Friday, March 20, 2009

Seeno changes his mind

After Albert Seeno III begged the City Council to rescind their Nov. 18 denial vote on his Benicia Business Park application, insisting that he really wanted to work collaboratively with the community and was eager to get started building a green, sustainable, cleantech business park that the community would be proud of, no sooner had he signed the final agreement resolution in early March, than he came back to the City on March 19 and informed city officials that he had changed his mind about proceeding with the project "due to the downturn in the economy" and he has decided to put the entire project on hold until 2010 at least, "if it makes economic sense to do so."

(It should be noted that by getting the Council to rescind their denial vote on his project application, Mr. Seeno has saved himself at least two and a half million dollars in project impact fees. When he resumes the project in 2010 or later, he will not have to pay the City's current rates on project impact fees, but rather the rates that were in effect when he opened the original application.)

Sunday, February 22, 2009

Council approves stiff resolution on Seeno project application

After community comments from many citizens and long discussions and negotiations between Council members, the City Council voted unanimously on Feb. 17 to approve a revised resolution which rescinded their previous Nov. 18 denial of the Seeno project application and set many stiff requirements that must be adhered to in order for a new project plan to be developed and eventually approved. The resolution requirements, which will put the city and community in charge of the project visioning and planning process, include provisions such as a Project Manager, a Citizen's Oversight Committee, a community-based Specific Plan process, a Subsequent Environmental Impact Report, and a legally binding Development Agreement between the developer and the City. The costs associated with all of these provisions will be funded by the developer.

It also calls for a signed Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) between the developer and the School District to ensure that the District's health and safety concerns relating to Semple School will be adequately addressed and protected, and to compensate the District for attorney fees that they incurred as they sought expert advice on how to protect their interests. This issue of the MOU with the School District was not resolved at the Feb. 17 Council meeting and negotiations are continuing, due to the fact that Mr. Seeno balked at paying more than twenty percent of the District's attorney fees.

Assuming that the School District and Mr. Seeno are able to arrive at a mutual agreement on an MOU, the next step will be for the City to initiate a public process for the selection of a Project Manager, and for the City Council to appoint a Citizen's Oversight Panel. The Oversight Panel and the Project Manager would then work together to interview and select a professional consulting firm which would conduct the community-based Specific Plan visioning process and the Subsequent EIR.

Tuesday, February 3, 2009

Mayor Patterson's commentary regarding proposed Seeno Agreement

[Note: to send emails to the City Council, and ensure that it becomes part of the public record, just write in the Subject Line "for all City Council members and City Attorney, re: Seeno Project" , and address your email to ]



[Here is Mayor Patterson's Feb. 2 Commentary on proposed Seeno Agreement]

Dear Reader,

Your attendance and attention is very much needed for Tuesday's council meeting at which the council will consider rescinding its "no" vote on the Seeno Project.

The Seeno Corporation has taken important steps to keep its current application active. A vote of this council to rescind its November 18, 2008 “no” vote on the current project would keep the application active.

We have some common ground in the community about the development of the Seeno site. It is fair to say that there is agreement on a project that provides jobs for a progressive green economy with clean tech and green tech research and development, a training center and possibly manufacturing.

We agree that the quality of life for our residents should be protected and enhanced. We do not want to degrade neighborhoods and Semple school environment, especially air quality, for economic gain.

There are two paths we can take: one path is the one begun after the “no” vote in November. At the November 18th meeting, staff was directed to propose options to the council for moving forward with a specific plan process. That path is still available and is preferred by me for several reasons.

The other path is the Agreement letter – the item on the agenda for Tuesday, February 3rd. Let me be clear that there is nothing in this Agreement that the city could not do without the agreement. This agreement has been advocated by some because a) the developer would stay at the table, b) the development may qualify for the federal "stimulus package". On both counts there is little substance. First, the developer is at the table. They own the land. Second the stimulus package is actually small for the whole country and we are not nearly as ready or needy to qualify in a very competitive era.

I do note the progress that has been made since 2002 whereby Seeno at long last agrees to a Specific Plan, and subsequent EIR to evaluate a future project in context of AB 32, and SB 375 as well as air quality, traffic impacts – including East 2nd below the freeway and potential urban blight for our downtown and impacts to Semple school and neighborhoods.

But more work needs to be done to make this agreement the kind of document our citizens can feel confidence and trust in - in us - your elected representatives - the city and ultimately the developer. Attached is an edited version of the Seeno Agreement Letter in both a word document and pdf format.




At the February 3 City Council meeting, the Council voted their intent to rescind their previous denial vote on the Seeno project (the vote was 4-1 with Mayor Patterson voting no). But their vote did not mean they were agreeing to the terms of Mr. Seeno's January 23 Agreement letter. Instead, they instructed the City Attorney to prepare a resolution for the Feb. 17 Council meeting which would include all the language changes and additional elements that were raised at the Feb. 3 Council meeting by members of the public, and by Mayor Patterson's revisions to Mr. Seeno's Jan. 23 letter.

Results of January 7 Community Seeno Workshop

On January 7, 2009, the City held a community workshop at Mary Farmer Elementary School to discuss the elements in Albert Seeno's Nov. 24 proposed Agreement Letter and to give community members a chance to express their concerns and their wishes for the Benicia Business Park development. All the community comments were recorded on a Wall Board and later summarized in a brief report.

To view an image of the Wall Board comments, click here.

To view the Summary Report, click here.

The next step is for Mr. Seeno to prepare a revised Agreement Letter based on what he heard at the community workshop. Then, at the Feb. 3, 2009 City Council meeting, the Council will discuss the elements of the revised Seeno Agreement Letter and consider whether they should rescind their November 18th "No" vote on the project application.

Thursday, December 4, 2008

Community workshop to be held before reconsideration of Seeno denial vote

On Dec. 2, the City Council briefly discussed the circumstances and terms of the Nov. 24 Seeno agreement letter (terms of the agreement arranged by Councilmember Mike Ioakimedes). They voted to hold a facilitated community workshop in January to allow the community to add their input to the process of refining and augmenting the terms of the agreement, and to dialog and negotiate with Seeno on those revised terms. The Council also voted to agendize, for the Feb. 3 City Council meeting, a reconsideration of their Nov. 18 project denial vote, and take a vote on whether to rescind that denial vote . Their reconsideration decision will be based on the terms of the revised agreement that will evolve out of the community workshop. In the meantime, their Nov. 18 project denial vote remains in full force.

The current version of the Seeno agreement has many pros, but also many cons. Some of the language is vague, or contains loopholes; some important provisions are not mandated, only suggested "if Council so desires;" and many important provisions are not mentioned. Please read the letter carefully and submit your comments and proposed additions to the City Council members. (If you email your comments to they will be forwarded to all Council members.) And please plan to attend the public workshop in January when the date is announced, as well as the Feb. 3 City Council meeting.

Sunday, November 30, 2008

Council to discuss reconsideration of Seeno denial vote on December 2

There will be a crucial discussion and vote at the City Council meeting Tuesday, Dec. 2, concerning the future of the Seeno Project in Benicia.

After the Council voted to deny the project on Nov. 18, the property owner, Albert Seeno III, wrote a letter agreeing to major concessions and modifications to the current version of the project if the Council would reconsider and rescind their Nov. 18 denial vote. There are many pros and cons to this choice. Please read the Seeno letter and decide for yourself. (The letter is also posted on the city website as a link to item XI. on the City Council Agenda.

The discussion of the Seeno letter and a vote on whether to reconsider their Nov. 18 denial vote is scheduled (item XI.) on the City Council agenda to begin approximately 9:20 p.m. on Dec. 2. Please try to attend this meeting if you are able; inform yourself about this important decision that will greatly affect the future of Benicia and let the Council hear your wishes.

If you cannot attend the Council meeting, please email your comments to the City Council members. If you email your letter , it will be forwarded to all Council members before the meeting.

This Nov.29 Vallejo Times Herald article provides some additional details about this recent new turn of events. You can also read background information about the Seeno project and the process that has brought us to this point at

Thursday, November 20, 2008

Council votes final DENIAL of Seeno Project, Nov.18,2008

On Nov. 18, 2008, the Benicia City Council voted to accept a Resolution of Denial of Discovery Builder's proposed project for their Benicia Business Park. This was a confirmation of their previous negative vote on Oct. 7 regarding a Resolution of Approval of the project's EIR Addendum.

For more details of the torturous application process that finally led to denial, see this Seeno Project Timeline .

The following newspaper article provide details about the Nov. 18 vote:
Benicia Rejects Seeno Project

Benician's can now look forward to working with Discovery Builders in a clean new application process as the company collaborates with all community and city stakeholders from the start on a visionary 21st Century project that will meet the needs of ALL.

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Council votes to deny Seeno project; City Manager tries to keep it alive...

At the October 7 City Council meeting, the Council voted to deny the Seeno project (527-acre Business Park in north Benicia). After hearing the results of a traffic study, and much deliberation, three of the five Council members remained unsatisfied with the sufficiency of the proposed mitigation measures which attempted to address the project's harmful impact on air quality and public health caused by excessive traffic.

Around 1 AM, Council took a vote on a Resolution to Approve the EIR Addendum (which was necessary in order to approve the project). It failed, 3 No votes (Patterson, Campbell, Ioakimedes), 2 yes votes (Hughes, Schwartzman). Therefore, the project could not be approved. City Attorney was instructed to bring forth a Resolution to Deny the project at the next Council meeting.

At the Oct. 21 Council meeting, City Manager Erickson submitted a report recommending that the Council “continue” the Seeno Item until the Nov. 18 City Council meeting because one of the five Council members (Campbell) was absent. He also produced several resolutions for their consideration. In addition to producing a resolution to deny the project and the EIR Addendum (as staff had been instructed to do), he also presented a resolution to approve the project (!) and he made a recommendation that the Council enter into “facilitated” discussions with the Developer to consider additional project requirements that might enable project approval.

Lacking a fifth vote, the Council did not act on the various resolution, and instead voted to "Continue the Item" to the Nov. 18 Council meeting.

With that as background, Roger Straw submitted the following column to the Benicia Herald:

Rebuilding Eroded Trust
By Roger Straw
Benicia Herald, Guest column, October 29, 2008

In recent statements before and during the October 21 City Council meeting, I believe that our City’s professional staff exercised their authority in a questionable manner.

Prior to the meeting, City Manager Jim Erickson, Community Development Director Charlie Knox and City Attorney Heather McLaughlin submitted a Staff Report that many feel ignored the will of the Council. Many feel that in bypassing the will of our elected representatives, staff has thwarted the will of the citizens of Benicia, who elected the Council.

The record will show that on October 7, Council voted 3-2 in a very clear and difficult decision, to not go forward in considering the Benicia Business Park as proposed by Seeno and Discovery Builders.

After the motion and before the vote on October 7, Councilmember Ioakimedes said, “I have a question for the City Attorney: the motion that's on the floor right now is the resolution that is on [page] B45. There will be another motion for B47?”

McLaughlin replied, “No. There'll be another motion if you approve B45, to approve the resolution that's on page 183.” She went on, “The part that's on 47, and the part that's exhibit B, which is on page 110, will be included as part of the resolutions, so you don't need a separate action on those.”

Ioakimedes then said, “But if there's a vote to deny, then there isn't any subsequent vote, is there?”

McLaughlin: “Right.” Ioakimedes: “Ok. That's ... Thank you.”

Mayor Elizabeth Patterson then called upon Councilmember Alan Schwartzman.

Schwartzman, addressing McLaughlin, said, “…Ok, so if the one we've got on the table now passes, we can go back to the table, and think about other conditions. If the one that we have on the table now fails, we don't go any further, we're done. Is that the way I understand it?”

McLaughlin: “Well, then I would suggest that we do a Resolution of Denial. You all could direct me to go back, using the model from June 3rd, with the findings or whatever you came up with.”

I find this record explicit, and without loopholes. The vote to approve CEQA documentation failed, 3-2, under deadline to pass, and the city attorney was directed by the mayor at the end of the meeting -- and agreed -- to return to the next meeting with a formal “Resolution to Deny” to conclude the rejection of the Seeno project.

Contrary to staff’s suggestion on October 21 that a “no” vote on a motion to approve leaves wiggle room for more consideration, the reason for a formal Resolution to Deny is not to state positively an affirmation which was not yet voted. The resolution is a formal statement with legal findings to solidify -- for the record and for legal reasons -- that a no vote has been taken.

Benicia needs to sit up and take notice of all this. Not only because of the stakes in approving or denying the current Seeno project, but for reasons of good and trustworthy government.

It is my understanding that staff brought forward its controversial recommendation on October 21 based not only on its rather manufactured reading of Council’s action on October 7, but that certain comments were conveyed in writing by Ioakimedes after the vote that could have been interpreted – or misinterpreted – as a wish to keep the current proposal open for discussion.

At issue here is not whether City staff should be fired, but how to regain trust after a major blunder. The human heart does not regain trust easily, and the public, having come to a high degree of respect for all five Council members despite their differences, now faces a huge hurdle in understanding the motives and honor of those who serve the Council, and by extension, the public.

Over the course of the next month, we are told that all stakeholders will be invited to sit down in professionally facilitated meetings to discuss the project, in hopes of agreement and approval at Council’s November 18 meeting. One of the outcomes of those meetings is likely to be a regained sense of trust among us all, or a further erosion of trust.

Roger Straw is a member of Benicia’s Green Gateway Group. For more information on the group, visit

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

Seeno project: Benicia's message is 'competence'

Vallejo Times-Herald
Wednesday, October 15, 2008

Seeno project: Benicia's message is 'competence'
by Dan Healy, Member, Benicia Planning Commission

The Times-Herald editorial of Oct. 9 ("Benicia: What message was city trying to send Seeno?") was wrong at every level. Contrary to your bizarre assertions, the Discovery Builders project was rejected for the simple reason that the developer refused to negotiate a written development agreement with the City.

As a member of the Benicia Planning Commission, I had the opportunity to vote on the project over six months ago. Our entire Planning Commission was supportive of the project, although we were frustrated by the applicant's unwillingness to sit down and negotiate a comprehensive development agreement with the City. Such an agreement, which defines with specificity the rights and responsibilities of both the City and developer, is very common for such large projects. The project developer declined to enter into such an agreement and instead demanded that the project hearings move forward. Frustrated that the developer refused to enter into a written development agreement, the Planning Commission unanimously rejected the developer's application and then immediately asked the developer to negotiate a development agreement. (Every member of the commission was appointed by former "business friendly" Mayor Steve Messina.)

That situation did not fundamentally change thereafter, as Discovery Builders continued to refuse, despite repeated requests, to enter into a written development agreement.

The Times-Herald applauds Discovery Builders for allegedly "agreeing to every one" of the City's requests. This statement is simply false. There were significant concerns raised by the Benicia Unified School District and other key constituencies that were not adequately addressed by the developer. More importantly, however, is the simple fact that the developer, while making various promises at midnight on the evening of hearings, refused to reduce its promises to an enforceable written agreement.

The Times-Herald's attack on Benicia's efforts to reduce air pollution is also absurd, given that, since the passage of AB 32, California law in fact REQUIRES that cities reduce air pollution.

It would be irresponsible for the City to approve one of the largest development in Benicia history without a negotiated, well-vetted development agreement that guarantees that the rights of both the City and the developer are clearly defined and that the project complies with California law.

As an example, last month the City and Valero refinery entered into a huge agreement for the improvement of the refinery. In that case, both Valero and Benicia residents came together to negotiate in good faith, and the result was a written agreement with served the interests of both Valero and the City.

It is not "anti-business" to ask that development agreements be reduced to writing. It is responsible governance. Nor is it "perfection" that the City seeks, although the City certainly tries to get as close as it can (the Times-Herald's advocacy of mediocrity notwithstanding).

It is not "arrogant" to seek a better project, or to demand enforceable agreements for such a project. This is called "competence".