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Alameda Point Task Force Reviews SunCal’s Plans

On Wednesday night at Alameda City Hall, the Alameda Point Task force reviewed SunCal and Calthorpe’s latest plans for the redevelopment of Alameda Point. At least, the three task force members that showed up.

Only three task force members were present – Anne Cook, John Knox White and Nancy Gormley of the Planning Board, Transportation Commission and the Housing Commission, respectively. Absent were Michael Schmitz, Randall Miller, Terri Ogden and Stan Schiffman of the Economic Development Commission, Historical Advisory Board, Recreation and Parks Commission, and the Climate Protection Task Force. There were roughly 30 people in the audience in the council chambers, but only about a dozen ‘natural’ citizen audience members – the rest included city staffers, the City Manager, SunCal and Calthorpe employees and contractors, and interestingly, a representative from Veterans Affairs. The V.A. controls the large parcel of land that is the old runways at Alameda Point.

SunCal and Peter Calthorpe gave basically the same presentation as they did on August 7th on the Hornet, with some adjustments for community input from that meeting. The only change is that they have backed away from mid-rise buildings in the highest-density areas of the development. But they are still focused on 6,000 homes – 6,260 units, to be precise – in configurations of 80 dwelling units/acre at some locations in 5 story buildings. Peter Calthorpe referenced the Marina District of San Francisco, and the Santana Row development in San Jose. (Anybody who’s ever been to Santana Row knows how sterile and artificial it feels.)

When initially asked about transit, and parking for the ferry terminal, SunCal demurred, saying that they have nothing concrete on transit plans yet – they are still working on detailed designs. Yet later, Peter Calthorpe confessed that in a “manipulative” move, they are looking to provide parking for the ferry terminal roughly one block away, tucked behind mixed-use buildings, which would force people to stroll past the retail shops on their way to and from the ferry. When asked about open space, Peter Calthorpe claimed that the water of the seaplane lagoon represented open space for the high-density buildings centered around it. How exactly does Calthorpe imagine that residents will use that “open space” to play frisbee, or fly a kite, or play baseball?  A lagoon contaminated from years of military use is not what most people think about when they think “open space.”

In justifying the 6,000+ homes – and 14,000 to 15,000 people – SunCal insisted that the critical mass of people was necessary to support a great deal of retail. As we have noted in the past, SunCal ignores the existing residents just the other side of Main Street and the hundreds of new homes in the Bayport development when considering “critical mass” to support retail. This is classic self-serving developer circular-reasoning – we need lots of people to support lots of retail and retail needs a critical mass of people, so we need lots of people and because we have lots of people, now we have created a transit problem. They didn’t have a good response either to the question of why the existing 30,000 homes in Alameda can’t help fund the solar farm, so we could have a smaller development, i.e. fewer houses, and still build a solar farm.

Speaking of transit, the question of the PRT came up again. Peter Calthorpe asserted that the 6,260 unit plan – now called “Plan A Plus” – would be pursued if and only if a PRT could be delivered. We’ll see about that. It wouldn’t be the first time in Alameda that a developer promised transit solutions for the problems created by their development, and then walked away without providing the solution.

Most frightening was the suggestion by SunCal to start digging up soil in the highly contaminated “NorthWest Territories” area of Alameda Point. SunCal estimates that they need about 2.8 million cubic yards of soil to dump on the project to elevate grade level in anticipation of a future sea level rise. Rather than trucking in all the dirt, SunCal wants to try excavate some of it from the neighborhood of the most highly contaminated and least well-surveyed site on the Point. Then, they would take that soil – and how would they be sure only non-contaminated soil was excavated – and spread it around Alameda Point. There is a significant risk that contaminated soil that is currently contained at one location in Alameda Point could be redistributed across the entire project. Scary.

[Addendum: During the public comment period, as per usual, City of Alameda Planning Director Andrew Thomas was quick to grab the microphone back from any dissenting public speakers and have the final word by rebutting and dismissing concerns that the speaker raised.]

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