Very exciting Alameda City Council Show last night

Luckily, even though I started watching the show late (a bit after 10 p.m.) and stopped when council took a five minute break at 11:30 p.m. (they finally adjourned at 12:16 a.m.), I still got to catch some action.

The owners of 1150 Bay Street—Gold Coast!—have planned an extensive and what sounds like tasteful and green-friendly update of their home, with the aim to restore many of the original elements of the poorly-maintained house. The problem? They wanted to build a porch on the front. And the problem with that? Not actually anything, legally speaking: the proposed porch is well within the 20-foot required set back in the City of Alameda. The problem, then? It was angering some of the neighbors, who took exception to it changing the character of the neighborhood, despite the fact that the set backs are well within the range of set backs on the street and despite the fact that other nearby homes have porches.

But here’s the exciting part. Both Doug deHaan and Marie Gilmore—who live in the neighborhood—recused themselves. Which left only three council members. Mayor Beverly Johnson argued that because the section of the side of the street where 1150 Bay Street has even larger set backs (and more regular) than other sections of the street, the porch should not be built. Frank Matarrese, seemed inclined to agree with her. Councilwoman Lena Tam pointed out that the design had already beeen approved by the planning board, and did not actually violate any rules or regulations, and therefore the owners should be allowed to proceed with their already-approved project.

In any case, Matarrese made a motion to approve the appeal of the design’s Historical Advisory Board approval, and Johnson seconded and voted with him (both voting against staff’s recommendation.) Only Tam voted against the motion. Which meant that the owners of the home would not be able to built their porch.

But then, in the most exciting moment in all my times watching the Alameda Council Show—don’t you wish your favorite TV drama ran for many hours, no commercials?—it turns out that the vote doesn’t matter. Because the Council decision required three supporters to pass. So with a 2-1 vote, plus the two recusals, the family at 1150 Bay can remodel their home and build their porch. A process which according to city documents, they initiated in 2006.

And you wonder why many Alamedans opt to do their construction on the sly?

Consider: the national economy is seriously on the rocks, the state budget is a disaster, our city government is wrestling with reduction after reduction…heck, our city manager somewhat mysteriously stepped down last week. But yet we in Alameda are bickering about a few feet of a neighbor’s porch.

As the designer on the 1150 Bay project told council last night, “I’m baffled by how this has escalated,” he said, listing all the Bay Area communities in which he’s worked. “I’ve never seen anything like this opposition to a project.” And then he went to detail the thought and consideration that went into the design. This was not reckless remodel, it’s one in which the owners and designers had already made many modifications in deference to both neighbors and history. Perhaps with a little less meddling, a little less micromanaging, we’ll see fewer of these matters taking up council and staff time.


  • Jill

    Unbelievable. Thanks to Lena Tam for being the voice of reason on this.

  • http://---none Ddiane

    Good heavens, get a life! Sometimes our people try just too hard. As described, the approval should have been slam dunk–all requirements were met, in addition to consideration for the neighbors and historical. Good going, Lena…keep up your reasoned responses!

  • Erik Miller

    Too bad you missed the first part, Eve. They made history.

    The entire Council except for Doug voted to allow the first demolition of an intact Victorian in Alameda in this century.

    Maybe Bev, Lena, Frank, and Marie can get another bronze plaque with their names on it at the parking lot that is supposed to replace it.

  • anonymous

    Yet another reason why Alameda must employ so many attorneys, and spend taxpayers money to hire outside counsel. Ms. Johnson is an attorney…perhaps as mayor, she could familiarize herself with the application of the U.S. Constitution to public entities before we have to pay for yet another lawsuit.

  • Erik Miller

    I wonder if that result was as much of a surprise to the Council as it appeared. This way, everyone has an out: the homeowners get their porch and Council gets to say to the neighbors “but we voted to deny it!”

    If one believes it went down the way it was portrayed, it’s kind of disturbing that our Council is not aware of their own rules of procedure (what if it were something more crucial than a porch?). If it was all worked out ahead of time, then one has to marvel at the cynicism.

  • lore

    Our city officials, and unpaid at that, must spend hours mediating conflicts between citizens who act like 2 year olds. No wonder we cannot stop wars and violence on a national and international level.