Alameda Point: The Sky’s the Limit

The front page of the Feb. 18 Alameda Sun had a photo of Block 11 at Alameda Point. Its caption read, “The San Francisco skyline is visible in the background.” Given that the depicted building is six or seven stories high, it won’t be long before the denizens of San Francisco will look to the east and note the Alameda skyline.

While reciprocity is a good thing, do we want to project an Alameda skyline? The pitch for the Block 11 design is accompanied by the usual hard-sell, “apartments for low-income families and seniors … and disabled.” Who but a sociopath could object to such a plan?

And then there is the soft sell, “open spaces … secure storage for 240 bicycles.” Subtle: the open spaces at present will be mostly filled in with buildings but a few open spaces will be left undeveloped and the new residents of the high-rise will mostly ride bikes and not contribute to traffic congestion.

And are we to be wooed by the fact that part of the project will be built by “a non-profit?” One can envision volunteers, much like “Habitat for Humanity,” out there swinging hammers and sloshing paint. What exactly is the significance of “non-profit”? It certainly is disarming. 

The U.C. system is “non-profit” but that doesn’t stop its president, Janet Napolitano, from shaking the system down for $650,000 per year plus perquisites. Dignity Health is a non-profit, but its execs watched the Super Bowl from their own $2.5 million sky box at Levis Stadium. “Non-profit” basically means that muckety-mucks burn through all the revenue, rewarding themselves with what could have been a profit.

If the architect’s rendering of Block 11 at Alameda Point is an accurate depiction, then isn’t Alameda moving away from the tradition where no building is taller than City Hall? 

Once the camel gets its nose into the tent, isn’t the sky literally the limit? Why stop at six or seven stories? What’s wrong with eight, nine … 90? Presently some firefighters are raking in $170,000 per annum in wages and other compensation to fight structural fires in three-story buildings. If remuneration is based in anyway on the heights of structures, the pay package would be nearly $400,000 to protect Block 11 from incineration.

If archival evidence is to be trusted, in 1973, Alameda voters approved Measure A. This amended the city’s charter, and simply states, “There shall be no multiple dwelling units built in the City of Alameda.”

One can imagine how developers chaffed and bristled under such an unambiguous, restrictive draconian edict and thus in 1991 the duly elected representatives of the people amended the will of the people as expressed in Measure A. It was reworded to say, “The maximum density for any residential development within the City of Alameda shall be one housing unit per 2,000 square feet of land.” 

In an effort to undermine Measure A as ratified in 1973, interested parties and their agents in municipal government claimed that Measure A “served class interests,” and that accusation served to trump all other arguments.

It was popularly alleged that Measure A was scripted to protect the elitists living in Victorians. Protect them from what? Runaway bulldozers? Errant wrecking balls? Front-end loaders? Nonprofit developers? If you have six floors hovering over 2,000 square feet of land that is six housing units, not “one housing unit per 2,000 square feet of land.” Such computations come easy to me; I teach math.

The big question is: “What incentivizes the Planning Board to continue to build more housing?” 

Half the country, indeed half the planet, would probably want to live here if they were cognizant of how spectacular the island is. Does the Planning Board think that Alameda could possibly keep up with demand for housing?

Impossible! Why try? But, by over-crowding and clogging up the streets, we could run down quality of life to such an extent that people might eventually prefer Manteca, Modesto or Stockton to a city that has reached the population density of Hong Kong.

American is a country with a “government of the people, by the people, for the people.” Why is it that such a straightforward proposition, such a simple recipe, cannot be followed in Alameda?