Richard Bangert: Been there, do that
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.
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 firstname.lastname@example.org.