Preserve Harbor Bay Open Space

Preserve Harbor Bay Open Space

 

I trust that on Wednesday, June 22, concerned Alameda residents, who value nature and open space will appear before the Planning Board to ask for a substantial downsizing of the Westmont project. The project is currently under consideration for the beautiful park-like piece of land next to the Harbor Bay ferry terminal and adjacent to the Bay Shoreline Trail. 

In 2008, the city approved a series of small office buildings, called “Esplanade” for this parcel. Residents objected and submitted 1,200 signatures. They asked for more open space and more setbacks from the shoreline trail. They were very disappointed, when the City Council subsequently approved the Esplanade. They realized how scarce and valuable such a piece of land is, sitting in Alameda, like a small jewel next to the Bay. 

This lovely parcel has been a seasonal home for more than 25 years to countless species of birds: the great heron, pelicans, plovers, gulls, Canada geese and even burrowing owls. A small colony of salt marsh black-tailed jackrabbits have also called the parcel home. These wonderfully athletic, and harmless animals, with their playful antics have endeared themselves to hundreds of local children and adults for many years. Residents who are aware of the wealth of wildlife here, want to see that life remain. To see a short video on some of the wildlife still living on this parcel, visit www.keepbayfarmwild.com. 

The original Esplanade plan included a series of view corridors between office buildings for people and wildlife. However, since 2014, there has been a significant departure from the original plan and view corridors have been eliminated as developers have requested, or are requesting instead, combined monster buildings for this delicate and narrow parcel. These mammoth buildings lack adequate view corridors, sufficient setbacks from the Shoreline Trail and sufficient open space for wildlife and people.

For instance, recently approved and now under construction is the oversized McGuire and Hester building, which is really two buildings combined into one large one. The original “Esplanade” plan did not allow fences. In addition Harbor Bay Business Park’s CC&Rs do not allow fences adjacent to open space. Despite these restrictions, McGuire and Hester asked for and got approval from the city to build a fence to “fend off” the public that walks and bicycles along the shoreline trail. 

More importantly, the city has overlooked getting the proper approval for the entire building plan from the San Francisco Bay Conservation and Development Commission (BCDC). This approval is required for structures built within 100 feet of the Bay Shore. When the public became aware that the city and the developers ignored BCDC, they asked for a BCDC review. That review is under way. In the meantime, construction continues. 
On June 22, Westmont Living Corporation and the Pacific Union Land Company are submitting their building plans for the remaining five acres of open space. Their hotel-sized building will be 103,000 square feet — about the size of three football fields. And then there is parking space. Additionally, there are no view corridors for this oversized building plan.

Westmont Living is a senior assisted-living company that is asking to build an Alzheimer’s care unit in addition to an assisted living facility. Under the proposal, there will be room for a 120 people, 87 assisted living and 30 memory care patients.

Some questions arise: Is this an optimum place to put limited ability seniors? Wouldn’t they be better off closer to more active areas and social amenities? Another Alzheimer’s facility just opened in Alameda. Is a second one necessary or desirable?

Additionally, recently published material states that seniors do much better in smaller senior facilities, which are more personal, easier to get around in and easier to find caretakers when needed. Such a facility would feel more like a friendly inn rather than an institution. Don’t most of us love living in Alameda largely because it feels cozy, neighborly and not imposing? Wouldn’t it be great to extend that feeling to our senior facilities? We must step in and let the city hear our voices. Runaway development/construction needs to stop. 

The Planning Board should make no decisions about any construction regarding this special parcel until we hear from the BCDC. And, it’s time to let the city and the developers know that nature and visual open space ought to play just as important a role as the quick, almighty dollar. This one development will not, cannot restore the City’s finances. It’s time to return to thoughtful well-considered development in this City.

Please remember, June 22 Planning Board, 7 p.m. at City Hall. And, write to the Planning Board, care of Lara Weisiger, City Clerk, lweisiger@alamedaca.gov.

 

 

Reyla Graber lives in Alameda.