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Pier Fire Plays to Concerns Over Proposed Estuary Bridge Closures

Last week, County Supervisor Alice Lai-Bitker, and members of her staff, contacted Action Alameda News with concerns that the language in our story on the County’s proposed staffing reductions for the estuary bridges between Alameda and Oakland was too alarmist. But the pier fire this week along Alameda’s north shore brings fresh perspective to the proposals.

Ms. Lai-Bitker was concerned about the language of the opening paragraph in last week’s story:

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.

“It’s confusing,” she said, referring to the potential impact on public safety of reduced staffing between 4:30 p.m. and 9:00 a.m. for Alameda’s bridges, “I don’t want people to be unduly alarmed.” Compounding the confusion, last summer, Alameda County proposed leaving the bridges in the “up” position in the evenings, as a means to reduce staffing and save money. Under that plan, the only way on and off the island of Alameda would be through the Webster and Posey Tubes.

But at the July 27th Alameda City Council meeting, Public Works Director Matt Naclerio was clearly speaking about water-based, not road-based, public safety agency access to the Oakland and Alameda shorelines. At the time, Naclerio was speaking in reference to a letter that was ultimately sent to the U.S. Coast Guard on July 28th, wherein, Interim City Manager Ann Marie Gallant writes, regarding the Country’s proposal to reduce staffing levels on the bridges:

Proposal Will Isolate 140 Residential and Several Commercial Properties

As proposed, limiting the staffing of the drawbridge will result in an isolated stretch of shoreline of approximately 140 residential parcels, many with boat houses and docks, and several commercial properties…these properties will be unreachable for four hours or greater by the Coast Guard or other emergency response agencies in the case of a boating emergency or waterside fire. This will significantly and irreversibly impact these properties, resulting in the real potential for loss of life and extensive property damage.

Almost as if on cue, in the early morning hours of Tuesday, August 10th, the Alameda Fire Department responded to a fire at 1521 Buena Vista Avenue, the former Encinal Terminals. According to a “significant incident report” filed by the Alameda Fire Chief, David Kapler, with the Interim City Manager, “The Alameda Fire Department responded with three engines, two trucks, one ambulance, and the Duty Chief. Upon arrival, crews found heavy fire under the end of a pier at Encinal Terminals. Under the command of Acting Division Chief Mark Sample requested mutual aid for the San Francisco Fire Department fireboat…Agencies assisting included the Alameda Police Department, San Francisco Fire Department, Oakland Fire Department and the U.S. Coast Guard.” As of Tuesday afternoon, the cause of the fire was still under investigation.

Regarding the fire, Domenick Weaver, President of the local firefighters union, told Action Alameda News:

San Francisco Fire Department was requested [sic] for mutual aid with their Fire Boat, and even with a prompt response, it took nearly an hour to get them on scene to put it out. With our Fire Boat decommissioned and in dry dock, we currently have no other way to respond to these types of waterfront emergencies. Oakland’s Fire Boat has been closed for several years as well. A fire in one of the marinas would be devastating especially considering how many live-a-board residents and yachts we have down there.

As far as the proposed bridge closures go, If we have a waterfront fire east of the Park St. Bridge, that is going to present even more problems because even if we can receive mutual aid from SFFD, they would not be able to navigate down the estuary far enough to where we would need them if the bridges were closed. Depending on tides and the status of the Bay Farm Island bridge, that channel may also be impassable to a large vessel like the Phoenix.

The “Phoenix” is a San Francisco Fire Department boat, apparently built in Alameda in 1954. Weaver went on to say that the Alameda fire boat was a “much smaller vessel that could go under bridges without them opening most of the time.”

Thomas Charron, an Alameda resident who has lived on the estuary at Marina Village for the past decade, and keeps a sailboat berthed at Pacific Marina, told Action Alameda News that he himself, the Fernside Homeowners Association, the Oakland Yacht Club, the Aeolian Yacht Club and numerous homeowners along Fernside Drive in Alameda have sent letters to the Coast Guard asking them to deny Alameda County’s request to reduce bridge staffing levels. Asked for comment, Mr. Charron referred Action Alameda News to his comments posted here.

Asked for specifics on the public meetings organized by her office, Alameda County Supervisor Alice Lai-Bitker told Action Alameda News that she would have a staff member contact us with details. By press time on Wednesday, we had not heard from this staffer, who may still be on vacation.

Last month, the Alameda County Tax Assessor reported a 2010-11 local property tax assessment roll of $199.7 billion, reflecting a 1.43% decrease below last year’s assessment roll.

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