Foggy Process for New Ferry Facility

City of Alameda

An architect’s rendering for the now approved WETA ferry maintenance facility shows the building not far from where the USS Hornet is docked. This image looks to the west, away from the rest of the city and toward Seaplane Lagoon

A new ferry maintenance facility is coming to Alameda Point, but not everyone is thrilled. While all welcome the good-paying jobs it will bring to Alameda, some are saying the facility is in the wrong location, and others, including Mayor Trish Spencer, are saying the city’s planning process for the facility was not transparent.

Most Alamedans wouldn’t have heard about the proposed maintenance facility at all if harbor seal advocates hadn’t raised a stink about it displacing the seals.

Until a few weeks ago, when the Water Emergency Transportation Authority (WETA) sought a 60-year lease for the land from the city, the only hearing on the project in Alameda was an "information-only" meeting in November 2010, before the Planning Board.

The ferry maintenance facility was not brought up during the 2010-2011 public meetings on the future of Alameda Point or mentioned in the "Going Forward" Alameda Point planning workbooks handed out to the public, even though city staff was working closely with WETA on its plan at the time.

In fact, a map in the "Going Forward" workbook showed the entire south shore frontage of Alameda Point as a 25-acre regional park, including the area city staff had already set aside for the ferry facility. No new marine facilities of any kind were shown, even though WETA, with city concurrence, had selected the shoreline site and design plans and an environmental impact report were well underway. This was the critical time for public input.

To this day, no mention of the $50 million public works project on city property appears on the city’s Alameda Point website page.

The WETA facility will sit on the shoreline between the USS Hornet and the remaining area designated open space along the calm harbor. Up to 12 ferries will be berthed, refueled and maintained there. A proposed four-story building will include administrative offices and serve as the command center for all WETA ferries. Construction is expected to begin in August 2016.

The WETA project will bring 100 new jobs and needed infrastructure upgrades to Alameda Point that hopefully will attract other businesses to the area.

The problem here is not the project itself, but the process in getting it approved. If the city had provided an opportunity for public input at the inception of the project, we might have found a better location that wouldn’t negatively impact wildlife and tourism opportunities for harbor seal viewing, camping and other recreational activities.

WETA may well have followed the letter of the law, but unlike other projects in the city, public outreach by the city was practically nonexistent, and the project moved ahead under the radar without community approval.

The city can and should do a better job of notifying the public about major projects that will affect their community. We have the right to comment on these projects before they are green-lighted by city staff.

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