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City to study impacts of Point plan

Submitted by on 1, September 29, 2009 – 5:50 am19 Comments

After just a few brief moments of discussion that followed a very long night focused on other topics, the Planning Board voted unanimously to immediately move forward with an environmental impact study of SunCal’s proposed development plan at Alameda Point.

The decision was based on an August recommendation from the Oakland Chinatown Advisory Committee that the city move forward immediately on the study, instead of waiting to see if voters approve the development plan and agreement.

SunCal submitted the petition signatures for their ballot initiative last week. The deadline was Monday.

The Oakland-based chair of the committee wrote the city a letter in June saying that it is required under the terms of a 2004 lawsuit settlement agreement to conduct the impact study in advance of an election, and not after. At that time, City Attorney Teresa Highsmith had said that the city would not be required to conduct the study because the initiative was being submitted by SunCal, and not the city.

SunCal will be required to pay for the study, and Planning Services Manager Andrew Thomas said the cost won’t be counted against a $200 million cap the initiative sets for public improvements and other costs.

Thomas also said that the developer will have to outline specific strategies for managing the traffic the development will generate in order for the study to proceed. Strategies that have been mentioned include increased bus, shuttle and ferry service; transit passes for everyone in the development; and a transportation manager who would help residents plan car-free trips.

The environmental study will lay out a variety of potential impacts, including noise and traffic, and will have to offer specific strategies for mitigating them. The cost and timeline of the study were not discussed.

The City Council requested a separate set of studies to address the impacts of the initiative. The first, which addressed a range of issues, was released in May; the second, which focused on the development’s potential traffic impacts, was out two weeks ago.

The Oakland Chinatown committee includes Planning Board president Marilyn Ezzy Ashcraft among its members. Its other Alameda member is former Base Reuse Advisory Committee member Lee Perez.

Separately, the Planning Board opted to hold off on a recommendation on the city’s new, two-volume  master tree plan until its next meeting. Board members wanted more time to consider public comments on the plan and to visit with some of the city’s problem trees.

Oh, and on that note, didja know there’s a new community group out there for the trees? Friends of Alameda’s Forest. From their press release:

Alameda has always been known for the beauty and diversity of its urban forest. Our goal is to continue this tradition through education and advocacy. We are committed to uniting public agencies, businesses, schools and residents in the restoration of a culture that values trees.


  • Jon Spangler says:

    Having at least a preliminary or draft EIR process and draft report in hand will help us all to make more rational decisions about the future of Alameda Point, and that seems like a good thing to me.

    Of course there is a problem with completing a comprehensive EIR before the basic plan has been approved and the details of traffic and other impacts are still unknown….

  • William Smith says:


    I concur that having a final EIR "in hand will help us all to make more rational decisions about the future of Alameda Point." That is a good thing. Whether a draft will suffice, depends on the quality of the draft and whether or not the draft comprehensively addresses citizen concerns. Comments on the draft, and subsequent responses, would be the earliest point at which the community could assess the quality of the draft EIR.

    The EIR process itself provides us with a model for resolving the differences between the proponents of the plan who support, and those who oppose, the Initiative. At the least, the EIR will also provide a basis for a constructive discussion, such as traffic impacts and environmental risks, between those who support the plan and those who oppose both the plan and the Initiative.

    Over the next several months, I look forward to constructive discussions here, and on Blogging Bayport Alameda, as to how such a model will apply to the Alameda Point Initiative.

    Alameda Resident

  • William Smith says:

    I'm hoping that the EIR will build upon the City's excellent, but brief, traffic study to help us understand the impact on not just local vehicle traffic, but also on regional traffic and bus systems of several scenarios for developing Alameda Point. The proposed programmatic EIR is the best vehicle we will have to look at regional impacts of the development, and even more importantly, of no development, on future commutes for Alamedans.

    Let's take a closer look at the City's finding that an additional commute time of 4 minutes each way, or 8 minutes a day will result should the maximum buildout allowed by the Initiative happen. That additional commute time by solo vehicle commuters can be looked upon as an investment required to bring about the community vision for Alameda Point so thoughtfully laid out on Stop Drop and Roll. That investment by solo vehicle commuters can bring better bus, car pooling and ferry service as there will be more riders, more shopping and more recreational opportunities.

    Over the next 25 years as the freeways clog more and local transportation continues to shift away from single occupancy vehicles, even many of today’s solo commuters could be glad they invested up to 8 minutes a day to position Alameda to take better advantage of alternative transportation systems. At the least, even if they continue solo commutes, by giving more people the option to car pool, take buses, and ferries they will be relieving some of the strain on the road system.

    Unfortunately, the current Alameda Point Initiative provides too little assurance that an investment of a few minutes a day extra travel time by solo commuters will generate improved transit. Let’s explore whether or not the EIR process will enable us to fix this and several other critical assurance problems with the Alameda Point Initiative.

  • William Smith says:


    Thank you for clarifying the basis for the 4 minute assumption, which I did borrow from John Knoxwhite's Stop Drop and Roll. The basis is important, because it is the increase over the base trip time, whether today or 25 years from today without any development at Alameda Point, that is easiest to relate to our everyday commutes.

    Actually, the most useful basis for comparison was not included in the City's traffic study. That would be the trip time from Alameda Point in 2035 if nothing was developed there but development elsewhere on the Island and in the Region proceeded as planned. That's the personal time that solo commuters will be investing every day in the development of Alameda Point and the economic and civic benefits it will bring with it. Let's insure that the planned EIR estimates that time.

    Regarding buses, their trip times through the tube aren't necessarily the same as automobiles. Buses could be given preferred access lanes and, after more commuters use buses than single occupancy vehicles, even have a lane through the tubes reserved for the buses.

    Earlier this year, I repeatedly asked SunCal representatives to include estimates of trip times in their analyses of the developments impacts. They responded with an unending stream of excuses as why that wasn't called for or necessary.

    We all owe our City planning and public works staff a big thank you for giving us the information we need to begin an intelligent debate on traffic impacts – rather than every body assuming their own best case or worst case scenario. The upcoming EIR should provide more information on mitigation measures. Let's just hope that the City schedules the Initiative election in November 2010 or later so that there will be enough time to prepare a thorough EIR and to circulate it prior to the election.


  • DLM says:

    Bill: the assumptions you make regarding increased travel time are not correct, because the wording of the traffic report is confusing. The real increase in travel time is more like 30 minutes round trip, not 8 minutes.

    The traffic report compares:
    — travel time under the existing General Plan (the “No Project” option) to
    — travel time with the units added ABOVE the General Plan (the “With Project option).

    The GP already has 2,000 units for Alameda Point plus 1,000(?) or more for other projects under consideration. The SunCal plan ADDS 2,500 units to Alameda Point, above the 2,000 in the GP, for a total of 4,500 at AP.

    See Table 14 on pg. 25 of the report, which looks at travel time from ALAMEDA POINT only to I-880 via the Posey Tube (not for the rest of us).

    I’ll rephrase it this way:

    CONDITION A: PRESENT travel time from AP to I-880, which = 6.5 minutes
    CONDITION B: Projected travel time w/ added housing in the CURRENT GENERAL PLAN (2000 units at AP + 1,000? others) = 16 minutes
    CONDITION C: Projected travel time w/ SunCal’s ADDITIONAL 2,500 units (2000 in GP + SunCal’s 2500 = 4500 total) = 20.5 min w/ transit and 22 min w/out transit.

    So, I think most people (including JKW at SD&R) are comparing CONDITION C to CONDITION B (20.5 – 16 = 4.5) for a best case increase of 4 minutes each way.

    HOWEVER, you need to compare CONDITION C to CONDITION *A* (20.5 – 6.5 = 14) for an increase of approx. 30 minutes total. (Note that this factors in improved transit as well as DIVERSION of traffic to other crossings, per the report.)

    Also note that the MOST OF THE BUS ROUTES go thru the tubes — as everyone knows — so anything which delays automobiles will also delay transit, in fact, it might even discourage some people from using transit.

    In reality, I think there’d be a huge mess, with people driving farther, in “counter-commute” directions, just to get off the island, cars idling in traffic jams, and increased pollution over all. We need a realistic discussion on this issue and I don’t think we’ll ever get it.

  • DLM says:

    I checked the Census Data. Alameda currently has around 37,000 commuters w/ a “mean travel time” of around 30 minutes.

    The real question is, what will happen to these 37,000 existing commuters? The data I’ve tried to explain above doesn’t even address that. Note that an increase in travel time of 30 minutes could easily double the commute time for many people.

    Also, I hope the explanation above makes sense. If anyone else can word this better, that would be helpful.

  • Jayne Smythe says:

    Coming back to the Island Nation on the bus last week, I saw some gentlemen on the Park Street bridge FILMING the traffic, which was WAY backed up, coming into Alameda. This was after 5 p.m. Anyone know anything about the guys with the cams?

    Another piece of the whole traffic puzzle w/re to Alameda Point that no one's talking about is all that high density build-up in the Jack London Square area. Oakland Measure O was supposed to be about saving open space, but what it ended up doing was allowing for high-rise, high-density building. And they are going to TOWN over there with just that (as you all might have noticed).

    That's got to hurt folks who are using the Tube, as the general traffic on the Oakland side will be increased by that, as much as anything we might do on the Island.

  • DLM says:


    "…in the development of Alameda Point and the economic and civic benefits it will bring with it…"

    Actually, we don't know what kind of economic or civic benefits we get from the initiative if any, since the initiative does not guarantee that anything will be built, let alone anything that resembles SunCal's idealized plan. If the promised transit proves to be too expensive then it's quite possible that SunCal just won't fund it. There's nothing in the Initiative that requires them to do so.

    "Buses could be given preferred access lanes and, after more commuters use buses than single occupancy vehicles, even have a lane through the tubes reserved for the buses."

    I've seen quite a few references to this (usually as a "queue jump lane"), but I haven't seen any specifics. All the broad abstract assumptions need to be translated into realistic terms before they can make any sense. If buses are traveling on Webster, for example, how would they reach a "preferred access lane"? Would they travel part-way on Webster, then veer off to a side street? Would they be re-routed to a different street entirely? I've noticed that planning around "preferred access lanes" usually refers to buses travelling from Alameda Point — it's not clear what happens to everyone else. As a transit rider, I have to wonder.

  • DLM,

    The "General Plan" numbers include more than just 2,000 households at Alameda Point, it includes development throughout the island over the next few decades. The comparison between present commute and projected GP numbers include much more than just Alameda Point. Comparing Present and General Plan (or SunCal proposal) and assigning the change directly to Alameda Point development is not a meaningful comparison if one is trying to look at the SunCal proposal and its affects.

  • DLM says:


    Unfortunately, comparing the "No Project" with the "Project w/ TDM" estimates is not meaningful either, given that the "No Project" estimate assumes 2,000 housing units at Alameda Point,and the "Project" estimate assumes 4,500. This is a measure of the supposed *incremental* increase in travel time due to the larger project. I think most members of the public will interpret this instead to mean "0" units at AP vs. "4,500" units at AP.

    Also, the assumptions regarding transit provisions are totally speculative, since the initiative does not guarantee that any transit improvements will be funded or built, let alone provide any firm specifics or certainty.

    In addition, the General Plan estimates are not for "development over the next few decades", but primarily for the period of 1991 to 2010, and much of this projected housing has been built. Further, I contacted the city to ask how much housing was included under the GP, and could not get a ready answer, so I then looked at the housing planned for Alameda Landing and the Northern Waterfront, and estimated that to be 1,000 units, which is not a huge number in proportion to the 4,500 units at Alameda Point.

    Since you are familiar w/ these documents, it would be a help if you would set forth how much projected housing is included in the General Plan and Alameda Point estimates, minus completed, which is 1,300 units per the draft Housing Element. I think we both want a factual analysis.

  • DLM,

    Literally no time to do your analysis for you. I don't really think it matters. Not sure where you're getting "no project" from, it's not a term I've seen. Point is, the General Plan has already approved housing for Alameda Point which could (if financially viable, which it isn't) be built. In fact, many no growthers are touting the PDC plan, which has similar numbers, as a perfectly acceptable plan (of course a complete change of tune from when it was accepted). At the end of the day, no matter what numbers are in the general plan, the difference between the General Plan and The SunCal plan is what the discussion is about no matter what else is in there.

    As to your "guarantee" comment about TDM, there is a guarantee that TDM will be provided, while the exact specifics are not spelled out, the city used very conservative assumptions as to what it would be.

  • David Hart says:

    If Darcy is correct, and she just about always is, her point about the general plan thru '10, and how most of that is already built, is quite valid. As you say, the key difference is the one btw the PDC and the Suncal plan, and that difference is significant. Twenty minutes from the Point to 880 is massive. Either the trafic report is flawed, or your spin on it is flawed, and perhaps both.

    And if financial viability of housing is so important, why do you back the Suncal plan? Those homes don't get built without major subsidy and significant encumbrance. Do you call that financial viability?

  • Dave,

    You are right: "the key difference is the one btw the PDC and the Suncal plan." Since the analysis of each, "general plan" and "suncal," contains the same number of unbuilt homes outside of the Point, and the only difference is the difference between the two plans, then the meaningful comparison is between General Plan and SunCal, not 2009 and SunCal.

    What DLM is suggesting (I'm sure not purposefully, but it is the effect of her analysis), is that you (dis)credit the SunCal proposal as being responsible for the traffic impacts of all proposed projects, whether they are at the Northern Waterfront, or Towne Centre, or Park Street North of Lincoln, or Alameda Landing, or any other conditioned project.

  • DLM says:


    Three things at the outset:

    1) We're talking about the Initiative here, not SunCal's purported plan. The Initiative is what we're voting on and what we'll be stuck with.

    2) The traffic report has a reference to a projection for 2030 in the Transportation Element, which I couldn't find. Could you indicate where that is?

    3) The traffic report (pg. D) also states that: "Overall, the results demonstrate that in all scenarios the traffic flow in 2035 is expected to approach or exceed the capacity of the gateways analyzed based on the [volume to capacity] ratios." So I guess it's 4 minutes vs. 15 minutes vs. not moving at all, I'm not sure.

    Anyway, the traffic report refers to "No Project vs. Project" as follows:

    "The three scenarios analyzed include a “No Project/Existing General Plan” scenario, based on the cumulative 2035 General Plan Buildout; a “Project without TDM” scenario, based on buildout in 2035 of the Project described in the Initiative without any TDM strategies; and a “Project with TDM” scenario, based on buildout in 2035 of the Project with TDM measures." [end quote]

    The "No Project/Existing General Plan" scenario includes 2,000 homes at Alameda Point (the PDC), and the "Project" scenario includes 4,500 homes. Not to belabor but: The average person will understand "No Project" to mean "0" homes at AP vs. "Project" with 4,500 homes.

    Therefore, it's not accurate to tell people that it's only a 4 minute difference, *as if* that referred to the impact of the *entire* SunCal project — because that's how most people will read it.

    I'll continue below.

  • DLM says:

    It’s difficult to discuss this topic in this format, because it tends to be more information than most people want. Anyway:

    The traffic report clearly states that TDM (which I’ll translate as “transit improvements”) are not guaranteed by the Initiative. (See pg. B, in the Executive Summary):

    “However, since the Initiative includes on-site and off-site traffic and transportation improvements in the public benefit cap, the capital improvements associated with the TDM programs appear to be included in the cap and it is unclear whether there will be sufficient monies to fully fund all the identified public benefit projects and necessary TDM capital projects.”


    “Since the Initiative does not commit to a specific TDM program as part of project-related public improvements, it is anticipated that the TDM program will be identified as mitigations through a subsequent EIR process, pursuant to (CEQA). Since CEQA allows for mitigations measures to be waived through Statements of Overriding Consideration based on factors including financially infeasible, portions of the TDM program required to mitigate the project’s impacts may be determined to be infeasible based on the cost to implement the program. Therefore, the Initiative does not guarantee which specific TDM strategies will be included as part of the development.”

    I won’t attempt to paraphrase this text, as this is probably getting too lengthy.

    I will note tho that I attended the Chamber of Commerce presentation tonight, on their stand against the Initiative. They calculated that the $200M committed to “public benefits” (including transit/traffic needs) extended over the 25-year life of the project is equivalent to $96M in inflation adjusted dollars, and if the $84M in fee waivers are deducted, that leaves a total of $12M net for public benefits.

    That’s $200M = $96M – $84M = $12M.

    They also said that the Initiative transfers too much of the financial risk to the city. They’re businesspeople, they should know.

  • Jayne Smythe says:

    I always find these discussions of the traffic problems interesting, if tedious.

    Problem is, with all the numbers bandied about in the report, results look skewed.

    Even a child in preschool could see that if you add 1/5 to 1/4 (or 1/3) more residential/business to the island, that would just generally increase the traffic and parking snarls by about that much! Yeah, some folks might move here without vehicles, but you cannot count on that.

    Even if everyone on the island road a bike instead of driving, you are still going to have traffic! (And there aren't enough bicycle lockups to accommodate that.)

    The local transit options that all the development hawkers keep talking about are in downsize mode.

    So, what we really talking here? The folks with the fancy reports do not understand reality, and their reports don't reflect it.

    And then, what about the added carbon footprint? Particulate matter? POLLUTION? The Island Nation keeps talking about reducing carbon emissions by 20% by 2020. How can you do that and say at the same time, yeah, let's have our population increase by 30%?!

  • DLM,

    The Chambers mathematic assumption is not correct. The fee waivers are not subtracted from the public benefits money. The two are not connected and the diminished valuation of the $200 million (if it is not adjusted for inflation, hardly a foregone conclusion) is totally overstated. The public benefits would not all be instituted at the end of the project, which would be the only way for their calculation to be correct.


    It's an interesting position to take, very george bush: Studies are completely useless, people should only intuit complex issues with their gut. I would assume that you are anti-EIR, given that they use exactly the same data that the traffic study used. Just another pointless study.

    I'm sure that the 6-year-old you mentioned would see that the traffic study shows an impact to traffic caused by increased development. The fact that it's not as catastrophic as you would hope doesn't make it invalid.

  • Jayne Smythe says:

    jkw, you don't address in your retort, and neither does the traffic study, the REALITY of the SHRINKING public transportation options. The very shrinking options you have reported on in your very own blog. Using the names of past presidents as invective shows you to be very small, indeed–surely this does not cause you to be more credible than any other person in the eyes of the public.

  • William Smith says:

    Over the next few decades, due to limited land area, global warming and a host of other factors, the Bay Area and Alameda must either stop increasing in population or shift decisively away from single occupancy vehicle commutes. The debate in my mind is not about whether this transition will occur, but rather about when and how.

    The transition will not be easy for many solo commuters. Glossing over obvious difficulties with urban transit alternatives to promote development at Alameda Point will not build the trust required to form the regional and state coalitions required to provide improved alternatives over the next 30 years.

    On-the-other hand, basing long-term transportation planning decisions on temporary shrinking of transit service is only productive if one believes that we should limit the population in the Bay area to what it is today. Such a belief, while understandable, goes against the most basic assumption of our economy. Our economy assumes that growth without limit of the production of physical goods is required to generate continued prosperity. If one is satisified with today’s interest rates on savings accounts and the returns of the last two years on stocks, then a postion of support for the status quo in Bay Area transportation and on economic aspirations are consistent.

    It will take at least a generation, more likely many, for an alternative economic model that relies more on equitable distribution of limited physical goods and more on growth of intangible goods such as arts and entertainment and basic research and philosophy to take hold. Until then, we either accomodate limited additional growth or stagnate economically.

    To move quickly through the transition to commute alternatives I am willing to invest up to 45 additional minutes a day in commuting occasionally in a single occupancy vehicle. I know that such conditions will likely bring improved service to the commute mode, bus and BART, I use most frequently. Others more heavily dependent on solo commutes, while ultimately benefiting from the creation for them of other feasible commute alternatives, initially may prefer to invest no more than five minutes a day of additional commute time into economic development. Thus the key questions I propose we address in our transportation discussions are

    1) Are solo commutes in single occupancy vehicles endangered and if so, when will they become impractical?

    2) If solo commutes are endangered, how much of our personal travel time are we willing to invest to accelerate the development of alternatives?

    Regarding number 2, a recent article by David Owen in the October 10th edition of the Wall Street Journal titled “How Traffic Jams Help the Environment” contends that the single most significant thing we can do to improve mass transit is to stop trying to reduce solo commute times and allow them to increase.

    While a 45 minute increase in solo commute time actually promises to reduce the time I need for my commute on bicycle and BART, many solo commuters may not be able to afford to invest 45 additional minutes each day, which would come from either their work or their family. Debating the pace of change and the investments we are willing to make to bring change about is a discussion worth having on this site, other blogs and in our homes, civic organizations and the halls of government.

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