CONCORD — The future of the Concord Naval Weapons Station project, the Bay Area’s largest development, is on hold once again.
After a marathon meeting on Saturday, the Concord City Council hit the pause button on a crucial contract after raising concerns over the proposed amount and type of affordable housing, and the involvement of Albert Seeno III, who is currently in multiple legal battles with his father over control of the family’s building empire.
The City Council is now expected to vote on Jan. 28 on a term sheet — a draft of a contract — with Concord First Partners and a consortium of developers that includes Seeno III, to develop the 2,275-acre Naval Weapons site into thousands of homes, new schools, parks and commercial and retail centers on Concord’s north side over the next 40 years.
Councilmembers spent three hours of the daylong meeting, which ran from 9 a.m. to 6 p.m., grilling Concord First Partners and city staff about the details of the contract, which differs from negotiations with the city’s previous master developer, Lennar, in that it now includes a longer construction timeline and more homes.
“I feel like I am being deposed,” Guy Bjerke, director of economic development and base reuse for Concord, said in the middle of Vice Mayor Edi Birsan’s line of questioning.
Councilmembers Laura Nakamura and Carlyn Obringer challenged the legitimacy of counting accessory dwelling units and junior accessory dwelling units —sometimes referred to as granny or in-law units —toward the project’s affordable housing goal.
The original 2012 area plan called for setting aside 25% of 12,272 units, or about 3,020 units, as affordable housing. The draft contract before the council on Saturday increased the number of residences to 15,595. The number of affordable units, however, remained the same. To make up the difference, the developers are counting 879 accessory units attached to single-family homes as affordable units.
Obringer and Nakamura said there would be no mechanism to ensure homeowners would rent out the units to those in need of affordable housing. Bjerke replied the city couldn’t force owners to rent the units, but could “create restrictions that should they rent the unit, they’d have to do so under certain parameters.”
Twenty years in the making, the project has recently led to unprecedented division amongst Concord residents, who packed the council chambers on Saturday.
Representatives of labor and union groups have supported passage of the draft contract and its goal of hiring 40% of the construction workforce from within Contra Costa County, giving Concord residents a priority.
More than 100 written comments were submitted to council prior to the meeting, many from residents who urged that Discovery Builders Inc., one of the three partners Concord First Partners, be dropped from the deal. The Seeno III-run company and Lewis Management each have a 45% stake in the project, with Oakland developer Phil Tagami’s California Capital & Investment Group holding a 10% stake.
Albert Seeno III, Chief Executive Officer of Discovery Builders Inc., and Principal and Executive of Concord First Partners, watches the Naval Weapons Station development presentation before the Concord City Council in Concord, Calif., on Saturday, Jan. 7, 2023. (Ray Chavez/Bay Area News Group)
The Seeno family for decades has held great influence over real estate development in Contra Costa but also has become notorious in the East Bay for regularly suing public agencies and fighting environmental groups.
Some letters referenced the recent revelation of an ongoing legal battle among the Seeno family, first made public in a column in the East Bay Times published Thursday. In the lawsuits, Albert Seeno Jr., 78, accused his son, Seeno III, of erratic behavior, improperly spending, and trying to shut his father and uncle out of their own companies, among other allegations.
Through present in the council chambers, Seeno III did not speak. He did submit a letter for public comment denying all allegations made against him by his father, Albert Seeno Jr., in a lawsuit filed in September.
In light of the allegations, Obringer asked city staff about whether its financial analyst had reviewed the ability of Seeno III’s company to keep its financial promises. Bjerke said his staff had not and was unsure whether it would be appropriate to do so.
She later asked CFP partner Jeb Elmore of Lewis Management if his company or Tagami’s company had been aware of the allegations. Elmore confirmed both partners were “generally aware of what was going on,” but said it wasn’t influencing any of its businesses.
Nakamura pressed Elmore, asking, “If, at any time when the partners were aware of this illegal situation with one of your partners, was there a thought to issue a statement in full disclosure to the public for full transparency?”
Elmore replied: “We did not see (the lawsuit) having any impact on our ability to proceed with the next steps in our partnership. He added, “Clearly, if we’re unable to perform…we know the answer is going to be that we’ll find someone else who can.”
According to a court affidavit submitted by Louis Parsons, president of Discovery Builders Inc., Seeno Jr.’s actions to “reassert control” of the family companies “have disrupted the business of those entities,” including “stop payments” orders to vendors, which placed the company’s projects at risk of liens and losing subcontractors.