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True to form, the City Council votes 5-2 to approve the Wharf Master Plan

Updated: Nov 25, 2020

Erica Aitken

The wharf is another beloved place that will undergo a Silicon Valley facelift. This time, the carrot at the end of the stick is that the Master Plan has to exist in order to get money for necessary repairs. That’s what we’re being told. The Master Plan, as it was presented November 24, is not engraved in stone. The three tall buildings, covering the seal viewing holes without knowing where they’ll be relocated, the many covered constructions that will insulate you from the sea breeze, all of this is on the table and will be firmed up over decades. Why put it in there then? Because we know that, once it’s on the radar, it will be a reality.

Community input, as usual, are the couple of minutes people get to express their opinion and ask questions. That, and public hearings and letters/petitions. But no vote, no referendum, no nothing that gives a definitive sense of what we want. And even though, of the twelve calls the Council received during the meeting, only three spoke in favor of the Plan, even though the nine others presented solid educated arguments in favor of amending the Plan, and even though Councilmember Sandy Brown proposed an amended Plan, City Council, as expected, voted for the Plan, as is, with the usual 5-2 breakdown.

If the issue was an automatic resistance to change, a rejection of all things new and modern, we’d be inclined to agree with an open ended dream like this Plan. But detractors have solid arguments that should have been considered and integrated. For instance, caller Gillian Greensite, representing the organization Don’t Morph the Wharf, made the following points:

- Community is all for fixing the parts that need fixing

- But against changing the character and feel of the wharf

- Parts of the plan can be supported while others are not. Take out the parts nobody wants and you’ll get community support.

- This plan, which was imposed on us rather than developed with the community, proposes 3 new 40-feet tall buildings whose function is to shield us from the breeze, the out at sea experience which is its attraction. The new buildings will cover the five seal viewing holes with no concrete plans for replacement.

- Staff says this is just a placeholder. But once a plan is approved future plans are mirrored on the first plan

- Staff says that grants for fixing and maintaining the wharf can only be gotten if this plan is approved. We challenge that claim. An amended plan and EIR will do the same

- We’re told that the wharf is losing money, but department heads say the wharf breaks even. Giving the parking fees over to the wharf rather than to the general fund will go a long way to keep the wharf solvent

- This is a plan to change the character of the wharf to attract affluent visitors who will spend money on expensive restaurants and attractions. This will price out locals.

- Plan reduces fishing area

- Greensite requests that the City approves an amended plan without landmark building, lower walkway, and heights at maximum 30 feet.

Additional comments addressed the lack of environmental expertise, impact on wildlife, and the unusually incomplete status of the EIR. And of the three calls in support of the plan, one was from a business owner on the wharf and another from the Chamber of Commerce. Understandably, both made economically based arguments I favor of the Plan.

Last meeting, the Council okayed the spending of 240K for a contract with Griffin Structures to examine how best to build the mixed use project (garage/library) downtown. Yesterday, they approved a potentially hugely expensive project for the wharf, with the argument that this is how needed repairs and maintenance (which would run about 12 million dollars) can be financed.

Is this really necessary? It might be. Grants are given in exchange for high-profit remodels. Just fixing the wharf won’t increase profits. But Greensite reminds us that there are historical grants that we could apply for and that, by limiting the work to essentials, the amount needed to fix and maintain the wharf is more in the realm of 5 million.

We spend millions and millions as if we weren’t in the middle of a financially damaging pandemic. We plan expensive constructions that we don’t need in the name of future generations who will be crippled by the accumulation of the debts we incur today.

In this world of disjointed 2-minute opinions, we don’t really have a say.

Note: Please read our blog entry “The Dark Side of City Debt” to fully understand the impact of gross spending on future generations.

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