Redirecting Alameda Point Efforts

The City Council debate of the requests for qualifications from developers for plans to develop two parcels at Alameda Point and where to put 1,425 houses at Alameda Point sounded a lot like 2007. 

The agenda item in question, aimed at exclusive negation agreements (ENA) and development and disposition agreements (DDA) for Alameda Point, included mention of houses that carry the $50,000 per unit premium to the Navy for building in excess of the agreed upon cap and where to allocate ~800 housing units. This approach seems an awful lot like the path that entrenched Sun Cal at the Point and we all know how that turned out.

Rather than running the same process and hoping for a different outcome, a bold step is needed. Consider discarding this old approach and adopt a policy which has no new residential units for Alameda Point, and putting some focus on job creation and open space. 

In Alameda and many other former military bases, re-use plans have been driven by residential development. It is a recipe that has houses and condos going up, profits being made and cities being left to struggle with traffic, transportation and all the other services demanded by the resulting over-development. 

The traffic at commute times in the Posey and Webster tubes is bad enough right now. Adding more houses at Alameda Point on top of those already in the works next door to Target and in the Northern Waterfront, make any chance at mitigating gridlock unrealistic. Besides, the current Housing Element includes sufficient sites for Alameda to meet its regional housing needs without any new units at Alameda Point.

The housing goals should target improving and preserving historic homes and upgrading the much needed residential units of Alameda Point Collaborative. A priority should be placed on connecting these residents with the rest of Alameda. Re-use of the historic bachelor enlisted and officer quarters may be considered. 

Both structures present huge challenges for re-use, may be more practically better suited other uses. Perhaps these buildings can be given to the VA for its medical complex to bring services to vets and jobs to Alameda Point. The bottom line on housing is: cap the residential use at Alameda Point to what exists today. 

With housing more practically addressed, job creation and open space can get top billing at Alameda Point. Jobs have been created over the years at Alameda Point, but more are needed to replace those lost when the Base closed. Many jobs can be created by cultivating maritime, environmental cleanup, specialty beverage maker business sectors and supporting small businesses which are now mainstays at Alameda Point. 

Task the City’s Economic Development Commission to update the Economic Development Strategic Plan with how to grow these sectors into a diverse economic zone. Plans to attract new businesses and solidify current businesses could even include options for businesses to buy the property they occupy, expanding the tax base and providing funds for infrastructure.

Expanding open space may be a more realistic future for much of Alameda Point, especially given climate change. Hundreds of acres of the former Naval Air Station are already destined for habitat. We should take the opportunity to expand and restore wetlands in partnership with East Bay Regional Parks and the Federal agencies in charge of the wildlife habitat.

More wetlands can provide a buffer against Bay tidal action and improve current habitat and is a reachable goal given that EBRPD has more than $6.5 million earmarked for park development in Alameda thanks to Measure WW. 

The Federal custodians of the habitat likely have funding to manage what remains in their hands as well. 

This approach is not easy or quick, and will take perseverance and patience. 

Placing efforts in to job creation and open space expansion recognizes the reality of the constraints of Alameda being an island with limited access, while delivering benefits to both Alameda and the region and is well worth the time and energy. 

Frank Matarrese is a former city councilman.