A bucket list for Alameda Point

You’ve all heard of a “bucket list.”

Popularized by a movie of the same name starring the world’s two greatest actors, Jack Nicholson and Morgan Freeman, it’s a list you’re supposed to make of the things you want to accomplish before you die.

Maybe it’s time, before the City starts negotiating with potential buyers and lessees of land, for someone – like City Council — to make the equivalent of a bucket list for Alameda Point: What things do we want to accomplish at the Point?  Or, to put it another way, what results do we want our reuse efforts to achieve?

Making a bucket list isn’t the same as preparing a “vision statement.”  We’ve had more than our share of “vision statements” for the Point since the Naval Air Station closed.  What all of them have in common is that they consist mainly of a bunch of adjectives strung together in a way that offends no one but says nothing.

Take this one for example:

My vision for the future of Alameda Point aligns with the City of Alameda General Plan, the 1996 NAS Alameda Community Reuse Plan, and community input from subsequent Alameda Point workshops. That is, that Alameda Point would contain a mix of employment, open space, recreational, residential and retail uses, and would be transit-oriented, walkable and environmentally sustainable.

Sounds good, right? And it was good enough to get its author elected Vice Mayor in the last election.  The problem is, it leaves us guessing just what Ms. Ashcraft’s specific goals for development at the Point are.

Likewise, making a bucket list requires more than simply adopting the aspirations for the Point set forth in prior development plans.  Perhaps because these documents were intended to reflect a “consensus,” the stated goals are so amorphous that the reader can interpret them to mean whatever she chooses.

Take, for example, the 2003 amendment to the General Plan.  It lists seven objectives for the development of Alameda Point, including “Fostering a vibrant new neighborhood,” “Ensuring economic development,” and “Creating a mixed-use environment.”  One might as well have added “Winning one for the Gipper” for all the good such broad phrases do in identifying specific goals.  What’s a “vibrant” neighborhood anyway?  And how does the City go about “fostering” it?

No, what we’d like to see is list of concrete results the Council wants reuse of the Point to achieve.  To start the ball rolling, we’ll provide a menu of items from which to choose.  This is not, we should make clear, a list of the goals the Merry-Go-Round necessarily endorses.  Rather, it is a distillation of what we have read and heard others say.  So here goes:

  • Attract jobs to replace those lost when the Navy left
  • Avoid adding to existing traffic congestion
  • Build enough housing to meet the quota assigned to Alameda in the Plan Bay Area
  • Create a model “Priority Development Area” (i.e., high-density housing with access to public transportation)
  • Make the Point a “destination point” for shoppers from the greater Bay Area and beyond
  • Maximize the acreage devoted to parks and open space
  • Preserve historic buildings associated with the former Naval Air Station
  • Protect against sea level rise of catastrophic proportions
  • Solve the sales-tax leakage problem
  • Upgrade the infrastructure without invading the general fund

Now let’s take the process a step further.  In addition to preparing a bucket list, each Council member should be asked to rank the items on his or her list in order of preference.  Then, we’ll get a mathematically talented staff member – Fred Marsh? – to crunch the numbers and come up with the standings.  (If this sounds like ranked-choice voting, that’s because it is.  And we’re sorry it didn’t work for you, Mr. Perata).  At the end of the day, we’ll have a pretty good sense of the results Council wants reuse of the Point to achieve as well as the relative importance of each goal.

That is valuable information.  For one thing, it enables the public to know whether their elected officials are on the same page as the community.  You may be eagerly anticipating new sports fields at the Point, but if that item isn’t high on Council’s bucket list, you may have to wait a long time to see your wish realized.  (Or, in the next election, you may want to vote for someone whose goals mirror your own).  Equally important, it provides a tool to guide staff in its planning and marketing efforts.  For example, when a developer approaches the City with a particular project, staff can ask: Would this project help to achieve one or more of the results on Council’s bucket list? Does it interfere with attaining any other goal?

It is also information that, unfortunately, we do not yet have.  This year, Council has had three opportunities to set the agenda for development at the Point, the last of which was a joint session with the Planning Board.  At these meetings, as is her custom, Mayor Marie Gilmore allowed everyone on the dais to speak on whatever topic he or she chose for however long he or she wanted.  The Mayor herself and Councilwoman Lena Tam occasionally asked a hard question.  Other Council members showed off their skills as proofreaders.  But the only person who took a systematic approach was Planning Board member John Knox White, who’s not on Council (yet).  And even Mr. Knox White focused more on strategy than on goals.  After all was said and done, one still was left without any real clue about what concrete results Council as a whole, or any individual member thereof, wants reuse of the Point to achieve.

Maybe it’s too much to ask Council members to prepare bucket lists and to rank their desired results in order of importance.  Maybe all we can expect is for Council to say Yea or Nay to specific projects as and when they are submitted by staff after approval by the Planning Board.   But somehow one would have hoped for more.

Skydiving, anyone?

About Robert Sullwold

Partner, Sullwold & Hughes Specializes in investment litigation
This entry was posted in Alameda Point, City Council, Development, Housing and tagged , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

One Response to A bucket list for Alameda Point

  1. 2wheelsmith says:

    An informal public discussion of concrete priorities for Alameda Point development, would be beneficial for our community and your bullet list is one of the best approaches I’ve seen to facilitating such a discussion. In addition to items on the bullet list, a list of major supporters of each item would help facilitate direct contact between advocates of each bullet – therefore I’ve included a list of POSSIBLE proponents for each of the bullet items I submit. Note that my list of possible proponents is “for informational purposes” only, and is provided to facilitate dialog – not to represent the position of any organization. Those who wish to discuss the ACTUAL positions and preferences of either the Sierra Club or Renewed Hope Housing Advocates are welcome to contact me via e-mail at WJASmith@AOL.com. I will be out of town or away from e-mail from Fridany, Oct. 25th, until Wednesday, Novemember 13th.

    Here are other items to add to the bullet list:

    * Nature preserve for at risk, threatened and endangered species and to preserve a represenative part of the our natural heritage (Sierra Club, Audubon Society, League of Conservation Voters)
    – VA Nature preserve
    – Smaller parks and open space throughout Alameda Point

    * Housing for all incomes, most occupations, and both more sustainable and traditional lifestyles at Alameda Point (Sierra Club, Renewed Hope Housing Advocates, Chamber of Commerce, Alameda Association of Realtors, East Bay Housing Organizations)
    – Multi-family housing in and near the Town Center
    – Single family housing, both dozens of historic homes with the big whites, and hundreds elsewhere

    * A development stratedy that will turn the limited access to our island from an obstacle to development into an advantage and provide a desirable alternative to urban sprawl (Sierra Club, Greenbelt Alliance, East Bay Housing Organizations)
    – Multi-family housing and compact commercial development to anchor transit
    – Housing for ALL workers that is either market rate, or requires minimum subsidies
    – Premium housing to attract movers and shakers who can promote our Island’s interest in the region

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