On December 6th, Will Morat, Assistant to the City Manager updated the Mayor and Members of the City Council on the status of the Mare Island Preserve. The Mare Island Heritage Trust who, according to City staff, has been tasked with “informally undertaking interim … functions discussed in the City of Vallejo’s 2008 Mare Island Regional Park Task Force Report”  would like to make the following clarifications.

Morat outlines a number of issues to be addressed before the Preserve can be reopened at a total cost to tax payers of $308,000. The first is trespassing and security. Specifically, security issues on Navy Property, trespassing and theft on North Mare Island and illegal encampments and vehicles on other portions of the island.  Why has the City spent in excess of $50,000 to secure the Preserve given there are no trespassing or security issues directly related to or on the Preserve? This money could be better spent on reopening the Preserve to the public.

Morat provided no photos for what the Community most cherishes. The Preserve itself. The City has identified over 100 trees for removal.  Are there even 100 trees on the Preserve? The Preserve offers “irreplaceable lessons about urban ecology, environmental history, civil rights, and community planning” as noted by Assistant Professor, UC Davis Javier Arbona, PhD in his Letter to the Editor dated 12/1/19.  City Manager Greg Nyhoff mentions lease requirements for the Preserve require it be used for “open space purposes.”  Trees have already been clear cut along the main path of the Preserve. Is the City looking to turn the Preserve into an “open space” of dirt denuded of all flora and fauna? The community expects better. There is no reason the Preserve can not be reopened and areas requiring restoration roped off for habitat restoration similarly to what is done in our national and state parks. The City estimates $110,000 for tree removal. A better use of this money is filling potholes.

No structures are required to be reopened. The Preserve can be reopened while keeping the visitor center closed. All that is needed are a few portable toilets and a chair for the docent welcoming visitors. City staff has already been working with the Trust to resolve issues related to the visitor center such as public safety, power and water. That work should continue.

City staff works at the pleasure of City Council. And, Council works at the pleasure of the community. Council should instruct staff to complete the process started in 2003 which aimed to preserve open space and protect natural and historic resources within the Mare Island Shoreline Heritage Preserve. Yet, it is outright bizarre that senior City staff are incapable of adequately informing the City Council of the Mare Island Heritage Trust’s past work and relationship with the City and the Preserve. In fact, during the City Council meeting on Tuesday 12/10 Mayor Bob Sampayan was so misinformed he didn’t even know the name of the entity tasked with managing the Preserve for the last 12 years.

Council should demand City staff communicate with the utmost degree of honesty and professionalism, with the desires and needs of the community firmly in mind. For example in a recent article published 12/12/19 in the Daily Republic Morat in speaking about the Flyway Festival stated “the area where the festival is typically held is on the Navy property, for which the city has a license agreement for access.”  This is incorrect. City staff only restarted the process of obtaining a license with the Navy after canceling the process earlier in the year. At the time the article was published there was no license agreement and indeed there is no agreement as the process has just restarted.

In our opinion, if Will Morat can’t even make a honest statement about something as mundane as having a license and writes a report about the Preserve where over half the details are unrelated to the Preserve; how can he be trusted to properly inform the Council on issues important to the community? Council should be insulted by this thoughtless behavior and lack of attention to detail.

The Trust is in the best position to reopen the Preserve. Over the past 12 years of  ongoing operations, they have had a positive relationship with City staff working under what Mare Island Project Manager Erin Hanford calls a “Gentlemen’s Agreement.”  As late as January 2018, City staff and the Trust were working on turning that “Gentlemen’s Agreement” into a formal agreement. The City of Vallejo employs a number of staff with a capable commitment to providing fair city service to the public.  Unfortunately, senior City staff are looking to upend this process via a coordinated disinformation campaign aimed at the Community and Council. Rather than finalizing the process which began in 2003, they are throwing out everything the community has worked on to date. Not even being able to mention the Mare Island Heritage Trust by name and replacing it through a closed door process is untenable. One community meeting last September which the City was uninterested in even recording, does not constitute a process.

The Mare Island Heritage Trust has the experience, connections, resolve and community support to see that the Preserve remains preserved. The only negative regarding the Trust’s management of the Preserve is it wasn’t open daily.  However, three days a week is much more than zero. Nothing the Trust has done over the past 12 years has resulted in any harm or damage to any person or property, as well as no harm or cost to the City. Given the costs outlined in the City Memorandum the Preserve can be reopened for a lot less by the Trust than by the City. A lot of potholes can be filled for the $308,000 that they want to spend. Reopen the Preserve now. For more information visit mareislandpreserve.com.

FROM Volunteers of the Mare Island Heritage Trust