Liz Taylor contributed to this story.
What is the “Blue Economy” and how can Alameda benefit from it?
This question arose at a recent Planning Board meeting when Alamedans discussed the fate of the Alameda Marina and its working waterfront. World-renowned oceanographer Dr. Sylvia Earle addressed the board and expressed concern about the many small family businesses, skilled crafts and boating activities that are now at risk from a large re-development plan.
Earle served as the first female chief scientist at the National Oceanic Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) and is recognized as a “Living Legend” by the Library of Congress. She is also the founder of Deep Ocean Exploration and Research (DOER) Marine, an Alameda-based family business that turned 25 this year.
Earle has witnessed change in our oceans and coastal regions. She noted that while housing can be built in many places, activities that rely upon direct water access must be given priority use of the shoreline, particularly on City-owned tidelands and wharfs. DOER’s Liz Taylor has long advocated for the blue economy; submitting outlines and supporting information to City staff and participating in workshops.
The Blue Economy is made up of both traditional and new maritime users. “Marinas, ships and boatyards, sail makers, commercial diving, yacht clubs and chandleries typically come to mind,” Taylor said. Modern maritime users include public aquariums, aquaculture, tidal energy, algal biofuels, marine robotics, submersibles, marine electronics, paddling sports, offshore wind, bio-pharmaceuticals, educational/non-profit organizations and more.
Earle noted that these activities, requiring locations on the water, can enhance public knowledge by assuring working access to the bay and ocean beyond. The majority of them also provide good, skilled jobs and products and services that can bring enduring economic benefits to Alameda. Former Harbormaster Brock de Lappe stated that the Svendsen’s boatyard was in the top 25 sales tax producers in Alameda, and Leslie Cameron said Bay Ship & Yacht, which now owns Svendsen’s, employs more than 400 people in Alameda.
Water-based tourism and transit connections are also part of the Blue Economy. Ferries, guest docks or moorings encourage visitors to spend a day or weekend in Alameda, helping generate local revenue without ever bringing a car onto the island. Attracting yacht and boat shows to Alameda amplifies these economic benefits.
State Lands and the Bay Conservation Development Commission (BCDC) provide some protection for public and maritime use of the tidelands. However, developers often deem industrial and maritime as “incompatible” with proposed housing abutting tidelands. The rationale for housing stems from a perceived cost of repair and maintenance of the shoreline. However, making land suitable for housing comes at a much higher cost than retaining it for maritime/industrial and public use. Where maritime companies are active users of the shoreline, repair costs can be controlled as they have the expertise to undertake such work, especially when incentivized with long-term leases and rents that reward reinvestment in the community.
There are many factors around climate change, seismic safety and sea level rise that must be considered in any shoreline re-development plan. The BCDC has mandated setbacks from the water but now considers future “defensible space” for levees or sea walls that might be required to save existing neighborhoods. Measure AA passed last year to help with coastal restoration work that dovetails with the Blue Economy and a sustainable future.
This year’s Blue Vision Summit took place at Georgetown University in Washington, D.C., from May 9 to 11 with a key track on “Building Coastal Resiliency through Smart Economic Planning.” Earle presented opening remarks and participated in discussions around the Blue Economy. “Alameda is at a pivotal juncture. It will either become a bland bedroom community or it will take a leadership role, protecting its maritime heart, fostering innovation and emerging as a lustrous pearl in the new blue economy,” Earle said.
Liz Taylor contributed to this story.