The Deal: The Land Swaps in a Nutshell

Photo by Dennis Evanosky A century plant has breathed its last in front of the Todd Street entrance to the Bachelor Officers Quarters on Alameda Point. The school district hopes to breathe new life into this building.

The “land-swap” package deal came before the Alameda City Council on Tuesday after the Alameda Sun went to press. The Sun offers this synopsis of the package that, as of this writing, pundits were predicting that the council would have already passed.

In the deal, done largely behind closed doors: 
The school district will receive $1.2 million from the Alameda Housing Authority and $750,000 from the city. The district will use all of this money (except $500,000 reserved to cover legal fees) to renovate the Encinal High School pool. The district will also receive title to a 20-acre parcel at Alameda Point.

n The district will give up 17.05 acres of tideland property along the Oakland Estuary and a 12-acre parcel at Alameda Point to the city, and the .83 acres that once housed Everett and Island High schools to the Alameda Housing Authority.

The background
In 1991 city and school leaders inked an “Agreement between Alameda Unified School District and the City of Alameda.” As part of this agreement the city received title to the property where students once attended Mastick School, the site of today’s Mastick Senior Center. In return the district received title to 17.05 acres of tidelands property on and near the site of the now-closed Encinal Terminals and today’s Fortman Marina.

The state of California owns and controls the tidelands. While the state permits enterprises on the tidelands, it restricts how money earned there can be spent. For example, Fortman Marina pays a handsome sum to use the waters that are part of the tidelands. The city collects the marina’s rent, but can only spend that money on improving the tidelands. The state does not permit the city to place any of that revenue into its General Fund or share proceeds with an entity like the Alameda Unified School District.

When Alameda Point was under development under the now-extinct redevelopment system, money was put aside to help the school district pay for housing for traditionally underpaid teachers. The district never tapped into this fund and it added up to a tidy sum. The school district is hoping to keep some $4.6 million of this money out of Gov. Jerry Brown’s clutches. Because the money was put aside as part of redevelopment schemes and because Brown did away with such programs, he began looking for the “spare change” these programs generated.

The city and school board fear that Brown’s bloodhounds are getting closer, so they decided to pass the money on to the city’s housing authority. They hope that if they are spending the money on affordable housing Brown just might call off the dogs. The district is selling the housing authority the old Island High School site at Eagle Avenue and Everett Street for $1.2 million as a spot to build this housing. According to the school district a January appraisal valued this property at $1.19 million.

The Eagle Avenue property has a history that stretches back to 1853. Squatter Franklin Pancoast once grew British Queen strawberries on the land where Everett and Island High schools once stood. Pancoast, his family and his 10 farmhands lived in and around the big white Italianate-style home that still stands on Everett Street. The 1860 census shows Pancoast living in the house with his son and daughter. The household also consisted of a farmer and 10 laborers. Torrential rains in 1861 washed away the strawberries and Pancoast with them.

Thirty years later in 1891 Everett School sprung up on the site. The school lasted for 80 years, the school district demolished the old school in 1971, replaced the building with “portable classrooms” and moved Island High School onto the site. Island High moved to the West End in 2006, and the property has remained vacant — and a bone of contention between neighbors and the school district — ever since. Last April the school district unceremoniously brought in the bulldozers and razed the old Island High School portables, leaving a fenced in patch of pavement behind. 
Neighbors in the “Wedge” — as the neighborhood is called — and an organization called “Local Edible Alameda Farms (LEAF) hope to see history repeat itself here with a community garden on the old site. They might have to settle for a patch of ground at the low-income housing that the housing authority plans to build there, if they get any garden at all.

The final pieces of the puzzle are the properties that the school district and the city are swapping at Alameda Point: 12 acres of shoreline property near the USS Hornet for 20 acres of land that once housed the Naval Air Station’s Bachelor Officers Quarters (BOQ) (Building 17) and several buildings across West Essex Drive.

The shoreline property is bounded by West Ticonderoga and West Hornet avenues and Viking and Skyhawk streets. The school district received this property as part of the 1991 “Agreement between Alameda Unified School District and the City of Alameda” (the same agreement that traded the Mastick School site for the Tidelands property already discussed. This site once hosted various storage buildings.

The 20-acre site in this swap in bounded by West Midway and West Red Line avenues and Todd Street and Pan Am Way. West Essex Drive parallels the two avenues and effectively cuts the property in two with the BOQ on the drive’s south side and a variety of other buildings across the way.

The now-shuttered BOQ rose up in 1941 as one of the Naval Air Station’s original buildings. The 144,133 square-foot building has an east-west cross wing with U-shaped wings attached at each end. Another wing projects from the center of the east-west cross wing.

The city has already spent money to purchase a covenant for 30 very-low income units in this building. “There has not been a new senior housing project built in Alameda in a decade, the city stated in its 2001-2006 housing element report. “It is possible that the former Navy Bachelor Officer’s Quarters at Alameda Point may be the next project. It presently has a very low income housing covenant of 30 units purchased with $310,000 of Business & Waterfront Improvement Project (BWIP) funds. It is proposed that the entire building be rehabilitated into 210 SRO (single resident occupancy) and rental units for seniors, as part of the Alameda Point initial redevelopment effort.”

Despite this investment the BOQ continued to deteriorate.

In 2007 when the Alameda Architectural Preservation Society (AAPS) pointed out damage to this building. The city installed motion detectors to try to prevent further deterioration. The building remains part of Alameda Point’s Historic District, and preservationists have expressed their concern about a fate worse than deterioration: the school district could simply sell the building to a developer, who would tear it down or the school district itself could tear it down to make room for a school.

Landscape elements also play a role here. The Moreton Bay fig trees on the BOQ property likely graced Treasure Island during the 1939 World’s Fair.

Four buildings still stand across Essex from the BOQ; including an electric substation. In 1944 a wooden communities facilities building (Building 135) rose up on West Red Line Avenue and Todd Street. A fire destroyed this building; its burned-out carcass remains on the property today.

A 1998 study done by www.toxicspot.com showed that the carcinogen benzo(b)flouranthene and copper contaminated the soil at Building 135 with no cleanup proposed by the Navy. The study showed an “acceptable cancer risk” here.

The following year the Navy built a wooden storage facility (Building 137) next door. In 1972, the electric substation (S553) was built. Finally in 1976 the Navy built a mess hall for the chief petty officers at West Midway and Todd (Building 585).

None of the buildings seem suitable for a school. Especially the large BOQ, which is divided into small rooms, and the question remains whether the school district intends to remove the burned-out shell that was Building 135 and rid the property of the carcinogens there.

Contact Dennis Evanosky at editor@alamedasun.com.