San Leandro may redefine community input on redevelopment projects
SAN LEANDRO — A committed group of residents and property and business owners have helped set the policies and priorities for a number of the city's redevelopment projects over the years — by serving as members of advisory committees.
But lately, now that many projects have been completed, some are beginning to wonder: What role do the redevelopment advisory committees play for both the Joint and West San Leandro-MacArthur Boulevard project areas?
City officials hope to answer that question by figuring out the best way to maintain community input on redevelopment projects without wasting committee members' time or putting unnecessary burdens on city staff.
Several suggestions have been made so far, including consolidating the two groups and more clearly defining the role they play.
During a recent council Rules and Communications Committee meeting, Councilwoman Diana Souza cautioned against shrinking the advisory committees, saying that move could limit community input on some of the most important redevelopment projects. Instead, she suggested the city try to establish a better structure with which the groups can operate.
Councilman Bill Stephens echoed that suggestion, saying the groups should have a defined charter, similar to that set up for the general plan and transit-oriented development advisory committees, so that they won't have any unnecessary time constraints.
"We're trying to create a structure that will allow business and property owners, and nearby residents, to participate and get involved without having to make a four-year commitment," said Cynthia Battenberg, the city's business development manager.
Both the Joint and West San Leandro-MacArthur Boulevard redevelopment advisory committees have played vital roles in setting the frameworks for various projects the city has wished to embark upon, including the revitalization of Bayfair Center, the expansion of the Marina Auto Mall, the rehabilitation of the Islander Motel and the development of the LINKS shuttle system.
The committees are composed of a group of stakeholders in those projects, and involve property owners, business owners and residents who currently serve four-year terms — some of whom are serving well beyond their required appointments.
The Joint Project Area advisory committee is made up of eight people; the West San Leandro-MacArthur Boulevard committee is made up of 10.
The city also has the Plaza area, its oldest redevelopment zone, and manages the revitalization of downtown and its surrounding areas.
Each committee's main function has been to work with staff to create what is called a redevelopment implementation plan, a five-year road map prioritizing the projects the Redevelopment Agency will pursue and deciding how the money will be spent.
The last implementation plan was completed in 2004.
"And, generally, we have all been marching to the same beat," said Dale Reed, co-chairman of the West San Leandro-MacArthur Boulevard redevelopment advisory committee.
But in recently evaluating the advisory committees, city officials determined that over the years that both groups have lost members, and topics discussed at their meetings have often overlapped discussions that have already taken place with the Planning Commission and City Council.
To resolve that issue, City Manager John Jermanis and other officials recently suggested consolidating the two groups to better streamline their roles, which would allow the city to garner more participation from stakeholders on proposed projects, include the Plaza project area and affordable housing in the advisory members' oversight, and better accommodate people's time.
Charles Gilcrest, chairman of the Joint Project Area advisory committee, said he agrees with the city's suggestion to consolidate the groups.
While the groups' numbers would be slightly diminished, he said, he and other advisory members think the change could be for the better because it would still maintain community input as a high priority — just on a smaller scale.
"Redevelopment is still a significant portion of the city budget, so there will continue to be a need for community input on where the money is spent," Gilcrest said. "But I'm still supportive of staff's effort to run the city more effectively."
Battenberg agreed this might be the best option, especially since the next redevelopment implementation plan won't need to be considered for a while.
City staff are now evaluating those suggestions and will come back with a recommendation at a future meeting.
Reach Martin Ricard at 510-293-2480 or