On Point: What’s next for Site A?

On Point: What’s next for Site A?

Michele Ellson

For the past several months, the development and design consortium Alameda Point Partners has been working to refine its plan for Site A, a 68-acre waterfront plot that is proposed to one day hold 600,000 square feet of commercial uses, 15 acres of new parks – and 800 new homes.

The development framework okayed by city leaders in 2014 envisioned the site as a catalyst for revitalization of the Point, a transit-hubbed beacon alerting industry that the Point was open for business. But some Island voters apparently saw something different: A future traffic nightmare clogging Alameda’s bridges and tubes.

Those fears arguably helped Trish Herrera Spencer eke out her 120-vote mayoral victory over Marie Gilmore, and arguably also helped Vice Mayor Frank Matarrese secure a council seat after a four-year absence from the dais. On the campaign trail, Matarrese said unequivocally that he does not want homes built at Alameda Point, while slowing growth was Spencer’s primary pre-election promise.

Development of Site A (or any portion of Alameda Point) can’t proceed unless four of the council’s five members agree to move forward. So if two council members have already said they oppose building homes at Alameda Point, what are the chances that the development will move forward?

Joe Ernst of srmErnst, the lead developer’s representative, said his group understood that getting a fourth vote would be “more of a challenge” after the election. That said, they wouldn’t be spending the time and money on the process if they thought seeking approval were a lost cause.

“We think it’s doable because of the merits of the project,” Ernst said during an interview with The Alamedan this week.

His pitch: The community stands to gain more from development of Alameda Point than development elsewhere, because it brings new roads and utilities to an area of town that desperately needs them, more affordable housing than other developments are required to build and millions for a ferry terminal and toward a new sports complex.

“Slower growth doesn’t necessarily mean no growth,” Ernst said.

Indeed, Spencer, who noted that the prior council signed a deal to negotiate with the developers that must be executed in good faith, said she hasn’t yet made up her mind on the project.

“Regardless of the change of the individuals on council, at this point, its incumbent on all of us, including myself, to seriously consider the developer’s proposal,” Spencer said during an interview with The Alamedan this week. “I’m continuing to listen to the community feedback. I plan to seriously consider the proposal.”

But Vice Mayor Frank Matarrese said he can’t support the proposal because it could add more homes than the city’s general plan currently envisions. The plan says the city has land ready to hold an estimated 2,245 new homes – not including Alameda Point.

“The traffic generated by 2,245 units will be difficult enough without adding the 800 units in Site A. I believe we should go after non-residential projects like the (ferry maintenance and operations) facility that create jobs and pay for infrastructure and expand park facilities,” Matarrese said. “I’d like to pursue alternative ways to pay for the basics instead of overloading Alameda Point with housing.”

He said he’d consider Site A under one condition: If city leaders subtracted took 800 units of potential housing on other sites out of the general plan.

Still, council members who previously voted to move forward at the Point – and are concerned about the deteriorating conditions on the property – aren’t giving up.

“I will say it’s clear to me how much is at stake for the city and what enormous opportunities we will realize if we can move forward with Site A,” said Councilwoman Marilyn Ezzy Ashcraft, who said she will carefully review everything and that she doesn’t make up her mind until it’s time to vote.

“We’re closer now than we’ve ever been to beginning to realize the potential of redeveloping the base,” Ashcraft added. “And I hope we can stay the course.”

Ashcraft and Tony Daysog were part of the unanimous November 18 vote to select Alameda Point Partners as its preferred developer for Site A, while Jim Oddie, then a councilman-elect, urged the council to move forward with the selection. Conversely, both Spencer and Matarrese asked the council to allow the new council to make the decision, after they were seated.

From the dais, Spencer has offered a flurry of concerns about the development proposal. She has questioned whether the housing proposed to be built will be affordable enough for Alamedans facing a shortage of it, and whether the project will generate too much traffic.

Matarrese has expressed concerns about the traffic the development could generate and has also questioned whether the city has the right to grant the developers’ request to waiver Measure A in order to build 200 units of affordable housing into the project. (City staffers have said the state’s affordable housing laws trump Measure A.)

On March 3, the council okayed contracts for development of plans for a Main Street residential neighborhood at the Point, though Spencer urged the council to build more affordable housing there than what’s being considered now and Matarrese asked that the plans include an option to just replace existing quarters now used by the Alameda Point Collaborative.

Advocates of the Site A project have mounted a full court press at City Hall in an effort to win council approval. The project has received backing from Alameda’s Chamber of Commerce and affordable housing advocates, and two prominent Alameda Point tenants – the Collaborative’s Doug Biggs and Bladium’s Brad Shook, who threatened to leave the Island if fixes to the Point’s crumbling infrastructure aren’t made soon.

The developer has also successfully convinced a flurry of regular Alamedans who have said they’d like to see the base put back into productive use to speak out at council meetings. And one additional constituency has made an entry into the debate: Renters who are being squeezed by rising costs and diminishing supply.

City staffers have also made the case for housing, saying the businesses the city wants to attract to the Point will want to see some housing available to shelter their workers. In a dramatic illustration of their point, city leaders walked away from negotiations with a pair of developers interested in building a corporate campus on the Point because they were unable to secure a commitment from either to fund road, utility and other infrastructure improvements on what was then known as Site B.

Ernst, whose company is building out the Harbor Bay Business Park, said that is an old model for attracting businesses. Today’s business owners want to be located near homes and amenities, he said.

“If we’re truly going to make the base a job generator and a stable, durable job base, we have to create the environment for it. Those are mixed use, complete communities,” he said.

In a shift perhaps aimed at appeasing council members who don’t want housing built at the Point, staffers have also begun arguing that the homes could inject much-needed supply into the local rental market – two-thirds of the proposed housing units will be rentals under the current plan – and offer ownership opportunities for first-time buyers, empty nesters and seniors, in addition to housing for future Point workers.

City staffers have also said that the homes – and residents – are needed to justify a transit hub at the Point helmed by a third Alameda ferry terminal and served by rapid bus service, which they have said will serve all of Alameda as traffic worsens on and off the Island.

Alameda Point Chief Operating Officer Jennifer Ott said the Site A plan is the culmination of decades of work and that it was created to be responsive to the community’s desires for the acreage – including a smaller number of homes than some earlier developers proposed.

“This plan, this project – from a staff policy standpoint, (it) implements the plans that have been in place for 20 years,” Ott said.

She said city staff is aware four votes are needed to proceed with the plan – but that it’s not staff’s job to count them.

“It’s not our job to count votes, but to put forward best policy recommendations we can, and that’s what we’re doing,” Ott said.

The plan as it stands now is to seek a first round of approvals for 650 homes, 96,000 square feet of commercial space and 8.25 acres of parks over the next two to four years and approvals for the remainder of the project – 150 homes, 400,000 square feet of commercial space and more than six additional acres of park space – in 2021 or 2022, when the city takes title to the remainder of Site A (the Navy is still cleaning up a portion of the property).

A development agreement is due by mid-May, unless the city opts to extend negotiations. Ott said the Planning Board is expected to consider approving a Site A development plan on May 11, and the council could consider a development agreement in May or June.

Alameda Point Partners is leading a public walking tour of Site A at 10 a.m. Saturday. Council members are expected to attend.

Spencer urged members of the community to get involved and voice their opinions about the developer’s proposal.

“I do welcome and encourage the community to participate in the council meetings as well as attend the open houses and give their feedback,” she said. “This is the time to share any and all concerns with Mr. Ernst and his colleagues.”


Richard Bangert's picture
Submitted by Richard Bangert on Thu, Mar 26, 2015

Here's another reason to move forward with the Site A project: Failing to do so on the grounds that someone doesn't want any more housing at Alameda Point would essentially eviscerate the spirit of the Renewed Hope lawsuit settlement. That lawsuit challenged the environmental impact report for the Bayport Housing development. The cornerstone of the settlement agreement allowing the Bayport project to move forward - tearing down over 400 multi-family housing units that an East Bay affordable developer was ready to rehab - is that all future housing at Alameda Point would include 25% affordable housing. A 25% affordable allotment is almost unheard of.

Voting "No" on the Site A proposal solely on the basis of "too many housing units" would render the widely-supported "Save East Housing" affordable housing campaign, and the Renewed Hope 25% affordable housing settlement that was won as a result, a total failure with not one thing to show for it.

Submitted by Karen Bey (not verified) on Thu, Mar 26, 2015

There is a lot of talk on this blog about the high costs of rents, and the lack of affordable housing in Alameda. In fact there is an entire sub-blog dedicated to the subject called the “Rents Blog”. While much of the response blames Alameda landlords for the cause, it’s good to recognize that only 15% of the surveys showed rent increases over 10%. Most of the rent increases reported was under 10%.

I don’t think focusing on landlords is the best solution here, because it doesn’t address the “root cause” of the problem, it only addresses one of the symptoms. The root cause of the high rents and lack of affordable housing in Alameda is the lack of rental housing inventory and the lack of affordable housing units.

The responsible thing to do if we really want to make a dent in solving the housing crisis in Alameda is to address the root cause of the problem. Here’s how Alameda Point Partners is doing that with their Site A proposal:

1. Increasing the rental supply in Alameda. Two thirds of the 800 housing units will be apartments.
2. Increase affordable housing units in Alameda. Of the 800 housing units, 25% or 200 units will be affordable.

So instead of focusing on housing numbers -- I’d like to see us focus on addressing the real problem – the housing crisis.

I see Alameda Point Partner’s Site A development as part of the solution to our housing crisis.

Submitted by marilyn pomeroy (not verified) on Thu, Mar 26, 2015

"City staffers have also made the case for housing, saying the businesses the city wants to attract to the Point will want to see some housing available to shelter their workers"
This clearly shows that the promise to create jobs was always just a way to justify the development at the point, and not to provide a benefit to the people who currently live on the island.

Submitted by MJ (not verified) on Thu, Mar 26, 2015

The developer saying the community stands to benefit from new utilities at Alameda Point shows how absurd of a case needs to be made to justify more houses, people, cars and traffic.

How does the community of people who ALREADY LIVE IN ALAMEDA stand to gain anything? I don't know about you, but more sewers, lights, water, electricity, roads, etcetera at Alameda Point does nothing at all for the current residents of Alameda. And, trading more traffic for more of the above is a loser for existing Alamedans.

Try driving through the Webster St. Tube at 8:15 am on a week day and you will be left wondering how anyone can contemplate more of the same.

Submitted by PW (not verified) on Thu, Mar 26, 2015

It took me 45 minutes to get to work in downtown Oakland this morning from Alameda. If more and more housing is built, adding bus lines will just mean there will be buses full of people stuck in the tube together in traffic. If you want to add more people to the Island of Alameda, the City needs to work with other east bay cities to come up with a regional long term plan for transit and traffic. Don't forget that the Oakland Waterfront is also being developed. The Brooklyn Basin development alone will add 3,100 new units. The current transportation infrastructure cannot support all these new people. Ignoring this issue and coming up with many good reasons why to build on the base won't make this problem go away. I am waiting for someone in the City leadership to proactively work on ways to address this issue and so far no one has. Talking is one thing, let's see some action on how to solve it.

Submitted by New to the Island (not verified) on Thu, Mar 26, 2015

Really MJ and marilyn? You don't see how development of Alameda Point benefits those people who live on the island? Basic infrastructure isn't needed at Alameda Point? Do you honestly think that 1/3 of the island should be without basic infrastructure. You know, things like decent roads, modern sewers, lights, electricity, etc like you say. How is that not an improvement of what is there now? Recently I went on a work outing where we went to St. George's for a tasting, and my coworkers from off the island commented about how Alameda Point looked like a zombie set from a movie. We need to clean it up. The only way that is economically feasible is through mixed use development, which will pay for the desperately needed infrastructure improvements which will benefit everyone on the island.

Submitted by Anne DeBardeleben on Thu, Mar 26, 2015

One of the benefits people already living in Alameda will gain is elimination of the costs our City is now paying to maintain/repair the crumbling infrastructure effecting businesses already leasing at the Point. Businesses that will leave if they can't depend on working utilities and take the revenues our City receives with them. We will also gain a vibrant area with open spaces we can all enjoy and be proud of. Doing nothing at Alameda Point would be a detriment to our community and a shame not to have a beautiful space to enjoy. As an Alamedian (who already lives here) I can't wait to see this project underway!

Submitted by Vicki S. (not verified) on Thu, Mar 26, 2015

The type of creative and innovative businesses Alameda Point is seeking to attract requires a mixed use development where people can live, work, collaborate and be engaged in their community. The big box monolith office park that people drive to during the work week and then leave desolate in the evenings and weekends is a thing of the past. The Site A plan "homes" are mostly rental and affordable, which is desperately needed if we want the younger generation to be able to call Alameda home. It should be noted that there are currently residents living at Alameda Point who need updated infrastructure, as do the existing businesses that Alamedans from all over the Island enjoy. A new ferry terminal is a growing necessary and a new sports complex is desperately needed.

Submitted by Bill2 (not verified) on Thu, Mar 26, 2015

There are some simple ways of avoiding traffic or dealing with the increased traffic of ay growing town. Leave earlier, or leave later.

Submitted by Michael McDonough (not verified) on Thu, Mar 26, 2015

As President of the Alameda Chamber of Commerce, I applaud the efforts of our City Staff and Alameda Point Partners to develop plans that include badly needed infrastructure improvements that not only pave the way to attract new businesses to Alameda's West Side but also allows the existing business at the Point to remain in Alameda. It is the Housing element of the Site A proposal that pays for the infrastructure required to accomplish the objectives of those who would like to see a larger business footprint at the Point. Previous negotiations have proven that it is not cost effective for commercial developers to provide the infrastructure needed to bring corporate clients to the site. It is also proven that businesses are attracted to areas that provide homes and nearby amenities for their employees to enjoy.

As a resident of Alameda I have very much enjoyed the limited recreational and family establishments available currently, such as Bladium and Rock Wall Wine Company. I look forward to the day when there are more parks and waterfront attractions within reach of one of the most desirable locations around the entire Bay. Additionally, we shouldn't overlook the benefits of having international businesses such as St. George Spirits and local service organizations like Brix Beverage who make their home at the Point. Benefits like tax revenues which help balance the City budget and keep your taxes low, quality of life activites that keep your family happy and healthy, and the overall business vitality on the West End are the tip of the iceberg of reasons all Alameda Residents should support this Site A development. In my opinion, the benefits of Alameda Point Partners development plans far out weigh any of the concerns that have been voiced about this project. I urge you to support the this plan and the bright future it will bring to Alameda.

Submitted by jw (not verified) on Thu, Mar 26, 2015

is it reasonable to expect the addition of 800 housing units to measurably impact the rental situation?

Submitted by MJ (not verified) on Fri, Mar 27, 2015

The reason Alameda point looks so bad is because the city of Alameda runs it like a slum lord. What would you call a property owner who extracts rents and puts little to nothing back into the property?

Yet, the city is even worse than a standard slum lord. A slum lord would have a mortgage or two and pay property taxes to pay. The city has neither of those two major costs to deal with and still it can't figure out how to maintain its property.

In fact, if the city encountered a landlord as bad as itself, it would levy fines, insist on improvements and ultimately red tag the property.

What some of the above comments are really saying is that after the city has run Alameda Point into the ground, we have no choice but to create gridlock on our island through development greater than island transportation can handle. I'll make sure consider this trade off as I sit in traffic.

Submitted by Alan (not verified) on Fri, Mar 27, 2015

It's about basic economics. The rents are not sufficient to rebuild the roads, building and utilities at Alameda Point without drawing from the City funds that are to pay for services and amenities that benefit the existing residents. Without improvements to the site, like consistent electricity, flowing water and transit for workers, the City cannot charge higher rents. It becomes a vicious cycle on who is able to pay.

Submitted by MJ (not verified) on Sat, Mar 28, 2015

Alan, so the city can afford to pave roads on streets where it collects no rents, but can't afford to on streets where it collects rents?

Submitted by Mayda (not verified) on Sat, Mar 28, 2015

We all are going to miss the birds. We don't think we will, but we will. That recent sea-bird die-off cast a pall over this whole area. It's hard to breathe here, even on the beach at dawn. At this point of the drought it makes no sense whatsoever to engage in this big project, with thinking that all our resources are simply never-ending. Endless fresh water, endless buildings materials, endless good air to counteract all those added cars and the machinery to build all these new buildings. "Doing nothing" is better than ripping up the waters edge that is the habitat for the living creatures in our fast-dwindling flora and fauna.

Submitted by David (not verified) on Mon, Mar 30, 2015

It's interesting to me how the construction and real estate industry has become so adept at appropriating causes to further its self-interest.

Worried about climate change? Build more apartments.

Worried about affordable housing? Build more apartments.