The Merry-Go-Round welcomes Jill Keimach, who begins her four-year, $245,000 per year term as Alameda City Manager on Monday.
We’re sure staff already has given Ms. Keimach much of the key information she needs, like the private phone number of Alameda firefighters’ union president Jeff DelBono and the URL for the website featuring the wit and wisdom of Planning Board chair John Knox White.
But we’d like to do our small part, too. So today we’ll outline for Ms. Keimach three items that can be expected to land on her desk in the near future, each of which is likely to generate its fair share of controversy. Two involve previously commissioned plans, one for Alameda Point, the other for the City-wide transportation system. The other relates to potential development at the Alameda Marina.
We’ll start with Alameda Point.
Last June, Council approved a development agreement with a firm known as Alameda Point Partners for “Site A,” a 68-acre parcel running from Main Street to the Seaplane Lagoon. The Planning Board reviewed a revised set of design plans – for a 78-foot-tall structure containing 221 units of “market-rate” housing; two buildings providing 128 units of “affordable housing,” and a waterfront park – for the site two weeks ago.
Originally, the City also sought a commercial developer for “Site B,” a 32-acre parcel located in the “Enterprise District” west of Main Street. It received four proposals, but neither of the two finalists was willing to commit to make upfront payments for infrastructure costs. Staff then recommended, and Council approved, abandoning the search for a single developer and instead relying on the City’s leasing agent, Cushman & Wakefield, to find one or more commercial end-users for the site.
The staff reporting to Ms. Keimach undoubtedly will devote significant time over the next few years to overseeing the progress of development at Site A, and – if we’re lucky – negotiating deals with commercial users for Site B. But that’s not where the controversy is likely to arise.
The no-cost conveyance agreement between the City and the Navy under which the City got title to the land at the former Naval Air Station restricts new residential construction at the Point to 1,425 units. If this cap is exceeded, the City will owe the Navy a penalty of $50,000 per market-rate unit.
The planners’ “vision” – to use their preferred term – for the Point was to concentrate new residential development in the “Waterfront Town Center,” with the bulk of the remaining housing to go in the “Main Street Neighborhood.” (Residential use also is conditionally permitted in the “Adaptive Reuse” district). The development agreement with Alameda Point Partners took care of the first part: 800 of the allowable 1,425 units will be built at Site A. All will be multi-family.
Of the balance, 200 new units of “affordable housing” are slated for the Main Street Neighborhood to replace existing buildings. Last December, the City entered into an exclusive negotiating agreement with a consortium consisting of three “supportive housing” organizations and a low-income housing developer for these new units.
For the rest of the Main Street Neighborhood, the City awarded a $256,292 contract to a consulting firm to come up with a “specific plan.” The consultants will prepare a “market assessment of various housing types and densities” and then a “series of site planning alternatives” from which a “preferred alternative will be selected.” The specific plan originally was expected to be finished last month, but Alameda Point Chief Operating Officer Jennifer Ott told us that it is now due later this year.
This is where it’s going to get interesting. Subtracting the 800 units at Site A and the 200 units of affordable housing in the Main Street Neighborhood leaves only 425 units left if the City intends to stay within the 1,425-unit cap.
We’re willing to bet that the planners and politicians will face intense pressure from housing advocates like Renewed Hope and the Alameda Home Team to break that barrier. We can just hear Laura Thomas and Helen Sause now: The City desperately needs more housing. 425 units is a drop in the bucket. Council must adopt a plan requiring far more than merely 425 new units. (Don’t worry about the no-cost conveyance agreement. We’ll stick the developer with the $50,000 per unit penalty).
If they’re consistent, the housing advocates also will argue that the new residential development in the Main Street Neighborhood should consist solely of multi-family housing. But here they run into a problem: The Big Whites. These 18 two-story, single-family homes, once occupied by senior Navy officers, are considered historic buildings. The Alameda Architectural Preservation Society (among others) surely would object to demolishing them, and the City’s own “Conceptual Planning Guide” for the Point contemplates they will remain and be rehabilitated. “[L]ower density, one-, two- and three-story residential single family detached and attached buildings ranging from smaller cottages and in-law units to two and three bedroom homes,” the Guide states, “are likely to fill in around the historic homes.”
The consultants preparing the specific plan will get first crack at resolving these issues about the amount and type of housing in the Main Street Neighborhood. But, ultimately, the City Manager and her staff, as well as the Planning Board and Council, will become involved. So, Ms. Keimach, it’s not too soon to start thinking about how many more market-rate housing units Alameda truly needs – and how many more its existing transportation network can bear.
Speaking of which: The other City-commissioned plan now in the works is the City-wide transit and transportation demand management plan. It, too, is likely to generate debate, and even controversy.
The impetus for this effort came from a Council referral submitted by Councilman Tony Daysog in January 2015. As Mr. Daysog correctly noted, each of the new development projects approved during recent years – Alameda Landing, the Del Monte warehouse, and Site A – has been required to prepare its own TDM plan designed to “mitigate” the traffic impact of the project. Mr. Daysog believed that these various TDM plans were uncorrelated with each other and offered only “a cafeteria-plan . . . menu of transit\traffic solutions.” He recommended that Council direct staff to develop a “comprehensive transit\traffic strategic plan and implementation tool.”
It took nearly a year, but Council eventually decided to award a $395,000 contract to a consulting firm to prepare a City-wide transit and TDM plan. According to staff, the “overarching” goal is to take “a holistic and integrative Citywide approach” – staff’s words, most assuredly not ours – to “minimize the total net [number] of new single occupant vehicle trips at the island crossings” and to “enhance multimodal intra-city mobility.” (We think this phrase means making it easier to walk and ride bikes around town). “Special attention will be paid,” staff says, to peak travel periods in the morning and afternoon.
The planning effort is scheduled to begin with a “kick-off meeting” sometime soon. The final plan is due in July 2017.
As we see it, the major issue the consultants will face is what the City of Alameda can do on its own to achieve the stated goals (as well as what it will cost and who will pay for it).
Take rush-hour traffic congestion. All of the existing TDM plans rely on getting people to use public transit rather than their own automobiles to commute to and from off-island jobs. But the City is not a transit agency – at least not yet. Unless AC Transit, the Water Emergency Transportation Authority, and BART provide enough service to make public transit attractive to Alamedans, local commuters – current and future – will stay behind the wheel, and traffic delays at the estuary crossings will persist (if not get worse).
Unfortunately, the respective agencies’ most recent planning documents offer little hope that Alamedans will enjoy enhanced public transit service any time soon:
- In AC Transit’s 2015 “Service Expansion Plan,” no additional trans-bay service from Alameda is included. Moreover, although the plan identifies three potential new bus routes in Alameda, AC Transit says it is able to fund only one of them. (Staff recently recommended, and Council agreed, that the City endorse a new Line 19 along the northern waterfront).
- In WETA’s draft 10-year Short Range Transit Plan released in January, the agency states that its “ability to increase service levels and meet future demand for ferry service will be restricted until new regional or local sources of operating subsidy are secured.” (As Richard Bangert recently pointed out, without new ferries, building a new ferry terminal at the Seaplane Lagoon becomes somewhat problematic).
- In BART’s FY 2015-24 Short Range Transit Plan and Capital Improvement Program, the agency projects operating losses and capital shortfalls for the next 10 years. Given its financial condition, BART expects to be able to add only one train to trans-bay service by 2024. “Additional expansions to service,” the report states, would “require additional operating funds. . . .”
Maybe the consultants will be able to suggest ways for the City to convince the three transit agencies to do more for Alamedans. But it’s something of a chicken-and-egg situation: The transit agencies won’t increase service unless there are more customers – but there won’t be any more customers unless the transit agencies increase service. Yet if persuasion fails, it won’t matter how many AC Transit passes the City tells developers to hand out or how many shuttles to BART it tells them to run. Absent enough buses or trains (or ferries) available to take commuters where they need to go when they need to get there, they’ll have no reason to start taking public transit.
Reducing automobile usage on the island itself also poses a challenge for the City. As we understand it, proposals like the Central Avenue “complete streets” project are intended, among other things, to make it easier for Alamedans to walk or bike, rather than drive, to their destinations around town. But not everyone will be able to take advantage of those bright-green bike lanes. For example, what about the elderly couple who need their car to lug groceries home from the store? And let’s be realistic. Although Assistant Community Development Director Andrew Thomas can haul out reams of statistics showing that millenials are automobile averse, Alameda is not yet a city of 20-somethings. For the rest of the populace, a lifetime driving habit may be hard to break.
During the meetings that culminated in hiring the consultants, various elected and appointed officials spoke longingly of an intra-island shuttle operated by the City that would convey Alamedans to places like South Shore. But where would it run? How often? And who would pay for it? Maybe the consultants will be able to provide the answers.
Work on the transit and TDM plan is expected to go on for 18 months, and the staff reporting to Ms. Keimach will be involved every step of the way. Our primary hope is that she instructs them to act like analysts, not salespeople. We were somewhat disconcerted to read that one of the tasks assigned to the consultants is “to provide City representatives with talking points about the existing and proposed transportation network.” We’d prefer that staff members focus on vetting the plan rather than vouching for it.
Finally, the Alameda Marina development.
No formal proposal has been submitted to the City for this project, and the property owner/lessee and the architect have deleted pages describing it from their websites. But it’s sure to stimulate controversy. Indeed, it already has.
Here’s what we know from the public record: The “Alameda Marina” is a parcel located between Clement Street and the Oakland Estuary consisting of 26 acres of dry land and 17 acres of submerged land. In addition to the slips at the marina itself, the property offers dry storage for sailboats and RVs. Depending on which source you consult, between two dozen and 65 commercial enterprises employing around 250 people are doing business at the site. These include Svendsen’s Boat Works, which repairs boats, and Deep Ocean Exploration and Research, which builds submarines.
A company called Pacific Shops, Inc., bought a portion of the parcel in 2006 and leased the rest from the City (in its capacity as a trustee of the Tidelands Trust) in 2012. The lease obligates Pacific Shops to submit a “proposal for demolition and/or replacement and/or comprehensive rehabilitation of existing improvements . . . and construction of a new higher-value project . . . thereon” by the end of 2016. (It does not, as Pacific Shops’ chairman, Bill Poland, has claimed in published articles, obligate the tenant to “make an initial $10 million investment by 2020”).
Perhaps not coincidentally, in the same year the City entered into the lease with Pacific Shops, it re-zoned the Alameda Marina parcel from “industrial” to “mixed use” and slapped the “multi-family overlay” on the site. This zoning designation allows residential construction with a maximum density of 30 units per acre (and more if the developer qualifies for a density bonus).
The property is going to be developed by BayWest Development, a large, San Francisco-based outfit responsible for several south-of-Market projects in San Francisco. (Whether Pacific Shops intends to sell or assign its interest to the developer is unclear). BayWest held a community meeting in November at which it revealed its “master plan” for the Alameda Marina. According to published reports from people who attended the meeting, the developer proposes to build “high-density housing,” a total of 394 units, in three-to-five story structures. (Since Pacific Shops and the architect removed the project descriptions from their websites, these reports could not be verified).
And what will happen to the dry storage facilities and commercial businesses? The published reports state that the developer professed its intent to “completely raze” all of the existing buildings. For his part, Mr. Poland wrote in a recent letter to the Alameda Sun that “[o]ur plans will dedicate approximately 75,000 square feet to maritime businesses and seek to retain the maritime jobs at the site, including some existing businesses.” (Based on this statement, the aikido dojo appears to be a goner).
In a sense, the Alameda Marina project raises the same issues as the other development projects along the northern waterfront. As one letter-writer put it, “At what point does the impact of development become more important than the value of additional housing on the Island?” We can expect the usual suspects to take the usual stances. (Indeed, the housing advocates already have written to the Sun praising a project whose plans they have never seen).
But there is an important difference between the Alameda Marina and the other projects. Whatever form the Alameda Marina development ultimately takes, it will end up causing at least some Alameda businesses to close their doors and at least some Alameda workers to lose their jobs. Mr. Poland all but admits as much: “The lease extension and financial investment cannot be sustained under the current business model at the marina,” he wrote in his latest letter to the Sun. “Working within the current zoning for the property, a mixed use development project is the only financially viable plan to restore and redevelop the property.”
Is the benefit worth the cost? This is an issue that Ms. Keimach and her staff will need to weigh in on. And they may not have to wait for an actual development application. At the March 1 Council meeting, Vice Mayor Frank Matarrese submitted a referral for staff to provide “guidance” on the development of mixed-use parcels along the northern waterfront such as the Alameda Marina. For properties that “have active commercial concerns,” the Vice Mayor said, the City needed to “establish some proportion of commercial use to residential use . . . so that we get a balance when the residential development occurs.” More than 20 current users of the Alameda Marina spoke in favor of the referral, and the motion carried unanimously.
We’re sorely tempted to go on – want to hear about the new fully staffed fire station that IAFF Local 689 will be pushing if the union can get Teamsters lawyer Malia Vella elected to Council? – but perhaps we’ve loaded the plate full enough for our new City Manager.
Best of luck, Ms. Keimach.
Staff report to Planning Board re design review: 2016-02-22 staff report to P.B. re Block 1, Block 8 & waterfront park
Staff report to Council re Site B: 2015-10-06 staff report re Site B
No-cost conveyance agreement, amendment no. 2: EDC MOA Amendment 2
Staff report to Council re “affordable” housing: 2015-12-15 staff report re APC housing
Staff report to Council re Main St. Neighborhood “specific plan:” 2015-02-17 staff report re Main St. neighborhood specific plan
Conceptual Planning Guide: ap_planning_guide_final_9.12.13_red_0
Staff report re consultant for transit/TDM plan: 2016-01-19 staff report re consultant for TDM plan
Staff report re new AC Transit route: 2016-02-02 staff report re new AC Transit line
AC Transit Service Expansion Plan: 2015-SEP-Admin-Draft-IS-ND
WETA Strategic Plan: WETA DraftStrategicPlan011416
BART FY 2014-25 Short Range Transit Plan and Capital Improvement Program: BART FY15-FY24 Short Range Transit Plan (October 2014)
Op-eds and letters to the editor: 2015-12-17 Alameda Sun op-ed – Herbert; 2016-01-07 Alameda Sun op-ed – Poland; 2016-01-14 Alameda Sun LTE – Hamon; 2016-01-21 Alameda Sun LTE – Sause; 2016-01-21 Alameda Sun LTE – Lichtenstein; 2016-02-05 Alameda Sun LTE – Herbert; 2016-02-10 Alameda Journal op-ed – Greenside; 2016-02-25 Alameda Sun LTE- de Lappe; 2016-02-25 Alameda Sun LTE – Poland
City-Pacific Shops lease: Tidelands-and-Marina-Lease
Matarrese Council referral: 2016-03-01 Matarrese referral