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Point development protest at City Hall

Submitted by on 1, March 31, 2009 – 7:00 am18 Comments

142151Waving “Save Measure A” signs and chanting “No More Lies, No More Lies,” about 50 people gathered at City Hall on Monday to protest development plans for Alameda Point and Mayor Beverly Johnson’s support for those plans – a stance they said contradicts her support for the development-limiting Measure A.

A flyer from a group calling itself Coalition for a Better Alameda that was handed out at the protest called on Johnson to withdraw her support for SunCal’s development plan for the former Navy base. And they questioned a marketing brochure the developer mailed out to Alameda residents over the weekend, saying the information in it is incomplete and misleading.

Protesters also questioned whether it is safe or practical to build homes on the former Naval base, which is an active Superfund site that is expected to flood over the next 100 years, and whether the traffic created by the new homes can be managed.

Former council member Lil Arnerich, who opposes the plan, said it will take decades to clean up the toxic contaminants at the base and that the costs – and any lawsuits that follow development if the cleanup isn’t done right – could end up falling on the city.

“It will take not years, but decades to clean up the toxic waste to make it pristine,” Arnerich said. “SunCal will take the project on. In the future, they will find that they can’t sustain it. And then they’ll turn to the city for money.”

David Thompson, who worked on the base from 1968 to 1993, said he thinks it’s too polluted to build housing on and that it already has a history of flooding. He said the land should be used for industrial purposes or left fallow.

“It’s incredibly polluted. It’s not a place to put children to grow up in,” Thompson said.

Johnson, who said she was not aware of the protest until a reporter questioned her about it, said the issues that led to the passage of Measure A – the destruction of single-family homes and construction of apartment buildings in their place – are not issues at Alameda Point.

“This is a very democratic approach to take – putting the plan on the ballot and letting people vote on it,” Johnson said. “It’s my hope that people will look at the plan and decide on that basis.”

SunCal submitted the language for its ballot initiative seeking approval for the non-Measure A compliant plan last Thursday; the brochure making their case to Alameda voters has been hitting mailboxes over the last few days (we got ours on Monday). The company is hoping to collect enough signatures to put the plan on the ballot this November.

Their plan includes up to 4,845 homes, including single family homes, townhouses, apartments and more (that number includes 186 homes for Alameda Point Collaborative residents), plus 350,000 square feet of retail development, 3.2 million square feet of commercial space, a sports complex, parks, and more.

SunCal estimates the plan could add more than 11,000 residents (per the exhibits with the ballot language) and 9,600 jobs (according to the draft master plan), and they are hoping that a quarter of them will take advantage of public transit improvements – including shuttles to BART, faster bus service and relocated ferry service – which could be paid for by the developer and the development’s residents (through an assessment and their property tax dollars).

The developer has also proposed helping to pay for additional cleanup for the site and to take on some of the Navy’s cleanup responsibilities in order to get the work done faster.

Exhibits included with the ballot language say the developer will pay up to $200 million for public amenities for the development, including parks, transit improvements, a fire station upgrade and a new public library. They do not say how much the developer expects to spend for toxic cleanup.

If you’re interested in the ballot initiative and supporting docs, they’re available here.


  • Sharon says:

    Very good article! You are the best news reporter in Alameda!

    One point of clarification is needed. I don't think the sports complex property will be conveyed to SunCal, yet they are touting it as part of their plan. Will SunCal be paying for the development of the sports complex?

    • Hi Sharon – I will check on the property conveyance. As far as how the complex would be paid for, the supporting docs for the plan list three potential revenue sources: The developer, assessments to property owners in the development and tax increment financing, which is bonds taken out by the city to help finance the development (they are paid off by property taxes generated by the development, in this case I think over a 40-year period). The list, for folks who are interested, is on pages 221-222 of the initiative packet (maybe a little earlier if the notice of intent to file isn't included in that big download), which is at http://www.alameda-point.com.

  • Sharon says:

    Put another way … I believe the sports complex is outside the boundaries of the SunCal redevelopment zone and is, therefore, hard to hold SunCal to that commitment.

    • I checked in with the city and they are saying the land the complex is to be built on is part of a separate conveyance (it's called a public benefit conveyance) that will have a different process but the same end result, which is that the city will get the land.

  • Daryll says:

    While SunCal insinuates that their development will lead to the toxic cleanup of the base, it is not true. The clean-up has been and will continue to be handled only by the Navy and has nothing to do with the SunCal plan.

    • Hi Daryll,
      According to the plan documents submitted with the ballot language, the folks at SunCal say they anticipate getting involved in the cleanup, both to expedite what the Navy is required to do and to handle some additional cleanup duties (in the opening chapter they mention lead and asbestos removal, and I have to go back through the documents to see if there's anything additional in there). In what I'm calling the "who pays?" list in the plan, a number of entities are listed as potentially bearing some cleanup costs, including the developer. It does not list dollar amounts.

  • Lauren Do says:

    The Sports Complex is part of the parcel of land that will be transferred to SunCal and includes even the Northwest Territories. As part of the development agreement (probably a portion of the big download) the Sports Complex is listed as one the benefits that SunCal will "…fund, or advance the funding for, in an amount not to exceed $200 million…" Nothing at Alameda Point is outside of the boundaries of the property to be transferred with the exception of the Wildlife Refuge portion and the North Housing parcel.

    The Development Agreement also has a rough map of the property in question as well as a narrative version of where the property lines are.

  • Mark Elliot says:

    I read about The Island on the PBS Mediashift website and had to check it out. As an urban planner I went right for the land use article. Informative and well-written, it communicates the issues and provides clarifying give-and-take in comments. It's hard to believe this is a one-woman band. What an impressive achievement.

  • Silently Screaming says:

    The initiative (Section 2 paragraph (s) CAPS the total commitment (Not just SunCal’s commitment) to $200M for all of the following;
    (”Pursuant to the terms of the Development Agreement, the developer of Alameda Point is required to fund, OR, to cause to fund (From other tax-financed sources), in an amount not to exceed $200 million, the construction of the following:…”
    1) Regional Sports Complex
    2) Parks, publicly-open space, public art within the Point…
    3) Improvements to Seaplane Lagoon Frontage (incl Ferry stop?)
    4) Bay Trail extension within Point
    5) On-site and off-site traffic and transit improvements
    6) A ferry terminal and transit hub
    7) Improvements to existing fire station,
    8 ) A branch library

    And notice the wording (“Pursuant to the terms of the Development Agreement, the developer of Alameda Point is required to fund, OR, to cause to fund …”

    – Sun Cal doesn’t even have to pay for it! – They talk to the city, county, region, friends in the state etc, and surprise! – Somebody decides to include WETA changes, AC expenditures, state-road widening by CalTrans, all as included as $ spent with SunCal’s encouragement, hence a “causal” affect.
    – Hell even the 100’s of thousands of dollars we just spent to ‘think’ about a bike bridge we can’t build could be included under those terms – How much can BART say it spends considering the BART tube to ALAMEDA they say is defiantly not in the cards – at least not as far as their 50 year projections go – can that $ count too? If SunCal get CC to okay bond’s -that would certainly count as money they “caused” to fund projects… You get the drift? Such fund spending can be claimed spent with no services as listed ever provided. The traffic alone- quite simply can not be mediated to anything close to what it is now.

    How many of those “jobs” are construction related – which would go away? How many are retail, how many would support a mortgage at the Point? In fact judging by the millions of available Sf of commercial and office space currently available on Alameda’s west end – how many of those jobs would materialize? What were Marina Village’s expectations as far as # of jobs vs actual # jobs?

    Alameda does not have a comprehensive traffic study to show how bad our traffic would be TODAY if our islands residential and commercial structures were close to full occupancy.

    When will wisdom prevail and State Codes require waterfront or low elevation construction to meet the evidence of real science in relation to the most current knowledge predicting sea level rise?

    And shouldn’t there be a law that the projected demise of a new development do to the rise in sea level either prevent construction or at least prevent the use of taxpayer / public funds?

    There are so many problems with this plan – this initiative is a waste of money. It’s as simple as “Just say no!”

  • You posted the answer to your own concern, the council cannot approve changes that "increase the maximum number of residential units or the maximum amount of non-residential building square footage"

    The language specifically caps the number of housing units and only allows the voters to change that number.

  • dl morrison says:

    Putting the developer’s documents (“the plan” as Mayor Johnson calls it) on the ballot has the effect, in reality, of burying the real intent of the Initiative in so much fine print that few voters, if any, will fully understand what is being approved, or what the real outcome will be. My sense overall is that the Initiative exempts Alameda Point from Measure A without providing any assurances in return within the proposed amendment, not even any limits on the number of units. The proposed charter amendment reads:

    –Sec. 26-4. The provisions of this Article [Measure A] shall not apply to Alameda Point, as described in the Alameda Point Community Plan.–

    The voters are being asked to approve a document via this amendment (the “Alameda Point Community Plan”), plus another Alameda Point Specific Plan and the Development Agreement itself. That’s like signing something with pages and pages of fine print and then finding out the hard way that we’ve signed away our rights, and we all know how that works: “Well, didn’t you read it?”

    What is more, ALL of these documents can be amended by the City Council AFTER the vote, which means that the vote really does nothing but hand over the Measure A exemption to SunCal. After that, the voters are out of the picture.

    This whole initiative process is a sham.

    See Section 14 below, which says in essence that the SunCal development documents to be “approved” with the Initiative can be amended “Upon written application to the City Council by the Developer”, so long as the amendment “A. Does not eliminate or reduce the Developer’s obligation to fund, or cause to be funded, the public benefits” and “B. Does not increase the maximum number of residential units permitted by the Specific Plan”. That’s it, and even that may be open to revision, who knows?

    SECTION 14. Amendment.
    (a) This Initiative may only be amended or repealed in the following circumstances:
    (1) By a majority vote of the voters at a subsequent City election;
    (2) Upon written application to the City Council by the Developer or Significant Landowner, so long as such proposed amendment or other change:
    A. Does not eliminate or reduce the Developer’s obligation to fund, or cause to be funded, the public benefits described in Exhibit 4 of the Development Agreement, pursuant to the terms thereof; and
    B. Does not increase the maximum number of residential units or the maximum amount of non-residential building square footage permitted by the Alameda Point Specific Plan

  • Jayne Smythe says:

    If that were true, than your short little paragraph would be all anyone would need to read, right?

    "…cause to be funded" has given me the willies, along with "upon written application" ever since I started reading this thing.

    The people who want us to vote to approve these changes are trying to get people to think that there is only one side to the coin. But there is another side to every coin. The inititative language cuts two ways, not one.

    That old aphorism (a pretty big word, for someone who doesn't read to use) "know what you are asking for" seems to really apply here.

    Michele, has it come out yet anywhere what the Navy's price tag for the land is? This is a vital part of the picture.

    SunCal is giving $200 million as their drop-dead commitment. With all the traffic stuff and all the "public benefit" carrots they are dangling, I don't see how that $200 million can even scratch the surface.

    These are some of the things that just don't make any sense.

    • The price tag the Navy has asked is $108.5 million, though the city and SunCal are currently in negotiations to change some of the terms of the deal, and price is one of them. At last night's Alameda Reuse and Redevelopment Authority meeting, Base Reuse Manager Debbie Potter offered the board an update on the negotiations, and she said the Navy has said it might consider other options, like taking a percentage of land sales or the sale of properties after they're developed. (These options were in I think a budget bill last year but pretty much got hosed by Congress.) Sounds like we could have an update in a few weeks.

  • dl morrison says:

    Okay, let's take a step back and look at the whole initiative. It states that the voters are approving a whole raft of documents, and my guess is that the voters will be held to ALL the terms of ALL these documents if the initative passes. HOWEVER, in reality, the voters are getting only TWO real assurances in return, re: the money committed to public uses, and re: the total number of units at Alameda Point. So approval of any other terms of these documents is meaningless (since it can easily be amended by Council), and that's a sham.

    If the initiative pertains only to these two assurances, then why not simplify the whole thing and add that language to the proposed charter amendment itself, so the meaning will be unambigous and clear? I think this is meant to be confusing, to be honest. Furthermore, this is a "heads I win, tails you lose", situation, since voters will have difficulty revising any of the terms of these documents after a vote, whereas the Council can revise almost any part of them.

    I don't think the voters have any real assurance of what they're getting, either, unless the basic terms of the agreement (re $$ committed and maximum number of units) are set forth >> in SPECIFIC NUMBERS within the proposed charter amendment itself <<.

    And to be honest with you, JKW, I wish you would stop trying to feign ignorance over what this means. You're bright person, it seems highly unlikely to me that you don't understand what I'm saying.

  • dl morrison says:

    While we're on SunCal: Their plan proposes to charge FIVE DOLLARS for ferry parking, so with the full RT fare of $12.50, that's $17.50 a day. (All of a sudden, driving doesn't sound that bad.) The anti-car ideologues are determined to make everyone take the bus, but given that a RT on a local bus will soon be $4.00, it's not much of an incentive.

    I checked the Fiscal Neutrality clause of the Specific Plan to see if the parking fees violate that clause. It states (in 8.2, pg. 122):

    The >>capital<< funding of the Project does not require taxes, fees or assessment revenue from residents, busineses or property owners from outside the Plan Area.

    So guess what? Since parking fees fund transit programs, not capital improvements, then everyone who uses public facilities at Alameda Point may be hit up for parking fees, in order to fund the supposedly "free" transit improvements that this project is supposed to provide. That's interesting.

  • dl morrison says:

    Hey, I've got it! Let's have a commitment within the text of the charter amendment itself that promises to delay construction of each phase until the existing traffic impacts can be fully mitigated, to be defined in specific, numeric terms. If it's in the charter amendment, then the voters will retain control over the terms.

    And best of all, SunCal will have a chance to demonstrate its integrity and the New Urbanists will have a showpiece for their much-touted research on transit oriented development! Let them put their money where their mouth is.

    Would they do that? Oh, heck no, who would take on a risk like that?

  • I'm not sure what "feigning ignorance" means in this context. I haven't said I don't know what you're talking about.

    You wrote that the initiative hands the measure A issue over to SunCal and that it's then out of the voters hands, and then provide the language in the initiative that the voters would approve that says what you've written is not true. It specifically says that only voters can change the total number of units.

    When the theater project was being developed, everyone hemmed and hawed that they should get to vote on it. Now there's a vote on Alameda Point and voting is now a problem?

    I don't think it's purposefully convoluted, I think that SunCal realized that people were not going to vote for a blanket exemption, or an abstract one, but that if people were given the chance to see what it was they were voting on, they would approve.

  • dl morrison says:

    Okay, I now have a computer and I'm answering John Knox White above.

    First, the attachments to this initiative comprise pages and pages of documents which are not that easy to read, and which may be legally binding. So how in heavens name does anyone who is not a lawyer have any reliable means of interpreting these documents? Certainly, a development agreement is a legal document, without question. I do not know the extent to which the planning documents could be called "legally binding" but as a practical matter, they are documents which would normally be interpreted by professional planners, developers and others, not by ordinary voters.

    There is NO QUESTION that the voters will be held subject to the terms of these documents, even tho most of them will not have the time to read these documents or to fully analyze their meaning. If the initiative passes, you yourself will probably be writing things like, "As the voters resoundingly trumpeted their approval for SunCal's visionary plan for Alameda Point…", I have no doubt.

    What is more, these documents will be subject to amendment, as I've said above, and that in itself should give pause to any honest person, and I say that quite sincerely. This is not only the equivalent of fine print, it's fine print that can be revised long, long after the fact. It's like signing a legal document with no idea what the terms will ultimately be.

    And as for the supposedly wonderful assurances we have above, on the total number of units to be constructed: that assurance is >> MEANINGLESS << because the density bonus GUARANTEES additional units to SunCal if it includes affordable housing in its project, which it will. The state mandated density bonus overrides local laws, including charter amendments. Any developer at Alameda Point (or elsewhere) who builds affordable housing will get a density bonus, and if it's on top of 4300+ new units, then it could mean at least 1100 additional units (as an example) and possibly more.

    This is what I think you understand perfectly well, and this is what I mean by "feigning ignorance".

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