Council accepts parks plan

Council accepts parks plan

Michele Ellson

City leaders could seek to boost park acreage and create new trails, sports fields, urban farms and a new community center under a parks master plan accepted by the City Council on Tuesday.

The plan will serve as a reference point for future efforts to enhance Alameda’s park offerings.

Goals outlined by the plan include boosting the city’s park acreage by 50 percent and increasing the number of sports fields on the Island. The plan also recommends the city renovate the Alameda Point Gym and Albert O. DeWitt Officers Club, build a new community center and discontinue use of the Veterans Building, which houses the city’s teen center and other parks and recreation programs.

Residents and stakeholders surveyed for the plan listed open space and trails as their top park improvement priorities, followed by an indoor aquatic program and community gardens.

Alameda has a unique and well-loved system of neighborhood parks, said Linda Gates of Gates + Associates, the firm that assembled the plan. Eighty-seven percent of those questioned in telephone and online surveys conducted for the study said they had recently visited the Island’s shoreline, a natural area or local park, while nearly half said they visit Alameda’s parks four or more times a month.

“You have a beloved park system. And frankly, that’s not something you encounter very often in communities,” Gates said.

The city’s parks are fairly well maintained, the plan says, though it notes some exceptions the report’s authors say the city should address.

The Alameda Point Gym, which the plan’s authors recommend the city renovate for local and regional use, has seen significant wear over 70 years of use and few improvements since the city took it from the Navy; the facility’s pool, weight and cardio rooms are unusable. (Recreation and Parks Department director Amy Wooldridge said the city is working to bring a skate and BMX park into the pool facility, which the plan recommends repurposing.)

If the city could complete a renovation it started at the O’Club, it could host more events there, raising more money for parks and programs, the plan says.

But the plan recommends the city move its teen program out of the Veterans Building, saying it would be too costly to fix up the non-city owned building to meet the city’s long-term needs. The building, which dates back to 1929, lacks a centralized heating and cooling system and needs accessibility and other upgrades, it says. It says the city should seek to build a community center in a central location that would house the teen center and other programs.

The plan calls on city leaders to create more park space so that Alameda has three acres for every thousands residents on the Island, up from the two acres the city owns now. That amount doesn’t include beaches managed by the East Bay Regional Park District, the school district’s fields or others at Alameda Point that are now being leased by an off-Island group.

Its authors determined that the city is short three ballfields and five multi-purpose sports fields, a number that includes the school district’s fields and one the plan said would grow as Alameda’s population increases. It lists a trio of options for siting new fields, ultimately recommending the city keep working toward a long-considered sports complex out at Alameda Point.

In addition to open space and trails, an aquatic center and community gardens, residents surveyed showed a “significant interest” in a new community center and sports complex – which are contemplated by the plan – as well as a performing arts center and additional playgrounds. Other amenities the city could consider include another dog park, an additional bocce complex, practice soccer fields and a fitness course.

Potential sites for new parks include Alameda Point, the former Encinal Terminals, Mount Trashmore and the former Coast Guard Housing park site, while planned new parks include those tied to the Boatworks development and the Belt Line property.

A recommendation that the city consider a variety of uses for the 22-acre Belt Line property drew protest from some who had worked with the late Jean Sweeney, who helped the city acquire the land for less than $1 million, and from Sweeney’s husband, Jim, who said his wife and the voters who approved a plan to turn the site into a park envisioned it as open space, not a place crowded with urban farms and sports fields.

City Manager John Russo said the plan isn’t binding on the city and won’t take the place of individual planning processes for any new park.

“Believe me when I tell you, there are miles to go before any final decisions are made regarding this area,” Russo said.

The city would also have to come up with the money for any of the improvements – money city leaders have repeatedly made clear they don’t have. The cost to develop a lighted turf soccer field could top $2 million, the plan showed; estimated costs to renovate the Alameda Point Gym ranged from $20 million to $22 million and to develop a new community center, $23 million to $26 million. That said, the plan calls on the city to focus funding on existing parks.

The plan recommends city leaders seek out partnerships with outside entities to provide recreation services and look for ways to make money off programs to fund improvements. Russo has had conversations with local swimmers and youth sports leagues about working together on pool and field projects, particularly as residents weighed a sales tax increase on the June ballot that could have helped to pay for a new swim center and lighted ballfield. But those efforts weren’t discussed Tuesday night.

In other business, the council also held its final public hearing on the housing element of its general plan, which will allow multifamily housing that had been banned by 1973’s development-limiting Measure A. The council has been out of compliance with the state’s requirement that they have an approved housing element for more than two decades.

City officials have maintained that the housing element, which demonstrates the city has enough appropriately zoned land to accommodate its mandated share of the state’s housing needs, needs to be put in place to help the city get transportation funding and avoid lawsuits.

Affordable housing advocates who have long pushed the city to comply said more affordable housing is desperately needed and that additional housing will make the Island more vibrant, while Measure A backers questioned what kind of controls would be put in place to protect the measure and limit development to a manageable level.

The council, which voted 4-0 to move forward with the housing element (Councilman Doug deHaan abstained), is expected to cast a final vote on July 17.

Comments

Submitted by Bill 2-Wheel Smith on Wed, Jul 4, 2012

The housing element approved by the Council on July 3rd will benefit Alameda culturally and economicallly and increase revenues to the our City. With passage of the enabling zoning on July 17th, the City granted landowners the right to build condo-, apartment- and town-homes in Alameda's Northern waterfront and abandoned federal housing East of Main Street hidden near the estuary.

A broad cross-section of Alamedans have spoken before the Council and Planning Board in favor of the element - business and land owners on Clement and Park Streets, well-to-do elderly residents who want to vacate large homes but can't find modern condos or apartments to move to in Alameda, advocates of both market rate and affordable housing, citizens displaced from Alameda after being evicted from their homes, environmentalists, and religious leaders and members of their congreations.

Given the controversial history of multi-family housing in Alameda, surprisinlgy few residents spoke against the element. These residents were primarily concerned about traffic, especially access to the Island through the tubes. City staff noted that environmental and traffic studies had already found that existing City infrastructure was adequate for 5,000 new homes, whereas the housing element commits the City to zone for only half that number. Local traffic impacts of individual projects will be reviewed, and if necessary, mitigated during the normal permitting process for new construction.

The City has approved the housing element just in time to catch the leading edge of the new housing construction cycle, which many reports indicate is just beginning. With multi-family housing we can provide hundreds of new homes and still conserve land for parks and open space. More residents will attract new sales-tax generating retail businesses and increase City revenues to finance the infrastructure required to attract highly desired non-retail commercial businesses. This is the proven development strategy our community has used for over 30 years to attract businesses to Bayfarm Island.