CONCORD (CBS SF/BCN) — The Concord City Council unanimously approved negotiations with Concord First Partners early Wednesday morning to develop the former Concord Naval Weapons Station, over the objections of dozens of residents upset over the developers that are involved.

“We’re going to go down the right path on this,” said Mayor Tim McGallian, after the meeting had stretched well past midnight. “And this is something that, again, it’s for all of us to make sure that we are going to honor all the commitments that are in front of us.”

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The 5,046-acre site on the city’s northeast side has been the city’s biggest issue since the Navy abandoned it in 1999. The Navy officially designated it as surplus and made Concord the local reuse authority for the site, of which 2,300 acres are targeted for 13,000 units of housing and millions of square feet of commercial space.

It will also be home to a new 2,540-acre East Bay Regional Park, named Thurgood Marshall Regional Park – Home of the Port Chicago 50, commemorating the nearby Port Chicago tragedy during World War II.

The council voted 3-2 in August — with Carlyn Obringer and Laura Hoffmeister dissenting — to move forward with Concord First Partners, a group of companies allied for the massive project, including Seeno Companies and its housing arm Discovery Builders Inc., Lewis Group of Companies, and California Capital & Investment Group.

Using local developers with ties to local organized labor was key throughout the process. Concord selected Lennar Five Point as master developer in 2016. That agreement crumbled in March 2020 when Lennar’s initial exclusive negotiating agreement expired and its negotiations with local labor unions failed.

Land, formally part of the Concord Naval Weapons Station, and downtown Concord seen looking west from Bailey Road in Concord, Calif., on Monday, April 5, 2021.
Concord is officially re-starting the process of figuring out how to develop the former Naval Weapons Station. The city council on Tuesday will discuss staff’s new proposal for finding a new master developer. (Ray Saint Germain/Bay City News)

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“This council was, by a 3-2 vote, able to fire Lennar. I know we have the backbone to fire this one if we don’t get what we want,” said Councilman Edi Birsan at Tuesday’s meeting. “And that’s what it’s all about.”

Founded in 1938, Seeno has a history of running afoul of environmental laws, having been fined millions of dollars over the years for destroying wildlife habitat while developing projects in East Contra Costa County. The company has been accused of a long list of financial accusations over the years, including mortgage fraud. Federal agents raided the company’s Concord offices in 2010.

Hoffmeister followed up on public comments concerning the bidding process, asking how many developers were contacted about the project.

Guy Bjerke, the city’s economic development and base reuse director, said the city did its due diligence, but the project’s massive size limited how many companies could realistically be considered.

“If we were to reverse course today, I’m not sure how many people — given what happened to Lennar and given what reversing course might mean tonight … it’s not clear to me how many people would be willing to come in and participate in a process in Concord,” Bjerke said.

Council members said they are committed to having 25% of the housing be for low-income residents, with another 130-200 units committed to homeless residents.

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