“Maybe we want a Mayor or Council member who will demand that economics be analyzed, alternatives considered, and public questions answered.” – Robert Sullwold
INDEED. VOTE TRISH FOR MAYOR. VOTE NO ON MEASURE I.
————-Mr. Sullwold’s blog article “The truth about Trish” (bolds and underlines are mine)
No, we’re not talking about the anonymous proprietor of the Tumblr site – TrashTrish, we think it’s called – devoted to denigrating Ms. Spencer. We’re referring to two of our most prominent political pooh-bahs.
If you were checking the online political chat a week or so ago, you would have seen the following:
First, the Emperor of the Enlightened, Planning Board member John Knox White, went after Ms. Spencer on Facebook.
“If you think that the business of the city should grind to a halt, Trish Spencer’s you’re [sic] candidate,” he pronounced. And it wasn’t just what Ms. Spencer actually had done that condemned her, but what she would have done. “It requires zero leap of logic,” Mr. Knox White declaimed in his typically omniscient manner, “to know that Spencer would have aligned with Doug deHaan and her core supporters in being against” the Alameda Theater project.
Later the same day, the King of Condescension, Ms. Spencer’s fellow School Board member Mike McMahon, took his turn.
Mr. McMahon re-published as a blog comment the diatribe he’d unleashed against Ms. Spencer at the June 24 school board meeting. (“For 10 years now there has been no moving forward on anything that meets [doesn’t meet?] your approval.”) Later, Mr. McMahon sniffed that, while Ms. Spencer may have been a “viable” candidate for the School Board, “I see very little in [her] current resume that would qualify her to be a candidate for Mayor.”
The oracles have spoken. Any further questions?
Well, the Merry-Go-Round has a couple.
What are such esteemed community leaders as Mr. Knox White and Mr. McMahon so exercised about? And, more importantly, do they have a point?
Stripped of invective, the case against Ms. Spencer seems to be that she is the candidate of No. (Sound familiar? It’s the same theme Harry Reid and Nancy Pelosi are urging Democratic candidates to use against their Republican opponents).
So we decided to look at two of Ms. Spencer’s most recent “No” votes – against the three-way swap among the City, the Housing Authority, and the Alameda Unified School District and against the $179.5 million school bond measure – to see if her opposition had any rational basis. If Ms. Spencer’s arguments made sense, demonizing her as an ignorant obstructionist can be marked down to sheer arrogance – or to bad manners.
First, the swap. From AUSD’s point of view, the transaction worked this way: AUSD transferred its interest in two pieces of real property – the so-called Tidelands parcel along the northern waterfront and a 12-acre parcel at Alameda Point – to the City. In addition, it transferred a third piece of real property – the site of the former Island High School – and turned over $4.6 million in a housing fund to the Housing Authority. In exchange, AUSD got a 20-acre parcel at the Point and $1.95 million in cash it could use to fix the Encinal High swimming pool.
The initial presentation to the School Board about the swap lasted less than four minutes. Despite the complexity of the deal, no Board member asked any questions – except Ms. Spencer, who had a bunch. But she didn’t get answers. Instead, no fewer than three times, Superintendent Kirsten Vital flatly refused to provide the information Ms. Spencer asked for. For his part, Mr. McMahon explained that “a number of items” were “so complicated” that the Board couldn’t discuss them in public.
Two weeks later, the School Board voted, 4-1, to approve the agreement. Essentially, Ms. Spencer made three points in dissent:
- AUSD should not proceed with a real-estate swap until the School Board had received an estimate of the value of each of the parcels involved in the deal.
- AUSD should not agree to give up the Island High property until the School Board had evaluated the potential school-related uses that could be made of that site.
- The School Board should defer a vote until it could hold a workshop at which the public could ask, and get answers to, its questions about the swap.
Was this pure obstinacy? It doesn’t seem so to us. Instead, if one were so inclined, one could defend Ms. Spencer’s position as an attempt to ensure, respectively, “fiscal responsibility,” attention to community needs, and “transparency” – all of which, of course, are values regularly professed by the Inner Ring itself.
Ms. Spencer’s first point was an economic one: How much was AUSD giving up in order to get money to fix the Encinal High swimming pool (and a substitute site for a school at Alameda Point)? You couldn’t know the answer to that question unless you knew what the parcels being transferred by the District were worth. And you couldn’t know what they were worth unless you got an estimate – by appraisal or otherwise – of their value.
To golf war veterans, hers wasn’t an odd request. When Ron Cowan proposed to swap cash and vacant scrubland for the Mif Albright golf course, one of the first steps taken by the City was to commission an appraisal of the Mif. This would enable the City – and the public – to determine whether Cowan was offering enough to compensate the City for the property he wanted it to give him. Sure, the swap would enable the City to meet a long-standing need for youth sports fields. But no one, at City Hall or in the golf community, desired to pay too much for that benefit. And if the Mif was worth more than Cowan was offering, he ought to put more money on the table. As it turned out, it was, and he did.
Ms. Spencer appears to have been motivated by similar concerns. She wanted to know the value of the property being transferred because that represented the price the District was paying to get the swimming pool money and the substitute school site. If the three parcels were worth more than staff was saying, the City and the Housing Authority should give up more to get them. And the more AUSD got, the more it could do for the schools beyond just fixing a swimming pool.
AUSD staff, and Ms. Spencer’s fellow School Board members, didn’t see it that way. They focused solely on the benefit being received and ignored the price being paid. The swap provided the long-sought-after money to fix the Encinal pool as well as a better location for a school at Alameda Point. To the Board majority, that was all that mattered. Who cares about the value of the property the District had to transfer in exchange? As Board president Margie Sherratt put it, “It isn’t about a tit-for-tat; it’s about the best use for what our students need in this community.”
Ms. Spencer’s other two objections were met with similar derision – even though, they, too, were hardly frivolous.
Back in October 2013, Ms. Spencer got the School Board to expand the scope of work being done by its architectural consultants to include potential uses by the District of the Island High site. Under the swap, that property would go to the Housing Authority. Before the Board agreed to let it go, Ms. Spencer wanted to know whether the consultants had completed their analysis of Island High. Yes, said Chief Business Officer Robert Clark. Can their findings be made public now? Ms. Spencer asked. No, said Superintendent Kirsten Vital. When can we see them? Ms. Spencer asked. In May – i.e.,after the swap had been voted on, said the Superintendent.
And then there was the matter of communication with the public. After listening at two meetings to citizens raise questions about the swap – none of which Ms. Vital deigned to respond to – Ms. Spencer moved to postpone the vote so that the Board could hold a workshop at which the public could get its questions answered. The motion failed for lack of a second. Mr. McMahon then moved for approval of the agreement. He ended his pitch with a lecture about the Board’s right to conduct business in closed sessions. “Yes, we’re not obligated to do it that way,” he said. “But in most cases it makes the most sense, simply because that’s how it gets done.”
The swap discussion demonstrated that Ms. Spencer surely approaches decisions differently than District staff and the School Board majority. But is that necessarily a bad thing? Maybe we want a Mayor or Council member who will demand that economics be analyzed, alternatives considered, and public questions answered. Had such a person been on Council during the last two years, the City might not have ended up borrowing $4 million to build an Emergency Operations Center whose only regular occupant will be one fire captain.
The tortured saga of Measure I likewise fails to support the portrayal of Ms. Spencer as an unthinking naysayer. Continue reading.