DID YOU KNOW that development projects are being approved based on verbal agreements?

In the new clubby world of government, formal written legal agreements are no longer required for significant land use approvals. When a city and developer want to know if they can encroach and build on another government entity’s land they meet for coffee, shoot the breeze, make some jokes and all agree what will happen. One of the reasons this historically has not been allowed in the U.S. is that this type of treatment rarely applies to approvals that are needed for projects supported by what in olden times was called the hoi polloi but now is called the 99%. What happened to government of the people, by the people, for the people? Sadly when government officials make light of their social responsibility banana republics are the end result. Welcome to the Banana Republic of Redwood City.


Think I am making a big deal about nothing?  At the Pete’s Harbor “Town Hall”, an attendee asked Redwood City’s Planning Manager Blake Lyon whether the City had received approval from US Fish and Wildlife Service for the developer to pave over federally protected refuge land  what the Uccelli family has been calling “Uccelli Boulevard." His response was that this was under discussion and was essentially “the developer’s responsibility”. When members of SFBMFA (full disclosure I am a member), a non-profit looking to preserve public access to marinas on San Francisco Bay and the discoverers of the federal ownership, inquired here is the text of what they received via email:

“Please find attached our recent correspondence with the City of Redwood City staff in which we confirmed that we are not opposed to the proposed improvements within the subject easement area. 

We have met with Mr. Paul Powers on several occasions over the past few months, and we confirmed to Mr. Powers that their proposed trail for pedestrians and bicycles are consistent with our interests to provide passive public access to the shoreline; therefore we verbally consented to the use of the easement area. ……..”

 Based on this it appears Redwood City’s Planning Commission will tomorrow approve a new development for the former Pete’s Harbor area. But there is no land swap for federal taxpayers, there is no City Attorney opinion that this passive, verbal agreement is sufficient under applicable federal law governing the refuge.  Where are the local refuge supervisors?  Sacramento? Washington, D.C.?  No deed, no confirmation that they have been notified and have obtained legal counsel and approval to allow this. Does this even conform to applicable law? Is this the way public servants should be making and communicating asset decisions?  If it was your land would you make, approve and communicate decisions that way?


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Barb Valley February 05, 2014 at 08:43 PM
Jim, part of Bair Island is open now I believe. The Peninsula Open Trust purchased it in 1996 and deeded it to the Don Edwards Natl Wildlife Preserve in 1997. I don't think the Feds were ever involved.
Lou Covey, The Local Motive February 06, 2014 at 01:59 PM
This is a pretty over simplistic argument. Yes, lots of stuff gets done in our government without public input. That's because we are a democratic republic, not a democracy. We elect officials, they hire bureaucrats, bureaucratic mechanisms are put in place and the public gets to either pay attention at the appropriate time or complain about what was decided when they were not paying attention in public meetings. I've been paying attention to what is happening at Pete's Harbor for many years and have been generally happy with what the city has done with the process, including pulling approval when plans changed dramatically. I'm not among those who sat out till the last minute to voice disapproval. It's their right to complain at any particular time, however.
Buckley Stone February 07, 2014 at 07:54 PM
Oh! thank God for your type! Who knows what would have happened without your wisdom!
Lou Covey, The Local Motive February 08, 2014 at 01:12 PM
Actually Buckley, if your type had gotten involved in the process of city government before the developer, there might have been a completely different outcome.
Buckley Stone February 09, 2014 at 03:15 PM
Thank you Lou for the insight.


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