What Will Alameda Point Look Like in 30 Years?

by Helen Sause
HOMES President

What will Alameda Point look like in 30 years? There are several visions being advanced in the community and stepping back and looking at the build-out of these concepts is a worthwhile exercise before we commit to any of them.

First let's look at the Keep Measure A scheme: a preview of that is shown by Bayport, the drive-in movie site, the Marina Cove and outlying suburbs. That doesn't require a lot of imagination. Bayport, being the largest, is Alameda's most illustrative example. If one multiplied the 500 +/- units there by a factor of four, one would have a good idea of the future of Alameda Point. This scheme complies with the requirement that only single family or duplex homes be built but has the unintended consequence of driving up the market price of single family homes to subsidize the lower income duplexes. A school was included, though I don't recall that it was in the original plans, and there certainly are no retail, churches, libraries, large parks, play spaces or similar amenities that make a neighborhood. This is an example of planning for maximum economic return to cover the costs of development under local restraints rather than designing a healthy, vibrant community. One imagines that in 30 years the City will attempt to gain support to demolish some of the more run-down homes to provide for these desirable amenities and uses.

Action Alameda's Proposal: this also has the apparent attraction of keeping the 1973 measure A restrictions in place for another 30 years. The advocacy of this group has the appeal of seeming to have cake and eat it too. Simply put, this proposal of adhering to the California state density bonus law (Government Code section 65915) allows City Charter amendments (e.g., Measure A) to be overridden by existing State Law, permitting densities to be increased up to 35%. This means that the State, rather than the Alameda Community, would control the ultimate outcome of Alameda Point. It also means that the density bonus could be applied throughout Alameda (again, it overrides city charter amendments), meaning that Measure A could be out the window for ALL of Alameda.

One can imagine the unfettered use of the State's density bonus. The draft PDC for Alameda Point covers about every square inch of the land with single family and duplex units and still doesn't work economically even based on what was known of mitigations to develop the land at that time. To achieve the necessary development requirements such as soil stability, clean up, appropriate open space, transit solutions, and the required 25% low and moderate income housing, the development will need to be wall-to-wall housing. Action Alameda's proposal to apply the density bonus while keeping Measure A, is ironically named "Greening Alameda Point" and would, in fact, cover just about every inch of green with asphalt and buildings. This could explain why the State's provisions have been on the books for 25+ years and, according to Action Alameda, HOMES and the City's "planning and transportation boards seem to ignore or be unaware of the benefits of the density bonus law." Not unaware, but certainly unconvinced!

HOMES's position: Fulfill the Community's vision. We advocate for achieving the goals stated in the Community Reuse and General Plans. Among other things, these include fostering a vibrant new neighborhood, ensuring economic development, creating a mixed-use environment, establishing neighborhood centers and deemphasizing the use of the automobile. We also want the area to be a financial success - not for the sake of the developers, but for the sake of Alameda. Economic success provides sustainability and security of the Point's parks, open spaces, densities (enough to make a transit system feasible and not just a developer or property owner funded short term fix), while simultaneously providing the amenities that make a good neighborhood, such as a post office, school, churches, libraries, neighborhood retail, a grocery store, meaningful (or contiguous) historic preservation, and "walk to work" job opportunities. These are, as the song says, "Some of Our Favorite Things" and are simply are not achievable with the density limits under Measure A, even with the density bonus. HOMES does not, nor does anyone at this point, know exactly the number of homes/amount of retail that is needed to make this community financially successful. Issues related to soil clean up, soil stability, flood plains, sea rise, etc. have to be thoroughly evaluated first. But we do know that the density needs to be increased to support these amenities and that it needs to be configured to include apartments, condominiums and town homes in order to achieve necessary density while at the same time preserving historic structures and creating more usable open space. And providing homes that fit all income ranges (not just the 25% affordable housing required by the City) makes communities vibrant and vital.

And speaking of green: higher density not only enables the above mentioned amenities, but these amenities in turn mean less trips out of Alameda Point for shopping/transit/work needs thereby mitigating the traffic impact on the rest of the Island. HOMES is developing a more definitive list of guiding and restricting principles that we believe are essential to the development. These principles will require inclusion of neighborhood amenities, height limits, and sufficient densities within one-quarter mile of transit stops to make transportation work, inclusion of neighborhood retail and similar goals.

The challenge for all of us is not to be too dogmatic now. We all want what is "best for Alameda," but that assessment requires us to know what is possible. Sun Cal is being rushed through a process of doing the thorough analysis of Alameda Point's development capability, which is an activity we should have been doing these last 14 years. We need to know the results of those tests and what can be achieved. With all relevant information in hand, we can examine the possibilities for the particulars of achieving the community vision for the Point. We certainly don't want to be re-evaluating the decisions of 2008 and wondering what we were thinking 30 years ago.

(NOTE: City policies require provision of 25% of affordable housing in any of the Alameda Point developments under any scheme. So this discussion is NOT about "affordable" housing or homes for the low and moderate income. The goal is to provide homes that fit all income ranges. This is what makes communities vibrant and vital).

Meeting Updates:

Alameda Point
Summary of SunCal Community Workshop

December 13th

Approximately 200 Alamedans attended this second community meeting. SunCal's Pat Keliher began the meeting by sharing results of a recent poll. Sixty-four percent of Alamedans desire a mixed-use type of development. The biggest concern is clean-up. Full results of the poll will be posted on SunCal's Alameda Point web site:

Peter Calthorpe, the designer selected by SunCal for this project, then presented two different development scenarios. He began by explaining the four factors that are involved in a development such as this: environmental concerns, market forces, what does the surrounding community desire, and economic feasibility. He also explained that both scenarios have the same amount of job creation - 9,000.

The first alternative was a Measure A compliant scenario based on the PDC. There were significant changes from the PDC, however. SunCal does not believe single family or duplex housing can be built in the flood plain areas (near the current Big Whites). Without higher density here, either in the form of multiple unit dwellings or housing over retail, it is not financially possible to undertake the sort of building that would be required to make housing feasible.

The result could be less overall housing than in the original draft PDC. This lower density would not support the building of a major grocery store, a school or as much retail, with the results that new residents from Alameda Point would be forced to travel to other parts of Alameda for school and many shopping needs.

Alternative B included multi-unit housing, making it non-Measure A compliant. While there were no exact figures on the difference in the number of total units, this plan would likely double the number of units. Calthorpe explained, however, that those who live in multi-family housing make about half the number of trips per day by car as those who live in single-family housing. This higher density would also support more public transit and more retail, including an anchor grocery store. The alternative B population would also support the building of a new school. Therefore, even though there would be more units, traffic impacts on the rest of Alameda would be the same or less.

In terms of open space, both plans allow for good amounts, but alternative B provides more: about 127 acres of open space in alternative A and 200 acres in alternative B. Both plans also seek to preserve historic structures, however alternative B provides a more contiguous preservation scenario and more actual preservation areas.

In both plans, height would not exceed the existing skyline already there.

Both alternatives will also employ green building techniques, but alternative B can possibly result in almost zero negative environmental impact. Not only will it generate less automobile trips (due to having more amenities on site, more walkability and better transit options), but the higher density can support larger environmental projects such as water and sewage recycling and the inclusion of 20 acres of solar power. The alternative plan also included a restored wetlands project and some sort of major transportation solution serving Fruitvale BART and possibly downtown Oakland.

After the presentation of these scenarios, people were asked to work with people from their table. look at the alternatives and develop pros and cons of each. These are to be used by SunCal to further refine their plans.

A spokesperson from each table made a brief summary after this exercise. Overwhelmingly, alternative B was favored, although most people did not feel they had enough information to make a definitive choice.

It seemed that most tables hosted a mix of viewpoints, yet people were able to have reasonable discussions and come up with many shared opinions. It is truly wonderful that Alameda is reaching this point of working together to come up with what is best for our community, now and in the future.

The next planned SunCal community meetings are:

  • Wednesday, January 30th: Development Alternatives
  • Wednesday, February 13th: Parking and Public Improvement Standards
  • Wednesday, March 12th: Development Concept and Infrastructure Plan
  • Wednesday, April 2nd: ARRA Public Hearing
  • Wednesday, May 14th: Draft Master Plan

Save the dates! It is essential to inform ourselves and share the community's vision with SunCal.

City Council Meeting on Tuesday, December 17th

On the Consent Calendar, the Council adopted staff's recommendation for a consultant to run the Planning Board's housing element/Measure A workshop. Because this is such an unusual task for any firm, it is very important for the community to be engaged in the process.

ARRA Meeting, December 5th

The main agenda item at this meeting concerned the Veteran's Administration which is negotiating for transfer of the west end 597 acres of Alameda Point that was originally requested by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service for a wildlife preserve. This does not cover the land underwater that is now part of the property. They propose to develop 113 acres as a multiple purpose facility including: 50 acres for cemetery/columbarium; 25 acres for "enhanced use" (a civilian hospital to be constructed and run by others, but will accommodate veterans); and the rest as health and benefit administration with outpatient clinic

U.S. Fish and Wildlife will have some sort of nature building on that land devoted to the Least Terns, the remainder 484 acres will be left undeveloped.

The VA expects the Navy to clean up the land.

The VA has been in consultation with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. It was unclear what arrangements the two have made. Fish and Wildlife has said they want the perimeter trail to extend only along the western edge to protect the Least Terns.

Results from the first Envisioning Alameda Point Survey are in!

Nearly 250 people participated in this first survey from the Alameda Point Vision group, which is a collaboration of Alamedans working to provide input into the planning process for Alameda Point.

Topping the list of priorities for participants was open space/ recreational opportunities and new transportation options followed closely by housing options.

Participants also consider it very important that Alameda have as neutral an impact as possible on the environment and that it be a model for other Bay Area communities in terms of sustainable development.

While participation in this survey was very high, there is concern that voices from some segments of our community - namely the business, school, and religious communities - were not so well represented. HOMES urges that ALL voices participate and if you have the ability, to please urge your respective constituents to participate.

There is now a second part to the survey underway, a Visual Preference Survey, which is based on the results from this first survey.

To take the second survey and see the complete results from the first survey, visit

Make the Point!Help Us Make the Point!

HOMES has developed a 6 - 8 minute Power Point that illustrates the Seven Principles of the Community Vision for Alameda Point, all with photos from today's Alameda. This presentation also illustrates the opportunities available at Alameda Point to replicate the charm and tradition of Alameda and how many of those opportunities are no longer allowed. Many people have only a vague understanding of what Measure A prohibits and this presentation uses photos to aptly illustrate its limitations.

Are you part of a group that would like to learn more about this vital issue? Then please contact us and we'll be happy to make a presentation to your group or organization.

HOMES is a grassroots citizenís 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 Alamedaís newest neighborhood to support sustainable growth that provides homes and jobs and addresses traffic issues for all Alamedans.

Support Education and Public Discussion of Alameda Point Development

HOMESí 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:

Rose Foundation/ HOMES, 816 Grand St., Alameda, CA 94501

Donations are tax-deductible. (Rose is our fiscal partner)

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