Blogging Bayport Alameda

September 1, 2010

VA benefits

I know some folks are excited about the ARRA agenda item on the VA transfer.   But, you all realize that it’s not really much, right?    The agenda item is simply one to “adopt a resolution supporting the transfer from the Navy to the VA.”   It’s a largely ceremonial move because if the City of Alameda didn’t want to make the transfer happen, it’s not as though the City could actually do anything to halt a fed-to-fed land transfer.

But if folks want to get all excited about ceremonial resolutions, then who am I to rain on anyone’s parade?

Some things to point out are the fact that the transfer won’t occur until several key milestones are complete and those aren’t projected to be complete until 2011.  The end of 2011.

Certainly though, given that we are well into campaigning season, I imagine that some of the candidates for office (which include all sitting members of the City Council) will take this opportunity to grandstand and make sure to sound as though they were the catalyst for this all happening or that they had been in support of this from the start.   A bit of flag-waving about supporting “our troops” might be in order as well.    Essentially this will be the feel good agenda item of the night that will end up taking way too long and eat up too much time for, yes, a piece of paper that will neither make it easier or harder for the Navy to decide that it wants to transfer those lands to the Veterans Administration.

But given that we are discussing it anyway, it appears that the VA’s plans, which could probably change dramatically between now and when there is funding to design the project, has been reduced the first time it was presented to the public and now.  No more helipad, the the number of buildings and square footage has been reduced.   The columbarium has been split into two instead of being one large space on the far west of the site.

Of course the most challenging part of this project is the lack of infrastructure on the site itself since this is all runway space or wetlands.   Add to that the failing infrastructure at Alameda Point leading up to the site, it will be interesting to see how the VA handles laying down new roads, sewage, power, cable, water, etc in light of the fact it either has to be connected to the aged Alameda Point system or will they force the City to lay down new connections through Alameda Point or will they fund that themselves.


  1. you mean the same VA that was so successful running Walter Reed? riiiiight.

    hey I know, let’s bitch and moan about how EEEVIL suncal is some more!

    Comment by E — September 1, 2010 @ 12:22 pm

  2. For a number of reasons, the Sierra Club opposes the transfer of any part of the area designated for the Alameda National Wildlife Refuge to the VA.

    The Navy proposed transferring this area to the VA only after the VA agreed to accept it without requiring complete remediation. The Department of the Interior (which will manage the Wildlife Refuge) refused to accept liability from the Navy for cleaning up the area.

    Also, one result, intended or not, of the transfer of the parcel from the Navy to the VA will be a reduction in the ultimate size of the Wildlife Refuge. I expect the City to propose to swap the VA property in the designated Refuge Area for property elsewhere in Alameda. The City would then own the Refuge property.

    Thus, unless the resolution is amended to state that it supports transfer of property outside of the greater Refuge area to the VA, the Sierra Club will oppose it.

    William Smith
    Sierra Club Executive Committee

    Comment by William Smith — September 1, 2010 @ 1:43 pm

  3. #1 fact check. The VA has its share of problems, but Walter Reed was not one of them. Walter Reed is run by the US Army, or at least it was when the scandal broke.

    #2 “only after the VA agreed to accept it without requiring complete remediation.” Are you sure that the VA can circumvent the CERCLA superfund process that is overseen by the US EPA? Specifically, which parts will be left with substandard remediation if the VA gets the property? The main problem area is the old disposal site which isn’t where the VA buildings are proposed. Are you saying the Navy will walk away from their proposed remediation of the old disposal site, Site 2?

    Regardless of whether the Fish and Wildlife Service gets the whole area or whether the City of Alameda gets the proposed VA facility grounds in a swap that you propose, the Navy won’t be spending the $90 million in our lifetimes to dig out and remove the old Site 2 disposal contents and bring in new clean soil.

    I doubt the City of Alameda will want the responsibility or liability for what might lie under the old runways. Why not just skip the swap idea, and just talk about a suitable site in the mixed-use area? It’s hard enough to get something going without complicating it with a swap.

    Comment by Richard Bangert — September 1, 2010 @ 5:52 pm

  4. This entire proposed BRAC swap is a Bush-era proposal, brought to you by the same folks who brought you the war in Iraq. Just for the record, folks. And they wanted to fight the war in Iraq on the cheap, too–just like the US Navy is throwing its collective weight around to get rid of 549 acres of “hot” former base property that will probably need remediation.

    I do not doubt the need for veterans’ services, nor do I want the VA to locate its facilities outside Alameda. But the current proposal is simply a lousy Bush-era initiative that should have been dumped on January 20, 2009….

    Comment by Jon Spangler — September 1, 2010 @ 8:45 pm

  5. “…is simply a lousy Bush-era initiative that should have been dumped on January 20, 2009….”

    But it wasn’t dumped, so now does it become a lousy Obama-era initiative? Oh, hell no!

    What else is happening in the world that we can blame on Bush?

    Let’s see; the failure of the Iraq war until BO took over, the failure of the Afghan war until BO took over, the failure of the economy until BO took over, the failure of health care until BO took over, the failure of cap and trade until BO took over and, oh yes, that damned BRAC swap until BO took over, the failure of the Gulf eco system until BO took over etc, etc, ad infinitum….and the list will never end… Thank god Bush screwed up so bad. Next thing, Gillitt, Mitchell, et al, will blame Bush because they didn’t get elected…that is until BO took over.

    Comment by jayare — September 2, 2010 @ 8:29 am

  6. #3

    The reason the Interior Department, of which the US Fish and Wildlife Service is a part, refused to accept transfer of the property is that it did NOT accept the Navy’s assurance that the Navy would remediate the property. The proposed transfer states that the Navy will complete PLANNED remediation.

    The Interior Department knows all to well from previous property transfers in the Pacific that the Navy often WILL not remediate contamination discovered AFTER the planned remediation is complete. The RAB reports that a significant portion of the 549 acres hasn’t even been properly characterized yet – and may not be characterized even by the time the proposed transfer would occur.

    One reason the Navy insists that the VA take title to all 549 acres, rather than just the 100 acres it needs, is that the Navy expects Alameda citizens will be more reluctant to press remediation claims against the VA than they will against the Navy. To assure needed remediation, it would be better if the VA only accepted the 100 acres it needs for its own operations. The VA representative testified last night that that was the VA’s preferred position, but to the Navy it was all or nothing.

    Comment by William Smith — September 2, 2010 @ 9:49 am

  7. 5: Jayare, do you honestly think the current Navy-to-VA swap of 549 acres is a good project?

    Sometimes it takes a while to jettison all the cr*p that a previous administration passes on. And the US Navy telling the VA to take all 549 acres in an “all-or-nothing” fed-to-fed swap has always smelled pretty bad to me.

    The USN has always known that the VA only needs 100 acres–and that 100 acres could be almost anywhere within Alameda. Yet the USN is throwing its weight around to strong-arm the VA into this swap that puts the VA in charge of a 449-acre wildlife refuge?

    It was never a good idea, and the Navy knows it. They are just bullying the VA, US FWS, and the City of Alameda in order to get rid of their wildlife “hot potato” on the cheap and on the quick instead of doing what is right.

    And since the project has not been completely approved yet, it is not too late to quash this cancerous Bush-era stupidity before it spreads any more.

    Comment by Jon Spangler — September 2, 2010 @ 9:57 am

  8. 6.
    Do you mind revealing your sources for all your declarations? Or are they just speculations?

    Definitely think it’s a good project. “…it is not too late to quash this cancerous Bush-era stupidity before it spreads any more.” Any other Bush-era stupidity we can build on? How about a couple nuke power plants out there? And some high rises on the far west coast, mmm mmm, next to a golf course. Throw in a couple gambling joints, couple luxury hotels, a helicopter pad with service to SFO, a cruise ship docking area where the flat tops docked and I think we’ve got a winner! Oh, and a aviary bird cage for the last least tern.

    Comment by jayare — September 2, 2010 @ 12:11 pm

  9. 8. My source for the difficulties between the Department of the Interior and the Navy regarding remediation of Navy lands turned into wildlife refuges is the Golden Gate Audubon Society. Audubon has been in close contact with the Fish and Wildlife Service regarding Alameda Point for the last 15 years.

    Comment by William Smith — September 2, 2010 @ 1:21 pm

  10. Jayare, since we’re talking about “BLANK-era stupidity,” why is the city wasting our tax dollars debating a meaningless resolution?

    How about a resolution requiring that all puppies be given a big hug?

    Where are the adults!?

    Comment by Dave L. — September 2, 2010 @ 6:09 pm

  11. 9.
    Please footnote your declarations, preferably with primary source. Here-say cannot be verified.

    Comment by Jayare — September 2, 2010 @ 6:46 pm

  12. 10
    Puppies, winged creatures, all other non-humanoid creatures are safely under the beneficent umbrella of EPA and therefore need no hugging. In fact it is against sub- chapter zilch.sh1.T of the endangered species act to even have thoughts of hugging (hints of bestiality, you see).

    Comment by Jayare — September 2, 2010 @ 9:47 pm

  13. 11. Regarding the VA’s initial request for 100 acres, and the Navy’s insistence that the VA take all 549 acres of the original refuge area, my source is the VA’s project manager who testified at the ARRA meeting Wednesday night, Wednesday, Sept. 1. For verification, you could review the video tape of that meeting, which may be up on the City’s website. Regarding the problems the Interior Department has had with the Navy’s failure to return to remediate newly discovered contamination in the Pacific, you could contact Arthur Feinstein through the Sierra Club, who has years of correspondence between the Audubon Society and the Navy and the Interior Department. For verification that the Navy has not properly characterized much of the 549 acres for toxic contaminants, I refer you to any member of the Alameda Point Restoration Advisory Board, but especially the Sierra Club’s Dale Smith, George Humphrey’s or the City’s environmental consultant or Councilmember Frank Matarrese who attend many of the meetings. You could also request minutes of the RAB meetings from the Navy.

    Comment by William Smith — September 3, 2010 @ 7:35 am

  14. Thanks William Smith.
    I’m sure your first two referrals are fine upstanding gentleman, but isn’t this a little like asking Rajendra Pachauri his take on global warming?

    “…contact Arthur Feinstein through the Sierra Club,…”

    “…I refer you to….the Sierra Club’s Dale Smith…”

    The third reference, wannabe mayor Frank:

    As Mayor, I will make sound reuse of the Base, with business development and job generation a top priority. I will work with the Navy and Federal Government to ensure the best for Alameda. I will work to establish a Veterans Administration presence at the Point for the benefit of our veterans who served our country.

    Come on now, Frank’s a politician!

    Comment by jayare — September 3, 2010 @ 8:40 am

  15. Isn’t the discussion about the VA needing only 100 acres vs. the Navy saying take all 549 acres irrelevant from the standpoint of the Golden Gate Audubon Society? Their point is that there should be not buildings constructed on the Wildlife Refuge regardless of how well everything else is remediated.

    As to the standard of cleanup that is applied to the 549 acres after transfer to the VA, there is an environmental review process that is required which cannot disregard the Endangered Species Act. And if there are still areas of the 549 acres that are still uncharacterized with potential unknown contaminants, well then, it looks like the Navy should get busy now rather than after the Audubon Society challenges the environmental report and causes this land transfer to grind to a halt.

    While I value the opinion of the expert from the Audubon Society, who was by far the most effective speaker against the VA/Fed transfer, he still did not make a convincing case that a two-story building at the proposed location would effect the nesting success of the terns. The VA facility does not look to me to be any closer to the nesting site than the buildings that would be constructed to the east in the mixed-use area. By the way, red-tailed hawks like to land on the Auctions-by-the-Bay rooftop. Does that building need to be torn down?

    Comment by Richard Bangert — September 3, 2010 @ 10:12 am

  16. 15: The US Navy has been dictating to the VA “take all 549 acrss or the deal is off.” The VA is enamored of having “free” land, which we all know will NOT be anything close to “free” by th time the VA has to manage the 449 of 549 acres as a wildlife refuge.

    So why shouldn’t the USN do the logical ands intelligent thing: give the VA 100 acres and give the 449 acres that is supposed to be managed as a wildlife preserve anyway to US FWS?

    Sure there are NEPA standards and other protocols to be followed, but why do things backasswards in the first place?

    I wish the Council had been a bit more adult and approved the Audubon Society’s substitute resolution in its entirety instead of the kiss-up rsolution put forward by staff. The USN and the codependency-enabling VA refuse to behave in an adult fashion (i.e., professional, responsible, intelligent, farsighted, competent, etc…), so someone should, IMHO.

    If the emperor (USN, VA) is not really wearing any clothes, the sooner we all acknowledge and dump this turkey of a project the better off we will all be. Why pour Uncle Sam’s money down a Bush-era rat hole waiting for the Audubon Society to stop this boondoggle in court?

    Building anything in the buffer zone along the eastern edge of the wildlife preserve is equally questionable to building in the NWT, and no buildings should be built in either location, according to the bird experts who know AP best.

    And I’ll take their word against the Navy’s any day of the week given the USN’s track record so far on this fed-to-fed transfer.

    Comment by Jon Spangler — September 3, 2010 @ 5:55 pm

  17. Aha, Jon finally answered my question posed a couple days ago, “Who, Jon, in your humble opinion should make the decisions about what should happen at the base?”. And here it is folks….”…the bird experts who know AP best.”

    Comment by Jayare — September 3, 2010 @ 6:45 pm

  18. Who is going to look out for the interests of our veterans — especially our wounded vets? I’m all for protecting endangered species and our environment, but our vets are part of our environment as well. All of the vets in my family are wounded vets except for one — and he treats wounded vets. Perhaps these folks don’t count as much as an endangered bird, but they do count for something.

    Comment by AlamedaNayTiff — September 3, 2010 @ 7:10 pm

  19. 18: ANT, I really appreciate and agree with your concern for all of our vets, be they healthy, wounded, or fallen. (My father was a vet and my grandfather, too: he served as an ambulance corpsman in WW I.)

    I support veterans and providing better services to them as much as anyone, but this particular project is fundamentally flawed and a terrible way to try and honor veterans or take care of their needs.

    The current iteration of the VA project at AP is a big-time waste of taxpayers’ money right now as well as an insult to veterans because it will take away from the services they need and the respect they deserve.

    The VA was forced by the Navy into taking responsibility for 549 acres–449 more acres than they need for veterans services and for the columbarium–including a wildlife refuge and a toxic site. And managing either of those does not help deliver services to veterans at all. Nor does locating a columbarium on top of a toxic Superfund site. (Not terribly respectful.)

    I DO fully support both a columbarium and a VA clinic at AP, but only if they are properly located, with good access to transit and infrastructure. This Bush-administration “all or nothing” swap isolates the VA facility, however, and only benefits the Navy at the expense of veterans, wildlife, the US Fish & Wildlife Service, and Alameda taxpayers.

    The existing proposal is highly unlikely to pass muster environmentally or economically (too remote, too expensive for the VA to clean up or develop the site) , and it is better to revise it (or to start over, if need be) now than to slog through another few years of pretending that this particular location will work before we all realize that it serves neither vets, taxpayers, the wildlife, or the City of Alameda.

    This project has never been fully considered or vetted within the framework of any comprehensive plan for AP. And it would never have lasted this long except that the Navy has been pushing it and throwing its weight around. And bullying is a terrible way to plan or execute a project.

    Comment by Jon Spangler — September 3, 2010 @ 10:15 pm

  20. #19

    I trust that the Navy, VA and the City can work out a mutually beneficial solution that will serve both the environment and our veterans.

    The Navy was here for 60 years. We should now be able to tolerate a small VA facility at the same location.

    Comment by AlamedaNayTiff — September 4, 2010 @ 8:43 am

  21. I can think of a no more fitting site than what’s being proposed by the VA. Many of my fellow air crew shipmates are currently interred at the bottom of the South China Sea in the waters between the Philippines and Vietnam. We all were stationed here and flew out of NAS Alameda, then spent the better part of two years flying in and around the Gulf of Tonkin. They will never return to their homes here. I was lucky and did. I hope never to leave.

    Comment by Jayare — September 4, 2010 @ 9:52 am

  22. 21.

    Thanks for sharing a bit of your personal story with us. I agree that the proposed location is an attractive one for vets like you and me to wait for eternity.

    If the Section 7 wildlife consulation finds the clinic and columbarium compatible, all will be well. If not, the project will be delayed. I think all parties would have been satisfied had the City been willing to give up part of its golf course area (now slated for a windfarm) just North of the proposed site. That would have been further away for the terns and still have the same stunning views of San Francisco.

    The VA doesn’t want to consider that option anymore, because it would literally require an Act of Congress to move the location. Still, an Act of Congress for the health of a colony seems like a good trade to me!

    Comment by William Smith — September 4, 2010 @ 11:42 am

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