ALAMEDA -- The City Council has signed off on a proposal from the Navy to transfer land at Alameda Point to Veterans Affairs that had been earmarked for the city, despite some saying the public did not receive enough notice about the plan.

The aim of turning over the 74 acres that was expected to become open space is to create a buffer between a colony of endangered California least terns and a health clinic and columbarium that VA plans to build at the former military base.

Along with voting 3-2 on Tuesday to authorize City Manager John Russo to send a letter to the Navy supporting the change, the council approved a nonbinding agreement with VA that will help clear the way for the construction of utilities and a new roadway for the project.

City officials expect to save up to $12.5 million in infrastructure costs as a result of the agreement -- money they say will go toward the redevelopment of other portions of Alameda Point. Among the projects is about 250 acres of city parks and open space, including a proposed 40-acre sports complex, said Jennifer Ott, chief executive officer for Alameda Point.

"We need funds to build it," Ott said.

The outpatient clinic will provide health care for at least 7,000 local veterans, and the columbarium could house the remains of up to 310,000 former service members. It would be a national cemetery. No date has been set for a groundbreaking. Community activist Jon Spangler said giving up 74 acres was a "de-facto rezoning of Alameda Point that's going on without any public knowledge."

Federal officials also need to carry out more public outreach about the project, Spangler said.

"Let's not endorse the VA's plan with a letter of support for something that we don't really understand," former City Council candidate Jane Sullwold said. "Let's wait for the whole thing to be aired out in public."

But Councilwoman Marilyn Ezzy Ashcraft said the public has a duty to support veterans, including those injured in Iraq and Afghanistan, while Councilman Tony Daysog noted Alameda's long history with the Navy.

Along with Mayor Marie Gilmore, both supported sending the letter to the Navy backing the land change and the nonbinding term sheet that city officials called a "road map" for cooperation with VA. Council members Lena Tam and Stewart Chen voted "no," saying it was too early and that people needed more time to weigh in on the project.

After the base closed in 1997, the federal government proposed transferring 550 acres -- mostly former aircraft runways -- to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service for a wildlife refuge. But that deal fell through, which led the Navy to begin talks with VA.

Some 115 acres are set aside for the clinic and columbarium under the current proposal, while 512 acres of the land that the Navy will transfer will remain undeveloped and be reserved for the long-term preservation of the least terns, which nest at Alameda Point about four months each year as they migrate along the West Coast.

The Navy will host hearings on a draft environmental assessment for the project from 1 to 3 p.m. and 6 to 8 p.m. Thursday aboard the USS Hornet museum at 707 West Hornet Ave. in Alameda.

Reach Peter Hegarty at 510-748-1654 or follow him on Twitter.com/Peter_Hegarty.

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