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Wedge issues

Submitted by on 1, March 19, 2009 – 7:30 am8 Comments

10When Erik Miller moved to Alameda’s Wedge neighborhood from San Francisco a decade ago, it was largely populated by “blue collarish” renters who had little interest in local politics. But over the years, things have changed.

Now, Miller says, the Wedge – which is bordered by Park Street, Tilden Way and Clement Street – is being settled by young hipsters from the big cities who have had kids and are buying their first homes here. And they are becoming increasingly politically active on the Island.

Miller, an inventor who builds guitar effects pedals and repairs musical equipment, has established a track record of involvement in local political issues, getting involved in an early effort to revitalize the city’s economy and speaking to the city council about development plans for Bridgeside Center.

Dozens of his neighbors joined him this past summer, when Grand Marina builder Warmington Homes notified them of a plan to build nearly three-dozen homes for very-low income residents on the old Island High site.

“When people saw that project, there was this huge sense of shock and outrage,” said Melanie Wartenberg, who has become a visible presence on local issues. Wartenberg and her family moved here from Oakland in September 2006, drawn in part by the neighborhood’s proximity to Alameda’s downtown. (It’s also one of the Island’s oldest neighborhoods.)

She said neighbors got a flyer advertising a presentation on the proposal and were stunned by what they heard, which sounded to them like a fait accompli. So Wartenberg and her neighbors, with the aid of a local activist, got organized, turning out in droves to speak out against the proposed project.

The project – which was discussed with neighbors – died before being formally proposed to the city. The block party the neighborhood threw to celebrate drew Vice Mayor Doug deHaan, Councilmember Frank Matarrese and Robb Ratto, executive director of the Park Street Business Association.

With revitalization plans afoot for the northern part of Park Street (the Island’s now-defunct auto row), Wartenberg said she expects her neighbors to have a lot more to talk about over the next 10 years. Ratto said he expects to be hearing more from Wedge neighbors.

“I think that we can work together on future projects, and I hope that we do,” Ratto said.

Wedge residents came out to speak to the city council on March 3 for the preservation of a home on Buena Vista Avenue that was to be torn down for parking for a proposed retail project on Park Street. The council voted against them on that one, but they say they’ve learned valuable lessons for moving forward. (Wartenberg said she’s sorry the house is set to be demolished, but that she’s looking forward to seeing what the retail project will entail; Ratto said efforts are still being made to get the house moved intact.)

“As things develop, you’ll probably be hearing more from us,” Miller said.

8 Comments »

  • David Howard says:

    It should be made clear (and I am the ‘local activist’ who helped organize them) – Warmington Homes was trying to skirt the City’s inclusionary housing laws, and sweep the low-income homes OUT of their Grand Marina Village project at the foot of Grand St. Wedgewood residents were accused of being NIMBYS and not wanting low-income housing in their neighborhood, but it was actually Warmington Homes trying to distance the low-income housing from their market rate homes. And simple mathematics proved false Warmington’s claims that their scheme would produce more low-income homes overall in Alameda – it would have provided less. (Ask me for the details, I’ll send the spreadsheet.)

    On many occasions, publicly, and privately, Wedgewood residents said that they would welcome a development at the Island High site with a lot fewer homes that included low-income housing. More than one resident said “hey! we ARE low income here!” Residents objected to the concentration of the low-income homes in their neighborhood in the format of the low-income housing projects of the ’60s (think urban renewal) that have proved to be failures. Anyone in favor of inclusionary housing should have been against Warmington’s proposal as well.

  • Mark Irons says:

    Sounds like the Wedgewood neighborhood can organize themselves without David Howard’s help. I wonder how they might respond to his claim of having organized them. Even if you did help these folks Mr. Howard, your claim here smacks of grandstanding and the usual opportunism when it comes to exploiting any occasion to hype the evils of development and the skirting of rules by the City, over which you are the self appointed chief watch dog without which paradise would already be paved.

    At the first HAB meeting regarding the Buena Vista home there were many familiar preservationists who spoke in favor of retaining the house. At the last meeting and at Council there were many new faces, neighbors from the Wedge, including Melanie Wartenberg, Erik Miller and Adam Garfinkle who spoke passionately about being invested in the neighborhood economically as property owners and as members of a cohesive neighborhood. They made a very positive impression. I didn’t realize they were graduates of the David Howard school of community organizing.

    I believe it was Melanie who explained the name the Wedge pertaining to vintage Wedgewood stoves which many of them have in their homes. I have a four burner 1950s era O’Keefe Merrit stove I would give to any Wedge denizen who wants it. 521-8903

    • Hey guys, a few quick responses:

      Both of the Wedge residents I spoke with did indeed credit David Howard with helping them to organize regarding the Island High project (he is the local activist I referenced in the piece).

      And to be honest, it never even occurred to me that folks would consider the Wedge residents NIMBYs. This is intended to be a positive piece about people taking an active interest in their community.

  • David Howard says:

    It was not my intent to “grandstand” by identifying myself as the local activist. I understood full and well that the name and identity of the “local activist” was incidental to Michele’s story – the story was about Wedgewood, not me. There was no reason for her to name me in the story.

    However, I wanted to fill out the story re: Warmington Homes’ transfer of the low-income units out of Marina Grand – it wasn’t just that Wedgewood residents objected to the 36-unit complex, but there was another side to it, about Warmington pushing the low-income units out of their project.

    There’s so much B.S. circulating around about who has the credentials or authority to speak on any given topic, I felt it necessary to identify myself as the “local activist” to demonstrate that I do indeed have the knowledge and authority to speak on the matter, lest I be accused of being some kind of “armchair expert” and vilified for that.

  • Mark Irons says:

    Michele,

    This was a great piece and it didn't deserve to be sullied with personal attacks in comments. Your reporting on this news site deserves the recognition it has received as a news site, not a blog.

    I credit David Howard for a measured response to my remarks which are out of place in this venue, to some out of place anywhere.

    Sorry, I know this isn't the classifieds either but I really have a great vintage stove I need to give away.

  • Erik Miller says:

    Michele, thanks for the nice article about our neighborhood.

    One correction: we consider the Northern boundary to be the canal rather than Clement Street. With Blanding, we get to claim Rhythmix Cultural Works, Bridgeside Center, Water’s Edge, Pineapple Sails, Video Station, Curves, Greer Mortuary and all the other business and residents as our own!

    The Craig’s List “Free” section is a great way to give away perfectly good vintage appliances, despite Phua’s people’s inability to unload an entire house using it.

  • Erik – you definitely get to claim Rhythmix as part of the Wedge! We love The Wedge!

  • Melanie Wartenberg says:

    I'd like to add that our neighborhood is blessed to have mixed income owners and renters alike who care about the future of our area. There are many long-time renters who are an active part of our recent political activities. It will take all of us working together, homeowners and renters, residents and business owners, the neighborhood and the city gov't to make positive changes and mindful development of our neighborhood-everyone has a part to play.

    Thanks for making people aware we're active in the community and plan to continue!

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