New Jobs Coming: Planning Board Approves Astra Conditional-Use Permit

Photo Astra/John Kraus

New Jobs Coming: Planning Board Approves Astra Conditional-Use Permit

On Oct. 11, the Planning Board approved Astra Space Inc.’s application for an approximately 14-acre conditional-use permit for rocket research and development, light manufacturing, and indoor rocket engine testing in the Enterprise District of Alameda Point, the former site of the U.S. Naval Air Station.

The permit will allow Astra to bring hundreds of new jobs to Alameda, including engineering, technology, and skilled labor employment. City staff believes that Astra could attract similar high-technology businesses to invest in Alameda Point and help the City grow its employment base.

For 25 years, the City has sought to replace the 14,000 jobs lost to the local economy when the U.S. Navy left in 1996. However, since then, there has been little investment in the Enterprise District, the non-historical area of Alameda Point designated for business uses.

Short-term tenants have leased properties but have been unwilling to invest long-term. Astra is a good candidate for adaptively reusing existing facilities because its proposed uses are nearly the same as the Navy’s uses in the past. For instance, the Navy used to perform jet engine testing in two of the buildings.

Astra is researching and developing small rocket technology to deliver satellites into low earth orbit from their current remote launch site in Kodiak, Alaska. Their clients include Spire, Planet Labs, NASA, and the U.S. Space Force.

Astra has been a short-term tenant since 2017. Now they want to stay and grow long-term. Currently, Astra employs 255 people at their Alameda Point facility, up from about 100 in January. They expect to employ about 350 people and up to 500 as they expand onto more land within the next year.

Conditions of Approval
The use permit establishes land-use rules and limitations to ensure Astra’s compatibility with current and future residential and commercial neighbors and wildlife.

The City’s noise consultant, Bollard Acoustical Consultants, determined that ambient noise on Main Street is equal to or greater than the noise generated by engine testings. Still, the permit requires Astra to limit engine testing during any 24-hours to no more than 120 minutes. No engine testing may occur between 10 p.m. and 6 a.m., and Astra will fund the installation and maintenance of a permanent noise monitor owned and operated by the City.

In addition, the permit requires compliance with approvals and permits required by other agencies such as the Air Quality Management District and the Regional Water Quality Control Board, among others.

Public Comment
Ten of the eleven public speakers spoke in support of Astra. Speakers ranged from residents to representatives of neighboring organizations such as the USS Hornet and the Water Emergency Transit Authority (WETA) to environmental non-profits such as Community Action for a Sustainable Alameda (CASA) to the Alameda Chamber of Commerce.

All praised Astra’s ability to bring high-quality jobs to the City, its restoration and reuse of dilapidated Navy buildings in line with their original use, its promotion of bicycling and public transit use by employees, its proximity to the ferry to minimize vehicular traffic, the possibility of partnering with the USS Hornet for community events and its potential for partnering with the school district to develop STEM education opportunities for students.

One resident took issue with the noise survey, saying that noise from engine testing has vibrated her back window.

Final Vote
The Planning Board approved the motion to approve the permit 5-0 with two board members absent. Astra will now pursue long-term lease options with the City.