Tuesday, October 30, 2018

East Bay Times Endorses Selling our Downtown Lot

Here is their endorsement of Shuey and Wolfe.

The editorial does reinforce what I’ve been saying throughout the campaign about this particular issue. I do not want to sell the downtown lot to outside developers. Shuey and Wolfe however do. So if people want to sell the lot to develop memory care centers to places like Fulcrum, then they should support Shuey and Wolfe, as the Times editorial apparently does.

While there are many issues present this election, like poor handling of parolee housing, terrible communication and transparency from the Council, making false statements about the requirements for high density housing, restricting free speech and laughing about it, the 30% absentee rate of Shuey, the virtual 100% unanimous voting record of the council, the Council wanting to choose its own successors, and the lack of experience of Mr. Wolfe, the editorial does make clear the choice – sell the downtown lot to outside developers, or preserve the feel of our downtown and the ability to use it for our festivals and events. I have written in detail about all of these here.

And while the editorial did get the contrast right, it is unfortunate that they rested their endorsement on so many unfounded assumptions. I’ll list them out:

Unfounded Assumption #1: The city has about $2M tied up in the parcel. This is unsupported. The city purchased the lot for about $1.1M. To get to the $2M figure, the editorial has to rely on information provided by the City itself. Given the lot hasn’t sold to anyone in the many years it’s been for sale, it’s a stretch to say that $2M is tied up. A market price is what a willing seller and a willing buyer are able to agree on – and as there are no willing buyers, the most supportable value of the land is what the city is the cost the city is carrying it at – the original purchase price. This is the value the land is currently held at on the audited financial records of the city.

Unfounded Assumption #2: The city could use the proceeds from a sale to pay down unfunded pension liability. This is true, however misleading. There has never been any discussion about using the proceeds of sale to pay down the pension liability. It’s rather silly to suggest this is how the funds would be used. It’s silly because in previous years when the city had budget surpluses, they proposed to use those funds to buy equipment or other one time expenditures like vehicles. It’s silly because the city currently has $4.5M in surplus and there is no suggestion to exhaust those amounts to cover the unfunded pension liability. The pension liability is like many other debts – built up over time, and paid down over time.

Unfounded Assumption #3: there is a cost to doing nothing with the land. This is also misleading. Using this rationale, there is a cost to ALL city owned property. While there may be an opportunity cost, there is no cash cost other than the ongoing assessments associated with the parcel. The city owns the Grove Park. There is value there as well, but there is no suggestion to sell that property. The city owns many parks, trail space, and other land. We don’t try to sell those because we recognize there is value to these open spaces. The same is true for the open downtown lot.

Unfounded Assumption #4: the community should at least consider options. Because the interview with the times was merely 1 hour shared between all four candidates, some of the nuance may have been lost on the editorial staff. For instance, when the community sought retail uses there but there were no takers for years - that was considering options. When Shuey voted to negotiate to sell the downtown lot to Fulcrum to build a memory care facility, the community considered that option and shouted down that terrible choice. When the church wanted to build a large structure there, the community again spoke out and rejected that option. To say that the community hasn’t considered options is false. The community can consider options ad infinitum but one option that has united people is that they want the downtown lot open for our festivals and events. So do I.