Just Three Votes Needed for Change

Two pieces appeared side-by-side on the May 29 Alameda Sun opinion page. The first, a letter written by City Councilman Stewart Chen (“We all want what’s best for Alameda”) stated, “The City Council is responding to the community’s desire to develop Alameda Point and is trying to do it with the least number of new housing units possible.” 

The column next to Chen’s letter was a commentary from Eugenie Thomson, a licensed civil and traffic engineer and a long-time resident of Alameda (“City Must Follow Charter”).

According to Thompson, on July 3, 2012, the City Council rezoned 17 parcels of land with an overall site inventory capacity of 2,525 residential units. These parcels did not include Alameda Point. She also pointed out that in the spring of this year, the City Council rezoned an additional 1,425 residential units for Alameda Point, thereby approving a total of 3,950 new residential units for Alameda; Thompson also stated that on May 19, 2012, the Association of Bay Area Governments (ABAG) decreased Alameda’s future housing allocation to 1,723 units, which is 2,227 fewer units than City Council approved — and certainly not, as Chen wrote, “the least number of housing units possible.”

The differences between these two pieces are instrumental and informative. Chen argues that 1,425 housing units are the minimal amount needed to develop Alameda Point.

I don’t know if he is correct or not. What I do know is he either forgot about the additional 2,525 units City Council approved and the 2,227 units above the minimum number of units set by ABAG, or he purposely misled the public. I hope it is not the latter. 

Let’s be clear: the issues are not housing and development. They are traffic and safety. This includes getting on and off the island in the event of an emergency and the current commuter gridlock. 

Each housing unit in Alameda contains an average of two cars. This means an additional 7,900 cars on the Island if 3,950 new units are built. Most of this development is taking place on the West End, it means an additional 7,900 cars to the two old cement tubes and the not-so-young Park Street Bridge. 

But that’s not all. Oakland is planning and has approved new high-rises and developments near Jack London Square and the Brooklyn Basin. These will add at least 4,000 new housing units (and their 8,000 cars) to that same stretch of land across the estuary. That’s a total of 16,000 additional vehicles on both sides of the estuary all using the same freeway exits and entrances between Broadway and the Park Street Bridge. How does that sound for your morning and evening commutes? 

I would like to believe Chen when he writes in his letter that he “would like to limit the number of new housing units as much as possible. I ask that he publicly reaffirm that statement and to follow it with action: vote to limit the number of new housing units approved and/or developed to no more than the minimum required by ABAG. 

I also ask that he join his “friend Frank Matarrese,” (as Chen referred to the former councilman in his letter) and provide the residents of Alameda with alternative leadership that is not hell-bent on maximum development of every space from Crown Beach to Harbor Bay, a four story wall at the old Del Monte site and hundreds more units at the old Chipman warehouse site and at Boatworks at Clement Avenue and Oak Street.

I’m asking that Chen and his fellow councilman Tony Dasog stand up and do what is right and best for the Island City — not for the politicos the city manager and the developers. Alameda needs new and better leadership. Hopefully, some of the people on the City Council and Planning Commission will see the light and change their views, as Matarrese apparently has.

If not, hopefully other people with a better vision will step forward — people who care about preserving the best of what we currently have, while not opposing reasonable change, development and affordable housing. 

Elections take place in November. The deadline for candidate filing is this summer. The time to foment change is now. Chen is vulnerable because of his earlier indiscretions and problems with the law and his recent letter arguing in favor of housing at Crown Beach instead of the open space that most people in Alameda seem to want. 

If he doesn’t change his position on development, he should be challenged. Matarrese, who earlier favored lots of housing development at Alameda Point, has apparently changed his position. Friends of Crown Beach, Harbor Bay, the Del Monte neighborhood and other interested parties should interview Matarrese and other potential candidates to see where they stand on these issues. They should get a firm, public commitment from the candidates if they want the voters’ support, otherwise the voters should assure the potential candidates of their opposition. 

We only need three votes to make a majority on the City Council. Chen and Mayor Marie Gilmore are running, Councilwoman Lena Tam is termed out and cannot run. Either the incumbents should change their views and publicly acknowledge that they have, or we, the public, ought to change them.

We should start with councilmembers who speak with two-tongues, a mayor who says and does too little and a city manager who says too little and does too much. We only need three votes to change things. It is not too early to start. 

Mark Greenside is a resident of Alameda and a retired history and political science professor from Merritt College