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Council Considers Aquatic Park Dredging, Downtown Plan

By Judith Scherr
Tuesday December 18, 2007

Councilmember Darryl Moore wants to get to the bottom of the surprise dredging of an Aquatic Park lagoon in early November. 

Why were there no work plans submitted for the dredging? Were the excavated spoils toxic, and how should they be disposed of? Why was the parks director told nothing about the dredging?  

Moore plans to ask these and other questions at tonight’s (Tuesday) City Council meeting. 

Also on the agenda tonight will be a request from the city manager to have staff look into giving the manager the ability to approve $50,000 contracts without council oversight, the election date for the Landmarks Preservation Ordinance and more. 

While a Condominium Conversion Ordinance was to be on the agenda, Planning Director Dan Marks told the Planet it will not be written until council gives the Planning Department adequate direction to prepare it. 


Aquatic Park dredging 

The city contracted with W.R Forde Associates of Richmond to dredge a lagoon at Aquatic Park, which included clearing sediment within a 50-foot radius of the tide tubes—the pipes that exchange water between the Bay and the lagoon—and the Strawberry Storm Drain outflow into the lagoon.  

However, the city failed to get permits to do the work, which, according to park users, could endanger waterfowl in the area. “Engineering did not inform the regulatory agencies, the staff in the Parks, Recreation and Waterfront Department, nor the public works director,” says a staff report submitted to the City Council Nov. 27. 

The report explains the need to clean the tubes periodically to ensure their proper functioning.  

A report from Analytical Sciences of Petaluma, also dated Nov. 27, written for W.R. Forde Associates and obtained by the Planet through a Public Information Act request, addressed the concern that the spoils may be toxic. The total lead results “are considered to be elevated above typical soil background levels, but are below typical commercial site public health goals,” says the report signed by Mark A. Vsalentini, laboratory director.  

Reached for comment on the degree of danger of the spoils’ toxicity, Toxics Manager Nabil Al Hadithy told the Planet Monday that he had received neither a copy of the original report on the toxicity, nor the city manager’s Dec. 12 memo to the council on the question. 

(The Analytical Sciences report refers, not to Aquatic Park, but to the “Oakland Estuary project,” which W.R. Forde Associates confirmed was a mistake—the report actually referred to Aquatic Park.)  

While Councilmember Moore had wanted the report discussed Nov. 27, he told the Planet that he acquiesced to the public works director who wanted to give the council an updated report Dec. 18. By 4 p.m. Monday, no updated report had been released. 

Who called the special session? 

Yesterday evening, the City Council was slated to hold a special closed session to consider whether to ask a judge to remove Rent Stabilization Board Member Chris Kavanagh from office. Kavanagh faces seven felony charges related to his service on the rent board while allegedly living in Oakland. Kavanagh says he is innocent of the charges. 

The Brown Act, the state’s open meeting law, states that a “special meeting may be called at any time by the presiding officer of the legislative body of a local agency, or by a majority of the members of the legislative body, by delivering written notice to each member of the legislative body and to each local newspaper of general circulation and radio or television station requesting notice in writing.” 

The meeting, however, was initiated neither by the mayor nor by five members of the City Council. According to Cisco DeVries, the mayor’s chief of staff, with whom the Planet spoke on Friday, the mayor did not call the meeting. In fact, DeVries said the mayor was trying to adjust his calendar so that he could attend. 

And five councilmembers would have to meet in open session to call a special meeting, which they did not. 

City Clerk Pamyla Means told the Planet Monday that, while the mayor did sign off on the meeting after the fact, City Manager Phil Kamlarz had initiated it. The Daily Planet was not informed of the meeting through the City Clerk’s office. 


Downtown discussion 

In a council workshop, from 5-7 p.m. today before the regular meeting, the council will discuss the future of the city’s downtown. This has been debated extensively in the Downtown Area Plan Advisory Committee, which has met several dozen times.  

It will be up to the council to make final decisions on the plan. An issue that is likely to be controversial is the allowable heights of buildings, including two hotels, which could be built as high as 225 feet or about 19 stories. 

Other considerations will be whether Center Street between Shattuck and Oxford streets should be closed and made into a pedestrian plaza, whether to create a downtown historic district and whether to dedicate two lanes of traffic to bus rapid transit.