24 October 2007

Getting it partly right

Ray Ratto has chimed in with his take on the Commonwealth Club speech/Q&A. He shared the same puzzlement I wrote about earlier regarding the Wolff's current bargaining position (there isn't much of one).

He then went on to bring up CEQA, the statute that requires a thorough environmental review before major projects can be built in California. As a developer, Wolff was expected to fire off a couple of shots at the law. After a while it only becomes so much noise. All any developer can do is put together a plan that they hope will satisfy CEQA guidelines while also making a buck in the process. Since those two goals are often diametrically opposed, getting that done is quite a balancing act. While CEQA may be daunting or even hostile to developers, it's CEQA that's allowed us regular citizens to enjoy unspoiled beaches, preserved hillsides, and many other uniquely Californian natural attractions that we often take for granted.

There are a couple of things we all should know about CEQA of which I'm sure Wolff is all too familiar:
  • CEQA ain't going away. As this state grows to over 50 million residents, CEQA will become even more important.
  • Whatever gets submitted will look different 18 months later. Thanks to the exhaustive and seemingly repetitive review process, there will be plenty of opportunities to pick the whole plan part and make changes. The bigger the project, the more likely changes will occur. You only need to look at the EIR/EIS documents for the High Speed Rail and BART-to-San Jose projects to get a feel for it. Changes can be caused by environmental factors, budget constraints, market conditions, or other variables.
Knowing that change is inevitable, IMHO it would be best to simply submit whatever they have to Fremont and let the two parties crank away. Which brings me to an error in Ratto's column:
In short, Wolff now is feeling the first real squeeze of his grand plan - the inertia that comes from civic hesitation.
It's not "civic hesitation" that's the problem here. The city is champing at the bit! The problem is Wolff and his team. Maybe the whip is getting cracked extra hard on the consultants, or whatever deliverables they were going to put together are woefully behind schedule. Whatever the case, the City of Fremont is entirely blameless. In fact, they've been clear from the beginning in their "cautious optimism" stance that they want to work with the A's to get the best plan available. Now it helps that the A's put in the $500k dev fee, but time is also money for all concerned.

My advice: Just submit the application already. Everyone will get past this FUD stage and start debating the true merits and problems with the plan, instead of all of this idle speculation. Sadly, one thing that's getting lost in this is the A's have already made some major concessions regarding the school site and parking that weren't in the original concept. Often such concessions don't get made until after the CEQA review begins. Oh well.
ESPN's Mark Kreidler also wrote about the supposedly difficult relationship between the Coliseum and the A's ever since they moved in. For some reason he forgot the salad days of the late 80's, when the Coliseum was a premier baseball venue and hosted premier teams. Now, to put that in perspective, we're talking about correlating that era to about 1/7th or 1/8th of the time the A's have been in Oakland. That may not sound like much, but it's a testament to how, from a baseball standpoint, the Coliseum has stood still while just about everyone else has upgraded their digs.
We'll see something more substantive next Tuesday (10/30), when another study session is scheduled to occur. Update: I received word that there is no study session scheduled, as it's dependent on submission of the development application.