Monday, October 31, 2005

Last-minute Negotiations Key to Deal for Waterfront

October 29, 2005

Last-minute negotiations key to deal for waterfront

By MATTHIAS GAFNI/Times-Herald staff writer

It took some 11th-hour negotiations by city staff and a council swing vote to get the long-delayed waterfront plan passed at Thursday's meeting.

And the late plan additions, including the creation of a design review board, apparently have softened the stance of the plan's major opposition, possibly keeping the grassroots group from suing or pursuing a referendum to delay the project.

For a waterfront that's been waiting three decades to be redeveloped, some of the biggest strides unexpectedly were made in the final days before Thursday night's 4-1 vote of approval.

That vote gave preliminary approval to a master plan and a deal with project developer Callahan DeSilva Vallejo LLC. Councilmembers Gerald Davis and Tom Bartee recused themselves, citing a conflict of interest because they owned property in the waterfront area. Their action meant that any approval would be by the slimmest of margins.

On Tuesday, the council voted 5 to 0 to pass the environmental impact report (EIR) for the waterfront project. However, the project's overall approval was still very much up in the air.

Because of Bartee's and Davis' recusal, Councilmember Joanne Schivley, who has only weeks left in office, suddenly became a swing vote, since the body needed a four-member majority to pass the project.

Schivley and city staff met Callahan DeSilva representatives numerous times this week and just hours before Thursday's meeting, ironed out three key amendments, the councilwoman said.

"There were a lot of 11th-hour negotiations," Schivley said Friday.

Developer Joe Callahan said years worth of issues came to a head in this final, critical week.

"It took until this week to get it done and it resulted in a lot of last-minute flapping around," Callahan said Friday.

In the end, the developer agreed to:

• Each waterfront parcel improvement will require council approval. In the past, only the planning commission's OK was needed. "We needed flexibility in place to respond to market conditions and citizen input," Schivley said. • Have an appraiser value the waterfront property with the appropriate zoning, compare that to the original appraisal and buy the land with the higher appraisal. The land is currently zoned commercial and with a change to the project's actual zoning needs, the city would see significantly more money, Schivley said. • Create a waterfront design review board. "There's going to be a downtown design committee, so it seems perfectly appropriate for one on the waterfront as well," Schivley said. "I am thrilled because it benefits everyone in Vallejo," Schivley said of the modifications.

Callahan had previously opposed a design review committee.

"My concern and objection to it previously was I didn't feel a commitment by the city to work and set it up," Callahan said Friday. "I've had very good (design review boards). If they're set up properly and the members are professionals in the field I don't object to it In the long run, it will lead to a better understanding of the projects."

The city still must explain the role the design board will take, along with other details, Callahan said. Schivley said she expects the council will name the design group's members.

The appraisal changes will most likely result in "higher prices" for the waterfront property, Callahan said. The formal written agreement to that change still must be finalized, Callahan said, expecting a council vote on Nov. 15.

"While I would have liked to leave the appraisal process alone, I think it was a reasonable approach," he said.

As for each parcel coming back for approval, Callahan said: "We've always had to do that now it just goes to the City Council."

Stephanie Gomes, a council candidate and member of the Waterfront Coalition, said the extra step is "critical."

"With this process we will all be able to get involved every single step of the way, so there will be no more State Farm buildings on the waterfront," Gomes said, referring to the new office building that has received the scorn of coalition members.

While construction could begin on the project in late spring, Gomes said the Waterfront Coalition will wait for the Nov. 8 election before discussing its next move.

"Personally, I feel like we all scored a victory last night. We got a better deal for Vallejo and that's the most important aspect," Gomes said.

"It's not perfect, but we still have room to work on it," she said.

No decision has been made on previous talk of a lawsuit or referendum, Gomes said.

"Whatever is done it will put the best interest of Vallejo," she said. As for her personal involvement in the coalition, Gomes has said she would quit the group if the project passed to prevent a conflict of interest if she's elected to the council.

A lawsuit doesn't concern Callahan, but he said it could jeopardize some of the $53 million accumulated for the Vallejo Station transportation hub.

"Unfortunately, I've been in court on four (challenges to projects' EIRs) and I've never lost," Callahan said. "We spent a lot of time and effort to make sure (the Vallejo waterfront EIR) is a highly defensible document.

"Once the Waterfront Coalition sits back and looks at our consideration to the concerns raised, we hope they won't do that and will work with us," he said.

Councilmember Gary Cloutier, the lone dissenting vote Thursday night, said a lawsuit or referendum is not the appropriate route at this point.

"Now that the issue is decided, I firmly believe it is time to come together as one. A referendum or lawsuit to stop the project will not serve the interest of moving the city forward," Cloutier wrote in a Times-Herald letter to the editor. (The complete text of his letter will appear in Sunday's edition.)

So, why did he still vote against the plan?

"I thought too many people opposed the plan for good reasons and it was dividing the community," Cloutier said Friday by phone.

"I thought features of the plan were not satisfactory as well, including Parcel A," he said. "The best way to develop that parcel was to concentrate the development and preserve large portions as open space."

Cloutier said the developer's plan was "suburban sprawl," but that overall there were "definite improvements in the project."

Parcel A is one segment of Callahan DeSilva's plan to overhaul the waterfront area, developing as many as 1,090 residential units, 562,000 square feet of retail space and about 25 acres of parks and open space.

The Waterfront Coalition, which included many of the same citizens who fought against an LNG plant coming to Mare Island, played a significant role in the final plan.

"I'm proud we had so much public input and it has created a project much more than we originally hoped for," Councilmember Pamela Pitts said. "They are responsible for helping craft a better project."

Even the developer acknowledged the Waterfront Coalition's impact Friday.

"While the Waterfront Coalition and I certainly don't agree on everything, their intense review of the project forced us to look at each parcel in far more depth than we would have otherwise," Callahan said. "Ultimately, the outcome was a far better project and I respect their efforts."

- E-mail Matthias Gafni at or call 553-6825.

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