Zoning decisions are extremely important in shaping Alameda's future. Take the 2002 vote to mandate open-space zoning for the Alameda Beltline. Without this protection, potential development could have completely gridlocked the West End and the tubes.
The open space zoning now ensures a sizable and unique park for the entire city to enjoy. Now the headlines highlight two critical zoning decisions. The first was the 2012 decision to rezone the federal property adjacent to Crab Cove as residential.
The City Council's public notification and review and decision to zone it as residential, which precipitated legal action against the city by the East Bay Regional Park District, also resulted in the current situation, which seems to say that the city wants houses on this parcel instead of the Measure W-approved expansion of Crab Cove. The many legal problems and the commute traffic generated by those living in houses at this site instead of expanding the park are a clear example of the critical impact of a single zoning decision.
Second is the question of rezoning the Harbor Bay Club property to allow homes to be built in place of the club. It's pretty hard to ignore the fact that current zoning keeps the status quo when it comes to the commute nightmare on Island Drive and that more houses will only make a bad situation worse in the commute hours.
But perhaps the biggest zoning question in Alameda's future is what will be set for Alameda Point. Alameda Point's future, as it should, dominates Planning Board agendas. With the council having closed sessions with developers, zoning is critical, especially with an alternative of high-density development slating up to 4,841 residential units included in the draft Environmental Impact Report! Without zoning protection, the talks with developers could send Alameda back to campaigns trying to convince Alamedans that the impact of thousands of new homes won't be so bad.
It would be well for the city to seriously consider three drivers for zoning to protect Alameda while allowing compatible reuse of Alameda Point: locking significant open space into the plan; creating jobs through reuse of the existing structures; and drastically reducing the number of housing units to minimize commuter traffic and congestion.
Changing weather patterns and sea level rise are facts that make protecting the shoreline critical. Zoning large tracts of Alameda Point land as open space with restored wetlands will provide a much needed buffer between the rising bay tides and the developed portions of Alameda Point. Open space should be the dominant zoning.
Job creation is vital to Alameda's economy and that of the whole Bay Area. Forget the "Town Center" concepts and thousands of new houses. Establish zoning that expands existing commercial activities and includes Foreign Trade Zone status.
The old approach to housing at Alameda Point needs to be abandoned. At former military bases, construction has often been driven by residential development. The houses and condos go up, profits are made and the cities are left to struggle with traffic, transportation and the cost of services needed for what turns out to be outsize development. Zoning could restrict any new units beyond the number of residential units that exist today. Instead of new tracts, improving existing housing with a better bond to other West End neighborhoods and services should be the top housing priority.
The Beltline, Crab Cove, Harbor Bay and Alameda Point zoning issues are compelling reasons for us all to keep informed and pay close attention to critical zoning decisions. Getting actively involved for what's best for Alameda, including Alameda Point, can be done by providing comments to the Planning Board and City Council on zoning decisions and planning efforts at Alameda Point.
Frank Matarrese is a former member of the Alameda City Council.