Developer selected for first phase of massive Concord naval base reuse project

CONCORD (BCN) — The Concord City Council ended its drama-stricken process to find a developer for the first phase of a $6 billion naval base redevelopment project by proceeding with the only firm remaining in the contest Wednesday.

The three participating members of the five-person city council voted unanimously to move into negotiations with Lennar Urban as the master developer on the Concord Naval Weapons Station reuse project, concluding a process that began January 2014.

In doing so, Mayor Laura Hoffmeister and councilmembers Dan Helix and Edi Birsan also approved revisions to Lennar’s term sheet that the firm finalized with city staff after the changes were asked for at an April 13 city council meeting.

Guy Bjerke, Concord’s director of community reuse planning, described the updated term sheet as one that exceeded that of Lennar’s former competitor, Catellus Development Corp., which dropped out of the process after it was denied a request to alter an aspect of its own term sheet.

Among other things, Lennar’s new agreement makes increases to its affordable housing investment, which was cheered by the dozen affordable housing advocates representing various agencies that spoke during public comment Wednesday.

Lennar also in its term sheet shifted some of the financial risk of the first phase of the project, which includes around 500 acres of the 5,046-acre shuttered naval base, away from the city, according to Bjerke.

“We’re not going to get everything in this term sheet (for the first phase of the project),” he said. “But I think it gives us a whole hell of a lot.”But some members of the public who spoke Wednesday disagreed.

But some members of the public who spoke Wednesday disagreed.Hope Johnson, a Concord resident, called the talk of term sheet improvements deceptive – because, she said, much of the funding in the agreement was just being moved from one area to another.”

“(And) there should be a competitive process with another company here that counters and points out these issues,” she said.

Other residents aimed criticism at the controversy-ridden history of the selection process, and called for it to be restarted as a remedy.

The selection process was halted in September when Catellus made allegations that Lennar improperly lobbied city councilman and then-Mayor Tim Grayson. After the Oct. 6 suicide of City Attorney Mark Coon, an independent attorney, Michael Jenkins, was hired to author a report that responded to the allegations.

Jenkins’ report concluded that Lennar did orchestrate campaign contributions from at least one proxy entity to Grayson’s state Assembly campaign, constituting a non-legal definition of lobbying. Grayson recused
himself from involvement in the process despite there being no evidence he knew of the Lennar connection.

Vice Mayor Ron Leone had also previously recused himself from the vote because state law says he has real property interest in the outcome since he lives within 500 feet of the project.

Lennar was allowed to continue in the selection process by the city council, which said it was best to have multiple bidders, despite Catellus later being permitted to exit the competition.

Helix, who was against the decision that led to Catellus’ parting, admitted Wednesday that the process was imperfect.

“There have been criticisms, richly deserved … recriminations, understood,” he said.

Although Helix said that he “wished there were an available alternative,” he added that he considered the level of assurances in Lennar’s term sheet enough to warrant moving forward with the firm.

Birsan agreed, adding that he looked forward to building good will with the community as the process moved forward. He suggested public meetings about the project every three months in the council’s chambers.

Before casting the final vote in support of Lennar, Hoffmeister reminded the community of the length of the process that’s still to come before the firm takes the helm on the project, which includes an environmental impact report and months of negotiations with the city.

And in answering those who remained skeptical of whether Lennar was right for the city council to select for the role, Hoffmeister said “time will be proof for this.”

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