Council approves stripped-down Point development strategy

Council approves stripped-down Point development strategy

Michele Ellson
Alameda City Hall

The City Council on Wednesday unanimously approved a stripped-down strategy for readying Alameda Point for new development that’s focused on preparing for potential commercial development there, though some council members and longtime Point development supporters said they preferred a more robust plan that included planning that would also ease the way for housing.

“I think this is an approach that moves us in the right direction,” City Councilwoman Lena Tam said.

City staff brought the more limited development strategy to the council after Tam, Mayor Marie Gilmore and Vice Mayor Rob Bonta said they didn’t want to proceed with staff’s original proposal to spend $5 million on a detailed planning and approval process for Point development, which would have been paid for using bonds backed by Point lease revenues. They had said they were concerned the plan, which Councilwoman Beverly Johnson and Councilman Doug deHaan supported, was too risky.

The city will instead move forward with a $1.86 million plan to conduct a base-wide environmental review of development plans for the Point and a master plan for water pipes, electric wires and other infrastructure, leaving efforts to gain approvals for detailed housing plans to a housing developer. The newly approved strategy will be funded with existing Point lease revenues over two years.

Detailed plans for a proposed town center at the base will proceed only if the city gets a $200,000 grant it has requested from the Metropolitan Transportation Commission, Alameda Point Chief Operating Officer Jennifer Ott said.

City Manager John Russo had said the original strategy, developed with input from developers, would help speed efforts to revitalize the Point by providing potential developers approvals and a level of certainty about what could be built there while allowing the city to retain maximum control over the plans.

Gilmore said she was concerned that moving forward with staff’s original plan, which was originally up for approve on May 8 and recommended again Tuesday, would eat into the city’s ability to pay for the fallout from a future disaster or failure of existing infrastructure at the Point.

“The whole point of this is to move forward and be opportunistic about commercial opportunities out there. If this works the way we would hope, and we have some commercial opportunities coming in, there’s nothing that would prevent us from using whatever the land sale proceeds are to fund the residential portion of the entitlements,” Gilmore said.

But City Councilman Doug deHaan, who, like Johnson, wanted to approve staff’s original plan, said he was concerned the city would miss future opportunities to develop the Point as a result.

“If we don’t go forward with this and do it in a timely manner, we’re not going to be in a position to take anything,” deHaan said.

Some longtime advocates of revitalizing the Point urged the council to approve staff’s original development strategy, saying the more limited strategy would hobble redevelopment efforts there.

“This is your last chance to do this right. This is going to be your legacy,” said Doug Biggs, executive director of the Alameda Point Collaborative. “Choice two is a crippled solution. It’s not going to give you everything you want at Alameda Point.”

But Bonta, who had asked Russo to bring the council a less-intensive alternative for their consideration after a heated discussion at the May 8 meeting, said he felt the council could pursue the remaining planning and approvals at a later date and that they could find a residential developer to pay for them.

“This will allow us to move forward incrementally, but move forward, and not go into debt,” Bonta said.

City staff continued to say their original strategy would be the best one to move Point revitalization efforts forward, though Russo acknowledged it was up to the council to decide how to proceed. Staff also offered a proposal to hire a master developer to prepare the portion of the Point designated for housing, though they didn’t recommend the plan and council didn’t consider it Wednesday.

Russo said that while the strategy approved by the council wasn’t what staff recommended, “we believe (option) two includes necessary pieces of what we need to move forward.”

City leaders secured an agreement to obtain much of the base from the Navy by the end of this year without the $108.5 million price tag they had previously demanded.

A base-wide environmental review is required prior to any development at the Point as part of a settlement the city entered into with a group in Oakland’s Chinatown neighborhood, Tam said.

In other news, the council approved an annual levy paid by merchants in the city’s Park Street and Webster Street business districts after assuring council members they had addressed some Park Street merchants’ concerns about the way the Park Street Business Association is being run and how the association is spending the money.

Russo said both business associations will now be required to post their bylaws, audits and accounting statements on their respective websites and that board elections for each will now be conducted by the City Clerk.

In a letter to the council, Raintree Studios owner Al Wright said the association’s board ignored concerns he raised, acted against members’ best interests and failed to properly supervise PSBA’s executive director, Robb Ratto; communicate properly with members; and complete the work the assessment fees are supposed to pay for.

“I want PSBA to be more open, fair, responsible and responsive to members, and a worthy custodian of BIA funds,” Wright said Wednesday.

Merchants who attended Wednesday’s meeting echoed Wright’s concerns.

“I would ask for more representation of businesses on Park Street on the board of the Park Street Business Association. There’s a concern that a lot of the board members have been hand-chosen by the executive director. And I think they should be chosen by their peers,” said Kate Pryor, owner of Tucker’s Super Creamed Ice Cream. Ratto dismissed such claims from the audience as “completely and totally false” and “just bulls—t.”

Board members for the association, who faced intense criticism in recent months for their apparent assent to a plan to cut down dozens of trees on Park Street and embark on a streetscape projects on the eve of the Christmas shopping season, said they’re acting on business owners’ concerns.

“There’s always going be improvement for organizations to function. One of the things I’ve seen in my short time with the board is a sincere desire to create and environment that is transparent, open and receptive to everybody that has feedback to provide to make it a better place for all of us,” PSBA board member Deb Knowles said.

In other council news, the council agreed to place a measure that would prohibit them from agreeing to swap parkland on the November ballot. The measure was created by residents frustrated by a proposal to swap the Mif Albright golf course to developer Ron Cowan for cash and land he owns.


Submitted by Irene on Thu, Jun 7, 2012

This is a great news considering last month Lena Tam and Marie Gilmore wanted to focus on leasing activities only and that neither voted to bring it back to the council for further discussion.

It is a step in the right direction even if we aren't working on a comprehensive base-wide approach.

Rob Bonta's point that "he felt the council could pursue the remaining planning and approvals at a later date and that they could find a residential developer to pay for them" is a big issue. Under this approach the city cedes a lot of control over the final outcome. We'll see how it works out in terms of creating a vibrant mixed-used area rather than an isolated housing development.

Rob Bonta deserves credit for bringing it back and moving us forward.

Jon Spangler's picture
Submitted by Jon Spangler on Thu, Jun 7, 2012

I share Doug Biggs' concern that housing at Alameda Point is being undervalued and underrated. (I still think that a Peter Calthorpe-style plan with 3000 residential units would serve our community better.)

Having 3000 housing units at AP will be better fro our island but it also requires more comprehensive and thoughtful planning to make sure that the transportation and other infrastructure needed is properly planned to limit traffic congestion and ensure that the development is environmentally sustainable by encouraging transit and other alternatives.

Jon Spangler's picture
Submitted by Jon Spangler on Thu, Jun 7, 2012

Robb Ratto's dismissive comments prove the points made last night by Al Wright, Kate Pryor, Barbara Mooney, and others. His "tough sh** attitude does not serve him or PSBA well, and it makes me less inclined to shop on Park Street.

Is that what PSBA wants from its Executive Director?

If the current PSBA board and its Executive Director do not listen to and respect their own members, there is, indeed, a serious problem in the organization. And having the City Clerk's office handle the elections for PSV BA--an embarrassment to PSBA in and of itself--is, judging from Robb Ratto's own rude words, just the tip of the iceberg.

Submitted by Irene on Thu, Jun 7, 2012


I was trying to find the silver lining to an otherwise disappointing move.

Do you think we would have been better off waiting for a new city council to take the comprehensive approach? It's a discussion worth having.

I failed to mention that Johnson and deHaan were also instrumental in bringing the Alameda Point issue back to the council. Without their heartfelt arguments last month, Bonta may not have been swayed to revisit it. I also think last month's meeting will go down in history as one of Johnson's and deHaan's best moments on the council.

Al Wright's picture
Submitted by Al Wright on Thu, Jun 7, 2012

Mr. Ratto is SUCH a class act! We in PSBA are SO lucky to be able to have him as our esteemed Executive Director. Of, course, this level of expertise and professionalism comes at a cost, and we pay DEARLY to keep him hard at work for us. Whatta guy! Thank you, PSBA!

Submitted by jennifereott on Thu, Jun 7, 2012

Staff is truly excited about the unanimous decision by the City Council to move forward with the key next steps for development of Alameda Point. The $108M savings from the recently struck Navy deal, the dismissal of a $100M lawsuit from Suncal, and last night's the policy decision to move forward with important development milestones, puts the City in a great position to make significant progress at Alameda Point.

Submitted by adrianblakey on Thu, Jun 7, 2012

Isn't all this a pipe dream unless we solve the infrastructure issues of how people will transit to Alameda Point? Once Target takes residence, will a continuous stream of cars in the Alameda tube provide some proper focus to this discussion?

Jon Spangler's picture
Submitted by Jon Spangler on Fri, Jun 8, 2012


I think it is important to keep looking towards our long-term needs at AP and for the entire community, even if we are in a financial bind right now. As Adrian points out and Jennifer Ott knows all too well, the infrastructure at AP is crumbling and failing. We need to address--and pay for--replacing it soon, and $1.86 million is not even a drop in that $700-plus-milion bucket.

Building more housing units at AP is one way to fund that massive infrastructure investment, which, if planned properly, will also reduce the traffic congestion many are worried about.