Advocates want city to consider more housing on Point

Advocates want city to consider more housing on Point

Michele Ellson

Housing advocates say they’d like the city to consider allowing the construction of more housing than what’s now on tap for Alameda Point, while members of a group that oversees the environmental cleanup there said they want the potential impacts of contaminants there to be explored.

Housing advocates told the Planning Board on Monday that they want the city to study the impacts of 4,500 new homes at the former Navy base, the same number the city’s former master developer for the base, SunCal Companies, had proposed. Their comments were offered at a public hearing to craft the parameters of a state-mandated environmental study of traffic, noise and other impacts of development at the Point – and by extension, the realm of possibility for what can be built there without triggering another costly and time-consuming round of hearings and reports.

“What we do know is if we build housing and people come live in it, they will give life to Alameda Point,” said Laura Thomas of Renewed Hope, which has fought for affordable housing in Alameda. Thomas and others said the environmental study should look at the impacts of 4,500 homes that are a mix of housing types, from apartments to single-family houses.

Housing advocates said the multifamily housing they envision at the Point causes less traffic than the single-family homes originally envisioned there, and that a mix of housing would more closely mirror the rest of Alameda than a single-family home development. And they said the housing will be needed to support the 10,000 jobs city staffers hope Point development can bring, along with the transit they hope will ferry its residents and workers from place to place.

Helen Sause of Housing Opportunities Make Economic Sense, or HOMES, sat on a citizen board that helped shape the 1996 community reuse plan for the base, which the city was required to draft in order to gain control of the land. She said the amount of housing called for by the plan was modified before it went to the Navy.

“We always talked about having much more housing,” she said.

City staffers are basing their study on the development or reworking of 5.5 million square feet of commercial space and 1,425 homes, an amount that includes 200 existing dwellings occupied by residents of the Alameda Point Collaborative and space being leased by dozens of businesses. Their efforts to prepare the Point for development are based around the Navy-approved reuse plan, which was written with a focus on replacing thousands of jobs the city lost when the military base shut down.

Their willingness to back off of a proposal to build more housing than what was laid out in the reuse plan helped city officials earn a promise from the Navy that the land would be transferred to the city free of cost. For the past several years, the Navy had maintained that it would seek a $108.5 million payment before giving up the land.

But some members of the Planning Board questioned whether it made sense to move forward with an environmental study in the absence of an actual development plan, and also whether the development concepts being proffered would pencil out financially. While city staffers working to prepare the Point for development have determined how much development can take place there and what areas of the base different types of development can happen in, there are not specific plans detailing what will be built.

“The Navy does not require us to move forward on a plan that’s not financially viable,” Planning Board member John Knox White said.

City Planner Andrew Thomas said the city needs to complete its environmental study, zoning changes and other planning efforts in order to attract investors to the Point; he said environmental studies for former Navy facilities at Treasure Island and San Francisco’s Hunters Point are already done. And he said the failure of two developers to gain approval of a plan for the Point is what led the city to move forward on its own.

“We realize this is a huge undertaking for the City of Alameda. We are not doing this with a master developer,” Thomas said. “We tried that two times before, and that really wasn’t very successful.”

Alameda Point Chief Operating Officer Jennifer Ott conceded that finances will be a challenge when it comes to developing the Point – and particularly, finding the money to pay for affordable housing that must be built and for hundreds of millions of dollars worth of roads, water pipes and other infrastructure.

“There’s some big questions about how this is all going to be funded. And I’m not going to stand here and say we’ve got it all figured out,” Ott said.

Another issue participants in Monday’s hearing said warrants further study is the impact of toxic chemicals dumped by the Navy on the residents and workers who would live on a revitalized Point. Three members of the Restoration Advisory Board, which oversees cleanup efforts at the Point, questioned whether the Navy is doing a thorough enough cleanup to allow people to live and work there safely.

The Restoration Advisory Board’s Dale Smith accused the city of building housing for low-income residents on the dirtiest portions of land already relinquished by the Navy and said a town center including commercial development and homes that would wrap around Seaplane Lagoon sits atop a toxic plume.

“It’s listed as an employment zone, but based on (Environmental Protection Agency) standards, you can’t build anything on a plume of that sort. And that’s your town center,” Smith said.

One other concern raised by residents who spoke at Monday’s hearing was the apparent loss of a formal wildlife refuge at the Point. Ott confirmed there won’t be a formal refuge for the California least tern there; the Veterans Administration, which is in the process of obtaining hundreds of acres that include the terns’ habitat, will be charged with protecting it.

City staffers have laid out the bones of a plan to engage the community as they prepare the Point for redevelopment, something speakers and board members alike said could be bolstered by better efforts to reach people both on- and offline.

“There’s a lot of work to be done,” Thomas said. “The only way it’s going to be successful is through a wide range of community participation.”

The city is accepting comments on what should be included in its environmental impact report for development at Alameda Point through March 1. Those interested in commenting can contact Andrew Thomas at athomas@ci.alameda.ca.us or 747-6881.

Comments

Submitted by Amanda Soskin on Tue, Jan 29, 2013

Change is afoot, these are exciting times as it relates to the Point. I hope that discussions proove productive and fruitful. There is a considerable dearth of housing in Alameda and Bay Area, and no apparent reason why Alameda can't absorb some of that demand. 4500 homes is likely not the right number, however, mixed use development is clearly a way forward. That said, striking the right balance as it relates to commerical, residential and recreational wants, cannot be a discussion mutually exclusive of infrastructure and transportation needs/constraints. I look forward to lively debate.

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