12 February 2009

Let's just be friends

The thing about liveblogging an event is that when the writer looks back at what he wrote, horror is often plainly etched on his face. It's great for an Apple keynote address by Steve Jobs, not so great for something that requires greater analysis. For those who read the whole thing, bless your heart. For those who gave up partway down the post, here's an attempt to make amends.

To start off, the A's have officially made Warm Springs their preferred site, relegating Pacific Commons to retail/housing-only status. That will only galvanize opposition from the Warm Springs and Weibel neighborhoods, who intend to show up at the February 24 city council session pitchforks and torches polite signs in hand. A while back, I mentioned that while attending another council session over a year ago, I watched the council approve a controversial shopping center over the numerous objections of the very same Weibel neighborhood denizens. It was heated then, it will only become moreso in two weeks. Hopefully, the mayor and council have cleared the agenda for the comments session to follow. [Note: Notice of Preparation for Warm Springs here.]

Of course, the council session isn't just a Festivus-like airing of grievances. There's actual business to discuss, chiefly the council's upcoming decision to accept Warm Springs as the official site. Should the council move forward with WS, they'll authorize some amount of money to be spent to fully study the site and amend the EIR in the process. The A's, in a manner consistent with prior history, would likely underwrite the work.

Then again, maybe that won't happen. In yesterday's session, Lew Wolff had a couple of interesting quotes. One of them came early on in his rant about process:
We think issues should be fully aired, but not forever. A "No" answer is as good as a "Yes" answer for those of us who want to move forward.
He later went on to describe a similar situation in San Jose, when he tried to build a small hotel on a vacant lot he owned downtown. Since that particular project failed, he hadn't done any significant work in San Jose. Incidentally, the city changed mayors during that period from one he had a frosty relationship with (Ron Gonzales) to one who's practically a chum (Chuck Reed). Wolff also assumed ownership of the A's around that time as well.

Going back to the quote - it's a real eyecatcher. Is Lew hinting at Fremont giving up the ghost? Or does he want to keep slogging through along with the city? Do the mayor and council want to continue with this? One has to wonder what the limits of their political will are.

If Fremont approves the plan despite intense political pressure, another 3-6 months will be required to complete the EIR. The traffic study and management plan, which still haven't been released for the old Pacific Commons project, will continue to raise considerable ire due to its absence. The opposition, who had been the proverbial "sleeping dogs," will only get angrier, more organized, and most importantly, bigger. Fringe voices who have called for recalls and lawsuits will grow in number.

If Lew's nudging Fremont to say no, the city can exit this situation while saving face in the process. They can look like "heroes" by putting a stop to the "big bad developer." The council members who are looking to run for mayor next time (Wasserman's termed out) won't be overly tainted by the experience. Lew, in turn, can officially turn his attentions elsewhere.

I need to make an important distinction about this. I don't expect Lew to back out on his own. The San Jose issue I cited earlier showed Lew's frustration with bureaucracy. In this case, the city's not the problem. Instead, he saved his arrows for non-governmental parties. Wolff/Fisher still have $45 million of real estate at Pacific Commons and the option to buy $100 million more, so it's not like the developer wants to alienate the city. Something else might get built there in the future when the economy recovers. Friends in Fremont's high places will still be needed.

What we have, then, is like a romance in which outside circumstances can cause a breakup. Maybe the woman needs to take care of sick parents. Perhaps the man has found a new job far away. They're not married yet so they don't have to make the really tough decisions together. Instead, they can make the easiest decision to move on separately and become friends. Without benefits.