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Alameda City Council Denies Alameda County’s Estuary Drawbridges Request

By Erica Madison

Dear Alameda waterfront homeowners, if you happen to need medical attention between 4:30pm and 9:00am please call 4 hours ahead of your emergency.

This is the kind of problem that will arise from Alameda County’s recently proposed Estuary drawbridge operations change for Park Street, Fruitvale Avenue (Miller/Sweeney), and High Street vehicular drawbridges, as well as the U. S. Army Corps of Engineers railroad.

Alameda County would like to shutdown drawbridge operations 69% of the time, which in turn would isolate residents from fire and police services as well as access to the Bay Area.

The drawbridges currently run 24/7. Under Alameda County’s recently published proposal the Estuary bridges will operate for 7½ hours, seven days a week from 9:00am to 4:30pm. After this anyone needing to use the drawbridges will have to call four hours in advance. Making these changes will save the county $500,000 a year.

Public Works Director Matthew Naclerio told City Council on July 27 that this proposed change “violated Coast Guard policies”. According to the Coast Guard, cutting costs can not be used as justification for changing Estuary drawbridges operations.

Despite this policy there are also major economic impacts to Alameda city as well.

For instance property values will go down because no one will want to live in an area where they are isolated from access to the Bay Area. Waterfront businesses will also face a loss in profit.

Mayor Johnson expressed her outrage at the proposal stating that she was disappointed with Alice Lai-Bitker the Alameda county supervisor.

“I am very disappointed, because the County had no meaningful public process,” said Mayor Johnson.

The Mayor is not only one disappointed with Lai-Bitker’s conduct. Representatives from Waterfront Real Estate and the Alameda Yacht club said that several times they tried to get in touch with Lai-Bitker, but were ignored each and every time.

The Mayor directed the City Manager to write a letter to the county stating: “We do not support any changes to the bridge.” She also encouraged enraged residents to express their frustration with the County and Coast Guard.

10 comments to Alameda City Council Denies Alameda County’s Estuary Drawbridges Request

  • Shawn Wilson

    My name is Shawn Wilson and I work as Chief of Staff to Supervisor Alice Lai-Bitker. Would you have some time to talk to the Supervisor in regards to this posting you placed. She is requesting your phone number. In addition we are responding to the Mayor’s comments and will be sending a letter today to set the record straight, when we have completed the letter we can certainly make it available to you.
    My email is

  • Chris C.

    This is hilarious. I DARE Alameda County to try and limit the bridge operation time to 9am-4:30pm and see the backlash from the local residents and businesses. You won’t have to answer your phone Supervisor Lai-Bitker; the residents, business owners, and their lawyers will be standing on the county steps knocking on the door. Good luck with that….

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  • Shawn Wilson

    August 4, 2010

    There is misinformation about the proposal to maintain accessibility to the Estuary bridges by boaters. Let me be very clear. The proposal under consideration by the US Coast Guard will NOT impact the public safety or emergency response for Alameda residents. I am disturbed to know some residents are worried that homeowners along the estuary will not get emergency services. This is a ridiculous speculation.

    In early 2009, this issue surfaced when, in order to balance its budget, the State threatened to the take $2.5 Million used to operate the Estuary bridges from the county. This action would have crippled the county’s ability to operate the bridges on a 24/7 basis as federal regulations currently require.

    I initiated an open process to find a solution which included public forums; working with elected officials and City staff; and meeting with the Bay Planning Coalition, business owners along the Estuary, boat owners, and Yacht Clubs.

    With the county and city under budgetary stress—all solutions had to be seriously considered. One option was to modify bridge operations. Utilization data show a 69% decrease in vessel traffic from 1982 to bridge openings in 2009. The bridges never opened on 75 days in 2009. These trends support modifying the current hours of operation.

    A proposal was submitted to the Coast Guard to permit the bridges to be closed in the DOWN position during the hours of 4:30 PM to 9 AM. The bridges will continue to be accessible to boaters with a four hour notice to the Coast Guard. The general public will continue to use all estuary bridges with no impact to emergency services.

    Operating the bridges is an unfunded mandate the Federal government handed to the county. Boating is part of Alameda’s cultural identity—I understand the concern about modifications to bridge operations. However, it is incumbent upon me to make sure our tax dollars are spent wisely and our local government seeks cost-effective ways to maintain public services in these challenging economic times. I believe we have done that with the proposal under review by the federal regulators.

    Alice Lai-Bitker, President
    Alameda County Board of Supervisors, Third District

  • Shawn – both the reporter Erica and myself have contacted you to get your input for a follow-up story, and so far as I know, neither of us has received a response.

    Does your posted comment reflect the letter that you said Lai-Bitker was writing?

    And can you give us more details about the “public forums” Alice’s letter refers to? We know about and reported on the forum at the Aeolian yacht club a few months back. What other forums where there? When and where?

  • tom charron

    In response to Alice Lai-Bitker I have some comments.

    The matter is not a simple issue of economics. Many emergency, safety and access issues play a part in any reasonable person’s discussion and plan for reducing bridge tender staffing to water access for the maritime users of Oakland and Alameda.     

    It is important to understand that the County of Alameda held no public meetings with recreational mariners, owners of waterfront properties on the estuary, nor the general public prior to official submission of this request to the USCG in July of 2009!

    Alice Lai-Bitker did hold a meeting with the maritime community at the Aeolian Yacht Club in April 2010.  (9 months after the final was submitted to the USCG!)  At that meeting mariners were told that the issue was in the hands of the USCG and that the County would not alter the proposal pending rejection by the USCG.

    What follows here are some very important mariners reasons for rejection of the proposal which were submitted to the Coast Guard.  The City of Alameda has also submitted a request for denial approved at city council meeting on July 27,2010 (sent to you previously) which well outlines emergency and other reasons for denial.

    Highest regards,
    Tom Charron



    Docket Management Facility (M-30)
    US Department of Transportation
    West Building Ground Floor
    Room W12-140
    1200 New Jersey Avenue, S.E.
    Washington, DC 20590-0001

    Thomas L Charron  
    Alameda, California 94501
    Xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxx Pacific Marina Oakland Estuary

    Subject:  Docket #USCG 2009-0803

    Request for USCG Denial of Proposal  
    Docket Number: USCG 2009-0803

        Alameda County Public Works Agency  submission 07/2009
        To discontinue current 16:00- 08:00 Bridge Tender Staffing
        Park, Fruitvale, High Estuary Bridges
        Require 4 hour Mariner request for openings 16:00 – 08:00

    To whom it may concern:

    Yachtsmen of Pacific Marina, Marina Village and many other maritime (Sail and Power) users of the eastern end of the Oakland Estuary oppose the proposal of the Alameda County Public Works Agency Docket Number USCG -2009-0803 as it does not meet the Navigation Needs of Mariners for the following reasons.

    1.) Navigation Needs of Mariners not met:  Needs of the primary customers, Mariners, are not met by reduction (69% of each day) of bridge tender staffing of these bridges in that it will be regularly impossible for Sailboaters (and many Powerboaters) to meet scheduled openings using a 4 hour window of notification request to open Bridges.  Sailboats on SF Bay cannot time their arrivals from 4 hours out with sufficient accuracy to arrive at requested times. Over 220 Estuary water/dock parcel owners east of the Park Street bridge will have severe four hour notice restrictions on their vessels access to entering and exiting the eastern Oakland Estuary and San Francisco Bay.  Thus the proposal as submitted presents an unreasonable obstruction to navigation needs of the maritime community and marine property owners of this estuary

    2.) Hours of non-staffing  occur during periods of highest weekend demand for opening:  Reduction of hours of staffing have been proposed which occur during weekend times of highest demand openings of recreational sail and power boater.  (52% of all openings occur on the Friday, Saturday, and Sunday).

    2a.) No Maritime procedural Information submitted with application: No Procedural information on Request for Openings has been submitted. Ie. Window of accuracy of times of arrival of vessels for openings etc.

    2b.) Estuary Bridge Openings Data sets submitted to USCG are inadequate for the conclusions drawn by Alameda County Public Works:  Data analysis of past openings submitted by Alameda County Public works does not display past years’ bridge openings data by hour by day of week by vessel type. (However traffic data for bridge auto usage was submitted in hour/day/vehicle format.)   Bridge opening data was submitted displaying data by ‘labor contract 8hr shift’ and is not appropriately demonstrative of our Alameda Maritime Community bridge openings history.

    3.) Maritime Recreational Community not consulted by Alameda County Public Works prior to submission of this proposal:  Alameda County Public Works Agency did not seek nor consider input from the Recreational Maritime Community users of the Oakland Estuary in the preparation of this proposal.

    4.) Security/Antiterrorist Plans for Estuary Bridges not included in Proposal: Provision for 24hour security/protection staffing to these important Maritime Bridges is mentioned or proposed in this document.  Leaving these important arteries of transport un-manned 69% of each day begs vandalism and possible severe destruction possibilities.

    4a.) Fire Boat response access to fires on Vessels east of these bridges or on Fernside Docks/homes of Alameda was not considered:  No provision for Fire Boat Immediate Bridge opening access to structures and vessels to the East of Park Street Bridge in cases of waterfront Estuary fires.

    4b.) No Provision for Emergency Exit Access of WETA ferry vessels dispatched for emergency back up of commuter ferries on SF Bay and emergency use of same at times of  evacuation for earthquake, fire or other natural catastrophy is not considered. ( WETA Vessels dock between the Park Street and Miller-Sweeney Bridges and thus are effective ‘land-locked’ by this proposal).

    5.) Fiscal Savings the driving goal for Alameda County in not to be a consideration in this proposal:  The driving goal of this proposal of Alameda County Public Works is fiscal savings.  According to 33CFR cost savings to the bridge owner is never a valid consideration for non-staffing of bridges. No estimates of on-call/call-back costs are even mentioned in this proposal. (If approved,  these costs would seriously diminish if not negate, any of the proposed $500,000/year savings deemed the reason for this proposal).

    As Maritime Recreational users of  Bridges of the Estuary it is our desire to keep the bridges staffed with bridge tenders at times of highest usage of the waterway.  We desire to work with the County of Alameda to reduce it’s need to staff the bridges during times of minimal to reduced-need of opening of these valuable recreational and commercial community assets. However we also seek to preserve the security/anti-terrorism capacity,  fire response capability, commercial vessel access, recreational vessel access, and  WETA ferry boat emergency access to SF Bay.

    Alameda County Public Works Agency can, at any time, reconsider this proposal and schedule Maritime User/Public Works community strategic planning meetings which solicit proper input from users of the Bridges on this issue.  The County of Alameda Public Works Agency can submit a revised proposal which meets the needs of the Maritime User Community of the Estuary by working with the Maritime Community commercial-recreational users, WETA and the City of Alameda to craft a proposal based on appropriate data and consideration of the needs of all the Estuary users.

    Alternative Proposals are possible:
    A sample proposal which the Alameda County Public Works Agency might consider is the following:
    1.) Estuary Bridges, (Park, Fruitvale, High) be staffed with Bridge Tenders 16 hours/day (0800 – 16:00 – 24:00).
    2.) Requests for Opening Bridges during hours 00:00 – 08:00 be required to provide a ‘reasonable’  advance notice for requested openings which allows emergency access as needed by our First Responders and Ferry vessels.

    Your consideration of this Request for Denial of Docket USCG 2009-0803 for the 220 Estuary Mariners of  the Oakland Yacht Club is respectfully petitioned.


    Thomas L Charron
    Alameda, California 94501
    Representing Pacific Marina Mariners, Marina Village Mariners,
    Xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxx Pacific Marina Oakland Estuary
    Catalina 42 #631

    Eleventh Coast Guard District
    Att: David H Sulouff
    Chief Bridge Section
    Waterways Management Branch
    Bldg 50-2
    Coast Guard Island
    Alameda, California 94501

  • We spoke with Alice Lai-Bitker last week, and received a copy of the letter that the City sent to the Coast Guard as well. We hope to do a follow-up this week.

    To be clear, City of Alameda Public Works director, at the City Council meeting, and in the letter, spoke of water-based access to homes and businesses along the shoreline for public safety agencies – police/fire/coast guard – in the event of an emergency, say a fire in a boat house.

  • Guest

    This is what happens when dumb asses like Erica get 2% of the facts before going to publication.