Once again, plans for Alameda Point are under review as the Environmental Impact Report is being prepared for what still remains one of the most important land decisions in city history.
It is very clear that there are no easy answers and that development is going to be limited and spread over many years. That does not mean, however, that we should throw up our hands and ignore the potential for these 1500-plus acres on the western edge of Alameda.
The recent Alameda Point map showing zones defining Alameda Point development zones raised questions about how and when the changes from previous plans occurred. Questions are good, and more should be asked since they underscore a principle that negotiations between the city and federal agencies should be in full view so the public (which foots the bills for both parties) has input on future use.
When directing that use, I hope that the city considers three avenues of merit that reflect key issues in past debates: locking significant open space into the plan; creating jobs through reuse of the existing structures; and reducing the number of housing units to minimize traffic and congestion. Here's why I think these are important to the future of Alameda Point.
First, in a future with changing weather patterns and sea level rise, protecting the shoreline is critical. Zoning large tracts of Alameda Point land as open space, dedicated to wildlife with restored wetlands, will provide much needed buffer between the rising Bay tides and the developed zones at Alameda Point. These undeveloped tracts will provide superior wildlife habitat and a greener alternative to engineered shorelines. Marin's Hamilton Air Force Base site, where wetlands have been restored in place of old runways, is a great example of what can be done. If anything, open space zones on the map should be expanded.
Second, job creation is critical not only to Alameda Point's success, but a vital part of the Bay Area's economic stability. These "employment" zones should be defined by ordinances that expand existing marine related commercial activities such as those supporting the U.S. Maritime Administration fleet, commercial vessel repair and pleasure boat services. The ordinances must promote and aid in expanding the mix of light commercial use in current industrial spaces. Growing the specialty beverage industry and sports activities established at Alameda Point is a must. The presence of significant technical support for cleanup efforts, and foreign trade alone status must be explored to contribute new growth in the commercial mix at Alameda Point. Working with the Veterans Affairs Department, our county representative and the Alameda Hospital District Board might bring health care jobs to Alameda Point and beyond by consolidating efforts. In all these efforts, jobs funded from tax dollars must be prioritized for the local workforce.
Third, improving existing housing units, establishing a better bond with neighboring West End communities and creating new housing units strictly based on job creates should be adopted as guidelines for any residential development. To address traffic and to acknowledge the reality of no significant improvement to the sole Estuary crossing, the Webster and Posey tubes, the 1,425-unit cap described on the staff report should be reduced.
Finally, to get something done is going to take working with other agencies, our representatives on the federal, state, regional and county levels and patience for the long haul. Wetland restoration, for example, might be more easily by funded working cooperatively with our congressional and East Bay Regional Park District representatives. Interaction with other communities which have experience base closure needs to be stepped up, looking at everything from contamination cleanup to traffic and to identify what approaches have been successful and to learn from real-life mistakes and miscalculations made in re-use efforts at other closed military installation.
The March 1 deadline for written comments to the draft EIR is coming fast. Alamedans can get actively involved and let their voices be heard in Alameda Point planning by e-mailing Acting City Planner Andrew Thomas at firstname.lastname@example.org. Comments can also be mailed to him at 2263 Santa Clara Ave., Room 190, Alameda, CA 94501.
Frank Matarrese is a former Alameda City Council member.