Don’t Ruin the Park Street Gateway

Since at least 2000, with the city’s visioning process, the gateways to Alameda, particularly the one at the intersection of Park Street and Blanding Avenue, have been recognized as very important and deserving of special architectural treatment.
In 2008, the city, with input from architects, consultants, many residents and business leaders, worked in concert to create a Gateway Strategic Plan This contained envisioning processes and strategies, and thoughtfully constructed architectural concepts for the Gateway District. Of particular importance, was the entry to the Gateway District at Park Street and Blanding Avenue. 
The Gateway Strategic plan was adopted by our City Council at a cost to the city of at least $100,000. It included well-defined architectural concepts for this area stating in very clear language, that new buildings should relate to other historical architectural building forms previously built on Park Street.  
Significantly, the plan even contained drawings for the important entry to the city.  Then in 2012 the city adopted a new Design Manual for the North Park St District was adopted. This manual again reinforced the importance of relating new architecture back to our historical buildings in their many varieties, including the Gateway. The following year, the city again noted the importance of the Gateway Strategic Plan.
 However, all this work, and all this envisioning of relating new construction to historical architecture, has gone by the wayside, in the very recent approval by city staff and the Planning Board on Oct. 26,  when the steel container project known as “Park Esquina.” Apparently a developer has been involved with city staff for two years to put recycled steel containers at the intersection of Park Street and Blanding Avenue.  What would be the purpose of these containers? To create small offices; a studio living space and a small cafe.
In this plan, there is no significant green space, nor anything heralding that this is the Gateway to Alameda. Nothing special, that is unless you call something special, a three-story recycled steel container “tower” painted green cantilevered over Park Street. 
If city staff, the Planning Board and the developer get final approval from the City Council, thousands of Alameda residents and thousands of visitors will be greeted every day after crossing the Park Street Bridge with containers, stacked, some three stories high Lego blocks on that lot which backs up to the brick wall of the Salvation Army. 
I believe a majority of Alamedans intensely disapprove of containers being installed at the Gateway to Alameda. I’ve heard many comments that they are ugly or cheap looking or lacking in interesting design concepts. They think the containers certainly don’t belong at that location. Containers might be a correct solution in some parts of Alameda, but not here, not at the Gateway. 
 In some other locations, the containers might even look appealingly cute and/or trendy. Containers cannot be dismissed, as they do fit the bill with some people for inexpensive alternative housing, usually in rural areas. Perhaps containers could be studied for possible future use here.  But, let’s not rush into approving our first container project at this highly visible location.
There are other issues surrounding the use of containers: Online websites indicate that rather than being a simple green concept, these recycled containers are imbedded with hazardous wastes and pesticides and some contain radioactive wastes. They must be cleaned first and this is a big project. It is estimated that 1,000 pounds of hazardous waste must be cleared from each container before it can be reused. 
Many, if not most, cities do not allow containers to be used as buildings, because the containers cannot meet building codes. Do containers meet Alameda’s building codes? Why is Alameda trying to break new ground here? Don’t we have enough development issues as it is?
If the city wants to approve recycled containers as buildings, then the city needs to come up with a policy as to where they should go. Otherwise, your neighbors might put one in their back yard as an in law unit, if it is approved by the city staff. 
 Alameda should continue to restrict them now, but research them for possible future use in carefully restricted zones. Above all we should not rush into our first prominent approval of containers. 
There will be a review of this project by the City Council at its Tuesday, Dec. 1, meeting. 
I urge you to contact Mayor Trish Spencer; Vice Mayor Frank Matarrese and City Councilmembers Marilyn Ezzy Ashcraft, Tony Daysog and Jim Oddie. Let them know you oppose the containers at the Gateway to Alameda. Send your e-mails in care of the City clerk: lweisger@alamedaca.gov so that they can be entered into the record.