Blogging Bayport Alameda

December 8, 2008

[Public land] trust me

Filed under: Alameda, Alameda Point, City Council — Tags: , — Lauren Do @ 7:15 am

Hat tip to Eve Pearlman for this one, but Alameda has been featured in an article entitled “Alameda — small town atmosphere amid metropolis.”    It was apparently published as part of the real estate section.   A few things that stood out were the quotes by various Alamedans that were selected as part of this article.   The first was the one from Woody Minor which, in retelling the history of Alameda, said:

“It was pristine,” says Woody Minor, an architectural historian whose grandparents moved to Alameda in 1890. “I always tell people that, originally, Alameda was national park quality.” 

Really?  When Alameda was just land out there that no one was using — or if being used was used sparingly by the native inhabitants of this land  — it was pristine and untouched.  Really?   Seriously though, I do appreciate how historians always talk as though they have just been in a time machine, visited the era that they are speaking about, and have come back to tell you all about it.  So endearing.

And can I just say that the gross oversimplication of the issues really do a disservice to the reader, one would think that this was an East Bay Express article or something.  From the SF Chronicle article:

…The current master developer of Alameda Point, SunCal Cos., wants to build from 4,200 to 6,200 houses. The city wants 1,800…

I’m not sure if the “city” is supposed to mean the city government, the residents, or the actual land itself.   If it’s supposed to mean city government, I suppose you could argue that the initial Preliminary Development Concept is the will of the city government, but with the City Council poised to accept the new SunCal development concept, that will be the overriding document.   If you want to argue that means the residents of Alameda, I don’t think there has been an accurate gauge, so far, of what the will of the people regarding Alameda Point has been.   Yes, we can all argue up and down about the significance of the last two elections, but until someone does a poll (well, apparently SunCal has already done one) until someone releases the poll results, we won’t know for sure.  

Then there is this quote by Pat Bail, who always manages to strike the right tone with her media quotes:

“You can’t squeeze a size 16 woman in a size 4 dress,” says Bail, “and you can’t squeeze thousands of more people on this island.”

What size 16 woman is trying to squeeze into a size 4 dress in the first place?   And clearly, you can squeeze thousands of more people on this island because the thousands of folks that used to live and work at the old Naval base are no longer in Alameda so, technically, one could argue, you are just bringing Alameda up to old Naval base levels when it was fully operational.  

Apparently though, the new BIG IDEA for Alameda Point is the Public Trust one that has been proferred by Arthur and Gretchen Lipow.   I think there is a one sheeter somewhere that talks about it, saying how the SunCal project is unfeasible financially, and saying that the only solution for Alameda is a Public Trust, yet not offering any details on how that Public Trust would be structured and who would pay for it.   Probably offered as the new big idea after the news about the Jenner Headlands in Sonoma County being saved through public land trust.   The difference between the two is that Jenner Headlands really is untouched pristine land.   Alameda Point is not.

Another example is the Presidio Trust, which apparently, either folks have not visited or read much about.   Honestly though, I think people are using the “Land Trust” smokescreen as something to stop all development.   But, according to this recent article about work being done in the Presidio, if Alameda were to be in the same position as the Presidio and become a land trust exactly in the way that the Presidio did, there wouldn’t just be a halting of building or development.   The Presidio Land Trust has to be self-sustaining by 2013 (only 4 more years for those counting down).  And guess what they are building in order to help it reach financial self-sustainability (in addition to having all commercial campuses)?  Housing.  And guess who is building it?   A private developer.   And seriously, if you look at the Board of Directors of the Presidio Trust, it doesn’t look a whole lot different than your private enterprise Board of Directors.

Oh, and a final thought about the initial article, the golf course plans have been axed and have been off the table for a while now.

Quick note, tonight’s Planning Board will have a few big items, including the North Housing Parcel, new blog 94501 Real Estate has a great two minute video tour of the actual site itself.  And other items to be discussed are Second Unit Ordinance and a Parking Management Plan for Park and Webster Streets.


  1. More interesting than the article itself are some of the comments (aren’t they always?).

    Can someone please clue me in on something? SunCal has a submittal deadline on December 19. What exactly does this mean and what is the process once their final plan is submitted?

    Comment by Edmundo Delmundo — December 8, 2008 @ 8:45 am

  2. Actually Lauren, last week an HAB quorum voted unanimously not remove a house on Buena Vista study list, which was bought by the owner of the Cavanagh project so he could tear it down for a parking lot. A representative for the owner and from PSBA were no doubt disappointed. For me it was a matter of process as much as anything. I could discuss this more later. Anyway, if it needs to be torn down the City Council can authorize that, but my point in mentioning it is that this discussion about the literal fabric of the City’s historical heritage is ongoing.

    This time machine aspect of history came into play at HAB and at the previous meeting on this house many of the usual suspects from the historic preservation community including Woody, came out and spoke at length about the building and the continuity of the the original neighborhood. They would have a lot of people rolling their eyes, but they are constituency just like the businesses which need parking.

    If you’ve ever had a person close to you die, you may have thought about what it is which we retain in their absence. If it’s somebody like Shakespeare they may live through their work, but with more obscure souls they only live on until the last person who remembers them passes away.

    So an old building is just an old building, but we would have no history at all if it weren’t for those who have the creative imaginations to do a little time traveling. Call it quaint and “endearing”, but don’t be too dismissive. I’ll try to come back and expand on what’s bugging me here.

    I did think the Chronicle piece was poorly researched fluff, which was misleading and inaccurate.

    Comment by Mark Irons — December 8, 2008 @ 8:54 am

  3. “And clearly, you can squeeze thousands of more people on this island because the thousands of folks that used to live and work at the old Naval base are no longer in Alameda so, technically, one could argue, you are just bringing Alameda up to old Naval base levels when it was fully operational.”

    Technically, yes, provided you housed them on those big gray things called “ships”, and they could only leave the island on those big gray things or AC transit. When the base was “fully operational” those ships housed 10,000 + sailors, most of who never left the base.

    Comment by Jack Richard — December 8, 2008 @ 9:00 am

  4. Hi Mark: I hope it didn’t sound dismissive, because it wasn’t meant to be. I really do like how historians talk as though they just witnessed whatever it is they are talking about like they saw it happen an hour ago. A more prominent example would be Doris Kearns Goodwin who always talks about past presidents as though they are her good buddies. It really is quite endearing.

    Comment by Lauren Do — December 8, 2008 @ 9:04 am

  5. #2
    “… it is that this discussion about the literal fabric of the City’s historical heritage is ongoing.”

    Mark, could you clarify the term “literal fabric” in the context of historical heritage?

    Comment by Jack Richard — December 8, 2008 @ 9:08 am

  6. #2 Hey Mark,

    Can you describe a little of the history of that house on Buena Vista? My kids and I wonder (and talk) about it every time we go to the Marketplace. With the overgrown yard and the boarded-up windows, it’s sort of spooky and alluring at the same time!

    Comment by Susan Davis — December 8, 2008 @ 9:14 am

  7. Believe me Lauren, talking to someone like Woody Minor is heck of a lot more interesting and enlightening than following your petty quarrels with people in this community.


    Comment by AD — December 8, 2008 @ 9:32 am

  8. Jack London used to come here and visit relatives. He liked it here for the hunting and fishing (so there is evidence of former pristine rural existence). The relatives’ home still stands, a house right by Woodstock school.

    In 1900, Alameda was THE premier place to live in the Bay Area, Oakland not far behind.

    I don’t know this because I have lived here a long time. I know it because I am a descendant of people who lived here at that time. The house they lived in no longer stands, was taken down to put up a school…

    Thank heaven for historians who can recall a past and a way of life for generations who never have had a context or personal history for it.

    If you have never been there, call up and reserve for a tour of the Pardee home in Oakland. A time capsule right in the heart of downtown (Preservation Park area).

    Comment by E T — December 8, 2008 @ 11:03 am

  9. AD

    You got cajones labeling others as “petty”. Sister, you’ve all but cornered the market on that one, single handed.

    Comment by Mark Irons — December 8, 2008 @ 11:06 am

  10. The question I have about Measure A, and it is a real question, about the method of protecting housing stock.

    Can’t we as a community be more effective using zoning, setbacks, a historical renovation Ordinance and a blight ordinance as more effective tools.

    It is my belief that blight is a bigger issue than density. An example is 1632 Park, that was painted Silver for years, after the renovation it was an excellent addition to Park Street. A current example is 2414 Lincoln, see Google street, that brings down a community.

    The Navy and all it brought had people housed on ships, but also had high density called barracks and high density four-plex townhomes. Even the guys on the ships had cars, one of the busiest places on base was the self serve Auto Hobby Shop. Traffic in Alameda is an issue, and I wish the SFGate article would have focused more on transit options. Like the train service Alameda once had.

    Not sure what the answer is, but a base that sit with very little activity is not good for the community, because it still needs to policed, protected from fire and not allow the building to become a bigger blight issue.

    Comment by John Oldham — December 8, 2008 @ 11:08 am

  11. Edmundo D.: Here is the timeline for the ENA note that several of the mandatory milestones have received extensions, so that’s why it doesn’t necessarily match up with reality. I’m not sure if the business plan & infastructure plan are included as part and parcel of the development concept but the next step after those three things are completed is the “Entitlement Application.”

    Comment by Lauren Do — December 8, 2008 @ 11:17 am

  12. #10 “Can’t we as a community be more effective using zoning, setbacks, a historical renovation Ordinance and a blight ordinance as more effective tools.”

    I think the answer is a big obvious “NO!”

    MA is the ONLY present solution that puts the choice in the hands of all the people who live here, not just 3 City Council “deciders”

    Comment by David Kirwin — December 8, 2008 @ 12:41 pm

  13. One of the most ignorant gaffes you can commit when trying to assert yourself is attack people that command wide respect in the community through their intellect and knowledge, not their power. Lauren is well oriented with respect to power, but rather blind when it comes to recognizing quality. I have a lot more respect for her when she dissects issues, not people, even though I disagree with her take on the issues almost always.

    What’s more, the people she dismisses in her post have all contributed hugely over their lifetimes (Art Lipow for example runs the Public Affairs Forum, which brings world-class speakers to Alameda on all kinds of topics, free; there’s no link to it from this blog, or to AAPS for that matter). I admire the fact that the Lipows, and others too, can offer ideas that are not run-of-the-mill, such as the land trust idea. I have yet to see Lauren offer an innovative solution to something, rather than endorse the power-backed one. If you can’t give credit to people who have alternative ideas, and if you can’t show respect for people like Woody Minor, who clearly know more than you and are recognized authorities in their field, then you’re petty. Or politically motivated.

    Comment by AD — December 8, 2008 @ 1:19 pm

  14. “Honestly though, I think people are using the “Land Trust” smokescreen as something to stop all development”.

    My thoughts on land trusts is that they perform a unique and very special function and can add significant value to a development and community. It balances development and open space and offers creative ways to enjoy our open spaces for generations to come. Marin has several open space districts and they have contributed to Marin being one of the most desired places to live.

    The Bodega Land Trust is another example (one of many land trusts) that preserves and restores streams, wilderness, natural habitats and resources in perpetuity.

    I’m glad to see Alameda Point moving in this direction!

    Comment by Karen Bey — December 8, 2008 @ 1:24 pm

  15. AD,

    My aesthetic or standards for “quality” may be closer to yours than Lauren’s, but I think your definitive pronouncement about Lauren’s defective judgment on that account is sort of pointless.

    It’s great to have a healthy and honest debate, especially when we are at serious odds about such high stakes, but the chicken and egg debate about who got personal first pointless too.

    I heard an Israeli on the radio today espousing the value of polemics as even being part of his cultural identity. That made me smile.

    If you don’t like it, don’t do it, and if it’s part of your m.o., then own it. I’m easily provoked and can get mean in a minute, but try not to make it my entire stock in trade. I’m no innocent, but your posts consistently saturated with snark to the point of self negation.

    Lauren’s power is as an opinion driver in a very public setting of her own creation. It’s almost entirely of her making and her power here is not bestowed on her as a quid pro quo for sucking up to powers that be. It’s bestowed by all, even her critics, by posting comments, and coming back again and again.

    Lauren can speak for herself, but often she seems happy to support innovations by others. Unless she disagrees, why should she have to offer original ideas for resolution, just to prove her independence in thinking? That would seem to be the job of the detractors (i.e. you).

    Comment by Mark Irons — December 8, 2008 @ 3:26 pm

  16. #4 Hi Lauren,

    I can accept that you weren’t being dismissive if I took these words out of context:

    “Seriously though, I do appreciate how historians always talk as though they have just been in a time machine, visited the era that they are speaking about, and have come back to tell you all about it.”

    But in the context of the other comments between which they are sandwiched, ending with “Endearing”, I frankly find your disclaimer a tad unconvincing.

    Comment by Mark Irons — December 8, 2008 @ 3:37 pm

  17. Mark I.: After talking to others, I realize the snark is embedded, although not intended. I actually added the “endearing” part later, which, I guess made it sound even more flippant. Which is why I should have taken Arianna Huffington’s advice to not over-write blog posts.

    Comment by Lauren Do — December 8, 2008 @ 3:50 pm

  18. Today has been dubbed “Media Meltdown Monday.” The NYTimes needs a bailout. The Chicago Tribune filed bankruptcy.

    Also, coincidentally, Arianna Huffington was voted Media Person of the Year by I Want Media

    Comment by RM — December 8, 2008 @ 4:37 pm

  19. Reading the words of those who lived before our time does make time travel possible in a way.

    “Alameda was no special Mexican grant in itself, but was a portion of the Rancho de San Antonio, granted to Don Luis Maria Peralta, and by him given, with other property, to his son Antonio Maria Peralta. It was originally called “Bolsa de Encinal,” and sometimes “Encinal de San Antonio,” the first-named meaning the low-lying or level lands of the peninsula, and the last the peninsula of San Antonio, which took its name from the creek.

    With the advent of the immigrant it became the resort of the hunter, the trapper and the charcoal-burner, who on landing found the ground occupied by coyotes, quail, hares, rabbits and possibly deer in companionship with stray herds of cattle…”

    ” Alameda was regarded as a most desirable place of residence in the seventies. The whole surface of the Encinal was dotted with live oak trees…”

    Alameda County History -1914

    Comment by Susan — December 8, 2008 @ 5:02 pm

  20. A coda to the above: In the late 80’s I had a single gal apartment in an amazing Victorian at 1423 Central (built 1886). Although it was long ago cut up into apartments, the exterior to this day looks much like the pic in this 1904 postcard.

    A friend of mine was active in the preservation society at that time. She told me that Woody had always wanted to see the interior of the house and asked me if she could bring him by. Of course I said yes, and I was glad I did. He was fascinating to talk to and so enjoyed seeing the public areas of “my” house. I actually did find him endearing.

    Comment by Susan — December 8, 2008 @ 6:51 pm

  21. #17 Lauren, I’ll buy that. It can be difficult to be objective in judging ones own voice.

    Forgive my hijacking this post to address the tangentially related subject of 2413 Buena Vista.

    For me, being on a board is simply an exercise in civic volunteerism and is not related to executing a personal agenda. HAB has a very narrow purview based on very finite criteria, which makes decisions fairly simple most of the time. I would be a lot more stressed serving on something like the Planning Board. However, even little old HAB has enough authority to be a thorn in the side of some who feel we are impeding progress. We do so, not deliberately, but more or less circumstantially by fulfilling our charge to honor the parameters of the historic study list and the Secretary of Interior’s Standards for Historic Preservation. As you will see, both are open to interpretation.

    Note: lots of people complain about the decisions of various boards without adequately understanding their purview!

    I posted on this item, as on the Del Monte building before, to share examples of cases which are not as simple as they may seem. On the Del Monte project and this one I’m confident of my vote, but this vote did not come without some hand wringing because there were strongly opposed points of view, with each having significant justification relative to their individual concerns. A certain Mr. Ratto became fairly animated at the prospects of delay in clearing the way for parking, but I digress.

    Find below part of an historic assessment and text of the motion to deny.

    In the expert assessment of historic preservation architects Page and Turnbull, who were hired by the applicants, the building could be de-listed within the parameters of the Secretary of Interior’s Standards for Historic Preservation. However, by that measure the HAB felt we might as well dissolve the entire list or de-list most of buildings on it. As Joe the Carpenter, I don’t mean to impugn the integrity of these well versed experts, I simply disagree.

    History from Page and Turnbull report:

    “2314 Buena Vista was built in 1890 as a single-family residence for Mrs. Ida Hegelund. J.L. Etward constructed the building at a cost of $1,200. 2413 Buena Vista stands a half block off of Park which began developing as a commercial district in the mid-1860s as a railroad construction… Hegelund died in 1902… In 1929 the estate sold the property to John McMullin who had lived in the house since at least 1920 as a renter. The property remained in the McMullin family until 2007 when it was sold to the Phua-Lee Family Living Trust.”

    I believe the last occupant was the widow McMullin who raised five kids there.

    Here is text of the motion to deny staff recommendation for de-listing of the building , as drafted by (new) HAB member architect Dennis Owen. Nothing profound, but it may clarify why the demo should be a call deferred to C.C.. Thank you and welcome Dennis.:

    “The Board finds that 2413 Buena Vista Avenue shall remain on the City of Alameda’s Historical Building List because this building embodies a distinctive architectural resource as an example of the Queen Anne cottage style. The building retains the majority of it’s distinguishing characteristics including form, drop siding, fish scale shingles, ornamental wood trim and double hung wood windows. It is not a requirement of the study list or the National Register that a building be either a rare example or an outstanding example of a particular style.

    Further more, the building shall remain on the study list because it is a part of a group of structures of particular historic significance to the City. This group includes a row of buildings on the same side of the block of Buena Vista Avenue and the row of buildings directly across the street. Although this setting has been compromised by the removal of the adjacent building and it’s replacement with a parking lot, the group of remaining buildings continues to exemplify the early Victorian residential development of the City.”

    Comment by Mark Irons — December 8, 2008 @ 7:24 pm

  22. And, what is to become of 2413 Buena Vista? It is in awful condition. Who is going to buy it? Who is going to fix it up? If it goes on the “historic register” that does not keep it from rotting into the ground. Is the city going to buy it? Is the HAB going to chip-in and buy it? (Perhaps we could put on a show to raise the money.

    Comment by AlamedaNayTiff — December 8, 2008 @ 7:54 pm

  23. Buildings such as this one sometimes deteriorate becauee the long term occupant does not have the means to maintain them. However, most were built with far better materials than could be obtained today and even fairly seriously deteriorated homes can be brought back to good condition. The AAPS Web site is .

    Comment by algunarubia — December 8, 2008 @ 8:54 pm

  24. […] Sunday, there was a piece in the San Francisco Chronicle about Alameda, Lauren Do has a post on it. One thing stuck out to me, it was a quote from Pat […]

    Pingback by Stop, Drop and Roll » Alameda’s own Newt Gingrich — December 9, 2008 @ 7:37 am

  25. ANT,

    This is one time you don’t seem to be reading or listening well. The building has a brick foundation, but if it were at a better location people would fall over themselves to drop thousands of dollars into it’s restoration. Who knows who might have wanted to restore it where it is if the Cavanagh Motors people hadn’t bought it for parking space. Nobody forced the guy to buy the place.

    I’m relatively certain the C.C. may authorize the demolition, but in the mean time a board simply did what it was created to do which is to follow the standards for which it was created and not undermine them with capricious or arbitrary votes to satisfy a business interest.

    Comment by Mark Irons — December 9, 2008 @ 9:44 am

  26. I am not against preservation; the question is who pays for it? Not everyone can afford or wants to pay to restore a “historic” structure. Some people even want to declare some of the structures at the old NAS as “historic.” I suppose that everything and everyone has some historic value, but time moves on and both people and structures eventually meet their maker.

    Does the HAB consider the cost of restoration and maintenance in making a decision?

    Comment by AlamedaNayTiff — December 9, 2008 @ 11:19 am

  27. 26. The HAB purview is very narrow and does not take into consideration economics per say, which is why the supposition that parking lot is a higher use is beyond what we deal with. Our lot is to do a thumbs down or thumbs up based according to set guidelines for preservation.

    I’d be happy to be off HAB before the Point is dealt with, but we have had two presentations before HAB already.

    I’m surprised that SunCal’s historic preservation guy Phil Tagami is proposing keeping something like 50 buildings. I have a feeling SunCal would be happy with fewer and of course there are preservationists who would prefer we not tear anything down.

    Obviously, unless there are economically viable new uses for existing buildings they are apt to become liabilities and in terms of planning flexibility it would be nice not to have to deal with this issue.

    If buildings come back to HAB, I hope the parameters are crystal clear. I know other members on HAB feel strongly about getting a say on disposition of the buildings.

    Using the Buena Vista 1890 building/versus parking lot scenario as an example, I would prefer that before a plan at the Point is brought to any of the boards for votes, that a working committee be formed with a couple members from HAB, EDC, and Planning Board. Such a group could have informal discussion of higher uses and various standards for judging use, and generally exchange information on each others’ purviews.

    Comment by Mark Irons — December 10, 2008 @ 8:42 pm

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