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Do city leaders dream of electric cars?

Submitted by on 1, February 20, 2009 – 10:00 am5 Comments

Early this week, the folks at the Vallejo Times-Herald wrote a story about that city’s efforts to bring electric carmakers Tesla Motors to Mare Island, in the wake of the company’s decision to renew its search for a new home.

Apparently, the makers of the suuuupersexy Tesla Roadster are seeking a $250 million federal loan to build their new car, a luxury sedan, and they’ll have a better shot at the money if they build on a brownfield site like an old military base. The story cited a few, including our Alameda Naval Air Station. And I asked myself:

Could it really happen here?

According to Vice Mayor Doug deHaan, the city is pursuing Tesla as a tenant at Alameda Point. “We’re making overtures. We have made overtures,” deHaan said, adding that he sees Tesla as an “ideal” use at the Point.

Just for the record, I also checked in with council members Frank Matarrese and Marie Gilmore.  Matarrese said they’d be a great business to bring to Alameda, adding that for “the ‘green’ implications and the status, drawing them to town in this economy is a huge benefit to the community”; Gilmore said it’s too early to say whether Tesla would be a fit for us but that she’s open to talking with them about it.

The city had pursued Tesla before, but this past fall, the company instead zeroed in on a site in San Jose. Late last month, the San Carlos-based carmaker opted to keep looking, saying it wanted a more cost-effective site for its manufacturing plant. A company spokesperson did not return a call or an e-mail seeking comment.

Apparently, we have done this sort of thing before (though it may not have turned out exactly as planned). Back in 1995, Alameda Point became home to CALSTART, a non-profit consortium that was to bring an electric car manufacturing facility and a small business incubator with 20 to 25 businesses (the project was pushed through by then-Congressman Ron Dellums and announced by President Bill Clinton).

The one carmaker they did bring, the Don Johnson-backed Xebra Motors (he put an electric car on “Nash Bridges” that was painted to match co-star Yasmin Bleeth’s eyes) fizzled, leaving Alameda shy about $12,800 in unpaid rent and utility bills.

DeHaan said there could be a few little hurdles to bringing Tesla here, the biggest being that SunCal’s development plan – should it go through – eliminates the hangar space the carmaker would likely need to produce its vehicles.

I checked in with SunCal spokesman David Soyka, who said it’s too early to make a decision like that and that the developer is always on the lookout for new business opportunities.

“I wouldn’t take anything off the table,” he said.

And here’s a twist: Back in 2007, when the carmaker was planning to build its new assembly plant in New Mexico, SunCal pledged 75 acres to Tesla if it expanded – free of charge.

By the way, local superblogger Lauren Do’s got an open letter to Tesla chair Elon Musk asking him to bring his new facility – and all those jobs – to Alameda. That’s here.


  • Lauren Do says:

    DeHaan said there could be a few little hurdles to bringing Tesla here, the biggest being that SunCal’s development plan – should it go through – eliminates the hangar space the carmaker would likely need to produce its vehicles.

    That's totally not true, the grant that Tesla is going to build its factory/RD facility indicates that the building would need to exist on a brownfield development, not that it specifically needs to redevelop existing buildings. Locate the Tesla plant in the swatch of land that was reserved for the "campus user." San Jose was estimating that Tesla would have brought 1000 jobs to its city, if that is not a FutureGoogle (was that your term…I couldn't remember if it was NextGoogle or FutureGoogle) then I don't know what is.

    The city is going to need to provide SERIOUS incentives to complete with all the other cities that want Tesla. Offering some rundown hangars isn't going to cut it.

  • Mark Irons says:

    Show up at Pete Stark's Alameda town hall meeting at noon Saturday February 28 and agitate for low/no cost transfer of the base as part of federal stimulus.

  • Richard Bangert says:

    I don't see any way that an automobile manufacturer, even if it is a small company like Tesla, is going to find suitable space within the SunCal redevelopment area. Even the "campus" area that Lauren refers to is too small for expansion. I assume she is referring to the area east of the Seaplane Lagoon that SunCal said they were hoping to attract a large campus user to. Beside limiting expansion potential, I think the noise level would be at odds with the proposed uses nearby.

    But there is another suitable swath of land that is waiting for a hot new idea: The Northwest Territories. That area is over 200 acres. There are contamination issues on that land which is why residential use was ruled out and why the golf course that was designed for that area was going to deal with the contamination by capping it with dredge spoils. Pavement and building slabs would serve the same purpose, perhaps even better than the golf course landscaping plan. Under the golf course plan, there was to be no watering of plants so as to minimize leaching into the water table. A paved and built environment might be able to address leaching issues even better with proper drainage.

    Regarding Michele's comment that the feds still own the base, I think they would transfer the Northwest Territories as soon as we had a workable plan. That area is designated for a Public Benefit Conveyance meaning the City of Alameda could never sell the land. The lease revenue could turn out to be a nice stream of revenue.

    Just a thought.

  • Lauren Do says:


    I was thinking about the Seaplane Lagoon area, but now that you mention the Northwest Territory, that would actually be a great location, perhaps even better given the lack of plans for that space and would certainly take care of remediation issues.

    I think the Seaplane Lagoon area, while tight, could still be a possbility. I know there are plans for a southern residential neighborhood, but that could/should be sacrificed to bring a company like Tesla to Alameda. The noise may be an issue and I'm not sure what sort of shifts are run in a production factory like that, but there would also be R&D which should only operate during regular business hours and could buffer the industrial component.

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