CCA Condemns the City Council Seeno Decision
CCA strongly opposes the recent decision by 3 city council members - Tim McGallian, Edi Birsan, and Dominic Aliano - to pursue negotiations with a Seeno led development group regarding the CNWS project. Articulate and informed public comments shared publicly available information which typically should disqualify any development candidate.
Public comment also noted that the qualifications of the group as presented did not compare favorably to the other two proposals. Participants in the Seeno development group have a record of suing government entities who get in their way.
Birsan led arguments in favor of Seeno using criteria which would have disqualified Lennar, an anti-labor developer whom he supported in 2016. This has led many Concord residents to speculate angrily on social media that political influence drove the decision, since qualifications, character and credibility apparently did not.
At CCA, we oppose decision making on the City Council which ignores credible and relevant information, most especially when that information is the basis for broad public sentiment that is clearly against the decision. We know of no other way to describe the vote by the 3 council members than as a violation of public trust.
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Concord Communities Alliance strongly condemns the August 21st decision by three of our five Councilmembers to enter into exclusive negotiations with a group led by the Seeno companies to become the new Master Developer for the Concord Naval Weapons Station Reuse Project. We stand with the overwhelming majority of our fellow Concord residents who opposed the Seeno group because of their environmental and legal track records as well as their history of being litigious. The facts about Seeno were offered in detail from public sources.
We share concerns carefully documented and raised by Save Mount Diablo, a local group who called on residents to express their opposition to the Seeno proposal. They offered a long litany of environmental, labor and criminal allegations, charges and facts against Seeno companies and their principal officers. The leader of the Seeno development group - Albert Seeno III - was arrested and charged with witness retaliation in a bank fraud case involving the Seeno companies in 2016.
Criminal Activity, Environmental Violations, and Lawsuits
During the day-long City Council meeting last Saturday, Council member Birsan directly asked Albert Seeno III if he was involved in any of the Seeno companies' wrongdoing. Birsan blithely accepted “No” in response, despite the facts of a guilty plea personally made by Seeno in 2016 (in which he agreed “to take responsibility for the conduct” of former employees), and other charges.
The Naval Weapons Station land is in an environmentally and archeologically sensitive area. Seeno companies have repeatedly been cited or charged with environmental violations and acts of desecration which violated state and federal law. Another partner in the Seeno group, Phil Tagami, sued the City of Oakland in 2016 over that city’s decision to ban the storage and shipment of coal, an activity in which Tagami had heavily invested, but which Oakland residents broadly opposed. These are not qualities that engender confidence that a project will be undertaken without legal controversy.
Local vs Wall Street
Birsan argued against two other contenders primarily on the basis that they weren’t local and were Wall Street traded companies. In public comments, residents noted the very successful Bishop Ranch development undertaken by one of the groups. Bishop Ranch meets many people’s definition of local. And it is notable that Birsan supported Lennar in 2016 - Lennar is one of the largest publicly traded developers in the country and is headquartered in Miami.
As a company Lennar has been involved in controversial practices in cities where it has been engaged to lead military base reuse projects. Lennar dropped out of the CNWS development process in 2020 because it opposed implementing a project labor agreement. McGallian supported Lennar against labor in 2020 while Birsan did not.
Decision Causes Furor and Speculation
It is difficult to find a credible rationale which informs the decision made by these council members on August 21st. Birsan’s post on social media on Saturday evening received a multitude of negative responses, and there were literally hundreds of angry and negative comments in other outlets, such as NextDoor. These three council members clearly ignored public comment and public information in their decision to support the Seeno group.
On social media there is much public speculation that the selection of Seeno was driven by the possibility of political support for doing so. At the City Council meeting on Saturday, the politically influential Concord Police Officers Association spoke in favor of the proposal from a group which includes an organization convicted of criminal behavior, and Seeno family members have played influential roles in Concord politics before. Birsan, McGallian and Aliano seem to think that this is the side on which their political bread is buttered. Many Concord residents don’t see it quite the same way.
Ultimately, the Decision is Simply Not Acceptable
In casting this vote, Mayor McGallian, Vice-Mayor Aliano, and Councilmember Birsan ignored highly relevant information about the Seeno group raised in public by many, many of their constituents. Instead, they appear to have placed potential deep pockets support for their personal political ambitions ahead of the carefully researched and clearly expressed will of their constituents. We know of no other way to describe this than as a violation of the public trust. And so at CCA we condemn the decision by these three to support the Seeno proposal in all its aspects.
But we’re taking an important step further. At CCA, we place a high value on transparency, accountability, and clear signs that those elected to public office listen to their constituents. We also place a high value on not rewarding demonstrably corrupt commercial enterprises with lucrative contracts, especially when the principals of those enterprises haven’t been hesitant about spending money to influence local politics. This is not the way we believe politics should work in Concord or anywhere. We think informed and engaged voters should influence politics and policy, and not deep pockets.
By voting in support of the Seeno proposal, it is clear to us that these three do not place the welfare of the city or residents ahead of any other considerations. Quite the opposite. As an entity formed specifically to promote accountability and the social welfare in Concord, we therefore cannot support these three for any further elected or appointed office, either at the city or county level. An elected official can only be removed from office by electing someone else, either by recall or in the next regular election. We encourage all those who agree with our assessment of this episode to seek and support other candidates against these three at the first available opportunity.