Council approves stripped-down Point development strategy
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.