You said it: Moving backward on Alameda Point
It seems as though the city will be taking a step backward if the City Council decides at its June 6 meeting to stop full city-led land entitlement activities and goes with one of the open ended alternatives or, even worse, effectively give up and wait for the economy to improve. Shelving the current planning efforts indefinitely for Alameda Point delays any significant real property tax coming from that city owned land.
Leaving the entitlement process to a future developer and depending on developer funding opens the door to a scenario where big returns of 25 percent in exchange for the perceived risks are the rule. We learned from bitter experience how this approach plays out. We should not allow public land to generate that kind of return for a private developer when our city is fighting to make ends meet.
Compared to a developer-led and funded entitlement process, with its closed-session negotiations, a fully city-led effort is a much more transparent and public process. The planning process in city-led entitlement will be presented and debated at public sessions, in easy view of interested Alamedans. This offers a better chance to deliver a plan that reflects Alameda’s needs and desires since developer-led are less likely to produce plans that put Alameda’s interests first.
Finally, a city-led entitlement process has the added effect of reducing risk to future developers because the rules for building will be clear, which could open the competition to a wider field of potential developers.
Pursuing the full city-led entitlement process costs money, approximately $5 million, that could be financed through current lease revenues. While not risk-free, the benefits of taking that risk to ensure responsible development of Alameda Point and building a future tax base are well worth continuing down the path of city-led entitlement.
The city-led process can and should run in parallel with building a solid business base through strategic leasing. A visionary approach clearly shows there is still opportunity to build a diverse business community while the entitlement process progresses. The potential for growth to fund the planning and entitlements stems from the specialty wine and spirits, other specialty foods, maritime-related industries and MARAD support services, and the often ignored environmental technology firms that have called Alameda Point home since the cleanup began. There is also potential for offshore investment because Alameda Point is within the Foreign Trade Zone centered at the Port of Oakland. Cultivating these and other businesses has potential to inform and shape the entitlements, too.
These efforts can and should be made with the city in the lead, and coordinated with other public entities with a stake at Alameda Point, namely the Veteran’s Administration and the East Bay Regional Park District. Instead of retreating into a position that would be a step behind where we were when the base closed, I hope the council moves boldly, working toward entitlement based on full city-led planning.
Frank Matarrese is a former city councilman.
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