Naming Names: A Modest Proposal

Naming Names: A Modest Proposal

Dangerous and confusing driving, biking, and walking conditions, traffic gridlock, and the uglification of Alameda are here and thriving — and with help from Planning, Building, and Transportation Director Andrew Thomas, Mayor Marilyn Ezzy Ashcraft, and Councilmembers John Knox White and Malia Vella, they’re about to get worse.

The city is in the process of rezoning Park and Webster streets (Planning Board Considers How to Permit Housing on Park and Webster Streets,” Feb. 24), which ought to be good news given that both streets have become driving, parking, and biking nightmares — except these are the people, along with Alameda’s Planning and Transportation Boards, who are responsible for the mess we have — and what they are planning to do now will degrade those streets even more and increase the mess.

On April 11, the Planning Board is going to consider raising the height limit on all of Park Street to 60 to 65 feet (currently parts of Park Street are 40 feet) and all of Webster Street from 40 feet to 60 feet, and thereby replace these mostly two-story districts with five and six-story towers that will further diminish Alamedans’ strolling, shopping, biking, driving, parking, and outdoor eating experiences.

If the rezoning occurs, Park and Webster streets will become caverns, eliminating friendly, human scale architectural proportions, dwarfing pedestrians. They will also become darker earlier in the day and stay darker longer (as the sun will be blocked more) and windier (as building height increases), and they will be even more gridlocked and difficult to traverse than they are now, because Thomas et al. — against history and available data — believe the new inhabitants of these towers won’t drive or use cars even though there have been approximately two cars per household in Alameda and the Bay Area for decades.

If the two-car per household rate continues, at least one thousand cars will be added to Park Street traffic and another thousand to Webster Street. Literally, on the streets, because Thomas et al., believe these new, hoped-for, mythical, no-car inhabitants don’t need parking spaces, so not enough parking will be built, and the non-driving inhabitants’ non-existent cars will park on the streets around Park and Webster.

Indeed, last November, Ashcraft, Knox White and Vella voted to eliminate minimum parking requirements for all new residential developments throughout Alameda. Instead, they created a maximum limit of 1.5 spaces per dwelling — which is .5 parking space fewer than needed. If 1,200 new units are built on Park and Webster, as is planned, a maximum of 1,800 parking spaces will be allowed — which is at least 600 fewer than needed. If 6,000 new units are built in Alameda, as is planned, 9,000 new parking spaces will be allowed — which is at least 3,000 spaces fewer than needed. Where do you think those cars will park?

To make matters worse, our public servants also plan to increase the current density of 21.78 units per acre on Park and Webster to an “unlimited” number — and if that’s not enough, to add to the damage, they want to increase the density and the height of the areas around “The Stations” (where the trams used to stop along Lincoln, Encinal, and Central avenues) from 30 feet to 45 feet, turning two and three-story neighborhoods into four-story complexes. If you live in those areas, say goodbye to the sun, your garden, and privacy.

It takes three City Council members — Ashcraft, Knox White, and Vella — to approve and implement these changes, and unless one of them changes her/his mind, they have the votes. It is with that in mind that I offer a modest proposal.

We should have a naming contest, as we recently did with schools and parks. A commission should be established, and each new tower should be scored on an objectionability scale of 1-5, with 5 being the most objectionable. Those buildings with a score of 5 should then be named: The Thomas, Ashcraft, Knox White, and Vella so current and future residents of Alameda will know who is responsible for this blight and disruption.

There will be City Council and Mayoral elections in November. It’s important to remember who did what. In the meantime, if you’re concerned about these changes, let Thomas, Ashcraft, Knox White and Vella know what you think.

Mark Greenside is a fifteen-year resident of Alameda and a retired professor of Political Science, history, and English from Merritt College in Oakland.