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Monterey City Councilman Alan Haffa has sent an email being spread throughout the local business community that can be read as a veiled threat to anybody who opposes the city’s new leasing policies.

In March, the City Council passed a new leasing policy on city-owned property that would, in most cases set a 5 to 10-year limit on leases, would basically double rents, require more maintenance fees from tenants and, in the case of the Old Fisherman’s Wharf leases, actually take possession of the buildings from the owners at the end of their current lease. The decision to limit the length of the leases has created the most heat among business owners, who point to the instability short-term leases create.

At the May 19 City Council meeting, both Michael Mosebach of the Monterey Commercial Property Owners Association, and Jody Hansen, president of the Monterey Peninsula Chamber of Commerce asked the City Council to work with the stakeholders in the business community.

“The city should establish goals and objectives for each property — not just revenue goals, but the strategic vision,” Mosebach told the council.

“Flexibility is the issue,” Hansen said during her three minutes before the council. “Success is dependable on that flexibility — and predictability.”

Haffa responded with a terse, short tirade and said he was not amused and disappointed the two had decided to speak during the public comment period.

“I find it highly hypocritical for him to come here,” Hoffa said of Mosebach, and ended with, “businesses need to accept that they have to pay their fair share.”

On the heels of that tirade, Haffa sent an email and letter to the MCPOA, basically warning the group to stop trying to influence any changes to the new policy.

“Please convey to your members my disappointment in their taking a political position on what is a well founded and researched policy by the city. They should know better. It makes me question how much I can trust the MCPOA’s position on other issues,” his email begins.

Basically, the association is taking a non-competitive, non-capitalistic approach to leasing. You want some businesses to be subsidized by government at the expense of other businesses and the public. Do you not realize that this has a negative effect on other commercial property owners by disrupting the competitive market? Your properties are worth less if one landlord (the city) is discounting rents far below market.

Please see the following letter and share with your members. Our policy permits flexibility for each lease while giving some basic guidelines so that our leasing policy is not driven by politics and can provide certainty to vendors.

The letter infers that previous leasing policies in Monterey were somehow illegal and broke both the city charter and state law by “gifting public resources.” It’s an argument that seems to have been started by Monterey Planning Commissioner Bill McCrone, but was found not to be the case after extensive review in the past.

In 2011, a special study session by the City Council reviewed McCrone’s allegation that past City Councils dealt with the Waterfront leases in an improper or illegal manner and found that the facts did not support it.

“After listening to the city attorney; the city’s outside attorney, whose law firm has expertise in the leasing of public lands; the former city attorney, who was involved with the 1991 leases; several attorneys representing leaseholders and various members of the public, the City Council has come to the conclusion that it will not pursue litigation as the facts and the applicable law do not support it,” a statement from the council’s closed session, dated May 17, 2011, reads.

“Based on the facts that the City Council currently knows, ownership of those buildings was properly negotiated as a part of the lease extensions in the early nineties and was not a gift of public funds by the City Council, at that time.
Further, the City Council finds that the City is adhering to City Charter requirements and is receiving fair-market rents based on the MAI appraisals of the properties from 2007-2009, as confirmed by the Monterey Superior Court, and the fact that the public interest has been served by the leases.”

At some point, the current City Council came to a much different conclusion, though apparently without the review and investigation the previous council went through. Some have feared that McCrone has some unknown vendetta against Fisherman’s Wharf and wants to see it torn down. He has even written statements on the Monterey County Weekly’s website Monterey Bay would be prettier without it.

Haffa may have the same sentiment. “You hear a lot about renting the mud under the pilings, but that mud is prime real estate on a beautiful bay,” he writes in the letter. He said something similar during his tirade.

What’s next for Old Fisherman’s Wharf? The community will have to wait and see.

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