Monday, August 9, 2010

Vreeland Follies Part III: Skyfield USA and the Old Waste Water Treatment Plant

As the incumbent City Council members gear up for their campaign, surely they will want to avoid mentioning any embarrassing foibles during their tenure as public servants. Fortunately, my records are pretty thorough on a few subjects. As the City of Pacifica sits on the brink of bankruptcy, and the voting public is asked once again to foot the bill with higher taxes, it is time to examine opportunities the incumbents missed in expanding the city's tax base.

Where to begin on the Old Waster Water Treatment Plant on Beach Boulevard? Primarily used for City Council chambers, and storing waste cooking oil so it can be conveniently be stolen once the biodiesel refinery went belly up (they never DID quite solve that crime, did they??), this site has been the source of contention since the city approved the construction of the Calera Creek Waste Water Treatment Plant over a decade ago. There is little doubt that City Council, which included Jim Vreeland, Pete Dejarnatt, Cal Hinton, Maxine Gonsalves, and Barbara Carr had the majority vote and intention of selling that property to a developer to provide Pacifica with a strong commercial business to anchor the Palmetto district.

Unfortunately for Pacifica, Pacificans for Sustainable Development and the "no growth" crowd were able to oust Maxine Gonsalves and Barbara Carr in 2002 and replace them with Julie Lancelle and Sue Digre, thereby insuring there was a council majority that would never allow a commercial development to see the light of day on that site. The leader of the club, of course, was Councilman Jim Vreeland who made his vision of a new City Hall on that site part of his 2006 re-election campaign.

But we're getting a little ahead of ourselves here . . . the earliest public records I could pull for this site were letters from Marchetti and Sochin detailing development proposals dated 9/10/03, and then 10/10/04. Sometime between then and the 2006 election, developer Barry Swenson had made a deposit to the city for a development proposal, and was eventually cut loose by then mayor Pete Dejarnatt for being 24 hours late on a deposit to continue with the development process.

As reported here, on April 17, 2006 the City of Pacifica (with Sue Digre as mayor) sent a letter to the West Sharp Park Advisory Committee instructing them to ignore the OWWTP site in their plans . . . "specifically the Council wants you to exclude the future site of the City Hall (Council chamber building) and the thickening building, which is the future site of Council Chambers." And yet City Council agendas for 4/10/06 and 3/27/06 (2 previous meetings to the date on the letter from City Manager Joe Tanner) have no items indicating a vote or discussion on establishing the OWWTP as the cite of a new city hall. However the March 13, 2006 City Council agenda showed they were still negotiating with yet another developer (closed session item #2, conference with real property negotiator for 2212 Beach Boulevard, with Kiwi Properties, LLC.)

On May 8, 2006, the City Council moved forward to put a new City Hall on that location (agenda item #11 (Consideration) "Authorize the Budget Authority for the Remodel of the Sharp Park Sewer Plant Buildings Located at 2212 Beach Boulevard into the New City Hall Complex for $2,000,000" (this money was borrowed during the refinancing of the COP Bonds that year). The agenda clearly states:

"it is necessary for the health and safety of of the City Staff to move forward with a relocation plan without delay"

which of course turned out to be complete BS since the staff is still in the mold infested City Hall.

Pete Dejarnett, Sue Digre, and Cal Hinton all publicly stated if the costs exceeded $2 million, they would not approve the project. An architect’s estimate produced for the City put the costs at just under $2 million, but the validity of this estimate came into question by development professionals. A local construction project manager

But I digress . . .

The City of Pacifica then received a letter from Tobin and Tobin on behalf of Marchetti and Sochin dated 7/11/06 seeking to continue negotiations. Furthermore, on the 7/24/06 City Council agenda, City Manager Joe Tanner is back to negotiating with Marchetti and Sochin for the property. Kiwi Properties later submitted a letter requesting an exclusive right to negotiate on November 20, 2006. Skyfield USA submitted a similar letter in December 2006 and entered into an exclusive right to negotiate with the city in January 2007. In early 2007, members of the group Pacifica Business for Responsible Government agreed to meet with representatives from Skyfield USA at their business office, and Councilman Jim Vreeland attended without their prior knowledge. He insisted the development of the Old Waste Water Treatment Plant as anything BUT a new city hall was off the table.

And of course, the owner of the Rockaway Quarry property, Peebles Corp, never received a response to their interest in developing the downtown Palmetto property during the November 2006 Measure L campaign.

Which kind of makes you wonder how anyone on City Council can state that the property wasn't developed because no one was interested. All told, this vision of "City Hall by the Sea" was spearheaded by Councilman Jim Vreeland at the cost of over $300,000 to the taxpayers. Of course, supporters like Nancy Hall called the vision a “creative and intelligent move, both fiscally and environmentally”, despit there being no development proposal at the time. She then accused groups like PBRG (who were opposed to the project) of trying to "obstruct our democratically elected City Council" for questioning the cost and the Draft Environmental Impact Report conducted for this site by the City of Pacifica.

Based on the DEIR, the alternative of renovating the current City Hall is dismissed because it “does not meet the project objectives with respect to cost” (Section 12.4). Yet no costs for the renovation of the current City Hall are even detailed, nor are there qualified estimated costs for “remodeling” the OWWTP. Renovating the current City Hall is deemed the environmentally superior alternative per CEQA (Section 12.6), but nowhere in the DEIR is there a comparison between the environmental impacts of renovating the current City Hall and renovating the OWWTP to determine which option is the most environmentally conscious choice for our community.

During the 3/5/2007 Planning Commission meeting to discuss the DEIR, only one person spoke in support of the DEIR, and she admitted that she had not even read it. No feasibility study had been conducted to determine the “highest best use” of that property, and there are also concerns in regards to the crumbling under-structure of Beach Boulevard that have not been adequately addressed by DEIR. When it was discovered that city HAD conducted a professional appraisal of the property, public records were stonewalled by City Attorney Cecilia Quick for almost 2 years before the report was released under threat of litigation, only to reveal that the highest and best use was evaluated to be a "mixed use development" at the site and NOT a civic building. OOPS.

As for Skyfield USA, they are currently being sued for failure to pay rent on their offices in Rockaway, as well as being on the losing end of a $360,00 judgment from an investor.

Winston Churchill once quipped that "truth is incontrovertible, ignorance can deride it, panic may resent it, malice may destroy it, but there it is." The truth is that for 10 years this City Council, led by Jim Vreeland, has obstructed the proper development of the Old Waste Water Treatment Plant into a viable, revenue generating commercial development at significant cost to developers (both local and national) and the taxpayers (who are still paying for this debacle).

When you make your selections for City Council this election, if you push that button for Jim Vreeland, you might as well hand what's left in your wallet over to the poll workers and ask they give it directly to the city. That's where your money is going anyway . . . privately solicited several reputable companies to perform their own estimates, the lowest being $5.7 million. This information was presented to all sitting council members. (In late December 2008, Pacifica City Council voted to rejects beachfront city hall option with estimated costs at over $20 million.)

Submitted by both Jim Alex and Lois Rogan