The recent call for comments on the "Town Center" at Alameda Point is the perfect opportunity to look at planning at Alameda Point.
The notion of creating a "Town Center" is not a surprising approach, but considering that it's on the edge of the Island, it gives pause and hopefully a chance to discuss alternative plans that take the entire city into account. While there is the current concept and many possible alternatives, consider the following: First, abandon the notion of any "Town Center" at Alameda Point, recognizing that this destination already exists on Webster Street, and focus on job creation. Jobs have been created over the years at Alameda Point, but many more can be had by building on the maritime, environmental cleanup, specialty beverage maker sectors and the collection of small businesses that are current mainstays at Alameda Point. Assign the city's Economic Development Commission with updating the Economic Development Strategic Plan with how to grow these sectors into a diverse economic zone. Plans to attract new businesses and solidify current businesses could even include options for the city to sell the land for commercial use with the proceeds solely to fund infrastructure. Second, since hundreds of acres of the former Naval Air Station are destined for habitat, the opportunity to restore wetlands and partner with East Bay Regional Park District for shoreline trail and park development is a must. EBRPD has millions earmarked for park development, and federal custodians of the habitat are likely to have some funding, so working with these agencies is another source for much needed infrastructure at Alameda Point. Third, rethink the approach to housing at Alameda Point. Here and at many other former military bases, development has been allowed to be driven by residential construction. The houses and condos go up, profits are made (recall developer's internal rates of return in the 20 percentages) and the cities are left to struggle with traffic, transportation and all the other services needed for often outsized development. An alternate plan could emphasize improvement and preservation of the current historic homes and the needed residential units of Alameda Point Collaborative, connecting them with the rest of Alameda to the east of Main Street and bolstering the exiting bus and Main Street ferry service as part of the connection. If additional units are wanted, the alternate plan could include one exception: reuse of the historic bachelor enlisted and officer quarters. Otherwise, cap the number of units to what exists today.
What has been described here is not an easy or quick approach, nor do these points constitute the only alternatives. As with all the potential choices, it is important to go back to the goals of Alameda Base Reuse and Redevelopment, recognize the strengths that have been built up over the years and work with the constraints of this unique property to shape this part of Alameda.
Frank Matarrese is a former member of the Alameda City Council.