Council proceeds with Point plan

Council proceeds with Point plan

Michele Ellson

Alameda’s city leaders are inching forward with a plan to prepare Alameda Point for development themselves, instead of letting a private developer do it. The City Council agreed Tuesday night to let city staff seek out a professional advisor to help mold their strategy, and to use Point lease revenues to cover its $5 million cost.

City Manager John Russo said the strategy would help city leaders avoid the pitfalls they have faced in two previous attempts to hand the planning process over to for-profit developers, but also noted that the city doesn’t ultimately intend to develop the Point itself after Councilwoman Lena Tam questioned whether such a project would expose the city to too much risk.

Mayor Marie Gilmore questioned whether the strategy would produce projects that developers would actually be willing to build. And she asked whether limiting the number of homes to be built at the Point will make the project pencil out for a developer.

“This has got to be entitled in such a way that the profit has got to justify the risk that a developer is going to take to build whatever a developer is going to build,” Gilmore said.

She also questioned whether telling developers what can be built in advance would encourage them to promise to build what’s planned and then change their plans once hired. Alameda Point Community Partners dropped the project in 2006, saying they couldn’t build it, while SunCal Companies asked voters to approve far more homes at the Point than they had originally said they’d build.

“Then the community’s looking at us and saying, ‘Here’s another developer that did a bait and switch,’” Gilmore said.

Russo said he thinks it’s more likely the city would face that problem if it didn’t prepare the Point for development in advance, and that he hopes to hire a team with experience handling complex developments to help. But he also said that no matter how much planning is done, plans will change as the project progresses.

“This is such a large project, it will take a generation to build it. We don’t know today what all will be on this base in the end,” Russo said.

City Councilman Doug deHaan and Vice Mayor Rob Bonta said they supported the plan.

“I feel very comfortable that we have to do this,” deHaan said. “That’s not really innate in my human nature. (But) I believe strongly that this is the right way to go.”

A small group of residents who have long been following efforts to revitalize the Point offered mixed views on the strategy, with some saying it’s time to finally move forward and others offering concerns.

Alameda Point Collaborative director Doug Biggs said the plan to bond against lease revenues to cover predevelopment costs is a “huge statement” to businesses leasing at the Point that they can be part of its success, a message they haven’t heard in previous redevelopment attempts. But Karen Bey questioned whether the city’s plan will measure up to the Point’s prime location.

“That’s my concern, that we’re settling on a plan that’s not really up to this property,” Bey said. “I think we can do better.”

Alameda Point Chief Operating Officer Jennifer Ott said the planning process will take between 18 months and two years. The council will get more specific information about what the consultant would do, what the money would pay for and what happens next in May.

In other actions Tuesday night, the council:

-Voted to restore $12,000 they planned to spend on new trees for Park Street, though it’s not clear if the larger trees the money would by are available or that they will be as healthy as the smaller ones the council decided in February to plant instead.

Public Works director Matt Naclerio said the 36-inch box trees the city’s contractor had planned to plant are infested, and they are struggling to find others. He said the smaller, 24-inch box trees the city had planned to plant had a better chance of survival. But the council was not swayed.

Tam asked her dais-mates to reconsider the February vote to plant smaller trees after questions arose over whether the decision reflected the desire of the businesses on the block where they were to be planted. Several business owners told the council Tuesday that they want larger trees to be planted on their block.

Daisy’s owner Barbara Mooney said the city’s removal of the tree that shaded her store’s display window has cost her hundreds of dollars’ worth of merchandise. She said she wants larger trees.

Lars Hansson, board president for the Park Street Business Association, said the association’s executive director “miscommunicated” the board’s wish to the council, saying they were behind smaller trees instead of larger ones. Hansson claimed responsibility for the error.

“If the PSBA board’s recommendation for larger trees was reflected accurately that evening, I think we might have had a different vote,” Russo said.

Planting could commence on April 9, but could be delayed by the recent rains, Naclerio said.

-Held off on asking Alameda County supervisors to place a new, expanded transportation tax on the November ballot. The county’s transportation commission wants to place a permanent one-cent sales tax on the ballot to fund a raft of transportation projects, replacing the existing Measure B half-cent tax on the book through 2022.

Alameda County Transportation Commission Deputy Director Tess Lengyel said that all the things the existing 20-year tax was slated to pay for have been built, so the commission has developed a new transportation spending plan that would boost transit capacity, fix roads, complete trails and fund other projects with the $7.7 billion the tax would generate through 2042.

Tam questioned the two-year process the commission undertook to create the tax, which involved 40 public meetings but none in Alameda. Tam said she wants Alameda residents and local boards and commissions to have the chance to learn more about the tax and how it benefits the community before the council signs off on the proposed tax.

-Separated the Alameda Housing Authority from the city, making the authority its own, autonomous agency governed exclusively by the city’s Housing Commission. The change is slated to take effect in late April.

A leader with Operating Engineers Local 3 questioned whether the council could make sure the union can continue to represent Housing Authority employees one they are no longer working for the city. But City Attorney Janet Kern said the city can’t mandate that employees be represented by any specific group and that it’s up to employees to make that choice.


Richard Bangert's picture
Submitted by Richard Bangert on Wed, Mar 21, 2012

18 to 24 months of planning is a long time.

The VA's $200 million project is ready to go and would provide underground/roadway infrastructure investment from the Main Gate and Main Street out to their site - immediately. See article on Alameda Community News Project.

This project has been stalled for two years over the location near the tern nesting site. A resolution of this conflict has been agreed to in principle since last summer. Yet parochial interests have logjammed this project to the point where the VA again did not ask for more funding in the next fiscal year. They haven't been able to spend the first $17 million yet.

Some people wear buttons saying "Support the troops." Other people become the troops and suffer the consequences so that some people can wear buttons. It's time to deliver.

Donna Eyestone's picture
Submitted by Donna Eyestone on Wed, Mar 21, 2012

I have recently watched this 53 minute documentary available with Instant Play through Netflix:

Designing a Great Neighborhood

I hope others will watch this as we formulate our questions/concerns for this project.

Richard Bangert's picture
Submitted by Richard Bangert on Wed, Mar 21, 2012

For some reason, other places seem to be able to get their act together better than us, like at the former Fort Devens Army base in Massachusetts. Yesterday's story about a pending housing project for seniors and veterans is worth emulating at Alameda Point. Will our consultant/advisor be studying success stories like this, or starting from scratch?


DEVENS – Saying Devens is important to the region’s economy and veterans, Lt. Gov. Tim Murray visited Vicksburg Square on Monday morning, bringing with him a ringing endorsement for the $83 million project to convert the empty Army barracks there into 246 units of affordable apartments for seniors and veterans.

The project calls for 78 units of senior housing and 168 apartment units with a preference for veterans. Eighty percent of the project would be affordable under state guidelines.

Murray said the housing development is projected to create 150 construction jobs while preserving the buildings that have a significant place in the region’s military history.

State Sen. Jamie Eldridge, an Acton Democrat who also spoke at Monday’s press conference, said smart growth calls for housing projects that are “slightly denser” than conventional development in order to preserve open space, and the Vicksburg Square project is just that.

Some Devens residents, who call themselves “Army brats,” said the former barracks is a symbol of those who sacrificed for the country, and rehabilitating the buildings would be a great way to honor veterans.