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Submitted by on 1, January 20, 2009 – 9:00 amNo Comment

I have to admit, the idea of turning Alameda Point into a public trust, proposed by opponents of SunCal’s proposal to build a new community out there, sounds enticing. I mean, who wouldn’t want to have open space and parks, museums and schools, green energy produced right here and a light industry cash cow in a city that’s desperately in need of money?

But as always, I have to stop and ask myself: Is this a viable alternative to SunCal’s proposal, which includes 4,500 homes, a campus for a major employer, a grocery store, a sports complex, a school, a library, parks and more? Or is it just a nice idea?
Gretchen Lipow, a co-founder of Save Our City! Alameda and trust proponent, didn’t have any additional details on what a trust at Alameda Point would look like or how it could be created when I contacted her late last week (she said it’s all still in the works). On Sunday, she posted an item on the Alameda Daily News blog that said:
The Point is an important part of the city, and we have an alternative vision: a public land trust. The concept behind this idea is that the land belongs to the people, the Navy represents the US government and that’s all of us. There are many things that can be done on the Point to express that commitment: an ecologically sound development that serves the people of the Point community and the people of Alameda, as well as the entire Bay Area. Of course, this won’t look like the Presidio Trust and it won’t look like the Jenner Trust. It will look like the Alameda Point Trust, with its own special qualities. We need to explore the development of wind and solar power to supplement the sources of energy available to city owned Alameda Power.

We want to maintain and expand light industry, environmental services, craftsmen, boat builders, blacksmiths, the film studio, the wineries and distilleries and the health club, the food kitchen – all productive enterprises that contribute to the economy of the city. We want parks, bay trails, recreational fields, museums, research and educational institutions; things that will enhance the quality of life for the children and adults of this community. We want to see the reuse of existing buildings and preservation of historic structures. We want to support the VA clinic and columbaria (but not on sanctuary land) and to seek a relationship with the Alameda Hospital. We want to support the Alameda collaborative (approximately 500 people) and improve their community, their infrastructure and habitat.

I checked in with the folks over at the Trust for Public Land, who specialize in creating public trusts – preserving land for parks, farms and wildlife habitat. And they said it’s possible – in theory.
TPL specializes in converting formerly private lands into public trusts. I asked Tim Wirth, TPL’s San Francisco Bay Area program director, if he knew of other instances of publicly owned land, and particularly military bases, being converted to a public trust. The only other, similar situation he could point to was … the Presidio, which Wirth called a “singular situation” that was created under extraordinary circumstances.
Those circumstances, by the way, are the Presidio’s inclusion as a potential national park in the 1972 legislation that created the Golden Gate National Recreation Area, the military’s jettisoning the property after more than 200 years as a military outpost and a second act of Congress creating the Presidio Trust, a one-of-a-kind quasi-public management structure for a national park (they get federal money, by the way, through 2013). Even then, Wirth said, the Presidio is developed more than some people had hoped.

And the development battles there continue, with a proposal to build a new modern art museum and a lodge and to expand an existing movie theater.

Wirth said it would take some serious political will to make a public trust happen at the Point, and barring that, some small-d democracy on the part of the citizens of this fair Island. For its part, the city looked into the Presidio model a few years back but said they didn’t think it was doable at Alameda Point.

There’s a second model, of course: The community land trust model, best epitomized by the Burlington Community Land Trust in Vermont. In that instances, the trust was created to build affordable housing.

On this one, I checked in with Lenny Siegel of the Center for Public Environmental Oversight in Mountain View, which works to increase public scrutiny of environmental cleanup efforts. He said you’d need some serious cash and political buy-in to make a new community land trust happen. His ideas on what could be created out at the Point sounded a lot like what SunCal has proposed.

“Unless you have a rich uncle, it’s pie-in-the-sky,” Siegel said.

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