Letters to the Editor: More support for Site A
Letters to the Editor: More support for Site A
This letter was addressed to City Council members but forwarded to The Alamedan for publication.
On June 16 you will vote on whether to approve development of Site A at Alameda Point. We, the city’s last three living former mayors, have been involved in reimagining the former Naval base since 1997. Time is overdue to implement a plan, and you can now deliver it for Alameda.
Since 1993, we have each helped position the city for this opportunity to initiate development at the base and rebound from the severe economic hit caused by the Navy’s departure. After decades of hard work and three failed attempts, Alameda has one last chance.
The road to get here has been as rocky as the terrain at the project site. The base was identified for closure in 1993 during Bill Withrow’s mayoral term (1991-94), and he kick-started negotiations with the Navy over a no-cost transfer and also, the community dialogue, with the Base Reuse Advisory Group.
Mayor Withrow’s efforts paved the way for the first attempt to develop the base by Alameda Point Community Partners, a partnership of homebuilders and a financial investment firm, selected in 2001 as the master developer. That developer planned to build 1,700 homes and commercial/retail space, but walked away in 2005 because of the cost.
Changes in Washington, D.C. eliminated the no-cost transfer as the Navy demanded $108 million for the base and a lower level of environmental cleanup than the city requested, thus driving up costs. This led the city to select SunCal Companies as its master developer in 2007. But SunCal’s plans escalated to 4,500 homes, prompting Mayor Beverly Johnson to lead the charge against the plan. Mayor Johnson and her colleagues, including then-Councilmember Marie Gilmore, unanimously voted down the plan.
In 2011, during Mayor Gilmore’s term, the Navy dropped its financial terms and the base was finally transferred to the city — 15 years after the base’s closure. In response to the community’s plea not to give total control to another master developer, the city decided to master plan the site itself.
Despite prior failures to redevelop the base, the city tenaciously maintained control over the property, allowing us a chance to revitalize this coveted real estate once and for all.
With community input, the city adopted the current plan to develop Alameda Point in thoughtful, measured steps. The plan calls for just 1,425 homes for the entire base — far fewer than SunCal’s 4,500.
Site A is the catalyst for redeveloping the base. By repairing the infrastructure (i.e., rocky roads, lights, sewer and communications) and building a true mixed-use community on the 68-acre parcel, we will attract others to later develop additional parcels. We cannot attract jobs without these amenities, which is why we failed to attract Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory in 2012.
The city chose Alameda Point Partners to develop Site A because the team met all the requirements our community requested. Alameda Point Partners is led by Alameda resident Joe Ernst, a local developer who understands Alameda. The developer’s plan is consistent with the quality and character of our city, and will partially address our rent crisis that is hurting residents and limiting job growth. It features only 800 homes, including 25 percent affordable housing, and provides for small businesses and green space. This is why Alameda business leaders, housing advocates, and residents support the developer’s plan for Site A.
We understand concerns about traffic. We were in office, or resided here, when the base had 18,000 employees — many driving on and off the Island. But traffic is a regional issue that cannot be resolved by hindering development of Alameda Point. Studies have concluded that Oakland’s Broadway/Jackson intersection is the main culprit for our traffic in the Webster Tube. Moreover, the state has declared that traffic is not a legal reason to deny additional housing, which means the city would likely face litigation if housing is denied for this reason.
Thus, traffic mitigation is the answer to the traffic problem on our side of the Webster Tube. And Alameda Point Partners will mitigate traffic with more buses, shuttles, and ferry usage. It will offer transit solutions and affordable housing for employees, residents, our children and grandchildren.
If Site A is not approved, it will send the message that Alameda will never develop the base. The business and investment community will look elsewhere. Our current base businesses, surviving on crumbling infrastructure, also soon will leave; city finances will be diverted to frequent infrastructure failures (lights, sewer and communications); and housing advocates will likely challenge Alameda in court.
This council can avoid all that and turn the base into something beautiful and enjoyable for all of Alameda. We respectfully ask you to make this your legacy and unanimously approve Alameda Point Partners' plan for Site A. Alamedans have waited three decades for this — and it is likely our last chance.
Former Mayor Bill Withrow
Former Mayor Beverly Johnson
Former Mayor Marie Gilmore
Alameda is my hometown, and like so many of us who are fortunate to call this Island home, I returned after college to make the Island City my adult residence. I’ve seen a lot of changes in recent years – the recent commercial and residential development at Alameda Landing, the Del Monte warehouse project, and plans in the works on Bay Farm Island – and after 20 years of inaction I’m really excited to see what has been planned and is in store for the grounds of the former Alameda Naval Air Station. I’ve been to the meetings where plans have been discussed, and spoken with the developers who are working to put those plans to life, and I can tell you that it is a project that will bring great benefits for the Island as a whole.
Site A at Alameda Point will include 800 new housing units, both for rent and for sale in a variety of styles and price ranges. Add to this a mix of retail and commercial space and 14 acres of parks and open space, all amidst the most beautiful views of the San Francisco skyline you can imagine. I’ve spent more hours than I can list walking and jogging the shoreline of the bay, and I think the new portions of the Bay Trail along the Seaplane Lagoon and south of the USS Hornet museum will really add to the area. There will be three different park districts, one with a terraced design built to accommodate sea level rise. That’s pretty cool. Ultimately with the new ferry terminal at the heart of the plans for Alameda Point, combined with the businesses and entertainment venues they envision for the space, the West End of Alameda will become a destination, and not just a region waiting for new life and new use. I’m looking forward to that day.
Like many of you, I have been been keeping tabs on the seemingly never-ending calls for more residential units. I feel some development simply shouldn't happen, like replacing the golf course for tract homes. And those that should happen need to plan for the limitations an Island town has. Simply put, we may have land to build, but we only have so many ways out.
Which is why I am lending strong support for the Site A development at Alameda Point. Its developer, Joe Ernst, is a long-time client of my business, Alameda Bicycle and an avid cyclist. I find Joe to be an honest man and a true believer of sustainable mass transit. His plan incorporates alternative transportation into the development, so that residents are inclined to ditch that car for bike, ferry, and vanpool to BART.
The recent protected bike lanes on Shore Line Drive show how difficult it is to alter existing streets made exclusively for cars into one that shares the road with cyclists and pedestrians. Yet we know that offering real non-car options is the only way to reduce congestion on the streets as more and more development creeps into Alameda. At Alameda Point, we have the ability to truly create sustainable streets and neighborhoods, a vision that Joe Ernst is leading.
Please show your support for responsible, sustainable development in Alameda, or none at all. Site A at Alameda Point is one such development.