Elated council signs off on Alameda Point handover

Elated council signs off on Alameda Point handover

Michele Ellson

An enthusiastic City Council on Tuesday night gave City Manager John Russo the go-ahead to sign the deeds for 1,379 acres of Alameda Point, paving the way for the city to begin to address what many see as the Island’s biggest issue – reuse of the former Navy base.

“You know what? Congratulations to the City of Alameda,” Mayor Marie Gilmore said to a small crowd gathered in council chambers that clapped as the unanimous roll call vote was taken.

The deal, which has been two decades in the making, is set to close on June 4. A dignitary-saturated ceremony to commemorate the deal will be held on June 24.

“This is a joyful night,” said City Councilman Tony Daysog, who helped craft the Community Reuse Plan for the base in 1996, when he was 30 years old and who seconded the vote to sign the paperwork to receive much of the former Naval Air Station on Tuesday night, at 47.

Alameda will receive 509 acres of land and an 870-acre swath of San Francisco Bay. Additional acreage – including the million-square-foot Building 5 slated for commercial reuse and the northwestern tip of the Point, which is now designated as a future park – is expected to be transferred from the Navy to the city in phases, between 2014 and 2019.

The city could begin soliciting developers in the fall, according to a presentation offered Tuesday by Alameda Point Chief Operating Officer Jennifer Ott, and construction could start in 2015 or 2016.

The deal has been two decades in the making, a period of time that saw community members spending what former City Councilman Doug deHaan estimated was 14,000 hours drafting a reuse plan and city leaders hiring, and then losing and firing, a pair of developers they hoped could revitalize the Point, which encompasses about a third of Alameda.

It also saw the city’s elected leaders and community members charged with overseeing cleanup efforts tangle with the Navy over the amount of toxic cleanup needed at Alameda Point – originally slated to be completed in 2000 – and over the value of the property, which was originally being given to the city at no cost but later earned a price tag of $108.5 million as administrations and development plans changed.

Ott told the council that the return of the no-cost conveyance was prompted by the city’s 2011 request for 50 acres to be used for a second campus for Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory, a request she said led the Navy to offer a return to its original deal with the city – provided city leaders returned to the 1996 reuse plan.

She said most of the acres the city is set to receive are clean enough to develop; 27 acres have specific restrictions limiting the type of development that can take place on them, and another 13 acres have temporary restrictions in place, Ott said. Another 104 acres contain open petroleum sites that she said should be addressed quickly.

The property is broken down into 66 parcels that will be handed over on 44 separate deeds, in order to make it easier for potential purchasers to understand the rules and restrictions they will face as they develop. Those range from lighting plans designed to be friendly to the endangered California least tern colony that occupies about 10 acres of the Point to prohibitions on groundwater use and rules around digging into the marsh crust under the Point, which was contaminated by industry that predated the Navy.

City staffers are seeking to position the Point for redevelopment as quickly as possible. They are undertaking a massive planning process to define what can and can’t be built there that they hope to complete by January 2014 – a process that continues with a special Planning Board meeting on Wednesday where participants can discuss planned Point development zones and concepts for a proposed Town Center and waterfront area.

Gilmore said that’s important because the economy is beginning to bounce back, prompting businesses to mount expansion plans.

“It’s important for us to bring Alameda Point to the market to take advantage of this excellent timing,” she said.

Diane Lichtenstein, a local housing advocate who helped craft the 1996 reuse plan, made note of the bumps in the road the city has suffered as it sought to obtain Alameda Point and the countless heated arguments that have taken place over how it should be redeveloped.

“I know I’m as passionate about my arguments as others who don’t agree with me are about theirs. But the city has control of land after 20 years, and that is exciting,” she said.

Related: Council to consider deeds for Alameda Point