2019: Year in Review
A look at 2019 through the pages of the Alameda Sun.
Part One: January to June
The City Council opened the year by approving a motion to place the “Caring Alameda Act” as Measure A on the April 9 ballot. This put the city in direct competition with the McKay Avenue Open Space initiative Measure B, which wanted to convert the entire stretch of McKay Avenue into open space. Should the city’s act receive more votes, then a zoning designation would stand. That would allow the wellness center to take over the buildings on the west side of McKay that the federal government had vacated.
Alameda’s generous nature shone in January, responding to a request for help from the Coast Guard. “The East Bay Coast Guard Spouses” turned to their Island City neighbors to help their families cope with the government shutdown. The Coast Guard remained on duty throughout the impasse, but the Coasties were not receiving their paychecks. This made it particularly hard on Coast Guard members with families.
Students from Alameda’s South Korean Sister City Yeongdong-gun paid a visit. They toured City Hall, Semifreddi’s Bakery on Bay Farm Island and the USS Hornet. They also attended classes at the Academy of Alameda, had some fun at the Pacific Pinball Museum and enjoyed lunch at Otaez Mexican Restaurant.
The city selected Michael Sturz and his team to refurbish the long-shuttered Carnegie Library. Sturz cofounded the successful nonprofit The Crucible in West Oakland. Sturz’s proposal envisioned using the library and the adjacent Foster House as the Carnegie Innovation Hall. He lives just a few doors down the hall, which he said would combine education and entrepreneurship with the arts, performance, music and technology.
The city’s fourth annual spelling bee was held at Otis Elementary School. Ella Banchieri dueled with Eland Morishige for the top honors, each correctly spelling the words phenomenon, ricochet and propinquity. The contest ended with Banchieri spelling the word scrumptious correctly. Banchieri later won the Alameda County competition and qualified for the California State Junior High Spelling Bee Championship. Alameda’s poets laureate Gene Kahane and Cathy Dana helped the bee’s founder Chuck Kapelke by acting as judges. Alameda Sun publisher Eric J. Kos served as the spell master. Kahane penned a special poem for the occasion. The next bee will take place Sunday, Feb. 2, 2020.
The city announced that the City Council had unanimously selected Eric Levitt as the new City Manager. Levitt brought more than 25 years of experience to the job, including stints as City Manager for Janesville, Wisc., and Sedona, Ariz. He faced competition from 28 other applicants for the position.
A research team aboard the R/V Petrel announce that they had found the wreckage of the aircraft carrier USS Hornet CV-8, the predecessor of today’s USS Hornet, CV-12, which is docked at Alameda Point. The CV-8 carried Alameda-born Jimmy Doolittle and his fellow pilots from Alameda on April 1, 1943, on the way to attack Japan in the Doolittle Raid. The CV-8 was lost on Oct. 26, 1942, after sustaining heavy damage during the Battle of Santa Cruz.
The Friends of Crab Cove, who were fighting to stifle the Alameda Point’s Collaborative’s plans to open a wellness center on McKay Avenue, received some bad news from the state of California. The group had requested that the city pull its Measure A from the April 9 ballot. The Fair Political Practice Commission ruled against the Friends and the group appealed the decision. In its appeal the Friends also asked the courts to order work on the wellness center halted. A Superior Court judge again ruled against the Friends.
Planning Board members found a conditional use permit for the city’s first marijuana dispensary on their March 11 agenda. The business, which hoped to open on Webster Street told the board that it intended to offer both space for on-site consumption and a delivery service.
The Alameda School District dismayed the parents of its special-needs students in March by announcing that it was moving a class for these students from Lincoln Middle School to Wood Middle School. More than 300 parents signed a letter protesting the idea. In an unrelated matter,the district announced that Superintendent Sean McPhetridge had offered his resignation. McPhetridge had worked for the district for 19 years. He stepped into the superintendent’s role in 2015.
The City Council announced that it had hired Yibin Shen as its new City Attorney. Shen came to Alameda from Santa Monica, where he was working at the Deputy City Attorney. The Council made its decision after considering the qualifications of 14 other applicants.
The Alameda Police Department (APD) busted a crime ring. Officers pulled over a driver with a broken license-plate light, discovered that he was on probation and searched his vehicle. The search led to the discovery of narcotics packaged for sale, cell phone products, a mask, a scale and what police considered “cash consistent with illegal drug sales.”
Alamedans found their purchases costing slightly more on April 1. The sales tax increased from 9.25 percent to 9.75 percent. Voters approved the increase by approving the city’s Essential Services Protection Measure on the November 2018 ballot. According to the city the revenue from the increase will eliminate the $4.7 million deficit projected for fiscal year 2021 to 2022, help maintain essential city services, such as public safety, 911 response times and park maintenance and help reduce the mounting repairs necessary to bring the city’s aging infrastructure into the 21st century.
Residents also learned they will have to dig a little deeper to pay their electricity bills. On April 15, the city’s Public Utilities Board voted to approve a rate increase for Alameda Municipal Power customers.
Alameda voters approved Measure A, allowing the Alameda Point Collaborative to proceed with building a wellness center for the homeless at the former federal government facilities on McKay Avenue.
A City Council tour focused on Alameda Point’s Enterprise District. The Council began the tour with a visit to the Water Emergency Transportation’s (WETA) new building, an operations and maintenance facility, named for Ron Cowan. The Council and its entourage then visited Astra Space, which designs, tests and operates rocket-launch services. They concluded the tour with a stop at the vacant building that Nautilus planned to convert to a data-storage facility.
The city celebrated Earth Day at Washington Park. The fair focused on how residents should properly dispose of single-use plastics, as well as pharmaceuticals and drug paraphernalia, including sharps. The city also addressed ways residents could reduce Alameda’s carbon footprint and ways to implement a “No More Litter, No More Waste” plan.
The city opened the month of May by hosting a community open house that addressed rent stabilization and announcing workshops for landlords and tenants. The open house offered residents opportunities to express their opinions and offer input about city programs and proposed changes in the rent-stabilization ordinance. The workshops offered landlords and tenants ways to better understand the laws that govern the relationships between the two parties.
The College of Alameda began building a new liberal-arts facility. The 53,000-square-foot building will feature classrooms, an art gallery, faculty offices and a gathering space.
“Alameda Bands Together,” a community group formed to protest a sudden two-thirds cut to the music programs at Alameda and Encinal high schools, submitted a proposal to the Alameda Unified School District Board of Trustees, demanding that the Board take action to stop the cuts a provide access to music programs to all Alameda students. The Board voted not only to maintain the music programs at the schools, but to improve them as well. The high schools’ bands appeared at the meeting and serenaded the Board with a disco medley and “Crazy Train.”
The school district invited the public to a groundbreaking at Encinal High School. The event celebrated improvements to the school that would include a two-story, 12-classroom building with maker space, a complete redesign of the front of the school on Central Avenue and a modernization of the school’s 200-classroom wing.
The appearance of a humpback whale in Seaplane Lagoon surprised and delighted Alamedans. The Marine Mammal Center, which track whales that come into San Francisco Bay, did not recognize the whale, so it tagged the creature with the number 71. Locals began calling the humpback “Aloha.” The center explained that whales often appear in the Bay to feed on anchovies. The center feared that “Aloha” might suffer from some ailment.
As the City Council did in May, the Planning Board took one of its meetings on the road in June. Board members toured Everett Commons on Everett Street, Mulberry on Clement Avenue, Littlejohn Commons on Buena Vista Avenue and Alameda Landing.
The city’s annual Sand Castle contest brought visitors and sand sculptors from far and wide. Some 475 contestants went to work shaping and molding 50 sand castles and 64 sculptures. Alameda’s Gutierrez family took top honors in the Sand Castle Division with their “Castle Complex with Villages and Trees.” The Peralta family, also from Alameda, won the top prize in the family category for “Octopus.”
Alameda Municipal Power warned its customers that they might experience power outages as part of Pacific Gas & Electric Co.’s planned outages. PG&E instituted the shutdowns to help prevent wild fires.
Alamedans had to learn to break old habits in June. The state’s Public Utilities Commission announced that effective June 22, instead of having to simply dial seven digits for local calls, telephone users with have to dial not only the 510 area code, but a one before it. This marked the first change in dialing habits since Sept. 2, 1991, when Pacific Bell introduced the 510 area code to the East Bay.
The City of Alameda began the month as it has done since 1976 with the annual Mayor’s Fourth of July Parade that attracts some 20,000 spectators, or roughly one-third of the city’s population. Everyone and then some watched as color guards, marching bands, baton twirlers, classic cars, horses, politicians, veterans and seemingly countless floats went by.
The parade route, which winds its way from Park Street, along Otis Drive to Grand Street and on to Central Avenue and, finally Webster Street, is longer than three miles, allowing the city to claim it as the longest such procession in the country.
The Alameda County Grand Jury revealed its much-anticipated findings, by ruling that it did find “a pattern of conduct by two Councilmembers that, taken together, amounted to inappropriate interference with the fire chief hiring process.”
However, the investigation hinged on whether Councilmembers Jim Oddie and Malia Vella violated the City Charter by interfering with City Manager Jill Keimach’s hiring of a new fire chief. While the Grand Jury did rule that the Councilmembers did interfere, it did not find grounds to charge them. However the Grand Jury did present the city with four findings and four recommendations, which the City Council agreed to pursue.
The city signed an agreement with the Alameda Unified School District to proceed with building a $12 million swim center, which would welcome its first swimmers as early as January 2024 either on the site of the Emma Hood Swim Center at Alameda Avenue and Oak Street or at Thompson Field at Walnut Street and Clement Avenue. The aging Emma Hood pool is in need of extensive repairs, and the Alameda County Department of Environmental Health has involved itself in the pool’s condition since it first ordered the pool closed nine years ago.
A new development at Alameda Landing forced the city to evict some 10 homeless people at Estuary Park. The city fenced off the area and warned that it would not allow trespassing. The city and its community partners like Operation Dignity and Building Futures had already developed plans to help the homeless the development would displace. The city participated in Alameda County’s biennial count of the homeless population earlier in the year. The results revealed that 231 homeless people were living in Alameda, up 13 percent from 204 who lived here in 2017. The 2019 count showed that of the 231 homeless, the city found 99 at the Midway Shelter and 132 at encampments.
The landmark Historic Alameda High School on Central Avenue re-opened with a ceremony celebrating the event. The Neoclassical-style building opened to students in 1924. Ten years later the school district added a Science Building at Central and Oak Street. The school’s West Wing at Walnut and Central went up in 1957.
In 1978, the district moved the students to a safer building at Walnut and Encinal Avenue. The Adult School and district offices, and, for a time, the city’s library, used the buildings. They closed in 2012, after a report found that an earthquake could leave the structure. The school reopened after a renovation that included a seismic retrofit.
South Shore Center’s owners, Jamestown Properties, announced that it planned remake the 61-year-old shopping center. Jamestown explained that the makeover involved three phases. The first would involve building a pair of eight-story apartment buildings: one at Park Street and Shore Line Drive at today’s Sushi House, an adjacent structure would stretch west along Shore Line at the site of Pagano’s Hardware.
The second phase would involve a pair of four-story buildings along Otis Drive where Office Depot stands today. The third phase would transform the area around today’s Kohl’s store. Jamestown hopes to have phase one complete by 2024 and the entire process in the books by 2041.
Changes in the rent ordinance that the City Council approved in July took effect. The most important change tied rent increases to the Consumer Price Index (CPI). The changes also included a rent registry that requires landlords to submit an annual report to the city for each of their rental units. The city planned a series of workshops to educate both landlords and renters about the changes.
The city broke ground for the ferry terminal at Seaplane Lagoon. The terminal will serve as part of a strategy for reducing traffic in Alameda by placing a transit hub at Alameda Point. Improvements on the eastern shore of the lagoon include a pedestrian gangway that will connect the pier to a float that passengers will use to board the ferries.
The city sent letters to its private-property owners, announcing that it would like to add a $78 “fee” to their tax bills. The city explained that the money from the new fee would pay for maintaining storm drains and sweeping the streets, as well as for other capital improvements. Because the city dubbed the $78 a “fee,” rather than a tax, the state of California allows Alameda to exclude renters from the discussion.
Nurses at Alameda Hospital walked off the job at the end of the month. They joined colleagues at two other hospitals to protest unfair labor practices that included failing to bargain in good faith. The nurses continued to bargain with the Alameda Health System to finalize a working contract that expired in December 2018.
The Friends of Crab Cove learned that an Alameda County Superior Court judge dismissed a lawsuit that the Friends filed against the city. The decision should now pave the way for the wellness center on McKay Avenue to proceed without any challenges.
The City Council took on the fate of the long-shuttered Carnegie Library. The Council considered three options for the building that stands vacant across Santa Clara Avenue from City Hall. Councilmembers could accept the lease terms with the Carnegie Innovation Hall group, direct city staff to renegotiate these terms or to look for other prospects to step in as tenants.
The Carnegie Innovation Hall project consisted of some 20 people, including: developers, architects, cultural diversity advisors and local educators. The group, led by Michael Sturtz, had grown anxious about receiving city approval and were especially concerned about a closed session that the Council held with the lease on the agenda.
The Planning Board gave its unanimous nod to plans for more development at Alameda Landing. The board’s approval means that Catellus Development Corp. could now proceed to build 354 residential units complemented by 5,000 square feet of commercial space. The development marks the last phase of the redevelopment and reuse of the 77-acre Fleet Industrial Supply Center built in 1944 for the Army Air Force, rebuilt in 1951 and deactivated in 1962.
The Carnegie Innovation Hall team announced that it was going to end any plans to renovate the Carnegie Library. Team Leader Michael Sturtz made the announcement. He was reacting to the announcement that the city made expressing concerns about the city’s liability in case an accident should happen during the rebuild. The sticking point came when the city realized that Sturtz and his team would use volunteers rather than employees.
The city released “the tape.” The public was now able to listen in for the first time as former City Manager Jill Keimach, then-Vice Mayor Malia Vella and Councilmember Jim Oddie discussed the ins-and-outs of hiring a new fire chief. The tape revealed Keimach’s exasperation as she perceived Vella and Oddie pressuring her to hire Dom Weaver. They told Keimach that hiring former firefighters’ union president Weaver would “be helpful for us to have a partner who’s been through it (labor negotiations) before.”
Fed up with unsafe streets on the way to school and on the way home, parents and students rallied at City Hall before the City Council meeting. They then attended the meeting and voiced their concerns that already this school year seven children have been involved in traffic collisions.
Alameda Point Collaborative (APC) hosted an open house to allow Alamedans to tour the future Wellness and Medical Respite Center on McKay Avenue. APC won the bid from the federal government to build the facility. Doug Biggs, the Collaborative’s executive director presented a draft Good Neighbor Policy and provided updates on the site’s design and development. The center will function as a senior housing facility with medical services and recuperative care. It will also act as a resource center with offices for case workers.
The city announced that the Del Monte Project is back on track. Wood Partners purchased the property from Tim Lewis Communities that had originally planned to develop the long-closed warehouse on the northeast corner of Buena Vista Avenue and Sherman Street that Calpak built in 1927 and named for its premium brand. Wood plans to build “Alta Buena Vista,” a 372-unit luxury mixed-use project at the site.
The Alameda Health System that runs Alameda Hospital joined the City of Alameda Health Care District Board of Trustees to announce that the seismic retrofit for Alameda Hospital is underway. The $25 million project will assure that the hospital will meet state-mandated requirements that the hospital retrofit the facility and begin that work by Jan 1, 2020.