THE SECOND STORY | April 16th, 2009

There’s a lot of wind around the halls of City Hall…(oh no, not another rant)

(This week’s photo was a rare opportunity to see the U.S., California, and Alameda flags (at City Hall), whipping straight out against a gorgeous blue sky. The already cold day was made a lot colder due to the wind chill, as I rode my bike on the broker tour into a headwind along the length of Shoreline Drive. I figured the breeze was a solid 25 knots: a value judgment based on a few years of sailing and flying. Weather reports noted surface winds around the bay, bridges, and beaches to be upwards of 50 mph that day. Nifty!)

City Hall and what’s inside and around those halls….

Tuesday, April 7th:The Mif Albright Par 3 Golf Course: I attended the City Council meeting to offer support for re-opening the 9 hole par 3 Mif Albright golf course, which has been closed down for several months and allowed to lay fallow. It’s part of the Alameda Chuck Corica Golf Complex. The room was packed with citizens of all ages; young kids, middle and high school student golfers (among them regional, state, and national level talents), seniors who play the game but don’t want the commitment of 18 holes, and everybody who practices the ‘short’ game. It’s fun, easy, well-paced, and very inexpensive!

There is a lot of concern and confusion about how the place has been managed in past years by the city and most recently under the Recreation and Parks Department. Then there’s the city’s accounting system which doesn’t seem too transparent. The argument has been that the place doesn’t make any money. The fact is that the money it has made (about 500K per year for the past 10 years) has been immediately shuttled into the city coffers resulting in a lack of proper golf course capital improvements (like course drainage, updating restrooms, the driving range rolled carpet, etc.) just to keep it at par (get it? par?). Anyway, it’s been turned over to Kemper Golf, a professional management company that has a one year contract. And there is a noticeable improvement around there.

But Kemper wasn’t hired to run the Mif. And they don’t want it. They think Alameda is primed to be a fancy golf place. And most of the users say ‘not so much.’ But a big group of locals want the Mif back and a plan devised by a local gentleman may just help that happen. Open the Mif and run it as a non-profit. There are ways to do it. And it can pay for itself as long as the city is not allowed to touch the money. The plan is now in front of the City Council and interim City Manager. It will be fun to see how this wonderful coming together of the citizens turns out!

New subject: City Managers – Speaking (writing) of the interim City Manager, our new one took over from the old one in the past month. What strikes me is how the term interim means a two year contract. That’s a lot of interim. But so far, I think Ann Marie Gallant can call a spade a spade and may have a fighting chance of getting the town into shape midst these challenging times.

Too bad about the last one. More than a few have thought she resigned before she could get fired. What’s up with her resigning and she gets 6 months of severance pay? The City Council that was in place when they hired her negotiated that contract. Buh bye Debra Kurita. Good luck.

New subject: Trash it – Back to the City Council meeting I attended. I didn’t have to speak about the Mif. Others said all there was to be said. But I found myself in front of the council addressing a topic that had touched me recently and they just happened to have it on the agenda. Trash. Garbage. Recycling. I don’t know about you, but we don’t put nearly as much garbage into our gray bins (remember we have apartments here), and thus continue to pay for that which we do not use. I am aware there are ‘health’ minimums about what size bins you have to provide per unit. But the construct doesn’t make sense. We pay for bins that don’t get used!

It seems the concept of recycling is catching on. But with the downturn in the economy, big money right now is not in the commodities associated with recycling and ACI is having a tough time selling all the recycled materials it collects. So Alameda chipped in 800K to ACI (the money was a set-aside somewhere for something like this I guess) to help offset their losses, and then the council voted to extend the contract with them until 2022!

Something was mentioned during the city staff presentation about prevailing wages and the Teamsters – in the same sentence – and my ears perked up. ACI was pitching all the small cities they serve to get them to give them money, with the implication being that we get better service from a smaller provider and we got everything we asked for as citizens when we signed our last contract with ACI. Not only did I point out to the council that we pay for basic service we don’t use, I wondered if they did some type of online survey to the payers, if the list of services that seemed so important the last go-round, might look a bit different now! I also asked what kind of prevailing wage the Teamsters got. The two concepts of prevailing wage and Teamsters don’t mesh to me.

I asked the council, in this day and time, since we were about to gvie ACI 800 grand, just what were the Teamsters giving up to the cause? Ooh, ahh, subject off limits? People around me in the audience had been muttering during the presentations from our Public Works Director Matt Naclerio, and the rep from ACI. So I took the bait and asked.

I also voiced my concern about extending a contract so far out, noting that a lot can happen in a short time these days, and a contract so long doesn’t give the users/payers much flexibility.

Here’s what I think about that…this council will be long gone by the time the absurdity of this length contract becomes obvious. It’s no different than the previous councils that chose to ignore the union contract obligations they approved for the city fire and police that have now resulted in unfunded liabilities to the tune today about $67,000.000+ !

Once the public comment portion of the meeting was closed (there were two of us who spoke and the other is a great guy I know with generations of sanitation engineers in his family, as he pointed out), Marie Gilmore kind of answered my question. ACI has a ‘follow me’ type of Teamster relationship. That means that whatever the bigger group of local Teamsters does, the smaller group follows them, no questions asked. A city employee sitting next to me agreed that we clearly had to apply for jobs with ACI. It apparently has a perfect pay system for its employees, untouched by the economy.

And this week, I found out from a local property manager, that along with the package the council approved for ACI, there was a clause that requires owners to pay for services for their tenants in 5+ unit buildings. No longer can tenants have their own bills. Sure the costs get passed on to the tenants. The upside is there are fewer bins getting dragged to the street curbs. The downside is that tenants will not be as concerned about the expense if it doesn’t come out of their own pockets. We’ve always included garbage and recyling in our rents…but…there must be more money in it for ACI to want that change. There is simply no other obvious reason for it.

New subject: Will Sun Cal get the Point (get it? Alameda Point or the point the people may be trying to make?) – Did you get a robo-call from Mayor Johnson and the brochure about 3 weeks ago with her picture on it endorsing the Sun Cal (never mentioned directly in the call or brochure) ballot proposal? Tell me it ain’t so Madame Mayor. It is such a blatant shove of a proposal down the citizens throats and makes it appear you are in bed with the developer!

Today’s Alameda Sun had some excellent comments, letters, an editorial, and a report of how the Sun Cal signature gatherers are attempting to hit the hot buttons of citizens by saying the ballot measure will get the toxic mess the Navy left behind at the base cleaned up. No mention of Measure A being eliminated from their Alameda Point plan, or the density of the housing.

I’ve now heard the rep from Sun Cal do the pitch three times in various meetings. At the first one, a Chamber of Commerce committee (of which I am a member) meeting, I was the only one to ask about Sun Cal’s financial backing. Admitting that some of their other projects were heavily backed by Lehman Brothers (oops, say buh bye to them), he said the Alameda Point project is financially sound.

Okay, here’s the deal. Yesterday I had the chance to chat for a few minutes with a recently laid off finance guy who did big ‘deals’ with OPM (other people’s money) in providing financing for those ‘deals’. I’ve come to know John because over the years we have volunteered in various high school classrooms in which teachers have incorporated a program called the UrbanPlan into their advance placement Economics and Government curriculum. And so it was yesterday when we met up at Miramonte High School in Moraga. Check out this video, mostly filmed here in Alameda, to see what I’ve been privileged to be part of for the past 6 years. John is in several scenes, as well as Mike Corbitt, the guy in charge of all the leasing at Alameda Towne Centre. I asked John what he knew and thought about Sun Cal. He didn’t have much positive to say about its strength and/or its ability to perform.

Here’s another aspect that hits me. I don’t like to be told I’ve got a ‘take it or leave it’ choice. And that’s exactly what Sun Cal is asking this town to do by taking their plan to the voters in the form of a ‘take it or leave it’,’ yea or nay’ measure they are trying to get on the November ballot. As I’ve been saying when asked, think about what South Shore could have been and what the town got. Thank goodness the town rejected the orignal size of the Community of Harbor Bay Isle.

I’ve also been saying for quite some time “Government is not designed to move quickly. If we see it (on any level) pushing through something too fast, that is the sign to put the brakes on and slow it down.”

New subject: Fire fighters and police officers – did you know that of approximately 106 total staff of the Fire Department only about 6 live in Alameda? I think between 24-27 are on staff at any time. I asked that question of our Fire Chief who gave a presentation at last week’s HBR office meeting. I was thinking about how many of those employees care about the quality of our parks and schools if they don’t use them. Others gasped their concern about who will be working here in an emergency? There is apparently a program that gives fire deparment members who live in one town but are employed in another, the ability to work in their town in an emergency, if they can’t get to their job. Oh, now I remember. We’re an ISLAND! How many will be able to get here, or yet, how many live here and work in other towns (I bet that number isn’t huge).

The question of what is the total effective pay of the job, plus overtime, plus life time health benefits for the firefighter and his/her spouse (yes!), plus the fact that retirement can come at a fairly early age also came up. That bullet was dodged pretty well since management can’t talk about union business in detail. I expect those city employee pay packages will be put out into the public in the near future, since it has been ruled public information in the courts. So far nobody’s had the guts to do it here yet.

Well, this writing was a surprise to me. I sat down with nothing in my head. But a lot sure popped out. Sorry for the length.

Alameda real estate this week…

If you are looking for an interesting time about 1pm tomorrow, Friday, go to 1238 Versailles, the Webster House (bed and breakfast, kind of). It’s been grossly overpriced for years. Sotheby’s just took it off the market, failing miserably in their attempt to bring prestige to the place at 1.7M+. A real estate auction house has put it on the market last Sat for 595K. I’ve spoke to that agent twice, last Saturday. They get it low and expect to drive it up. Any bets on the selling price? If the reserve figure (not published or known, but I did ask) is not achieved, it will go short. They are accepting the normal contract Realtors use. It will be a live auction. The place is just funky. I’ll be there to watch!

Check out this article in the New York Times. A neighbor emailed it to me and then I also found it in one of my online trade journals. It’s close to home (Piedmont and Orinda) and really supports my long-time feelings about open houses, of which many of you are familiar because we’ve had ‘the talk’.

Active listings 164, 158 last report
Pending listings 82, 76 last report
Note: there was a large jump in new listings in the past 2 days, thus they were not on this past Tues Tour.

Tuesday Tour 10 with 1 repeat

Highest priced new listing
Lowest priced new listing

New 15

BOM (back on market) 1

Price changes 10

Pending 11

Sold 3

Expired (some show up as new) 5

Withdrawn/cancelled (some show up as new) 4

Alameda real estate awards this week…remember this is only my perspective
Get me a facelift

Got me a makeover

That’s a wrap. Enjoy the weather over the weekend! ‘They say it’s heatin’ up!

Carry on! Marilyn

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Marilyn

I arrived in Alameda in 1973, as a new bride...with husband Carl Schumacher, both of us from Newport Beach. He was embarking on his career as a Naval Architect (i.e. yacht designer) under Gary Mull. Please see the 'ABOUT ME' page in this website! www.MarilynSchumacher.com to see how it has all turned out! I'm so blessed!

2 comments

  1. The bottom line on the auction of the Webster House (Bed and Breakfast Inn) at 1238 Versailles, is that there was no bottom line. No sale. There were far fewer people than I expected there would be and most were just curious, not bidders. There may have been 3 people interested in bidding but even they didn’t seem too interested due to the lack of interest!

    But here is why there was no sale. Auction was set to start at 1pm. By 1:20pm one of the Real Estate Auction people had people move towards the sidewalk, gather round, and he announced that ‘this has never happened before to us. I won’t give details but I just got off the phone with the Seller and she has decided not to sell it.’ Well, that is no surprise to those of us who have watched this over the years….One person who called me to find out what happened yesterday at the auction immediately said ‘There weren’t enough people to give her the attention she wanted!’ The agent had also verbally relayed some representations the owner had made regarding parking and in no uncertain terms 3 local licensed real estate brokers AND a former B&B owner in town said that info was bogus.

    I think the auction company may be rethinking their interview process and doing some fact checking before they jump into a gig like this that ‘includes’ the biz, which is virtually impossible to substantiate a value for, as noted by a couple who had previously had contact with the owner and walked away from the ‘deal’. They were also there as interested bystanders.

    If this market, plus 23 years of working around Alameda, has taught me anything, a property that has been on the market for years usually has one big reason for not selling. And that is the seller. And that takes care of every possible reason the seller gives as to why the joint ain’t sold.

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