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Comment: Developing

Submitted by on 1, May 8, 2008 – 7:30 amNo Comment

It’s easy to get swept up in the promise of Alameda Point, with its acres upon acres of available land and stunning view of downtown San Francisco. But a closer look brings home some troubling realities: the rampant contamination and the young Bay mud and flood plain that cover a goodly portion of the land – and the Navy’s $108.5 million asking price.

People have worked for 15 years to carefully calibrate a development plan that realizes the Point’s promise: some 1,736 homes, a luxury hotel, a golf course, shopping, offices and transit. There’s just one problem: No developer, SunCal included, feels they can afford to build it. So once again, we are back to square one. And once again, we are preparing for war, the stakes of which appear to be the very soul of Alameda.

One side wants more intense housing development at the Point, which would require a vote to alter or abolish Measure A, the ballot initiative that has prohibited the development of anything more multi- than a duplex for almost as long as I have been alive. They say there’s no way a developer can afford to rework the Point if they can’t build more housing on it. They have a vision of a utopian community that includes people of all socioeconomic stripes living, working and shopping in one place, with a bevy of transit options to rescue the whole Island from increasingly painful, car-bound commutes.

The other side fears the loss of Measure A would lead to rampant overdevelopment, not just on the Point but all over the Island. They fear the development and the investment the Island would have to make to help finance and serve it are a road to financial ruin – one that would be clogged with a ton of car traffic. They would prefer to see development that creates jobs and revenue to fill the city’s light coffers, with little or no focus on housing. Like their opponents, they believe that their proposal is more in keeping with the Island’s character.

I walked into this expecting to write you an opinion piece. But the truth is, I can’t. I don’t think anyone wants the Point, which is a third of Alameda, to remain a contaminated, crumbling mess. And I like the idea of a utopia that is green and sustainable and inclusive and has cute shops and awesome transit. But I, too, am wondering how heavily the Point will need to be developed to make this happen. And let’s be honest: How many of us moved to Alameda at least partly because of its backwards ‘50s old-suburb charm?

If anything, the progress at the Point is being hindered at least in part by our high expectations. We want a green development, a sizable stock of affordable housing and the safeguarding of a bevy of historic buildings, for starters. These things, combined with the land’s price tag, costs to replace the Point’s entire infrastructure, some cleanup, and a host of fees – and that’s all before we get into how much it will actually cost to build – will not be supported by the sale of 1,736 homes and some office buildings, especially in the current market. So do we build more, or expect less?

A development that could support quality transit options and all the goodies people want could bring more than 9,000 new residents to Alameda. But nixing housing entirely may make it harder to get the Point developed at all. Without all the transit and other amenities the housing could bring, it may be harder to attract the businesses we want and need. And then there’s the whole matter of Measure A. Should a new generation of residents have the opportunity to voice their opinion on something that was decided while many of us were still enjoying our childhoods? Can we have such a discussion on this without tearing the city apart?

Like I said, I don’t know what should happen out at Alameda Point. What I do know is this: SunCal is planning to solicit public input on a new development concept this summer, which, if they continue with the project, is to be presented to the city in September. They are asking the Navy not to raise the price of the Point if they propose a development with more homes, which the current agreement would do. Supporters of increased development out there hope to begin collecting signatures for a proposal to alter Measure A by next spring. Whatever your opinion, Alameda Point is a real problem, one we all need to work to solve.

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