Blogging Bayport Alameda

March 13, 2013

Island hopping

Anyone got a time turner?  [Harry Potter reference] because Thursday will be a doozy of an evening for meetings of interest.   First up, VA will be holding its meeting about the VA clinic and columbarium at the USS Hornet.   I suppose you could hit up the meeting at 1:00 – 3:00 p.m. to go to the others in the PM, but that assumes that you don’t go to work in the AM and therefore have those afternoon hours free.   So 6:00 – 8:00 you could opt to go to the Hornet to put in your comments about the proposed VA clinic.

However, given how far long those plans are and honestly, who really believes that anything that they are going to say is honestly going to change the plan.   Really now.

So might I suggest that your efforts might be better spent at another meeting: the Beltline recommendations will be seen and discussed for the very first time before the Recreation and Park Commission, 7:00 p.m. at City Hall.

Although, given the tone and leaning of the staff report it really sounds as though the use type for the Beltline is pretty much a done deal as well.  Unless the Aquatics community and/or track community (is there a track community out there?) can build some momentum with some serious financial commitments behind it to carve out some space for the Aquatics Center and/or an all-weather track field.

Much like the arguments during the whole Measure C campaign, an Aquatics Center could be a financial boon to the City if designed properly and it sounds like an all-weather track field would be welcomed by our local high school teams and could free up some space on campuses like, oh say Encinal, for additional portables.   Just an idea…

But give that the Beltline recommendations from staff might simply get rubber stamped by the Rec and Park Commission, perhaps your time and effort might be better spent at the Alameda Unified School District’s facilities meeting (6 p.m. Alameda High School cafeteria) on the same night.    This process is really in its nascent stages and Thursday’s meeting will be really setting up the ground rules for moving forward with the discussion around the whole facilities issue, particularly the Historic Alameda High School.

If you are really ambitious you could just go from  meeting to meeting and try to hit it all of the meetings.   But good luck with that.



  1. Not to mention that the regularly scheduled bimonthly Restoration Advisory Board meeting will be taking place from 6:30 to 9 pm in Rm 140, City Hall West. The RAB doesn’t get much press here, but most everyone who sits on the RAB is likely interested in the VA’s plans for development. Most infuriating: the Navy rep who will be at the meeting on the Hornet helping the VA with its presentation comes from the exact same San Diego office [1455 Frazee Rd, Suite 900], as the Navy rep who runs the RAB meetings. Just how hard is it for 2 guys sitting next to each other in the same office to plan 2 presentations aimed at the same audience that DON’T overlap in time & space???

    Government: If you think the problems we create are bad, just wait until you see our solutions!

    Comment by vigi — March 13, 2013 @ 9:29 am

  2. Vigi: thanks, that’s also another unfortunate conflict as well.

    Comment by Lauren Do — March 13, 2013 @ 9:38 am

  3. Not to mention that the Board of Education meeting starting the process on HAHS future is Thursday night as well – 6 pm, Cafeteria of AHS.

    Comment by Kevis Brownson — March 13, 2013 @ 3:26 pm

  4. Wonder of wonders–the VA has extended its Alameda Point comment period through Friday, April 19, for a total of 56 days of public review.
    The VA has also added a third public hearing on Wednesday, April 10, at the “O” Club, from 4:00-7:00 PM. Read the details here:

    True to form the VA updated its web site yesterday (Tuesday, 3/12) and did not tell anyone about it at all: Jennifer Ott at the City of Alameda had not yet been informed of the changes when I contacted her this afternoon.

    The additional public hearing April 10 plus the lengthened public comment period take some pressure off of folks trying to figure out how to get to, aboard, or from the remote and inaccessible USS Hornet tomorrow.

    (PS–If you are thinking of bicycling to either the Hornet or the “O” Club, be prepared for ZERO secure bike parking at both locations. Carry cable and U-Locks and be prepared to improvise with the fences, hand rails, and other non-racks that will be available.)

    Comment by Jon Spangler — March 13, 2013 @ 9:25 pm

  5. North Park Street code will be discussed at City Council on Tuesday 3/19 (first reading of the proposed zoning ordinance). Somehow in the journey from public comment to staff recommendation to Planning Board, the height limits on the buildings facing Park Street increased from 40′ in the general plan to 60′ passed by Planning Board. Is this what people want? The building housing McGee’s is the tallest in this area and it is not 60′.

    Comment by Kevis Brownson — March 14, 2013 @ 8:23 pm

  6. By way of context, the area is currently zoned, and has been for years, for 100′ limit. The planning board recommended a reduction from 100′ to 60′ which staff concurred with and supported and which is consistent with the 2008 City Council accepted plan that the code is implementing.

    I think it’s useful to consider that zoning for 60′ does not ensure that all, or indeed any, buildings will be 60′, though it obviously would allow for one to be built if the proposal made it through design review and planning.

    Comment by JKW — March 14, 2013 @ 8:57 pm

  7. You are right John, it is currently zoned for 100′ and no one has built a building of this height there. However having the new zoning/development code in place may help developers to go ahead and make plans to build taller buildings since it is recommended that the 40′ height in the General Plan be removed. I personally am looking forward to development in this area since most of it directly facing Park Street is pretty bleak right now. But people were upset about the parking garage for the theater which is under 60′— the elevator shaft is 57′ if I recall correctly. I thought that one of the reasons to have a form based development code was to make it easy for builders to make it through design review and planning.

    I understood that planning staff recommended 40′ and it then was changed by Planning Board at the meeting in fall 2012– is that not the case? The most current copy of the ordinance on the City Web site (2012) lists a top height of 40′ for the Gateway, Workplace, and Waterfront neighborhoods. I can’t find any reference to the 60′ height that was passed by Planning Board except by going to the Planning Board agenda and minutes. Whether or not one agrees that 60′ is an OK height for these buildings, this is not very transparent, for a process that has been going on since 2008.

    Comment by Kevis Brownson — March 15, 2013 @ 5:52 pm

  8. I think your first point is important and should be discussed. I, for one, am not worried about the height, if the right building comes along and it’s 58 feet high, I think we should approve it. I think that some of the talk of canyons of 60′ buildings is pushing it a bit (not suggesting you made this case, but it is being made).

    I think you’re confusing a working draft with a recommendation. What is posted on the website is a version of a document that was in flux. Initial thoughts were put into it. The 40′ height was a recommendation by AAPS, and it was a part of the intial pass. Much like AAPS recommended a number of changes that were amended into the final recommendation, changes to that draft are not overruling a staff recommendation, they are changes to the draft as the result of continued conversation and discussion that resulted in a staff recommendation (what was eventually taken to the PB by staff recommended 60′). At the subcommittee meeting, attended and participated in by AAPS rep, staff indicated, after being asked, that they thought 40′ was not the right limit.

    When the item came back to the planning board, it was highlighted in the staff report and the subject was discussed throoughly, along with public comment on it. It will now have a second and third hearing at the council.

    To suggest that once an initial draft is produced, it cannot be changed, noticed, discussed and voted on, would severely cut down on the ability for planning to actually occur. The current draft includes a number of changes that were proposed by AAPS, should we be suggesting that there is something wrong withe those changes being incorporated? I don’t believe so, planning is a work in process and a part of that process is to write down initial thoughts and then, as they are discussed, make changes as necessary. The changes were clearly documented, large ones (like the height limit) were highlighted for discussion in the staff report, and public comment and discussion was had before a final recommendation was made.

    I too found the document you refer to on the website yesterday. It’s clearly listed as 2012, but it’s unfortunate the city has not posted the most recent draft (even more unfortuante is that staff appears to have forgotten to include it in the council meeting packet, so it looks like the item is going to have to be continued another two weeks). With the planning department working with a bare bones staff, housecleaning items are falling through the cracks.

    I think that the council staff report (as the previous planning board staff report did) highlights the issue well. The media have picked it up and made it an issue. I’m not sure where the transparency issue is, and I bristle a bit at the idea that this is being presented with a hint of backroom decision-making with the outcome being hidden from sight.

    The Council’s accepted plan for the area says “four stories” on Park Street, and at the hearing for the plan a proposal for a cap of 40′ was suggested and not amended into the plan. Before that meeting, neither the planning board, nor the HAB, nor the EDC recommended a 40′ restriction.

    Since 40′ would not allow many commercial four story buildings that were built consistent with the high ground floor ceiling similar to many existing buildings on the street, it was recommended to increase it. Personally, I had initially recommended 50′, but felt a compelling case was made that there may be some mixed-uses that would be beneficial to the area that might not be feasible unless you could build slightly above that, something more akin to five stories (one retail, one commercial, three residential). Especially if the top floor is set back, I think the building could fit appropriately on Park Street..

    I agree, we can disagree on whether 60′ is appropriate, and I welcome the discussion, but I think that the process that led to the final recommendation was fully transparent, public and robust.

    Comment by JKW — March 16, 2013 @ 9:13 am

  9. Sorry I wasn’t confused, just hasty– my sentence should have read “The most current copy of the *proposed* ordinance on the City Web site (2012) lists….” I do know it is a working document and back and forth dialogue is taking place. I pay some attention to this stuff (I never have enough time) . I am not so concerned about “canyons” as some people are. But I think when the picture of the first proposal for a 60′ building or buildings hits the front page of the newspaper, people will be very surprised and want to know how it happened. 60′ is so much taller than most of the buildings we have in town except at the former NAS.

    So should 60′ buildings be allowed by right in the code, or should they be conditionally allowed with the norm for height 40′ or 45′? Santa Cruz, for example has a code for downtown Pacific Ave that allows buildings even 75′ tall, but they have to fulfill some fairly strict conditions about shading, roofline setbacks, benefit to the community and more.

    I did not mean by a lack of transparency that any sort of untoward backroom activities might have taken place– honestly, that thought never crossed my mind. But what I did mean is ( and I don’t have time to go looking through all the minutes) in the 5 public meetings that the staff report says took place between 2010 and August 2012, was there a hue and cry for taller buildings? My guess is, probably not. All I know is that between November 13 PB meeting and January 15 PB meeting, the height for the Gateway neighborhood changed from 40′ to 60′. It may have been in response to something that happened November 13, but that is hard to tell because the minutes from that meeting are not on the city Web site either.

    I really haven’t seen any discussion in the press on the height limit, but maybe I missed it since Blogging Bayport is the only Alameda related blog I read.

    Comment by Kevis Brownson — March 16, 2013 @ 11:10 pm

  10. Thanks for the clarification. I do think that we need to be careful about suggesting that changes in drafts is not the same as overriding staff recommendations. There are often many ways to write a zoning code, none of which is inherently “correct.” Suggesting (not saying you did, just more in general) that a board overrode a staff recommendation, suggests that staff was against the final decision. (It can happen, and it isn’t inherently a problem, but when there is consensus on the final recommendation, it can help lend legitimacy to the recommendation, that at least none of the recommenders is worried that it’s a disaster).

    In terms of “why” the change was suggested, it came up because in a subcommittee meeting, the question was asked “how was 40′ determined.” Until that time, no discussion of specific heights had occurred outside of the very limited public comment on the subject. As it was discussed, the fact that 40′ would likely prohibit the Gateway Plan’s four story vision and a discussion on whether 50 or 60′ ensued.

    As someone who got to sit through all the meetings, I think that the height conversation process would be better described as “never came up until….” rather than “changed in response to X that came up at the meeting…” The initial conversations were much more focused on uses, etc. it wasn’t until late in the process that the height issue was discussed. (Likely because AAPS was the only talking about it, and since it had been written into the first draft, therefore the only commenters who had raised the issue weren’t spending time on it at meetings because the text reflected what they hoped for). When it was raised and discussed in January, AAPS was there with photos and comments on the topic, along with some of the neighbors from the wedge neighborhood, many of whom had been told that the planning board was “raising” the building height limit..

    From my perspecitve, this isn’t a conversation about “taller buildings” it’s one about “how much shorter than current,” Since the current code allows 100′. any change is a reduction, and the conversation is therefore what’s the approporiate height (The HAB had one member who suggested heights should be restricted below what they are currently, but the minutes suggest that they didn’t provide a number.) There’s been a vigorous discussion on the topic, which I fell expect will continue until the council votes on the new zoning. All of which is healthy and will ensure that whatever final decision is made, was done so with full knowledge of the issue and with mindful intent on behalf of the decision-makers.

    Anyway, thanks for the conversation. i think we’ll have a few extra weeks to discuss this because of the noticing issue which will give more time for the discussion with the elected officials. Hope you enjoy the beuatiful spring weather today!

    Comment by JKW — March 17, 2013 @ 9:35 am

  11. Thanks for the clarification John– definitely enjoying the spring weather!

    Comment by Kevis Brownson — March 17, 2013 @ 11:55 am

  12. The North Park Street zoning code has officially been continued at the council until April 2. It will not be discussed tomorrow.

    Comment by jkw — March 18, 2013 @ 10:05 am

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