Alameda Point Explained: 1425

Alameda Point Explained: 1425

Michele Ellson
Alameda Point Explained

When city leaders signed a deal to receive about 1,800 acres of Alameda Point from the Navy at no cost, it came with one small string attached: The city had to agree to construct no more than 1,425 new homes on the land – or to pay a premium of $50,000 for each new home that exceeds the limit.

The city has engaged in a massive planning process to prepare the Point for new development that features that number, along with enough commercial space to replace 10,000 of the jobs that disappeared when the base was shuttered. But housing advocates are saying the housing number is arbitrary and unrealistic, and they think more homes will be needed to see the rest of the plan – its employment base, vibrant town center, transit and parks – to fruition.

“Nothing is going to happen without people there,” said Laura Thomas of Renewed Hope, which successfully sued the city to require that a quarter of the homes built at Alameda Point are affordable to lower-income residents.

Thomas said the number “flies in the face” of statewide efforts – embraced by city leaders – to create more environmentally friendly compact developments, which would house enough residents to justify increased transit service that could help reduce traffic. She said that 1,400 homes may sound like a lot, but given the Point’s vast acreage, “there’s room for a lot more.”

The city’s business-heavy approach will create a “dead zone” at the Point, Thomas said, along with the traffic many residents are seeking to avoid since the city’s current plans don’t include enough housing to accommodate the workers city staffers are seeking to attract.

“If you have 10,000 jobs and only 1,400 of (the workers) can live here, how are they going to get here? It flies in the face of the demands of this community,” she said.

Alameda Point Chief Operating Officer Jennifer Ott said businesses will provide plenty of transit riders, too – and perhaps, their own private transit – while helping the city address its ongoing budget problems by bringing new jobs and revenue to the Island. And she said jobs, and not more homes, are what existing Alameda residents want.

“Let’s see if we can address some of those same issues with other uses,” she said.

Ott said that it will take eight to 10 years for all the homes included in the plan to be built and that it’s premature for people to start questioning the housing numbers.

“I think what we’re saying now is, ‘Let’s try to attract jobs,’” Ott said. “Later, when we build out the 1,425 (homes), would it be in the best interests of the city to re-evaluate it? Maybe. But let’s see what we can get going out there.”

But Helen Sause of Housing Opportunities Make Economic Sense, which is also advocating for more housing, questioned whether businesses would come to the Point if the city doesn’t have enough housing to shelter their workers. Sause, a retired executive of San Francisco’s redevelopment agency who helped lead the Base Reuse Advisory Group that drafted the reuse plan the city is basing its planning efforts on, said the city should determine how many homes need to be built to accommodate the new workers they are seeking to attract.

“The key would be, what does it take to serve the workforce that we’re hoping to entice into the city?” she said.

Sause said the city will be creating “another traffic monster” if it is successful in focusing development on businesses, though Ott said off-Island commuters’ travel patterns will be opposite of Alameda residents’. Sause said that assembling the right mix of housing types – matched to jobs and offering a critical mass for transit service – could blunt the traffic and new development would create.

While Ott said there are no plans to change the numbers in the foreseeable future, she acknowledged that changes in a development effort – especially for a development like the Point’s, which could take 25 to 30 years to complete – are possible. The environmental study that is being conducted will look at the impact of building 3,400 homes at the Point as an alternative to the current development plan.

But if city leaders decide to change the plan to build more housing at the Point, they could face an uphill battle convincing residents, Sause said.

“How tough will it be to change that number?” she said.

Planning Board member John Knox White has argued the city isn’t ready to offer the public a number at all, and both he and Sause think a frank, public conversation about the number of homes needed to support the jobs, town center and amenities residents want is due.

“Let’s not talk about numbers, because they mean different things to different people,” Knox White said. “We need to talk about must-haves, like-to-haves, what’s it going to take us to get there, the tradeoffs. Is it worth it to have a 30-second delay at the Tube to have a world-class sports complex at the Point? (We need to have) a conversation that has meaning, that the community can get its teeth into.”


Richard Bangert's picture
Submitted by Richard Bangert on Thu, Jun 27, 2013

10,000 new jobs and no place for the employees to live? We should have such a problem.

Let's talk about what comes first. If employment growth leads the way, then those employees would have a strong incentive to move into the new housing close to their jobs at Alameda Point. If the housing appears first, what makes anyone think that these new residents would quit their jobs in outlying areas in order to work at Alameda Point, or that they would even be hired. Many businesses that have relocated to Alameda are not looking for new employees. They're looking for a new location.

Mpomeroy's picture
Submitted by Mpomeroy on Thu, Jun 27, 2013

What should come first is some type of government policy that would incentivize existing businesses to hire local people, and incentivize workers here, to move here to live. As of now 75 % of Alameda residents commute off island for work. and only about 15% of those are by public transportation. We should start by finding out how many off island workers each of our major companies employes. We might look at some sort of tax incentives or low interest loans to encourage the behavior we want. It will not happen over night of course, but having a policy in place will have the desired effect over the next 10 years, of creating the type of development we need, and can sustain without ruining the quality of life here. The notion that the constantly touted number of 10,000 jobs would go to local residents, has no basis in historical fact.

nynan45's picture
Submitted by nynan45 on Thu, Jun 27, 2013

The land at Alameda Point would be perfect for more housing than the 1425 allowed. Houses could be built around the shoreline on all sides so the property owners could have superior views of the Bay and San Francisco. I propose just adding a 0 to 1425 to make it 14,250 houses. Jobs for the area could be designed so that the home owners could have housekeeping services available close by, numerous coffee shops and restaurants, a church, movie theatre, etc. Service sector jobs at minimum wage could support the influx of residents with expendable incomes. Of course there would be a private health spa for residents only with two large pools, tennis courts and a small 9 hole golf course right on the water too. The entire Point would be gated so the current entrances could be utilized but updated and redesigned. Entrance to the entire area would be secured so that residents and service workers only would have access. A perfect plan for a perfect area. Name the development and voila! An ideal marriage of jobs and housing.

Submitted by Sylvia Gibson on Thu, Jun 27, 2013

The small town feeling of Alameda is worth protecting. I'm not trying to be exclusive here, just realistic about what makes Alameda so wonderful and unique in the Bay Area.

Submitted by David on Thu, Jun 27, 2013

I find it both sad and amusing that so many local media outlets so willingly walk into the trap set by HOMES.

If the 1:1 jobs:housing balance so cherished by planners actually works, than what is needed in Alameda is jobs, not housing, because, as someone else correctly noted above, the vast majority of people leave the island each day for work, causing congestion and generating local emissions.

(Note how planners and advocacy groups like HOMES tend to evaluate Alameda Point alone, in isolation from the rest of the community and the massive imbalance of jobs/housing that exists today.)

If it doesn't work, then building a massive number of homes at Alameda Point is only going to aggravate the problem so many of us witness twice each day on the tubes and bridges.

And we know that we're chasing ghosts when talking about a 1:1 jobs:housing balance, because nobody can force people to work close to where they live,and people don't limit their job opportunities to within walking distance, especially not higher-paying professional jobs.

So even if we could magically develop Alameda Point such that everyone who lived there also worked there, it wouldn't stay that way forever, as people change jobs, move away, new people move-in, etc.

The jobs/housing balance is a false ideal promoted by people with separate agendas.