April 14, 2024
Third time a charm? Concord Naval Weapons Station planning has been plagued by a decade of troubled developer searches.

It might have seemed like déjà vu when the Concord City Council last weekend selected yet another master developer for the Bay Area’s largest housing project.

It was the third time in seven years that the council had picked a firm with which to negotiate for construction of some 12,300 homes and about 6 million square feet of commercial development on roughly 2,350 acres of the Concord Naval Weapons Station site.

Combined with the project’s open space, most of which already has been transferred to the East Bay Regional Park District, the site is about 5,000 acres, or roughly 8 square miles. For comparison, that’s approximately two-thirds the area of Mountain View in the South Bay and slightly larger than Pleasant Hill in the East Bay

Despite the size of the project, Concord’s track record with selecting a developer was so bad that only one company provided a meaningful proposal this time. Fortunately, Brookfield Properties is an international development and real estate firm with the heft and professionalism to take on the weapons station project.

There’s still a lot of bargaining to come over the deal terms. But there’s a feeling that maybe, just maybe, the council finally got it right.

If so, it would be a big win for Contra Costa County’s largest city and for the entire Bay Area, which desperately needs additional housing. Full build-out could take as long as four decades. The sooner it begins, the better.

Sadly, the city has so far spent nearly two decades planning and a decade trying to select a developer and then strike a deal.

The first developer competition round collapsed in 2016 when backroom tactics of the council, city manager and mayor’s political consultant chased away the leading firm, Catellus Development Corp.

Its leading competitor, Lennar Urban, effectively won by default. But in 2020, Lennar bailed after it was unable to meet the council’s requirement for a labor deal with the building trades unions.

After new solicitations in 2021 drew three significant proposals, the divided City Council narrowly decided to enter exclusive negotiations with Concord First Partners, which included Albert D. Seeno III’s Discovery Builders. Seeno in 2016 had pleaded guilty to bank fraud on behalf of his home sales company, Discovery Sales.

During the ensuing negotiations with Concord First Partners, the consortium tried to extract enforceable rights to the property before the planning process was even completed. And then it demanded the city increase the number of housing units on the site by 34% so it could reap more profit.

Meanwhile, Seeno faced litigation from his own father, prominent developer Albert Seeno Jr., who was trying to oust his son as CEO of five of the father’s firms. The litigation contained troubling allegations about Seeno III’s management, debt to and deception of his own father, and treatment of employees.

As the city’s negotiations with Concord First Partners dragged on, voters altered the City Council, and in January the new majority ended the talks. That triggered the latest developer solicitation — and the selection of Brookfield on Saturday.

Unlike the prior picks, this was a unanimous decision of all five council members — and it wasn’t acrimonious. Even the trade unions were happy with the pick.

“The element that I see here today that I did not see with the previous two relationships is community trust,” said Councilmember Carlyn Obringer.

As we’ve seen with the last two rounds, the devil is in the details. The next steps for the city are hammering out an exclusive negotiating agreement with Brookfield, expected by September, and then a term sheet before the end of the year. After that, work on a detailed plans and environmental review will commence.

But for a moment at least, there was a sense of calm. “Third time’s a charm,” said Mayor Laura Hoffmeister. Let’s hope she’s right.

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