The SunCal Master Plan: Summary and Commentary
What's proposed in the SunCal Master Plan is essential reading for anyone concerned about the future of Alameda Point. However, as many may find 170 pages of tech-talk a bit overwhelming, the HOMES team has prepared a summary of plan highlights including comments on areas we think need to be addressed in greater detail. We hope this summary and commentary will be helpful.
The full Master Plan may be found here: http://www.alamedapointcommunity.com/process/.
In 1936, the City of Alameda deeded what is now Alameda Point to the U. S. government for use as a Naval Air Station (NAS). By 1945, 29,000 service personnel and civilians were living on the Base.
When the NAS was selected for decommissioning in 1993, the Base Reuse Advisory Group (BRAG) was formed to gather community input about the future of the site. This resulted in a Community Reuse Plan that created a vision to guide future site development. The principles articulated in this vision were incorporated into the City of Alameda’s General Plan in 1993, solidifying community approved aspects of development, such as job creation, transit orientation, mixed-use development and open space. The SunCal plan incorporates these principles and, as a result of recent community input, has added the principles of historical preservation and sustainability.
HOMES applauds the use of these community principles in planning, but wants assurance that these design guidelines will be legally binding on all future participants in the development of Alameda Point.
Land Use, or What is Going to be Built Out There?
The Alameda Point land area is over 1700 acres, of which only 560 acres comprises the development site. The Navy has the right to allocate the remaining acreage to other uses such as a bird habitat, or a site for a Veteran’s Administration complex, which may include a new hospital.
The SunCal plan proposes the following primary land uses for the 560 acre parcel:
SunCal Controlling (Land Use) Plan
The fundamental goal for Alameda Point is the community principle of mixed-use, defined as encouraging development of a variety of uses in Alameda Point that promote transit and a pedestrian-friendly environment. A mixed-use approach will allow for the development of transit friendly neighborhoods with a strong pedestrian character that will foster the development of the desired small town feeling. The idea is not to end up with an enclave of any one use.
In fact, the plan is to mirror the mix of uses we have on the Main Island. The overall density (which is the number of housing units per unit of measurement) proposed for Alameda Point is roughly the same as the central island of Alameda. The developed Island of Alameda has 3,465 households per square mile. SunCal’s proposal is for 3,214 households per square mile.
Parks, Sports and Civic Uses
The SunCal plan sets aside 145 acres for open space and includes:
- A 58-acre sports complex
- Up to 13 soccer fields plus basketball courts, footfall/lacrosse fields,
softball/baseball fields, tennis courts and more
- A new ferry station in a 16 acre Seaplane Lagoon Park along the waterfront
- Widespread waterfront access along the Bay and estuary
- 15 miles of bicycle routes
- 6.5 miles of pedestrian trails
- Picnic areas and children's play areas
- Open meadows and groves of trees
Civic Uses constitute an additional 47 acres and include school sites, a library, a community center, a proposed church site, City Hall West, a fire station and a post office.
HOMES strongly supports the amazing sports and recreational opportunities in the plan, but we believe that to ensure the longevity of such uses, it is essential to provide information in the plan about how upkeep and replacement costs of the open spaces and recreational facilities will be funded.
The Plan calls for two new school sites, but as with the sports and recreational facilities, information needs to be provided on how the school construction will be financed.
The development won’t be built overnight. Construction is scheduled to begin in 2011 and projected to finish in 2025. The development will occur in phases, in which specific areas will be built as intact neighborhoods. Each phase will include such amenities as parks, civic uses, retail, job creation, transportation strategies and a mix of housing types.
The advantage of phasing is that it creates livable neighborhoods even before the build-out is finished, and it helps to ensure that such strategies as transportation and job creation are working satisfactorily before additional building occurs.
The Plan proposes creating 9,500 new jobs. Employment will be in retail and commercial and also will be implemented by phases. One strategy of job creation is to attract a major company or corporation to the site by providing a campus for such a use and by actively recruiting a major employer. The recruitment process for a large company or corporation needs to be an integral part of the plan development and undertaken by both SunCal and the City.
SunCal Phasing Plan
The SunCal Plan includes a mix of housing types from apartments, condos, and townhomes to workforce housing and single-family homes, both large and small.
For example, near the Seaplane Lagoon where the new ferry landing will be, you’ll have ground floor retail with apartments or condos on top (much like we have apartments over retail on Park Street). As neighborhoods fan out from the transit/retail centers, density will decrease and housing types will include more single-family homes.
Homes that can be built more compactly support local retail by providing enough customers near businesses – street traffic - and by supporting walking to shopping and transit use. A mix of housing types also supports business growth by providing a range of housing prices for employees.
Where there is compact development, there is less need for residents to rely solely on their automobiles for getting places. Not only can they walk to local amenities, when there are enough residents to support public transit, service frequency can increase to make transit extremely convenient for residents. People who live within 1/4 mile of transit stops, for example, are more likely to use transit. Being able to walk to transit and other destinations also means more people on the street – in a good way – creating safer, more vibrant neighborhoods.
HOMES encourages SunCal to limit walking distances between homes, retail and transit stops to 1/4 miles throughout as much of the development as possible.
The SunCal plan provides for 4,500 new homes. One thing to note is that because many of these homes will be smaller and, therefore, attractive to singles, couples and retirees, the average number of residents per unit is projected to be 2.3 for a total of 10,350 new residents at the development’s projected completion in 2025. Many of the new residents can be expected to work in the new commercial and light industrial uses at Alameda Point. In comparison, In 1945, there were 29,000 service personnel and civilians living at the Base.
Traffic, or What Will All These New Residents Do To My Commute?
Many Alamedans are concerned about the number of new residents residing in our community, specifically in terms of how that will affect traffic in and out of the Tubes. Many strategies are in the SunCal plan to address this need, but Island-wide traffic strategies must be in place and must be a joint venture of SunCal and the City. In fact, the City must take the lead in working with regional agencies and finding grants and loans to support such a system.
The Bay Area will continue to grow, with or without Alameda Point. Population is expected to increase by 21% over the next 25 years and employment by 33%. Yet, housing shortfalls are expected to reach 540,000 units by 2035. This forces more and more people to travel toward the Valley to find housing, and we already see what this commuting is doing to our freeways as they become more and more congested.
Alameda Point is uniquely positioned to address this burgeoning need. It is at the nexus of the Bay Area’s public transportation systems and, therefore, provides a valuable opportunity to lessen the traffic congestion caused by sprawling development patterns.
The demographic of the future will change, too. Households that choose to be car-less (zero-vehicle households) are projected to increase by 28 – 45%. These residents will rely on public transportation.
Alameda Point is designed with that in mind. It will appeal to the eco-minded resident through a design of a self-sufficient community (jobs and businesses are part of the neighborhood mix) and by providing a high level of transit service. In addition, its compact neighborhoods will encourage more walking and bicycling.
To achieve land use and transportation goals, the SunCal plan includes many strategies, including mixed-use neighborhoods, a jobs/housing linkage, an Ecopass, rideshare programs, shuttle services, queue jumping lanes, a rapid bus service, and improved ferry service. HOMES further recommends that provisions be put in place to ensure adequate funding of the cost of transportation operation, maintenance and equipment replacement.
SunCal Menu of Land Use and Transportation Strategies
The key to how the transportation strategies will work is, again, phasing. Each phase of development will have to be shown to be successful in order to move on to the next phase. Built into the plan and paid for by SunCal is a Traffic Coordinator whose job it is to ensure that traffic strategies are working. For example, Phase I of the development looks to include about 1000 housing units (in addition to its associated parks, retail and job creation). At that point, a shuttle service to BART will be utilized. That shuttle service must be shown to be effective, such as by measuring ridership levels, in order to move onto the next phase of development. By Phase 3 the shuttle service will be transitioned to the Bus Rapid Transit service. Phasing serves as a safeguard for Alameda residents that these strategies are not pie-in-the-sky marketing maneuvers, but actually work.
SunCal Transportation Strategies by Phase
The City of Alameda requires that all former Navy base redevelopment be fiscally neutral, which means that there is a legally binding agreement between SunCal and the City that this development will not cost the City any financing from the General Fund.
The Alameda Community Improvement Commission (CIC) could decide to invest tax increment funding by issuing bonds for use in the redevelopment of Alameda Point. The projected maximum amount of bonds that can be issued is $184 million over the life of the project. This funding can provide money for uses such infrastructure and the required affordable housing. Tax increment bonds are repaid only from the increased tax increment from the development. Once buildings are built, they generate taxes for Alameda Point that provides the revenue to repay the bonds. The bonds are paid back only from tax dollars the development generates. The area is currently generating zero taxes.
No money comes from the City’s general fund. Increment financing has no impact on City services.
Benefits to City? With the concern over what the project may cost, what often gets lost is a discussion of the revenues the project will create. Business created by the development will bring valuable sales tax revenue into the city, and there’s also the spending power of additional citizens. With the economy in such dire straits, Alameda is indeed fortunate to have this opportunity to generate jobs and increased revenue for our city.
There is much discussion about “affordable’ housing and what that means. The City of Alameda currently requires that 25% of new housing in redevelopment project areas be “affordable.” The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) and the California Department of Housing and Community Development (HCD) set affordability standards yearly for Alameda County. The standards determine qualifications for very low income, low income and moderate.
The number of persons in a household helps determine the income level that qualifies for the affordable designation. For example, a household of two people making $53,001 to $82,600 is affordable at the moderate level while for a family of four, the income figure is $66,251 to $103,300. A family of four earning $43,050 or less is considered very low income.
Affordable housing units are subsidized by many means including tax increment financing, state and federal funds, and increasing the sales price of market-rate (unsubsidized) homes. It is, obviously, much more efficient to meet this affordability requirement when different types of housing can be built. Having to satisfy it with only single family or duplex homes is economically very difficult.
Having a mix of housing types and uses within a neighborhood also means that, as in central Alameda, Alameda Point won’t have clusters of certain income levels or types of houses together.
Increasing walking, bicycling and transit ridership while decreasing the use of the automobile obviously go a long way towards helping our environment. But as building a sustainable community at Alameda Point is one of the guiding principles, many more strategies are in place as part of the SunCal plan.
The goal of Alameda Point is to become a “carbon neutral” development supplied with renewable energy. “Carbon neutral” means achieving zero net carbon emissions arising from the development on an annual basis. This will be achieved by using solar energy resources at Alameda Point supplemented with renewable energy. The plan also seeks to preserve California water resources, use sustainable materials and minimize waste in building, and enhance biodiversity.
The design of Alameda Point in and of itself helps to achieve these goals. The number one emitter of greenhouse gases in California is the automobile. By reducing the reliance on the automobile, you make a big dent. Alameda Point also plans to surpass existing building codes for energy efficiency. The area is ideally suited for such alternative energy sources as solar and wind energy. Overall, sustainability strategies could result in a 50 – 60% reduction in energy per person and a 35% reduction per commercial square foot over existing energy efficiency standards.
As a point of comparison, consider the Central Valley, where most building has been occurring due to lack of Bay Area infill development. The average household energy use in kilowatts (KWh) in the Central Valley is 8500 units. The projection for Alameda Point is 1700.
Greenhouse gas emissions (CO2 emissions calculated with electricity, natural gas and vehicle miles traveled) in the Valley are 18.6 metric tons (MT) but are projected at 10.0 MT at Alameda Point, with a goal of achieving zero, as explained above. Alameda Point water usage is estimated at 35,000 gallons per household per year compared to 290,000 in the Valley.
History is important to Alamedans. The Alameda Point site includes a series of historic buildings, landscapes and circulation features that are associated with American military history during World War II. Much of the architecture is in the moderne style.
The Plan calls for preserving the historic flavor of the site and as many of the buildings, landscapes and features as possible. Unfortunately, many of the buildings are in such disrepair, that the cost to preserve them many be prohibitive.
Historic Preservation and Adaptive Reuse
HOMES feels strongly about saving at least the Theatre, the Tower, the O’Club and the form of the open spaces such as the large lots in the “Big White” neighborhood and the parade ground. All others identified as contributing uses would be splendid to save but the feasibility will depend on marketability and funding as well as the potential to survive the neglect of the past years and lack of code compliance.
The VA Hospital plans are quite tentative at this point. However, the community needs to know how that use would be woven into the fabric of this new neighborhood should it occur. How would a VA hospital affect infrastructure, transit, and the proposed bird sanctuary, and how would it impact Alameda Hospital?
Support Education and Public Discussion of Alameda Point Development
HOMES is a grassroots citizen’s group dedicated to promoting responsible development at Alameda Point. In this era of global warming, rising fuel prices, growing traffic congestion and ever-increasing housing prices, we are advocating for Alameda’s newest neighborhood to support sustainable growth that provides homes and jobs and addresses traffic issues for all Alamedans.
HOMES’ needs your support for efforts to educate the community about the issues and opportunities surrounding redevelopment at Alameda Point. HOMES is solely funded by community contributions. Please send your donation to:
HOMES, 816 Grand St., Alameda, CA 94501
Donations are tax-deductible.