Vallejo Mare Island redeveloper’s plan to clean up key north entry draws criticism
As companies on Vallejo’s Mare Island add hundreds of jobs this year, the new redevelopers of the former naval shipyard are moving to make the burgeoning employment engine a better-looking and more flexible place for business growth.
But that plan, part of what’s expected to be more than a decade of additional building rehabilitation and land remediation work, has prompted questions about transparency of the public-private dealings.
Last November, an investment group of Napa Valley vintners and distillers took over ownership of hundreds of acres at the southern end of the island. In October 2019 the City Council approved a term sheet with the new owner, The Nimitz Group LLC, on the eventual purchase of 157 acres at the north end. Nimitz a year earlier was picked as the lead redevelopment contender for the north island.
Questions about the island deals
Then this month, the City Council unanimously approved two new agreements with Nimitz. One is a license to secure the northern end from trash dumping and trespassing. The other is a lease to provide 27 acres of that area for Nimitz tenants to accommodate big new orders by having extra room to lay down large items that come out of their factories elsewhere on the island while awaiting shipment to customers.
But a lengthy anonymous email sent to Mayor-elect Robert McConnell and news organizations before the Nov. 10 meeting questioned the propriety of the new arrangements and overall interactions between the city and the Nimitz team prompted the City Council to shift the items from the consent calendar to the open meeting for discussion.
Among the key accusations in the 16-point circular were that the October 2019 term sheet was being reworked between City Manager Greg Nyhoff and the Nimitz team, without council approval; the lay-down lease wasn’t compensating the city properly for commercial operations; and Nimitz co-founders Dave Phinney and Sebastian Lane, two local beverage entrepreneurs, were being forced out of the venture.
At the meeting, city legal staff underscored that the term sheet would have to come back to the council for a vote on any changes and that negotiation with Nimitz are ongoing for the development and purchase agreements. Nimitz submitted a letter to the council dated Nov. 10 and signed by Phinney, Lane and Gaylon Lawrence Jr., saying the claim of a shakeup is false.
Security supports job growth, redeveloper says
City staff and the Nimitz team underscored the necessity of the new agreements to the continued economic growth on Mare Island, where over 900 jobs were added in the past four months and 1,100 since the beginning of the year, according to the island management. There are about 110 businesses on the island all together, employing over 3,000 and occupying more than 3 million square feet. Another 1 million square feet of office and industrial buildings remain vacant, mainly because they need upgrades before occupancy.
"This is a really a step along the trail to the ultimate vision on the island,” Paul Kelley, city economic development director, told the council on Nov. 10 about the security agreement.
That vision, reiterated again at the council meeting and in community presentations last year, includes making Mare Island a go-to jobs generator as well as a trendy place to dine, attend events and live.
Key to that is improving the look of two key island entry points at the north end: Walnut and Railroad avenues from Highway 37 and the causeway across the Napa River to Vallejo proper, Kelley said to the council.
“This security license is an opportunity to get the island cleaned up, to protect it from illegal dumping, trespassing and other crimes,” said Kelley, once a Sonoma County supervisor for the northern district. “It reduces our cleanup, maintenance and frequency for our own staff. It saves the city on security costs.”
The city currently spends $50,000 annually on policing the northern end of the island, roughly equating to six hours of patrolling daily, not including trips by Public Works staff to pick up trash, Deputy City Attorney Dylan Brady told the council.
In what was called a good-faith measure, Nimitz, via its redevelopment manager, Southern Land Company, proposed to take on security and patrols of the area. That includes installation of 7 miles of 4-foot-high barbed-wire cattle fencing around three large city parcels and one still owned by the Navy, provide round-the-clock patrols and add lighting. That style of fencing is preferred because it would be less visible than chain-link fencing but would still provide an obvious indication when it had been cut, said Southern Land officials. That would cost $200,000 for the fencing and $15,000 a month for the patrols, or $180,000 a year.