More bad news for Concord’s partner Lennar-Five Point in CNWS project

It is not surprising that following my articles which were recently published which questioned the viability of Lennar-Urban and their subsidiary Five Point Holdings Inc. to finance the Concord Naval Weapons Station (CNWS) Reuse Project, a wall of silence  prevailed.

The San Fernando Spine Flower being designated as an endangered specie puts yet another nail in Five Points Newhall Ranch coffin
The San Fernando Spine Flower being designated as an endangered specie puts yet another nail in Five Points Newhall Ranch coffin

No one involved in local government seems to be willing to admit the distinct possibility that they have been dealt a losing hand selecting Lennar.

At the City Council meeting on September 13, 2016, not a word was mentioned about the serious charges brought forth about Lennar and their shell companies that might question their ability to do the job necessary to make the promises in the glossy four color brochure sent to every Concord resident come to fruition. Instead, the City Council spent a considerable amount of time discussing the composition of the largely ceremonial Citizens Advisory Council (CAC) that will oversee the new development.

For them, the fitness of Lennar to be their partner working together on the CNWS was not an issue. Since then a couple events have transpired concerning two of the chief components of my previous criticisms of the Master Developer selection process by the City of Concord of some note.

The “poor” stress rating for Lennar issued on September 2nd Dunn & Bradstreet (D & B) which stated that the company could be a candidate for bankruptcy in the coming year. Because of the magnitude of this dire prediction, apparently there was a lot of pressure placed upon D & B to review their previous findings. The results were published by the credit rating service on September 13th.

At that time D & B confirmed their previous findings that Lennar currently has an abundance of financial problems. If such a conclusion does not raise a red flag for the Council, City Manager, and staff, what will be needed for them to reconsider tying the knot with Lennar?

Would not change the dismal stress test rating given to Lennar Lennar
Would not change the dismal stress test rating given to Lennar

Considering the recently-obtained information, it would be a dereliction of duty for City management not to demand audited financial information immediately from Lennar for Five Point Holdings Inc. And why would the City not want this information?

Of equal concern is an article published in the San Fernando Valley News on September 14th which read in part:

[CBD] – In response to a settlement with the Center for Biological Diversity to speed protections for 757 species, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service proposed today to protect the San Fernando Valley Spine Flower as a threatened species under the Endangered Species Act. There are only two known populations of the flower, which is so rare it was once thought to be extinct.

The San Fernando Valley spine flower is an annual plant in the buckwheat family that grows low to the ground with small, white flowers. Historically it was found in washes and sandy areas in only 10 locations in the foothills of Los Angeles and Orange counties.

All 10 of these locations were lost to development, and scientists thought the species was extinct from 1929 until a population was discovered in 1999 in Ventura County and the Service placed the flower on the candidate waiting list for protection. In 2000 an additional population of the flower was discovered near Santa Clarita in Los Angeles County, within the footprint of the proposed Newhall Ranch Development Project.

The Ventura County population is protected from development because it occurs in a designated open space preserve. The population in the footprint of the Newhall Ranch development has been proposed for management under a conservation plan developed by the company, under the state Endangered Species Act, that allowed the company to remove part of the population in exchange for creating preserves to protect about 75 percent of the plants.

Protection under the federal Endangered Species Act will require the company and state to work with the Service to develop an expanded and supplemented conservation strategy.

The people of Santa Clarita apparently don't want to build a new community that resembles Agrestic as depicted in the notorious TV series "Weeds"
The people of Santa Clarita apparently don’t want to build a new community that resembles Agrestic as depicted in the notorious TV series “Weeds”

What this all means is that my previous comment that the shovels Lennar had in storage for ground breaking to occur on their Newhall Ranch development would be getting rusty waiting for the ceremony to occur, might be a bit of an understatement.

With the spine flower being designated for protection under the Federal Endangered Species Act, Lennar’s Kofi Bonner’s prediction of getting the Newhall ranch development back on track within a couple years does not seem to be even remotely realistic. Along with the California Supreme court’s decision in November 2015 to shelve the Newhall Ranch Environmental Impact Report (EIR), Five Point’s current principal asset is for all practical purposes DOA.

Coupled with the liabilities of Five Point is the debt held by the Third Ave Fund left over from the bankruptcy of Lennar’s LandSource subsidiary back in 2008. As such, why in the world would Concord want to be connected with them? It would appear them getting involved Five Point would be the equivalent of hiring the Captain of the Titanic to be your safety consultant.

This whole deal of Concord selecting Lennar has made no sense from the offset. By the city in effect running Lennar’s competitor Catellus Development out of town, the CNWS Reuse Project is in the hands of an inferior vendor with no solution in sight.

What has transpired in the last couple days with D & B sticking with their decision in down grading Lennar and the spine flower being placed on the endangered species list, ought to be a wake-up call for city government in Concord who is betting their future on a losing hand with few alternatives available.

Perhaps they should listen to Kenny Roger’s advice of “knowing when to hold em’, knowing when to fold em’, and when to walk away.”

Are these people willing to stake their futures on the ability of Lennar to be there so called partner and deliver the project the community yearns for?

We shall see.

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Monument Community offers diverse cuisine

The Monument Community of Concord CA, is a hotbed of exotic and familiar foods. The Nov 1st “Taste of the Monument” Festival featured diverse cuisine from around the world

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Calling the Monument Community of Concord a “Gourmet Ghetto” is no insult. For years this area has been the home of a large number of affordable restaurants that diners from the entire region have enjoyed. This fact was very much on display with the “Taste of the Monument” Festival held on November 1st.

taste of the monument communitySponsored by local businesses and organizations including Habitat for Humanity, Monument Impact, Dolan’s Lumber, Travis Credit Union, Diablo Valley Bowl, Carbajal Insurance, and the City of Concord, this event was well attended with about 1000 visitors taking part in the proceedings.

Serenaded by the timeless tunes of the Lucid Rays with games provided for children, this festival was a true family oriented activity. While the Monument Community is best known for Hispanic cuisine, there was also involvement from other cultures as well. The Tandori Bolani’s from the Afgan Market and the noodles from Korean BBQ Plus were big favorites of visitors to the festival.IMG_0181

Other crowd pleaser’s were the Cuban sandwiches from Los Rancheros, the carnitas taco’s from El Molino and Sapare, the papusas donated by Las Vengas and the rotisserie chicken prepared by Mercado de Sol. Mi Officina offered coffee drinks and fresh baked pastries from their ovens.

In all it was a perfect day celebrating the many diverse cultures of the Monument community. When the event was concluding a few drops of rain began to fall for which no one complained as it was a preview of coming attractions. The Taste of Monument showed the potential of an area with much to offer the people of Concord and those who live nearby.

A list food purveyors:FullSizeRender

Afgan Market

The Silk Road made famous by Marco Polo creating trade between the Far East and Europe has an outpost in the Monument with the Afgan Market creating a mini-bazaar of hard to find items from Central Asia. This unique business sells everything from saffron to flat bread. The Afgan Market is best known for its fresh lamb, veal, and goat which most supermarkets don’t carry. Their reasonably priced veal chops provide an ideal gourmet dining ingredient for the home chef.

Hanhook Market

For over a quarter century this Korean Market has provided high quality Korean and Asian foods not found in the land of “Rancher’s Reserve” at Safeway. Kim Chi (Korea’s version of salsa) can be purchased in large jars. Numerous condiments and marinades are also in abundance to make Korean Barbecue Short Ribs super easy for novice cooks to prepare. Frozen foods from Seoul, hard to find beers, noodles, and spices are but a few offerings from Hancook Market.

Los Rancheros

There is a reason this restaurant next to the market of the same name is always packed. They are one of the best places to dine in the area. Los Rancheros homemade fruit drinks and smoothies are deliciously prepared. The papusas filled with cheese, beans, and/or meat is a signature item. Their Cuban sandwiches and Tortas made with rolls baked fresh on the premises are not being missed. They also feature several beef (carnitas) dishes with all the fixings on the side. Los Rancheros is synonymous with quality both in the restaurant and with their food trucks.

Korean BBQ Plus

Arguably, one of the best places to eat in Concord of any type, this restaurant is next store to Hancook Market. Their most famous dish is barbecued short ribs (Ga Bae) which comes with rice. Best of all are the large number of small plates with noodles, vegetables, kim chi, dried fish, and assorted items which come with every order. The more people dining, the larger the variety of small plates offered. Not to be missed at Korean BBQ Plus is their spicy Tofu soup and their excellent Clay Pot entrees.IMG_0215

Mi Oficina

This Hispanic version of Starbucks provides the ideal locale for people to meet and enjoy a cup of In addition Mi Oficina provides a delectable selection of cakes and cookies, and rolls baked on the premises. In addition they offer sandwiches including Almorzar un Pambazo and Croissants. Not to be forgotten are Mi Oficina’s smoothies and fruit drinks. An added bonus is the availability of computers for those who need a place to go on line. The friendly atmosphere of Mi Oficina gives needed diversity to the Monument Community and provides a friendly place to rendezvous.

El Molino

Famous for their production of homemade tortillas sold on the premises and in nearby stores, this busy restaurant serves simple yet elegant food that reminds us of the street food found in Baja Mexico. The taco’s are freshly made and melt in ones mouth. The pupusas take a few minutes to prepare but are worth the wait. Their fruit drinks and smoothies made with fresh ingredients are a perfect complement to a tasty meal. On Friday’s and over the weekend El Molino offers Chile Rellenos which are among the best in the area.FullSizeRender (5)

Sapore Ristorante

If a restaurant is to survive in the Monument area, it needs to not only serve excellent food but also have unique qualities that separate themselves from other places. Sapore does this by not only serving the normal tacos, burritos, and tostadas, but making other special dishes as well. Their menudo is among the best in the area. The Mariscada, Costilla Con Nopalitos, and Mojarra Frita (fish) is outstanding. Sapone’s dishes are presented artistically making them even for tempting to their wide clientele.

La Cabana

On the weekends when most businesses call it quits by 9pm, La Cabana comes alive with being one of the best Latin nightclubs to be found in concord and the whole Bay Area. Salsa music, dancing, and great food are found in abundance. Their Michelades drink (Mexican Bloody Mary) is not to be missed. La Cuban’s menu includes such treats as Quesadillas de Huitlacoache, Burritos with Laminate, and chicken dishes (polo) which tops off a great evening or provides an excellent meal any time.

Mercado de SolIMG_0290

One of the treasures of the Monument this restaurant offers made from scratch BBQ baby back ribs and rotisserie Chicken with a Mexican twist that provides a Latino alternative to the standard “Back 40’s” of the world. They also make the standard burrito and taco faire one finds in the Monument Culinary Zone. In addition Mercado De Sol treats their customers to homemade tortillas served warm offering a fresh dining experience that can be enjoyed by all. Their green sauce is also a treat not to be missed.

El Mercadito Latino Market & Las Venegas Taqueria

If one wants to take a trip South of the Border without needing a passport, this is the place to visit. El Mercadito offers fresh produce, cheeses, meats, and other items at reasonable prices .  Especially good in the meat section is their wide variety of pork which the butcher’s are glad to offer  custom cuts.  Also located in the market is the Las Venegas Taqueria which offers a complete menu including menudo and the  not to be missed chicken soup. One can partake in a 3 taco lunch with a bottle of beer or other beverages for less than $10.00. Their authentic El Salvadorian papusas are also to be enjoyed.

 

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Why I fought for every child to be eligible for Richmond Promise Scholarships

First, Richmond Promise was presented to the public, at least initially, as a community benefit for every child in Richmond who needs financial aid.

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This fall I had the honor of serving as co-chair of the Richmond Promise Ad-Hoc Committee. The committee was tasked with making recommendations to the Richmond City Council regarding the Richmond Promise scholarships program.

richmond promise scholarships for all
Charter school community rallies for inclusion in the Richmond Promise scholarships program. Photo Courtesy Richmond Confidential.
In my opinion, the million dollar question was which schoolchildren should be eligible to receive Richmond Promise Scholarships. Committee members had very strong opinions about this.

Some committee members believed that only children graduating from West Contra Costa Unified School District (WCCUSD) schools should be eligible. Other committee members believed that only children graduating from WCCUSD schools or charter schools should be eligible.

From the very beginning, I fought for every child in Richmond who needs financial aid to be eligible for a Richmond Promise Scholarships irrespective of their school of record. I did this for the following two reasons:

First, Richmond Promise Scholarships were presented to the public, at least initially, as a community benefit for every child in Richmond who needs financial aid. I thought it would be inappropriate for our committee to recommend something different.

Second, I could not in good conscience penalize children and parents for opting out of some WCCUSD schools. For example, Richmond High School and Kennedy High School are ranked the 40th and 73rd worst public schools in America by NeighborhoodScout.

Although I am a strong supporter of traditional public schools, under the circumstances I voted for every child in Richmond who needs financial aid to be eligible for a Richmond Promise Scholarship irrespective of their school of record. I urge the honorable members of the Richmond City Council to do the same.

Mister_Phillips-uncropped~ Mister Phillips is an attorney at law and elected member of the Contra Costa County Democratic Central Committee. He lives in Richmond with his wife and children.

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The Silicon Valley Chinese Association influence on local politics

Northern California Assemblywoman Catharine Baker and State Senator Steve Glazer are impressed with the engagement of the Silicon Valley Chinese Association in important issues facing the community

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It’s a late afternoon in May 2015 at an empty Kung Fu Academy in San Ramon. Inside a group of Chinese parents and their children are asking candidate Steve Glazer questions about his stands on issues that pertain to his political campaign to replace Mark DeSaulnier in the 7th State Senate District.
alex chen
Unlike most political meetings of this sort, Glazer’s opponent Susan Bonilla is never mentioned. No one cares. These people are only concerned about the candidates’ views on things of interest to them including public education, transportation, BART Strikes, taxes, pension reform and admission standards to the State college system.

To his credit Steve Glazer, without benefit of any notes, patiently spends 2 hours discussing each subject brought before him in the sweaty non-air conditioned room. The group is impressed. When the meeting concludes, check books appear to support for what will be Glazer’s successful campaign.

Welcome to the world of the Silicon Valley Chinese Association.

In February 2014 when the lunar calendar transitioned from the Year of the Snake to the Horse, no one knew who these people might be. That is because the Silicon Valley Chinese Association did not exist then. Yet less than 12 months later, the newly formed grass roots organization had become an important component in the Bay Area political scene.

The organization was the brainchild of Silicon Valley chip engineer Alex Chen and a group of his friends including Chunhua Liao and Cheney Gao who founded the Silicon Valley Chinese Association on February 15, 2014. According to Chen, California’s State Constitution Amendment 5 (SCA-5) was the main reason they started the organization.

One of the first actions the Silicon Valley Chinese Association took was to start the “no SCA5” change.org petition to the State Assembly. The petition went viral and attracted more than 100,000 signatures in two weeks. A short time later the newly formed  Association had 200 active members and 4600 people connected with their Face Book page.

This political  muscle in the Chinese community could be first found with their endorsement of Republican Catharine Baker in her Assembly race against Progressive Tim Sbranti, who had strong support from Teacher’s unions. Among the issues the SVCA supported Baker on were local control of education, evaluation of teachers based upon performance, and admission standards to colleges based upon individual  performance.

Catherine Baker calls for end to BART StrikeIt seemed Chinese parents did not care much about less stringent graduation standards from High School, testing systems, Common Core, or No Child Left Behind. From their perspective Chinese children are expected to perform at a high level in school and should get the best education possible. To do so their families are willing to spend the time and money necessary to accomplish these goals.

In addition to their support of Baker’s opposition to Affirmative Action, the Silicon Valley Chinese Association also liked her stands on controlling public employee pensions, opposition to the Bullet Train, and limiting the size of State government. The SVCA did more than give lip service to Catharine Baker. They raised money for her and walked precincts helping Baker to become the first Republican to be voted into State Legislature from the Bay Area in more than a decade.

According to Chen, “Special interest groups such as the unions were funneling big money to her opponent week after week. We were glad that contributions from individuals like us actually represented the voice of voters.” This was certainly appreciated by Baker who was the recipient of an estimated 5,000 hours of volunteer services as tabulated by the Silicon Valley Chinese Association.

The first term Assemblywomen could not agree more in saying, “The Silicon Valley Chinese Association was strongly involved with my campaign and subsequent election. This group is an example of people coming together and having a major impact at the grass roots level on elections and promoting good public policies.”

After Baker’s trIMG_1210iumph the SVCA put into their support for Democrat Steve Glazer whose opposition to BART strikes and accepting foreign students for admission to State funded colleges (because of paying higher tuition) at the expense of qualified California kids, resonated with this group.

Glazer later said, “I have been particularly impressed with the engagement of the Silicon Valley Chinese Association in important issues facing our community. They share my passion for making our K-12 and higher educational programs top notch and for a transportation system that is efficient and effective.”

In a relatively short period of time the SVCA showed they were not interested  in the traditional labels of political parties but rather the issues that were important to them. This is especially relevant in Contra Costa County where 16.4% of the population is Asian. In the past this group has not participated that much in the political process because many of the immigrants from this sector come from countries where democracy is not widely practiced.

This of course will change as Asians become more assimilated into the American melting pot. Being that the group in general is highly educated, we can see their increased involvement in the political system during the years to come. Such a development will likely make Asians with their independent perspective, those who will determine the outcome of many close elections in years to come.

sg74Going along with their conservative economic ideas Alex Chen mentioned that in the future, “our organization will support elected officials and candidate whose policies and positions are aligned with our philosophy — equal rights to education and employment, fiscal responsibility and independence from special interest groups. Our long-term plan is to keep advocating political involvement and political awareness in the Chinese-America community. We will expand our organization to get more people involved in the process so that their voice can be heard.”

If this is not enough, by 2065, Asians will surpass Hispanics as the largest group of new immigrants entering the US.  They will increase from 26 percent of the immigrant population to 38 percent, and Hispanics will decrease from 47 to 31 percent, according to a Pew Research Center report released at the end of September, Asians currently account for 6 percent of the total US population, but this will increase to 14 percent by 2065, they project.

Long before the influx of additional Asian families, especially from China, the political fallout in the San Ramon Valley can be expected to be greater than what will be seen throughout the State and on a National level. Some years from now what the Silicon Valley Chinese Association has been able to accomplish may well be considered in history as a “preview of coming attractions.”

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Concord must release the CNWS staff recommendation

Not only should the City of Concord complete a full investigation into the alleged allegations, but it must immediately release the staff report with its recommendation.

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The City of Concord has scheduled a special meeting for October 15 to discuss the selection of a master developer for the Concord Naval Weapons Station.

Concord-City-Council-2014This follows two months of increasing concern as to whether the City of Concord and Lennar, one of the two finalists for Master Developer, committed contractual and statutory violations of the agreement between the City of Concord and the final two developers, Lennar and Catellus.

On August 23, the Contra Costa Bee published a report noting Catellus Development’s concerns involving Concord Mayor Tim Grayson accepting campaign contributions for his 2016 Assembly campaign from sources with close ties to Lennar. While the Mayor returned the monies and pled ignorance of the sources, additional possible violations of the protocol agreement between the parties has been alleged by Catellus in a September 24 letter, asking the City of Concord to suspend the selection of the Master Developer at its scheduled September 29th meeting, pending a full investigation.

In a press release today, the City of Concord says the Concord City Attorney is preparing a response to the Catellus letter and it will be released prior to the Oct. 15 meeting. 

In its September 24 letter, Catellus alleges that Lennar violated the contractual non-lobbying agreement that was supposed to prohibit either master developer candidate from directly or indirectly lobbying the City of Concord or individual City Council members. Catellus also details how the City of Concord possibly committed statutory misconduct, notably violation of the Brown Act, when Council summarily, and in violation of the agreement of the parties, suppressed the City’s CNWS staff recommendation in its September 29 report to council concerning its expert opinion of the best plan on its merits, free from any politics and lobbying.

Meanwhile, on October 3, the Contra Costa Bee filed a FOIA request with the City of Concord to for records including all versions of the staff report including those prior to the version that was presented September 29, including that version which did have staff ‘s recommendation. Additionally the Bee requested any notes, emails, correspondence and record of conversation between Council or its members and City staff concerning the suppress of the staff recommendations which were due to be released per the process agreement.

This is a critical time for all Concordians as City leaders, for whatever reasons and to what extent, has brought this process that began in 2006, into question and scrutiny for lack of contractual and statutory compliance and transparency.

If half of what Catellus alleges, and many in the community already know to be true, is not fairly and openly addressed, a boatload of litigious hell could scuttle the entire project; possibly causing the Navy taking back the property and selling it off itself. This would not be the optimal outcome.

The first best step the Concord City Council ought to take is to release the original Staff Report that contains the CNWS staff recommendations from the Land Reuse Authority, that was expected September 29, but was according to Catellus, suppressed and/or edited. Let’s remember that the recommendations of the CNWS staff recommendation for the Land Reuse Authority is a culmination of over 18 months of conversation and negotiation between expert City staff and the applicants.

Not only is the CNWS staff recommendation an expected milestone within the protocol for the final master developer recommendation, but it would fairly describe what, in its expert opinion, would be the best choice for Concord between the two competing plans.

It is in the best interest of the community to know the CNWS staff recommendation without suppression or editing. Not only should the City of Concord complete a full investigation into the alleged allegations, but it must immediately release the staff report with its recommendation.

 

 

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Richmond to hold Rosie the Riveter Guiness Record Challenge, Aug 15

The National Park Service and the Rosie the Riveter Memorial site in Marina Park, Richmond California will attempt a new Guiness World Record for Largest Gathering of People Dressed as Rosie the Riveter, August 15, 2015

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rosietheriveter-yeswecanThe National Park Service is recruiting 1,000 women of all ages to help break the Guinness World Record for the Largest Gathering of People Dressed Like Rosie the Riveter, August 15, from 1:00-3:00 Saturday August 15, at the Rosie the Riveter Memortial, located in Marina Park in richmond California.

The Rosie the Riveter / WWII Home Front National Historical Park and the Rosie the Riveter Trust are working with the Richmond Convention & Visitor’s Bureau and The City of Richmond with support from the Spirit of ’45 and the American Rosie the Riveter Association to break the record!

The Rosie the Riveter/ WWII Home Front National Historical Park and the Rosie the Riveter Trust are working with the Richmond Convention & Visitor’s Bureau and The City of Richmond with support from the Spirit of ’45 and the American Rosie the Riveter Association to break the record!

When: 1:00 – 3:00 pm Saturday, August 15, 2015

Where: The Rosie the Riveter Memorial located in Marina Park (corner of Regatta Blvd and Melville Square), Richmond, CA 94804

Carpooling, biking, and public transportation encouraged


Uniform REQUIRED: To be counted as a Rosie, you must wear the following:

1. Red bandana with approximately 1″ diameter white polka-dots (hair should be pinned up, not down or in a ponytail).

2. Dark blue long-sleeve workers coveralls, OR long-sleeve dark blue collared shirt and dark blue pants, OR very dark blue jeans (not faded). Long sleeves must be rolled up like the classic image.

3. Red socks that cover calves (pants must be rolled up to reveal socks)

4. Black work boots or work shoes (or as close as you can get, as long as they’re black) OR brown work boots.

NOTE:
-no faded denim jeans

-no denim shirts
-no bib overalls
-no t shirts
-no sweats

Official “Rosie the Riveter” bandanas and red socks will be available at the event for $7 per pack. The first 100 people get a free official bandana provided by the Rosie the Riveter Trust.

For additional information or to volunteer:
Contact (via email) Allison Joyce or call 510-232-5050 x6632

Social Media:

Facebook: Rosie Rally

#RosieRally

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