Letter to the Editor: Due diligence, sunshine and the land swap

Letter to the Editor: Due diligence, sunshine and the land swap

Letters to the Editor
Tidelands property

The land swap involving the Alameda Unified School District, the City of Alameda and the Alameda Housing Authority is getting a lot of attention, and rightfully so. This deal, which has been reported to have been the subject of many closed sessions of the City Council and school board, seems to have been in need of some “sunshine” to get the facts out, to provide public input to the City Council and school board as they gave direction to staff and to preserve an accessible public record of discussion, direction given and decisions made by these governing bodies.

Funding the repairs and upgrades to one of the district's two public swim centers has been long awaited, and it is good that the city and the school district are working together to figure out a way to pay for facilities used by both students and a cross-section of city residents. The transfer of approximately $4.6 million in former redevelopment agency money intended for developing housing from the school district to the housing authority, despite some past hopes it would be used to provide some affordable housing for teachers, is understandable since the housing authority is in the business of providing housing and the school district is not.

It is the land swap that really raises questions and fuels skepticism. The transfer of 17 acres of waterfront land from the school district back to the city in exchange for $750,000 when compared to the reported original $1.8 million bid by Tim Lewis Communities for the 3.9 acres of surplus federal property on the shoreline near Crab Cove looks out of balance. Whether that is a fair comparison is probably debatable, but it just doesn’t look right.

Then there is the transfer of 12 acres at Alameda Point from the city to the school district and the housing authority’s interest in the former Island High School site. With no published appraisals of any of the parcels in these swaps, is it any wonder that there is a clamor for answers - answers that are necessary in understanding the flow of money that will pay for pools, housing and whatever else is associated with the land being swapped? Due diligence demands that land transactions have appraisals and these are no different.

Despite this, the City Council and school board have a golden opportunity to direct that due diligence is performed to assign value to the land in question as best as an independent assessor can. These details need to be provided to the public as all of these parcels are public land.

Other details missing from the picture have likely been discussed at length in closed sessions. While discussions of land deals may be held in closed session, the law does not appear to require it. In this case, the owners of the property in question are all public entities. It would be in the best interest of the public for the City Council, school board and housing authority board to conduct all sessions, especially those where they are briefed or are providing direction to staff in open meetings. The public will be given the opportunity to question and comment and there will be a public record to the proceedings preserved and accessible to the public.

The bottom line is that the benefit of opening all City Council, Housing Authority Board of Commissioners and school board discussions related to land transactions between government entities to the public far outweigh any risk to the deals between the city, the housing authority, the school district, federal or state government or any other government entity.

Frank Matarrese