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Visions of the Future

Councilmembers Don Kuehne and Joanne Ward lack a vision for the city.

Imagine our fair city seven months in the future. It is a Tuesday morning in September. A heat wave has encompassed the Bay Area. Grasses are burnt brown. Leaves are green. The community swimming pool is empty. An exhausted staff occupies city hall preparing for another epic city council meeting scheduled for the evening. It is just another quiet sunny summer day in Hercules.

Sycamore North had been sold a few months earlier for a $25 million loss. It was the best result the city could have hoped for. The sale prevented further losses–stopped the bleeding, so to speak–and helped save the Intermodal Transit Center project, which has been put off for another year as the city searches high and low for additional funding.

The Cultural Festival and 4th of July celebration were cancelled earlier in the year in a last-ditch effort to trim the budget. There are now only two patrol units on the midnight shift.

The city moved forward with plans for an urban Safeway at Sycamore Crossing, effectively killing three birds with one stone–the need for an updated grocery store, the sale of city-owned property (which had grown to a portfolio of more than $50 million), and the conversion of vacant land into tax revenue and tax increment. Safeway is already on schedule for a planning commission review in November.

Parcel C, better known as the former Walmart property, was rezoned and sold to a developer interested in expanding the North Shore business park, recouping redevelopment agency losses and expanding job opportunities in the city. Planning review is months off, but the mountain of soil that had occupied the site has been sold and hauled off.

A developer agreement was finalized with AndersonPacific for the waterfront project, Hercules Bayfront, in June. The agreement included the transfer of property necessary for the Intermodal Transit Center. The timing couldn't have been more nerve-wracking; the governor's plan to eliminate redevelopment agencies was approved. Construction of retail buildings along Bayfront Avenue is scheduled to begin the following spring.

The New Town Center project has been put on hold indefinitely, following staff's recommendation that the current plan is an impossibility in the market. The city is mired in a lawsuit with the previous developer, Red Barn, who had re-branded themselves Yellow Shack to avoid the feeding frenzy of negative press.

The City of Hercules had decided to recommit with the City of Pinole for an upgraded joint wastewater treatment facility. A sale of Hercules Municipal Utility to PG&E is underway. The plan to annex 77 acres is abandoned.

Although this alternate reality is entirely fictional–and imperfect–it can be accomplished, or something resembling it. And considering the hard work and difficult decisions required, the people that come to my mind that are capable of making it possible are the likes of Charlie Long, John Delgado and Myrna de Vera–and, of course, unnamed dutiful staff.

I do not think of Don Kuehne and Joanne Ward, the councilmembers that face recall due to indefensible records that led to nepotism and corruption at city hall, and a nearly incomprehensible pending financial disaster that may reverberate for years.

Residents will ask themselves if the city will be better off in two years with or without Kuehne and Ward on the city council as they ponder recall, and whether or not residents can afford to take that risk.

Kuehne and Ward have not offered their vision–not how to survive the recall effort, but their vision for the city and the residents they were elected to represent.

Vision drives emotion and progress, a hope for a better future no matter how good things may seem at present. The vision for Hercules is grand. It is a vision I remain proud of and a vision I hope is realized. It is a vision that requires strong leadership, and that, for me, is the heart of the recall.

Susan D.Keeffe February 05, 2011 at 03:39 PM
David, One further question. Since the project is $42 million short for completion and the City is exploring selling it, and there appears to be no money to complete the remainder of the project including a recent Lochner article indicating Red Barn is in trouble, how can this project blend in with anything? Do you by any chance remember what the EIR said about the traffic on San Pablo Ave at build-out? Thanks again for the information.
35 Year Resident February 05, 2011 at 04:07 PM
Gridlock.....
Phil Simmons February 05, 2011 at 04:23 PM
David Smith - Yes the architecture appears to have a nice look but it is a behemoth. It blocks the sun from the adjacent neighborhood. I am curious what the community had to say when they reviewed the EIR and the plans both of which should have indicated how much the building would leave them in the shadows. But the bigger issue is the increase in the affordable housing portion. High density, without outside amenities, with only underground parking, and a huge portion of very low income affordable housing is not a very good formula for a successful community . I am curious how the neighborhood choose to allow this project to become what it is if the neighborhood was involved all along the way. Though I did see presentations at city hall about Syc North I missed any real community involvement. I don't recall seeing any EIR notices posted all around the area for months as has been done for the waterfront EIR. I don't recall months and months or years and years of community meetings and city events as has been the case with the train station and the waterfront. Maybe they happened and I was not engaged. I should have been. Even so, I do recalled the project being fast tracked in an unmanageable way. The current problems bear this out.
Julian W February 05, 2011 at 05:33 PM
Sycamore N is what it is and is a good lesson for all of us of what happens demographically, financially, and architecturally when a communuity does not keep close tabs on it's local government. The relevance will be in how we handle future projects like Sycamore S, the waterfront, the Walmart parcel, etc.
Susan D.Keeffe February 05, 2011 at 05:36 PM
Julian, Well said! I agree!
Patricia Esposito February 05, 2011 at 07:21 PM
Last Saturday morning my husband and I drove to city hall to sign the recall petition. I for one was very proud to see so many people flowing in and out of City Hall. This is Democracy and it is my hope that all of us will never allow huge developments or huge ego's to be the future of Hercules. I would like to say that I supported Council member Kuehne and former Council member Raines because they ran on a platform to save Franklin Canyon from development. A grass roots organization of citizens came together then, as now, to better the local level of government . I think that Councilman Kuehne is probably a very intelligent man as he has ,at the very least, a degree in chemical engineering. He is probably no slouch at his main job, an employee for Chevron. In my life experience many people I have met, especially those with science degrees, are plain lacking in common sense. That would explain a lot.
Gerard Boulanger February 06, 2011 at 03:41 AM
Sycamore North is a concentrate of what was the "vision" of the previous City Mgr: a large building with a lot of Affordable housing to bring more business to NEO Consulting and approved 5-0 by amateurs in City Council not able or willing to challenge anything. Here we are today: we have to sell the whole thing and be ready to lose $35M in that transaction. This is what happened when a City/RDA pretended to be a developer... I hope we won't make that mistake anymore.
Lisa February 06, 2011 at 05:14 PM
@patricia esposito - I agree with you - Mr. Kuehne is a smart man, but it has also been my experience that the higher the degree the less common sense they have. (ok ok so its not everyone, its a generalization ) but I am certain that is his problem. He just doesnt get it and probably wont ever. Sad.
Susan D.Keeffe February 06, 2011 at 05:44 PM
Folks, I fear we are once again straying from the topic! The number and amount of degrees a person does or does not have is irrelevant to our Recall cause. As a matter of fact, a significant number of the Recall Leadership team have advanced degrees as well as a large number of the volunteers. This is a very well educated and bright populace of which we can be proud. Jeff's vision is a hopeful one, and one which the Recall team and volunteers are hoping can become a reality. We believe to make it so requires a fresh team of leaders. We are still collecting donations and signatures! Keep watching for us! And don't forget the website herculesrecall.com. Many Thanks!
Mr.Windemere February 09, 2011 at 07:15 PM
MAY HERCULES REST IN PEACE I have read some of the replies to the comment written by Tsong Ming concerning the Visions of the Future editorial written by Jeffrey Wisniewski. I observe a frightful amount of naive optimism. I believe that the main points of Tsong Ming's comment are very close to the reality that the City of Hercules faces in the near future. The citizens of hercules need to get their head out of the sand and realize what has happened ! You need to see the long term consequences of the actions of the leaders of Hercules. They cannot be reversed. Hercules cannot come back in the near future. Hercules will begin the cycle of DECAY. They have lost our dreams. MAY HERCULES REST IN PEACE
Mr.Windemere February 09, 2011 at 08:15 PM
THIS IS THE TRUE DISMAL FUTURE OF HERCULES ! DON'T BE NAIVE & HAVE YOUR HEADS IN THE SAND ! WAKE UP ! The City of Hercules had an opportunity to significantly improve the desirability for families to live in Hercules and convert the city into a unique concept city. According to some individuals, it was so close to achieving these goals. The city has grossly failed and has squandered this opportunity. It has lost the financial resources it needs to improve and grow as it planned to. It has lost its leaders needed to follow through with this growth. The dream is over ! Now Hercules will return to becoming just another East Bay town. City services and schools will be in jeopardy and squeezed hard. Home values will remain in the gutter. Highly desirable businesses will leave or locate elsewhere. The quality of the individual demographics will decay over time. MAY HERCULES REST IN PEACE
tsong Ming February 09, 2011 at 08:56 PM
Ouch. I suppose my originally gloomy assessment reflects the fears of other individuals as well. At this point I hope for the best, but the preliminary numbers do not look good. The financial audit now being conducted should tell us how bad things really are? The only way to "save the city" is to make it more attractive to investors. That is why I think the Waterfront project including train and ferry should go forward. I heard Charlie Long say that these are the only projects likely to receive significant state and federal grant money. I heard the city manager Deltorchio talk last night about all the consultant contracts and studies the city is still paying for related to projects that will never happen. He is trying to terminate these contracts. Amazing all the money the city was (and is) spending on ... smoke and mirrors. Many of these contracts were for hundreds of thousands of dollars each. The city council just mindlessly approved these consulting contracts without any questions. It was as if they believed redevelopment money was a bottomless pot of gold. Whatever the old city manager put under their nose, they signed. It is unspeakably bad management for such a small city. The city will be paying for these big mistakes for many years to come. I hope Mr. Windemere and I are proved wrong about our nightmare visions of the future. I hope that with smarter, more thoughtful leadership we can find a way to avoid bankruptcy.
Lisa February 09, 2011 at 08:57 PM
Mr. Windemere - I do not think you give us enough credit - WE DO UNDERSTAND the predicament that Hercules is in because of the current and past council members and such. Thats why there is a recall going on. No one thinks that the problems here in Hercules will be solved overnight, or in the near future. Change takes time. We may never overcome all of the issues, but we need to do something to try and make the situation as good as we can. It will never be perfect. It may never be the dream that was envisioned, but we need to try. Stop being so negative and help us work towards a better Hercules.
Bill Kelly February 09, 2011 at 09:31 PM
It is true that our little City has its challenges to overcome, but each “problem” presents an opportunity to learn from the past; do things differently and get a different, hopefully better, result. Hercules began moving in a new direction last Nov. 2nd. We need to keep doing what we've been doing, being involved in our City's government, so that we can keep getting what we're getting, a more open and transparent government.
Phil Simmons February 09, 2011 at 09:46 PM
Mr.Windemere You mean like this: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=drZcdLzonP4&feature=related or like this?: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=h9FGrFKkPnM
Susan D.Keeffe February 09, 2011 at 11:46 PM
Mr Windemere , Hercules will be what we make it. What have you done to make things better? If nothing, and you care about our City, ask yourself what you can do to make Hercules better now.
Joseph Catindig February 10, 2011 at 12:58 AM
@Mr. Windmere: "MAY HERCULES REST IN PEACE" There's a reason why folks fill that city hall chairs every first Tuesday of the month ever since this whole mess started coming out. There's a reason why the 2 incumbents were booted out of the city hall last December. There's a reason why Keuhne and Ward are being recalled. There's a reason why volunteers walked house to house, stood in front of Lucky's and the post office for 2 hours at a time to collect signatures. There's a reason why lots of people do what they do right now. These reasons are enough for me to keep those hopes and dreams alive. Let's see what "we" can do to salvage what else is left and go from there. But don't kill our dreams just yet. Stop your pessimistic views and give us a chance. I even encourage you to come and join us...we need your help, Mr. Windmere!
Gerard Boulanger February 10, 2011 at 02:15 AM
@ Mr. Windmere: I understand your anger and disappointment., however the way you painted our city is a little too dark. I am aware of our financial situation, and yes, it's scary. In some cases, like Sycamore North, it looks like a cascade of financial disasters one after another. Yes, difficult times will be there soon. For all of us (property taxes), and even more difficulties for a few (services may shrink, people may loose their jobs, etc.). But mistakes have to be corrected. We don't have a time machine. We will have do what has to be done. Last election, which I consider step 1 of Recall, brought 2 reformers in office. I don't give up, that's too easy. The end of Hercules? Absolutely not!
Phil Simmons February 10, 2011 at 02:31 AM
Mr.Windemere Or let's all just do..... As Mack told Doc when things started getting to be to hard: "Why don't you just give up?"......
Phil Simmons February 10, 2011 at 02:33 AM
Blake Mengotto Really good to hear your refreshing reminder about the value of "new urbanism".
Mr.Windemere February 10, 2011 at 07:24 AM
I would like to share with the people of Hercules my sincere fears concerning what the city faces in the near future. I must post this in sections. I hope you understand. Many homeowners, including myself, purchased in Hercules with the anticipation that the Hercules Town Center, Ferry Dock, Amtrak Station, and the Waterfront District would be developed and built in the near future. Steve Lawton had a wonderful plan to enhance the City of Hercules into an upscale desirable waterfront community that professional families would be proud to be a part of. This city had the desire and plans to develop the city into a unique city that it even made it into the Forbes Magazine as a new concept of city development. It was to be a city with restaurants, shops, offices, theater, and residences were all combined with direct transportation to and from San Francisco.
Mr.Windemere February 10, 2011 at 07:26 AM
I remember in 2004 standing in the balcony of the brand new Baywood model home talking with Joanne Ward, Ed Balico, and the other city councilmen concerning the proposed Waterfront District that the balcony would overlook. Everyone was proud and had high anticipation of the progress being made at that time toward those goals. The Waterfront was to be a grandeur development with high expectations of city improvement. I remember standing among hundreds of people squashed together in the parking lot of the home builder, John Laing. There they were all fighting to purchase just a few homes that were being released for sale next to Sycamore because of the dreams of a future Waterfront District soon be to developed within walking distance. I talked with Steve Lawton who felt that the Waterfront District, Ferry Dock, Amtrak Station, and Hercules Town Center would radically improve the city to be a highly desirable city to live in by other professionals. Steve was confident the city had the resources and ability to achieve these ventures within a few years. Many of my neighbors I know purchased their homes on the bay side of Hercules primarily because of the promise of these achievable dreams.
Mr.Windemere February 10, 2011 at 07:28 AM
I remember talking with Ed Balico in 2008 where he said that the City of Hercules had acquired 30 million dollars of funding of the 33 million needed to proceed building the San Francisco Ferry Station. He emphasized how close the City was to completing this goal. He was very confident in the strong financial condition of the city due to the ample revenues originating from the oil refinery to maintain city services and expand the improving local schools. Ed was secure and confident that the city could complete the funding for the future planed developments in the next few years. I remember the encouraging city meetings that explained the plans of city improvements and development that the citizens of Hercules were hoping for. The city has had the opportunity to change Hercules into a waterfront community that professional families desire to raise their families in. Many Hercules' families decided to purchase their homes with the anticipation of the fulfillment of these community improvements. Now, all those dreams are Gone ! Finished ! Washed up ! Wiped Out ! Dead !
Mr.Windemere February 10, 2011 at 07:29 AM
Now we have a city on the edge of bankruptcy that has been placing its priorities in lavish consulting, low income housing, and has squandered its money. As the word spreads throughout the nation concerning the dismal financial condition of the City of Hercules, it will be harder for the city to acquire low interest bonds and municipal financing at favorable rates. As you know, Don Kuehne, Ed Balico, Joanne Ward, and Nelson Oliva have already shown their faces on KTVU news. It is becoming clear that the hopes and dreams of a Waterfront District, Ferry Dock and Amtrak Station, and a new Town Center are now only twenty year old shattered dreams. Who knows when all this, or part of it will happen? Lisa Hammon said it (ITC) will not happen ! The necessary outside support for the project will soon vanish. This community has been working to acquire the funding for these growth projects for many, many years during good economic times. The community will not regain the necessary resources again for many years to come. Hercules has lost its growth leaders due to termination, resignation, or induced retirement. These city improvements will certainly not be built in the near future. You can expect professional families to choose other cities to live in that are not plagued with the threat of reduced city services or the stigma of living in a city in bankruptcy.
Mr.Windemere February 10, 2011 at 07:30 AM
Without the hope of a Waterfront District, ITC, or new Town Center, the homes close to the bay do not have the financial support they need. Perspective home buyers do consider these future improvements. It is like pulling the rug out from under the homeowners. If these Waterfront District improvements were already built, our home values would have been more firmly supported from diving. If the finances for our schools are adversely effected, you will see even more For Sale signs lining our streets. Our home values will decline further while homeowners give their underwater homes back to the bank. As our home values decline further, so does the revenues for the city decline. Do I need to say more? What will happen to our city services? I have heard that Vallejo has assessed additional assessments to their property taxes to increase their failing revenue. What will increased taxes do but to drive professionals who can move and businesses away. Highly sought after businesses will move elsewhere. The comments of Tsong Ming are not far from reality. This is the reality that we are now faced with.
Mr.Windemere February 10, 2011 at 07:38 AM
While our professionals move out, who will replace them? Since our homes will be so financially depressed and a great emphasis has been on low income housing, we can expect them to be replaced with low income individuals and the crime and violence that follows them. We saw that temporarily in Baywood when the section-8 people moved in and in the apartments adjacent to Victoria By The Bay. You can expect to observe a change in the city's demographics toward more low income criminals. I know of a person who calls the Sycamore developments of William Lyon Homes and John Laing Homes, "Slum Gulch". He predicts these homes will eventually corrode into slums. Steve Lawton had high expectations for the future of these bay communities, but that was based on the Waterfront District and the ITC being built. The city has grossly failed and has squandered this opportunity. It has lost the financial resources it needs to improve and grow as it planned to. It has lost its leaders needed to follow through with this growth. The dream is over ! Now Hercules will return to becoming just another East Bay town. City services and schools will be in jeopardy and squeezed hard. Home values will remain in the gutter. Highly desirable businesses will leave or locate elsewhere. The quality of the individual demographics will decay over time. This is how I calculate the future of Hercules to be. Because of the above, I am making plans to give my house back to the bank in 2011.
Jeffrey Wisniewski February 10, 2011 at 07:46 AM
Or, we can pitch in and do something about it, and prevent the destruction of our town as you've so gloomily imagined. I have hope.
Susan D.Keeffe February 10, 2011 at 08:49 AM
Mr. Windemere, It is clear now that you speak out of anger and bitterness. Fortunately, it is not as bleak as you say. The problems were there when you purchased - they didn't just happen overnight. The first steps needed to fix problems is to acknowledge they exist. Only then can solutions be sought. You can choose to dig in and work with a positive attitude to make things better, or you can quit and make things worse. Some of us were raised by parents who lived through the Great Depression and WWII. Their stories of fortitude, perserverance, a can-do attitude and a philosophy of never giving up is what made America great. Our country was founded on adversity by those willing to fight for their dreams. For those of us who have lived here for many years who did not move here because we were sold on one idea, this is still a wonderful city filled with good people, located in a great location in one of the most beautiful areas of the world. Things could be a lot worse! We have identified the problems and begun the steps to correct them. Some of those steps involved getting rid of the cronyism, nepotism and conflict of interest situations that scattered the City's focus in all directions while squandering millions. Fortunately, its fixable. But it will take time. Hercules will be what the citizens choose to make it. You can quit and search for utopia somewhere else, or you can dig in and help. What goes down invariably goes back up, but not for those who quit.
Susan D.Keeffe February 10, 2011 at 09:02 AM
Phil, Loved your You Tube references! Especially the Four Horses! Great to have a good sense of humor injected in all those gloom and doom!!!
Phil Simmons February 10, 2011 at 05:44 PM
Mr.Windemere Interesting how you view so positively the aspect of the value of having the urban development on the waterfront. To bad that the things Balico told you did not happen. He along with the rest of city hall took their eye off the ball and moved all of the growth effort over to Syc N, Red Barn, and other projects. Had they moved forward on the things they told you about it would be very different now. The recall would not be happening mainly because the disasters that have put us all on the brink would not have happened. So here we are. Apocalypse Now. Captain Ben Willard chasing down and removing Colonel Kurtz. Forcing city hall to take on a new manager. Replacing the city council. Pulling together the resources that are left to fix the problems and free the people from their cult leaders. "The Horror, The Horror"

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