School board forcing its land swap deal

On March 20, the school board met to discuss and vote on the land swap deal, much discussed in the news of late. Unfortunately for the public -- many of whom spoke in opposition to the deal -- the school board appeared to have made up their minds before the meeting.

A number of Alameda citizens proffered valid arguments against the land swap, several of whom pointed out the negative financial benefit to the school district. These ideas and suggestions were dismissed by the board, primarily, it appears, because they feel the general public (residents of Alameda) do not understand the complexities of the land swap.

Several complaints registered concern that the board's behind-closed-door meetings were in violation of the Brown Act. Mike McMahon quickly cleared this up with his signature arm-waving explanation, which amounted to, "the Brown Act requires us not to meet behind closed doors, but we do that because we have always done it."

This would appear to dismiss any ideas that the board desires to interact with their "community members" (as Superintendent Kirsten Vital stated in her March 21 letter) regarding issues coming before the board that affect "our" public schools and the citizens of Alameda. It also illuminates the idea that the school board does what they do because they can, and will continue to do so into the future sans a public demanding more public interaction and fiscal responsibility.

Vital further explains in her letter that this deal is simple and "many community members are excited about this proposal." None of these excited members felt inclined to appear before the board meeting to express their excitement. However, many who opposed the idea and had questions did appear.

There was a question concerning $4.6 million from the now-extinct redevelopment system to help the school district pay for housing for traditionally underpaid school teachers. Part of this deal involves city officials and the school board trying to keep these funds out of Gov. Jerry Brown's clutches.

This money will evidently be passed to the housing authority. One would wonder how these funds sat idle for years without an attempt to convert them to constructive use. If the citizens of Alameda are ignorant concerning these issues, Vital points out that they posted an FAQ response about the proposal on their website, www.alameda.k12.ca.us.

My only issue with this would be that they picked the questions to answer and, not being in a public forum, spent hours creating answers that may or may not be appropriate responses.

The only person on the board who appears to understand the angst of the public is Dennis Spencer, whom I believe was a nay vote on the land swap. It appears we have an isolated, out-of-control school board, distanced from the community with regards to future growth and fiscal responsibilities.

What is wrong with a picture of the school board, city officials and the housing authority meeting behind closed doors to decide on issues concerning this land swap deal? They are making decisions that should have input from the citizens of Alameda. They will continue to do this into the future unless the public demands more oversight. This also brings to light that elected officials should have a term limit to avoid fostering the attitudes of those presently on the board.

Harold Mackenzie

Rezone extra land on McKay as open space

Taking over a California-owned park entrance ("U.S. sides with developer on Crown beach site," March 21), McKay Avenue, through eminent domain in order to get a few dollars more on the sale of surplus land is a sad testament to the philosophy of the U.S. Justice Department.

If the U.S. General Services Administration and Justice Department effort is successful in court, it will further weaken the eminent domain law. It would allow "public purpose" to be defined as any taking of land that would enhance the value of any currently owned federal land. The GSA claims that taking over McKay Avenue will help taxpayers by getting more money from a private housing developer.

In the meantime, outside the bubble back here in Alameda, signatures are being gathered for a November ballot measure to rezone the federal McKay Avenue surplus property as open space. The measure will reaffirm what voters approved six years ago in a park district bond measure, and it will render the eminent domain moot. Without residential zoning, the GSA will have no private land developer buyer. They will have to accept what voters decided long before the GSA put this parcel up for auction -- park expansion is the highest and best use of this land. To participate in signature gathering, visit the FriendsofCrownBeach.com website.

Richard Bangert

Being friendly can make big difference

I was prepared for a pretty boring day, sitting in a waiting room while my wife had a three-hour dental procedure. A short time after my arrival, a woman and her 13-year-old son arrived. The mother and I enjoyed talking on a variety of subjects, and one hour flew by. Her son's dental work was completed, and it was then her turn.

Her son sat a few chairs away from me. I said "hi" and asked him who was his favorite football team. He replied "the 49ers." I was amazed when he sat next to me. This 13-year-old young man spent one hour talking to a 98-year-old man. I thanked them for making this a precious day to remember. Everyone should take the time to be a bit more friendly. You never know when you can make a big difference in someone's life.

Owen "Jack" Jones

San Leandro