DePave Park Funding Denied

City of Alameda Artist rendering depicts educational opportunities at a proposed observation area on DePave Park. Image prepared by CMG Landscape Architecture for Alameda’s grant funding application.

DePave Park Funding Denied

Political favoritism may have affected the decision

The San Francisco Bay Restoration Authority has denied the city’s request for a planning grant for DePave Park at Alameda Point (City to Seek Wetland Park Funding, Sept. 24, 2020).

This ecological wetland park is proposed for the western side of the Seaplane Lagoon. The rejection letter and the agency’s ranking of applicants raise questions of fairness in awarding grants.

In the recent round of grant awards, Alameda’s request for $1.165 million for DePave Park planning was denied, while the East Bay Regional Park District was awarded $500,000 for designing the Hayward Marsh Restoration Project.

Whether or not a 2016 campaign contribution from EBRPD to the Restoration Authority’s ballot Measure AA gave them a bump in the rankings is unclear. But the optics are not good.

In the rejection letter, the Restoration Authority highlighted the strengths and weaknesses in the city’s application.

“This planning project would leverage innovative partnerships to create an ecological park in an Economically Disadvantaged Community within a highly urbanized area,” wrote grant reviewer Linda Tong. The partnerships would be with the San Francisco Estuary Institute (SFEI) and San Francisco’s Literacy for Environmental Justice (LEJ).

SFEI would provide scientific consultation throughout the design process and into construction, focusing on ecological and physical processes and long-term habitat evolution and resilience of the site. The LEJ partnership would provide a community stewardship program involving volunteers, citizen science projects and potentially partnering with the Alameda Point Collaborative to expand job training.

In terms of weaknesses, the reviewer said it was a “Small area to be restored.” Small size didn’t seem to matter when the Restoration Authority awarded $450,000 to the East Bay Regional Park District (EBRPD) in 2018 for its one-acre dune restoration and shoreline stabilization project next to the Encinal Boat Ramp. DePave Park is 12 acres.

One explanation for the apparent double standard may be tied to an EBRPD campaign contribution to help place the Restoration Authority’s regional parcel tax Measure AA on the June 2016 ballot in nine Bay Area counties.

The cost for ballot access was $2 million — money that the Restoration Authority didn’t have. The park district contributed $250,000 in exchange for a promise to expedite its grant applications and also return the money if the ballot measure passed using tax proceeds.

The favored treatment followed a similar arrangement with the Santa Clara Valley Water District (SCVWD), which contributed $1.5 million in exchange for favored treatment for the South Bay Salt Pond Restoration Project. The Sonoma County Water Agency (SCWA) got the same deal as EBRPD.

A Jan. 11, 2016, memorandum to the Restoration Authority board of governors from Sam Schuchat, Executive Officer of the State Coastal Conservancy, outlined the rationale for authorizing the same campaign financing scheme for EBRPD and SCWA as with SCVWD.
The memorandum begins with the following:

“On Sept. 21, 2015, the Authority authorized execution of a memorandum of agreement with the Santa Clara Valley Water District (“SCVWD”) in which SCVWD agreed to pay up to $1.5 million of the Authority’s costs to place a measure on the ballot.

“(This money would be) reimbursed out of tax revenues if the measure passes, and the Authority agreed to expedite review and consideration of SCVWD grant applications for the South Bay Salt Pond Restoration Project.”

EBRPD has been awarded a total of $1.4 million in three of the four years since Measure AA funds became available.

In her closing remarks of the rejection letter, Tong suggested the City’s grant request would gain points if it had skin in the game.

“Though not a requirement, it was noticeable that there were no match funds from the City listed in the budget,” wrote Tong. “Will the City commit funds to complete design, and to construct?”

The Audubon Society, Sierra Club, and CASA (Community Action for a Sustainable Alameda) were unsuccessful in convincing the City Council to include $250,000 in the new budget for a DePave Park master plan.

With the City taking the first step, the groups argued, the next grant application would have a better chance of success.

The city’s Parks Director plans to submit a new grant application in the fall for the next round of awards.

Contributing writer Richard Bangert posts stories and photos about Alameda Point environmental issues on his blog Alameda Point Environmental Report