Photo by Scott Hein

Today in the Times  

Posted on Sat, Jan. 13, 2007

Patience is needed for a good CNWS plan

IN RESPONSE to Joe Canciamilla's article Jan 6 asking the community to be patient on Concord Naval Weapons Station development plans, he does make some good points.

We should investigate all alternatives, and, yes, there are hundreds of millions, if not billions, of dollars to be made from redevelopment of this property.

The picture that accompanied the article was taken last spring by a member of the Concord Naval Weapons Station Neighborhood Alliance, a grass-roots organization that encompasses more than 600 local people.

Readers should know the picture was taken last spring when the Neighborhood Alliance learned that trees were being removed from the CNWS on Willow Pass Road. Two members of the Alliance found a crane removing a large palm tree and placing it on a local landscaper's truck. When questioned, the man supervising the operation explained he had done some asbestos-removal work on the base that went over budget; the Navy owed him $100,000, which it could not pay, so it offered him palm trees, which he could sell. As ridiculous as this scenario sounds, it is true.

No one understood the foreshadowing this provided. Months later, the Navy wants the Concord City Council to support a similar barter: the trade of the CNWS to Shaw for Shaw's services.

The consequences that will result from the development of the CNWS will be irreversible and will affect generations to come. Canciamilla makes a great point that patience is warranted; even if that "patience" means it will take "years, if not a decade" to result in responsible development that provides a balanced plan based on good planning and land-use principles.

If the BRAC process provides the best mechanism to ensure the community has a chance to provide input and allows professionals the time to evaluate and analyze land-use options and the quality-of-life impacts those would have on the region, then it is the best route.

Conversely, if the Navy can show the Shaw proposal would allow for more community input, better evaluation and analysis, and would enhance the quality of life for the region, consideration of that approach is warranted. To date, it has not done so.

Canciamilla asserts that "it is possible that by trading military construction services for the property, Shaw Environmental could receive title to the land at a market rate that includes Concord's plan for public benefits."

Without a reuse plan in place it is difficult to determine value because the value of the land is derived from allowable uses. Further, the public benefits to which Canciamilla refers haven't yet been determined. The reuse planning process must determine those. It is misleading to promote the notion that transferring the land leads to a market-rate deal while auction of the land could lead to an overpayment. If a reuse plan that outlines the allowable uses is in place and entities bid on the land, the rational conclusion is the highest bidder would determine the fair market value.

Canciamilla asks, "Wouldn't it be smarter for an environmental cleanup company with 200 employees in Concord to hold title to the land vs. a large, out-of-town corporate housing developer whose main objective is to build as many homes on the land as possible?"

He hit the nail on the head. The driving force behind any development is profit. Any residential home builder wants to maximize the number of houses to get the best return. It is vital to have a land-use plan in place before the land gets into the hands of the private sector where its use would be dictated by economic factors.

Why would an engineering firm want to hold on to a land asset long-term? The purpose behind Shaw's proposal is to take the asset because the Navy can't afford to compensate it for services. Shaw isn't a home builder; this asset would become cash when it's sold.

Again, it is critical to have the land-use plan in place before any conveyance to the private sector. The entire community will benefit by being patient and allowing for the proper community input, evaluation and analysis.

Concord's City Council members have a huge burden of responsibility to make the right decision. To date, they have lived up to their commitment of allowing the community to provide input.

They also have heeded Canciamilla's advice of patience as they approved the Navy's request for a 30-day extension for the declaration of surplus property so the Navy could show the merits of the Shaw proposal. To date, it has not done so.

The burden of proof is on the Navy. Neither the public nor Concord's City Council should expect anything less than an absolute guarantee the Shaw proposal is the best way to go before deciding to abandon the BRAC process.

There must be substantial evidence to justify any support for this proposal. Canciamilla's advice should be heeded ... patience, patience, patience.

Gleason is a member of the steering committee CNWS Neighborhood Alliance. She wrote this on its behalf.