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Richard Bangert: Been there, do that

Submitted by on 1, March 12, 2010 – 6:00 am17 Comments

The city council will soon be making a pivotal decision affecting the future of Alameda Point. If SunCal submits another plan and avoids default, the city will have to extend its current Exclusive Negotiating Agreement with SunCal beyond the July termination date in order to implement SunCal’s new plan. If SunCal decides to call it quits, or if the city decides to part ways with SunCal, a decision must be made on an alternative course of action. Regardless of the choice, this time our decision should be that we are going forward with OUR plan, tailored to OUR needs, not with a plan tailored to meet a developer’s needs.

Consensus plan

Our goals have been established. The limitations have been enumerated. Our plan of action should hew closely to the modest development plans going back more than a decade. The 1,800-residential-unit alternative set forth in 2008, labeled “Transit Enhanced,” reflects a community consensus spanning 14 years. Our decisions should reflect a determination to make it happen. This alternative allows for density adequate for a respectable transit system, housing choices as diverse as we have now, environmentally responsible adaptive reuse of solid buildings, and flexibility in our commercial development choices.

Eventually we will need an Environmental Impact Report (EIR) in order to go forward, but we do not need an EIR to tell us where we are going. We know where we should be going, and the impacts of our choices have been thoroughly analyzed in the 1999 EIR. Not much has changed in the form of constraints except for a new interchange being constructed on Webster Street. Some advocates have argued for higher density claiming environmental benefits. But neither the 1996 Community Reuse Plan, nor the 1998 “Draft Report – Alameda Point Financing Plan,” nor the 1999 EIR embraces a density above 2,200 units. In fact, the 1999 EIR was required to identify an environmentally superior alternative, and it gave that honor to the 1,600-unit reduced density alternative. In the eyes of the EIR preparers, fewer units had less environmental impact, and central to this observation is the limitation of the Tubes. We need development adequate for good transit, not development demanding impossible transit.


The 1998 “Draft Report – Alameda Point Financing Plan” is the only known document to place a price tag on a new tube or bridge. The city’s consultants ruled out a new crossing by making a rough estimate that it would cost between $300 and $700 million for either a bridge or a tunnel. Based on this cost estimate, they resigned themselves to the transit corridor limitations of the West End and, thus, offered projections based on a 1,400-residential-unit limit.

The financial consultants went on at great length about the possibilities for adaptive reuse of buildings and using revenue bonds to finance upgrades. They even came up with an appraisal for how much we should pay for the property — $562,772. But optimism was short-lived, and we soon ended up on a 10-year odyssey of slide shows and transit studies. Along the way, our leasing program showed signs of success, but it has been hamstrung by our status as caretaker, not owner, of the property. Further compromising our efforts early on was the discontinuance of the Navy’s $9 million a year maintenance subsidy for upkeep of the property.

Unfortunately, the pursuit of the single master developer model over the past decade has proven unsuccessful.


Once the city becomes the owner of Alameda Point, instead of a caretaker, the adaptive reuse goals, which endured from 1998 to the transit-enhanced option of 2008, will have more chance for success. We can build on the roster of leases we currently have and emulate the building upgrade programs of the past, even as we construct new buildings. One such upgrade program was completed in 2005 using $10 million in Economic Development Administration grant money to provide electrical, plumbing and structural upgrades to three hangars and three buildings in order to attract key business tenants. (Five-Year Plan for Alameda Point) We should take more advantage of programs like this that are supposed to help affected communities like ours.

The best chance to implement a plan that meets our needs and respects our limitations is by moving to multiple public and private funding sources, help from the federal government, and realistic conveyance terms.

Got something to say? Send us a guest column for our new Island Talkback at michele@theislandofalameda.com.


  • Marty says:

    Thank you for publishing this discussion, Mr. Bangert. I am not familiar with all of the details of all of the documents you have mentioned, and, frankly, I don’t yet have an opinion of which direction is best for Alameda Point. Regardless of whether I ultimately agree with the same direction as you, I think our community’s best opportunities will come from calm, rational language like that in your article.

    As a professional engineer who works in the area of traffic engineering and transportation planning, I just want to clarify some of the things you state. Of course, traffic is a big issue for Alameda Point, and it would be best if everyone understands some of the basics.

    You refer to numbers of residential units as “density,” but density is actually the number of units per unit of area. There is a huge difference in how much car traffic you would expect from 1,000 units spread out across 1,000 acres or if you built 1,000 apartments in a single high-rise building (neither of which are actual ideas under consideration, thank goodness!).

    As I noted above, I am not familiar with the finer details of the plans you mention, but you note that a 1,600-unit option was found superior to options with more units. This kind of statement is vague because you don’t mention the type of development (single family homes, condos, apartments, etc.). Perhaps all of the plans had the same mix of development types? If so, then of course fewer units would be “better.” But by that argument, the “best” course would be to not build anything – perhaps even demolish what is there – because that would certainly result in the least traffic.

    Here’s a simplified example of the range of traffic different development types could have:

    If you were to build 1,600 units of standard single family housing, you could expect about 1,600 new vehicle trips to be made during the afternoon/evening peak hour.

    Or, instead, if the development was 2,200 condominiums, you would expect only about 1,200 vehicle trips traveling during that hour, hundreds less than an option with 600 fewer households.

    These kinds of estimates of traffic for different residential development types are based on hundreds of actual developments that have been built all around the country (where engineers go and count the actual car traffic after they’ve been built), and are remarkably consistent. Traffic for other types of developemnt, such as retail development or offices, is more difficult to predict.

    There are many other factors that contribute to how much traffic any given development might generate, including availability of transit (e.g., Will AC Transit put new bus lines into an area if nobody is going to ride them?), convenience of walking and cycling, number and type of nearby jobs, and many other factors.

    Again, I just wanted to help the discussion a bit. I think we can reach a consensus of what is best for our community if we stick to rational language like yours, as well as educate ourselves using factual information about what we can expect from different types of development.

  • Barbara Thomas says:

    Well said Richard, thanks for all of your research and work over the years. The City should not even be tempted to extend the ENA with SUNCAL. The people have pretty much spoken on that issue. While I am not in a rush to develop something for development’s sake, there were 14 years of effort put in by the citizens on the original plan. If we can get the land back for the price we were paid, $1.00, it would give Alameda the leeway to thoughtfully develop the vision as you put forth. I think it makes economic sense to continue and expand to the leasing and repair/revitalization programs.

    I keep suggesting to the chagrin of many of our current marina operators/owners, that the City should NOT let any private enterprise develop the marina. When the seaplan lagoon is cleaned up to an acceptable maritime standard, the City should develope a marina itself. Unless some pie in the sky hotel or Disneyland type use comes in that precludes a commercial marina, there is no reason we can not do it oursevles. And retain the profits. We have plenty of know how and expertise on City Staff and with residents. It is the last and maybe the best deep water access protected lagoon in the Bay Area. Maybe even California. How hard can it be to build a protective fencing and gates, floating docks and some lighting? Those coming to dock their boats won’t complain as much about deferred maintenance to the roads as residents would. With monthly berthing fees of a few hundred a month, to thousands for bigger docks, there is very little expense and upkeep. It would draw and anchor surrounding maritime uses. Whether it is commercial in nature or any combination including recreational and sporting, a marina is undoubtedly going to be the highest and best use of the lagoon. And if well done, it will compliment, anchor and finance at least in part, any other use that the residents later decide to add.

  • Mark Irons says:

    It would be helpful to have a really comprehensive inventory of the buildings ( condition, sq. footage etc) at AP to get a clearer picture of the actual lease potential. I’ve intended to inquire with Leslie Little and Jennifer Ott but just haven’t. I toured many of the buildings last year and for all the potential reuse there is a lot of rank inventory which I have a hard time seeing as lease worthy. Doug deHaan has spoken of our having lost a number of potential long term leases back in 2001 because with supposed pending development we couldn’t accommodate, but I have never heard specifics about what those businesses were, whether they had specific buildings in mind, etc. so it is hard to know in this market what we might expect. Though it has not worked out to date, I don’t think that the master developer concept is inherently flawed or that the City is inherently more capable of taking on development directly. They each have pros and cons. For the City to take possession and responsibility for the property we have to have some kind of detailed plan in place, including financing.

  • dlm says:

    Dave Howard has written a really excellent post on SunCal’s recent request to extend the deadline on the Notice of Default, which is relevant here. SunCal is requesting a 60-day extension from the current deadline of March 22nd.

    “Alameda City Council will consider the request next week. Deputy City Manager Jennifer Ott has recommended that Council deny the request…”

    “Legal experts Action Alameda News talked to suggested that by asking for the tolling agreement [extension], SunCal may be trying to strengthen their position in advance of any lawsuit against the City of Alameda. Should the City sign such an agreement, and SunCal were to sue the City over the Notice of Default and the breach by SunCal of the ENA that the City alleges, the City would have limited their options to respond to the suit.”


  • Jill says:


    Are your stats on commute traffic for SFH vs. condos based on dwellings with the same number of bedrooms? I’m just trying to figure out why condo owners are less likely to commute than owners of single-family homes.

  • Jill,

    I think you may have read “car trips” as “commute.” Condos tend to have fewer cars per household (fewer kids is one big reason, but usable transit availability is another big one and less, city-subsidized parking is another) the result is fewer trips (both commute and non-commute).

  • Jon Spangler says:

    Richard, you neglected to mention that, for many years, the City Council refused to even allow the exploration of any plans for Alameda Point that called for housing densities above the Measure A limits. That failure of Council leadership–the fear of the “third rail of Alameda politics”–makes your “community consensus spanning 14 years” claim less accurate.

    Only after considerable community agitation a few years ago did the Council permit the promulgation of a non-Measure-A-compliant option for Alameda Point. This higher-density plan, the most recent “community consensus” plan, was adopted as part of the basis for the recent selection of SunCal and most accurately represents the *current* community consensus of all the AP planning processes we have been through.

    (I do not count elections as a community planning consensus, as elections do not permit the extended and detailed discussions of planning parameters that the community planning initiatives have.)

    You call Alameda’s pursuit of a single developer model “unsuccessful.” One of the reasons has been the extreme limitations on density that minimizes a developer’s ability to make money. (This is why APCP bailed out years ago.)
    Limiting the number and types of housing units at AP will reduce AP’s desirability as a redevelopment project for future developers, and also limit how much money the City of Alameda might make as the master developer.

    Since there are still substantial fixed costs for above-ground cleanup and a new infrastructure that must be paid before any redevelopment takes place, I fear that the City of Alameda is asking for a financial train wreck by abandoning a higher-density development option, which would be much more likely to fully underwrite the costs of
    historic preservation/building reuse, the new infrastructure ($700 million or more), and the building cleanup that must take place before anyone will sign a lucrative lease for a building at AP.

    if you think that AP&T’s $70 million foray into fiberoptic cable was expensive, think how much fun the $700 debt for the new infrastructure will be to pay off…

  • Barbara Thomas says:

    Measure A was adopted in the face of unkept developers promises, excessive traffic, and elected officials being unable to lead in the direction the people wanted. It has been upheld 3 times at the polls – all very decidedly.

    Everyone saw what happened when an elected official got elected by saying she supported Measure A, and then opened the flood gates for SUNCAL to ruin Almeda and Chinatown, by making Robo calls for a Measure A non-compliant “community consensus plan”. We saw what happened at the polls when the developer tried to slip that old non-compliant Measure A development plan to the citizens even with elected officials on its side. When the telephone polls said that the non-compliant Measure Plan was going down the toilet big time, all the elected officials that had previously supported it, but were planning for yet another try at elected office hurriedly jumped ship.

    The last few years have not been much more than a waste of time and money for all involved. As well as creating about as much acrimony and harshness as this community should have to suffer in decades.

    Why is it that some people interpret an 85% loss as a win? And degrade and ignore the 14 years of community planning consensus that won based on laws put into effect by the voters of Alameda? Why should Alamedans have to suffer more so that a central developer can make bigger profits?

    Talk about Denial. There will be no southern crossing. Ask Jerry what happened there? Why didn’t 24 cross to Alameda? How high does a bridge have to be to allow container ships with 8-10 stacked high containers to pass under it? Who will pay for that? And are the Port of Oakland, the citizens of Chinatown and Oakland, going to stand by and say “Hey great idea Alameda, dump more of your traffic and fumes on us in Oakland on your way through our neighborhoods”. What about the downward spiral of mass transit that is being reported everyday in the paper press? Routes are being cut everyday. Needed subsidies to keep them going are growing larger every day.

    Density and its pernicious dreams had its chance. It lost. Bangert has it right and feels the pulse of the community with his research and thoughtfulness. He is not trying to promote any special interest such as increasing population density in the hope that this will trigger an increased demand for mass transit which will carry the traffic created by the increased density. Instead he is promoting a development that “meets our needs and respects our limitations.” Can’t ask for a more realistic or reasonable approach than that. I wish he would run for Mayor.

  • dlm says:

    SunCal bid on a project based on the PDC, a plan which was clearly intended to be Measure A compliant:

    SunCal’s responses to followup questions to the ARRA RFP:
    http://www.alameda-point.com/pdf/resp/SunCal.pdf (pg. 11 of PDF)

    “Question 5: How does your firm’s vision conform to or vary from the goals of the PDC, the need for environmental remediation, and the constraints of Measure A?

    [SunCal’s response] As indicated in our initial response to the RFQ, SunCal is committed to the PDC as the framework for development of Alameda Point…”

    The PDC:
    http://www.alameda-point.com/pdf/Feb06PDC.pdf (pg. 7 of PDF)

    “These new neighborhoods will add up to 1,800 new housing units to Alameda’s existing inventory…”

  • Karen Bey says:

    I went to all if not most of the Alameda Point community workshops and I witnessed significant support for making Alameda Point exempt from Measure A. While some of the 85% was about Measure A, I believe much of the vote against Measure B was about the development agreement. The Council, Staff, the Chamber, members of Renewed Hope, City Auditor, City Treasurer, all came out against the development agreement, but most supported the plan.

    It’s unfortunate that SunCal wasted a good opportunity, by making it about the development agreement instead of the vision. I support staff’s decision not to extend the ENA with SunCal, let’s move on!

    Regarding the density at AP, I agree with Jon that the higher density plan accurately represents the consensus of all the AP planning processes we have been through; my hope is that we do not go backwards. Higher density helps pay for the development and maintenance of an Alameda Point Conservancy, the cost of new infrastructure, adaptive reuse and historical preservation and it allows us to plan for future housing needs.

    Finally, let’s not piece meal this development. Let’s move forward with a quality well planned development with a qualified master developer who understands and has experience with base conversions.

  • Barbara Thomas says:

    Which of our elected officials is going to bet their next election that the 85% was really against the development agreement and not for Measure A? Measure A has won three times over three decades while being outspent 10:1 by developers. Who is going to take the chance that the people are really tired of having Measure A save them when our elected officials make Robo calls supporting an insane financial development without properly or competently vetting it even with their own fellow elected officials or staff?
    Mayor Johnson needs Perata’s endorsement to make a decent run at the Board of Sups position. Is he really going to back someone who has voted to increase the traffic through Chinatown in violation of the settlement agreement over that litigation while he is a candidate for Mayor of Oakland? Running against Jean Quan?

    Meetings can be tools for developers and their pawns who put them on ad naseum to hear and learn how to best anticipate the oppositions’ arguments. Did the 11,000 who voted no on Measure B take the time to show up to the meetings? No. Because with the traffic constraints being what they are, increased density will simply prompt another initiative by the people if the “supporters of increased density” continue to drift aimlessly down the river of denial. Without another crossing, which is darn near impossible without a major quake creating some realistic opportunities with a 7.5 plus tremblor, we have what we have. And no pie in the sky promise of mass transit getting us off the old pile of sand is going to convince very many people to accept an additional 25 minutes to get off the island. At least for very long. If a developer builds it, it won’t get sold, or leased or rented if the people won’t come. That is why Harbor Bay Business park has struggled forever, while Marina Village took off so well. Now of course all are suffering the effects of the great financial bailouts of and by and for the greedy. We were duped by the greedy into getting rid of othe Key system, and now the greedy want even more from Alameda. Please either build a development creating reverse flow traffic, or be real and live within our means.

  • Richard Bangert says:

    I agree that the use of the word density in referring to the total number of housing units was not the scientific use of the word. What I was trying to convey is that the total number of housing units has always been constrained by Alameda Point’s location on a geographical cul-de-sac adjacent to two lanes out of town.

    You say that my use of the phrase “community consensus spanning 14 years” to describe the Transit Enhanced PDC plan is not an accurate description. The transit service under the Transit Enhanced PDC is enhanced by the use of multi-family housing to concentrate the 1,800 units closer together so as to make bus routes shorter and thus cheaper to operate and also to make it easier for residents to use due to greater frequency of service and shorter distances to walk. There may not have been a consensus on the city council to make this happen. But there has been a broad consensus on the mix of uses that have been described in every document on Alameda Point planning since the adoption of the 1996 Community Reuse Plan. I think there is also a consensus that apartments and condos at Alameda Point are acceptable, which is why I said this plan spans 14 years of planning and reflects a reasonable and achievable set of objectives. What you will not likely ever get is a 51% consensus on a 4,800-unit development.

    There are only two ways that I know of to accomplish the Transit Enhanced Plan of 1,800 units or thereabouts. One way would be through a Measure A compliant plan that employed the density bonus ordinance. The other way would be through a two-sentence ballot measure that amended Measure A for Alameda Point and capped the housing number at 1,500. With the maximum use of the density bonus, the number of units would top out at around 2,000.

    There is consensus, I believe, on mixed use and mixed housing types, but no consensus on 4,800 housing units. This high number of 4,800 units was not driven by environmental considerations. It was driven by financial considerations. Ergo, we need a different method for accomplishing our goals.

    One method is through a federal loan for infrastructure, which would not burdened by the need for a 25% internal rate of return the way a master developer would. GM and the financial industry received loans. There is no defensible reason for refusing such aid to develop a closed military base.

  • Marty says:

    Jill and John, Sorry to take so long to respond to your questions/comments about the traffic associated with condos vs. single family homes….

    There is no distinction in terms of the number of bedrooms in the comparison. The statistics are from hundreds of developments of homes and condos with varying number of units per developmenet with varying numbers of bedrooms. On a small scale – say, a few dozen – knowing the number of bedrooms might make a slight difference in the number of vehicle trips. But the primary difference in trip-making between the two types of residential developments will generally remain consistent, especially for developments with larger numbers of homes/condos.

    John is correct about some of the reasons for the difference in trip volume. Common sense can lead us to speculate on other possible reasons why condo dwellers make fewer vehicle trips during peak morning and evening commute hours (not necessarily fewer total, but fewer during the peak hours):
    – Condos usually cost less, so there tend to be more single people buying condos (one reason for the lower cars per household average to which John refers). Of course, a single person (who can only drive one car at a time :-) ) will make a lot less trips than a family.
    – Condos are usually smaller, so they might be more attractive for a childless couple, for example. In such a situation, that couple might make the same number of commute trips by car as a family with children, but without having to get kids off to school in the morning or be home to feed them at “dinner time,” that couple might leave for work before the morning peak hour and/or come home after the evening peak hour.
    – With the higher density of a development of condos (more units per unit area), a transit agency is likely to attract more passengers ($$) to a bus line, so the agency is more willing to add bus lines to such an area.

    Does this mean that one type of development is “better” than another? No, it just means that the two types of housing will result in different numbers of car trips during peak hours. There are many, many factors that we should all consider in trying to reach a consensus – hopefully, we can continue the civil discourse on this topic and all make an informed decision together.

  • dlm says:

    This is why traffic studies can’t be used to broadly predict traffic levels in one particular setting – because, as Marty says above, “many, many factors” are involved.

    It stands to reason that families (w/ kids at home) would be more likely to live in SFHs and to generate more car trips, and singles or childless couples would be more likely to live in condos and to generate fewer trips (as Marty says). Therefore, traffic studies which look at the type of residence but not the type of occupants may be misleading. Or put differently, assuming — hypothetically — that SFH occupants and condo occupants could swap places, would the traffic generated by SFHs go down and the traffic from condos go up?

    If we want less traffic then I guess we’d better start screening out the families. (Just kidding.)

    To get an accurate projection of traffic generated by a development at AP, it would be necessary to control for the type of occupants, the most likely direction of commute traffic, the island setting, and the very congested traffic in the region, plus the cost of driving (w/ tolls and parking) vs. the cost of transit. That (for once) would actually mean something.

  • dlm says:

    PS: Also meant to mention: For comparison of traffic generated by SFHs vs.condos to be meaningful, it would have to look at residences in close proximity, at least the same general setting, with or without the same immediate access to transit — by “immediate” I mean “within a short walking distance”, as distinguished from regional transit w/ parking lots (such as BART).

    It doesn’t make sense to look at SFHs in the boonies and compare that to condos in an urban setting, since obviously, the transit use will be quite different.

  • Marty says:

    I believe dlm is absolutely correct on almost every single point. All of those things that dlm described are exactly the kinds of things that sophisticated travel demand models include in their calculations – that is why planners use them for regional planning and for large developments. And traffic studies that do utilize that kind of sophisticated modeling are actually good predictors of traffic numbers (the only point with which I disagree with dlm). The example I used in my original comments was indeed a simplified example to merely illustrate that different types of development (and/or different expected occupant types, availability of transit, etc.) result in different numbers of peak hour vehicle trips.

  • Barbara Thomas says:

    Still wish you would run for Mayor.

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