as early next year. A casino is among the options discussed for NMI, but it would require zoning changes, plus a lengthy approval process across state, federal and Indian nation regulations.
The casinos are hot for NMI, and even offered a $1 million inducement for the City to give them a 120-day “exclusive right to explore.” Thankfully, the City resisted this temptation and sent out the RFQ anyway, thus creating a more open bid process. Had Vallejo given the inside track to one of the developers it would have put a chill on any other proposals. Plus, if we narrow the pool of proposals, we diminish our ability to negotiate the final deal. Vallejo needs to look at all its options, and obviously, having some leverage in creating a contract is a plus.
One encouraging aspect of the RFQ is that in issuing it, the City took a step at being pro-active, instead of just reacting to whatever the tides bring. Clearly, the improving Bay Area economy supports this kind of confidence — but one hopes it might also reflect a growing self-esteem, instead of just settling.
Commissions — there were 36 applications for 13 openings, including a couple eager-beavers who applied for multiple commissions. Nice showing of civic interest!
What’s the hottest commission in town? The Architectural Heritage & Landmarks Commission is on fire, with nine applicants for its lone opening — and all the applicants were stellar. One standout was Emily Mann, who among other strengths has a degree in Historic Preservation (there are only about 50 such programs in the country). Mann didn’t make it onto the Commission, but hopefully she and all the Commission applicants will stay engaged with City matters. Vallejo needs the talent!
Three commissions are still accepting applicants: Human Relations, the Mobile Home Park Commission, and Housing & Community Development. See the July 21 press release on the City’s website for more info: http://www.ci.vallejo.ca.us/city_hall/departments___divisions/city_manager/press_releases___public_notices
Press Releases & Public Notices – City of Vallejo
Summer Break Aug 12 — City Council takes a summer holiday on August 12, but will be back in session August 26. Meetings are usually on 2nd and 4th Tuesday nights; the main agenda & “fun” starts at 7pm. Come to Council chambers, or you can stream video real-time to your computer or TV, and watch in the privacy & comfort of home, cheering or jeering as you see fit.
With Council on holiday, Marc and I won’t have a Council Talk in early August, but we just might send a roving reporter to the Opening Night of Wednesday Night Farmer’s Market on August 6. Either way, see you ’round, and see you soon!