Gift or Graft? Vallejo’s Lease with VMT
On a typical ferry ride from San Francisco to Vallejo, as you approach your destination, the boat abruptly slows down as it enters the Mare Island Strait. On your starboard, you are greeted by the massive silos and historic buildings of the old Sperry Mill site: buildings as tranquil as you might expect from a long-abandoned industrial complex. But unbeknownst to many, there has been a flurry of activity involving this old mill, the latest being a Project proposed to build a deep water private port and cement plant by the Vallejo Marine Terminal and Orcem, a subsidiary of an Irish cement company.
The Sperry Mill site lies on several large parcels of real estate, the largest of which was owned outright by the last flour mill operator: General Mills. But the buildings you see are mostly on five acres of Public Trust land that were leased to the mill through the City of Vallejo. And that five acres, the heart of VMT / Orcem’s proposed Project, is still carried under the old General Mills lease.
The story of how the original General Mills ground lease survived to eventually be transferred to VMT is pretty wild: a circuitous route involving default, foreclosure and land auctions. It aroused the curiosity of Fresh Air Vallejo, a grassroots, volunteer, community group opposed to the VMT/Orcem project, who at first just wondered who would actually benefit from this project.
They searched out and examined documents in the City, the County, and through Freedom of Information Act requests, checking their findings against California case law and with specialists in Land Use and CEQA law. They conclude that the GMI lease should have ended when General Mills originally defaulted on its terms. The wizardry employed within City Hall to keep it alive matches the sleight of hand of the best magicians. We developed a detailed chronology of these events, with evidence of misdeeds, infractions and code violations that show this lease is not just untenable, but illegal. We invite you to read the attached post, which outlines what we found.
Fresh Air Vallejo