Blogging Bayport Alameda

August 19, 2013

John Knox White: Speak now or forever hold your peace

Filed under: Alameda, Guest blogging — Lauren Do @ 6:00 am

Alameda Point planning is underway, and this time it’s real. We own much of the land, so the next developers that we engage with will be able to put shovel into dirt and start knocking things down and building stuff. What that stuff might be is yet to be determined, but if the Catellus “remnant parcel” project that was at the planning board over the last two months holds any lessons, it’s that the boring items that happen early on carry a lot of weight in shaping what will occur at the end of the project.

The remnant parcel was the result of a complicated four-party land deal that allowed the City of Alameda and Catellus to build the Stargell Ave extension from Webster to Main Street and provide access to the Alameda Landing site. The Stargell extension was designed and planned back around 2000, but there was a hitch. The College of Alameda owned the land that City needed to connect to it newly acquired land that would become Alameda Landing and Bayport. As Catellus’ plans firmed up, negotiations with the College heated up. The College was amenable to the roadway, but not interested in owning a two-acre site cut off from the rest of campus by 5-6 lane road and next to the tube exit. Long story short, in 2008, Catellus bought a building in Marina Village, then traded the building to the College for the land that became the Stargell extension and the remnant parcel. Some info available here at the SF Biz Times and Lauren wrote about it here.

That’s when the die was cast. The entire deal was based on Catellus’ interest in the land to support and expand on their Alameda Landing project, according to the SF Business Times, “Catellus thought it could be used as an entry for Alameda Landing and possibly additional retail.” At the time, the land was zoned as “Community Commercial,” a rather wide open zoning designation, fast food allowed, but drive-thru’s need special permission (as they do in the rest of the city). The die was cast. Fast forward to 2013, In-N-Out wants to come to town, the city has designed one of the most suburban and bicycle and pedestrian unfriendly roads in Alameda at the site.

There wasn’t a lot of choice. The planning board couldn’t say “no fast food” because fast food is allowable by right based on the years old zoning. Saying “no” could (not saying would) have opened up the City to a lawsuit. Now, the board could have said no drive-thru, thus killing In-N-Out, but it’s likely that another fast food joint, sans drive-thru would have popped up in its place.

I write about it now, not to re-open the discussion about In-N-Out, which is over and I believe has not been appealed to the Council. But because the planning for Alameda Point is now at that stage in its process where decisions about “what” will be built where. The first step has been taken, the creation of a planning guide (big file!). While longer than I think it should have been, it’s a document that tries to identify what is proposed, conceptually, to happen at the point. The planning board and council have both voted in unanimous agreement on the direction proposed in the document.

Next Wednesday, August 21, the Board will hold an Alameda Point only meeting to discuss the Town Center plan and the initial draft of the infrastructure plan (both documents, plus staff reports can be found here.)

The planning guide is the document that anyone interested in being involved in what happens at Alameda Point should start with. It’s the high level road map. It doesn’t require the city to do anything, but it outlines the direction that the city expects to move. It’s a living document, meaning that as the infrastructure study and environmental reports are done, the document can be adjusted if necessary based on new information. From this document, discussions on zoning, development phasing, the town center plan, and more specific, targeted development conversations will spring.

These decisions will be the 4-way land swap deal of the Alameda Point process. Don’t want drive-thru’s at Alameda Point, write it into the zoning, like we have on North Park Street. Make fast food conditional, so that every application needs special approval, this is where it goes. Once set, it will be much more difficult to challenge ideas that are presented, because the city needs to be careful changing the rules of the game in the middle of negotiations with developers and land-owners.

Zoning may be really wonky and dry, but the planning process isn’t, or doesn’t have to be. Engage the board and its members in discussion about your broad concerns and encourage them (those fools who signed up to get into the weeds!) to figure out how to make your concepts come to life. Also, don’t wait until the meeting with the final vote to bring it up. It’s hard to make change at that point…bring it up now, before people are talking about it.

The city is starting to use Facebook and Twitter (follow @AlamedaNAS) to spread the word about what’s happening. They’ve hired an outreach consultant to proactively engage the community. I’m hopeful that someday, the City might even join the 20th century and start a planning notification email list that will allow anyone who wants to, to sign up for meeting and issue notifications.

All this is to say that just about every planning board meeting from here to the beginning of next year is going to have (or is likely to have) something Alameda Point related happening. There are three to four meetings just in September. The city is doing everything it can to get people engaged, literally giving it extra effort. The next step is for the community to find a place to plug-in to the process that works for them and to make sure that when the final plans come to the council, they are the plans that Alamedans want to see built.

John Knox White is currently a member of the Planning Board and can be found hyper-analyzing development proposals so you don’t have to.



  1. Thanks, John. I think this underscores the point that if you really, really, care about these issues and want your voice heard, you have to devote time and effort to monitoring the process in a significant way, not just shoot off a five minute email rant to the editor of the local rag.

    Comment by Denise Shelton — August 19, 2013 @ 9:04 am

  2. 1: I second Denise’s sentiments. After engaging in several rounds of planning meetings, workshops, and development strategies, I am weary from efforts that seem to go nowhere. But we may be — perhaps — as John notes, “ready to put shovel into dirt” at Alameda Point (AP).

    With the latest reports of global climate change rates increasing, along with the pace of projected sea level rise to 2100 and beyond, are we really ready to redevelop the former base in a way that accommodates our future (flooded or not) landscape?

    Comment by Jon Spangler — August 19, 2013 @ 9:11 am

  3. It has come to a point when few really care anymore ,
    starting from the deceptive practice from City hall and Public work , namely refusal to fully disclose traffic impact , He was not in town when the base was fully active , at that time with the limited staff the back up was from the freeway to the base entry and vice versa on the afternoon ,
    Personally I find the name of town center , for a development built on mostly toxic waste a pretty poor choice of word , it does however highlight who was behind renaming the Town Center. {which is equally involved in misleading traffic survey}
    Could they put all their brain together and find another name which is not landing getaway or town Center , a pretty limited vocabulary .
    As far as the In and Out , I find it rather peculiar for the DA and just about everyone at City hall to be against it , it will promote crime ……Well I have been their Customer since 1978 and never experienced any crime to the contrary , no one has either , not a single Police Dept ,
    Our planners , leaders are addicted to meat loaded with artificial preservative , plastic toys and fries made God only know where? trucked across the Country is their food of choice , or could it be political contributions .
    This take me directly when trader Joe was trying to move in , they have no chance of making it ……

    Comment by mijoka — August 19, 2013 @ 9:44 am

  4. 2. The Master Infrastructure Plan goes to great lengths to address “our future (flooded or not) landscape.” The bigger question now is how it will be paid for. If we plan it, will they come (and pony up some big infrastructure dollars)?

    From all appearances, it looks like we’ve tapped into a wealth of worldwide experience with the Skidmore Owings and Merrill group designing the waterfront and town center. A lot of fresh ideas, like moving the proposed marina over to the eastern side of the Seaplane Lagoon, and tearing up the concrete on the western shore area to feature a natural landscape rather than buildings – a thousand percent improvement over previous visions. This will mean good riddance to the massive eyesore (Building 25) that used to serve as Michaan’s auction house. Then we can rightfully market world-class views from the shoreline cafes and businesses on the eastern side.

    Comment by Richard Bangert — August 19, 2013 @ 10:11 am

  5. RICHARD, that last paragraph sounds so good, I truly hope that comes true some day. I walk that Eastern shore of the Sea plane lagoon every day. If you take out bldg. 25 and whatever else is out there we have a spectacular view of the city .

    Comment by John P. (L) — August 19, 2013 @ 11:29 am

  6. O.K. I’ll speak now, its my opinion that we need to take measure A out of the discussion for Alameda Point. I don’t believe the Point can be developed properly under measure A. There needs to be some sort of exemption or modification to measure A. I understand that the planning board and council have to work under the present measure. Alameda can protect neighborhoods and certain area’s by using the zoning codes, while allowing the Point to be developed without measure A choking it to death. I’m speaking now.

    Comment by John P. (L) — August 19, 2013 @ 3:12 pm

  7. The city seems to be plowing forth as if A doesn’t exist, John. So many exemptions and exceptions, with state law as fig leaf, that the Measure barely exists anymore.

    But if we must change A as you suggest, I submit the following:

    Public vote on scrapping A West of Main St. while strengthening it east of Main. For example the ballot could contain language that only allows for future changes East of Main to occur with a 2/3 vote.

    This would free up the base for the development scheme you refer to, while preserving the rest of the city and calming very legitimate fears of a return to the knockdown years. Many people who support the measure strongly also understand the need for more flexibility at the base. This would be a compromise that preservationists could tolerate, even embrace. Pro-development people would be fine with, as they’ve often stated they are OK w/ A in the rest of the city.

    Comment by dave — August 19, 2013 @ 3:46 pm

  8. How many of the NAS buildings are they going to try to save? Does anyone know?

    Comment by M.T. — August 19, 2013 @ 5:27 pm

  9. Dave, I could live with your suggestion, it seems like something that most people would understand. Thanks

    Comment by John P. (L) — August 19, 2013 @ 7:57 pm

  10. post #8, another question would be how many NAS buildings can actually be saved?. They are in pretty bad shape right now.

    Comment by John P. (L) — August 19, 2013 @ 7:59 pm

  11. 8. The short answer is “a lot.” The Historic District has special status, and its character must be maintained. But individual buildings are not specifically protected – they are listed as “Contributors” to the Historic District, which means that they COULD get torn down, but something similar in moderne architectural style would have to go in its place.

    The report cited below says: “The NAS Alameda Historic District, covering approximately 406.5-acres, is located within the former Naval station and contains 100 contributors including 99 contributing buildings and structures, and one contributing site: a historic designed landscape.” Keep in mind that the word “building” is a poor choice of words. They really mean structures when they say buildings. So, for example, the seaplane ramps at the Seaplane Lagoon are “buildings,” in the Navy’s historical lexicon.

    In the eastern, non-historic district running from the soccer/campground/boat ramp parking lot on the south all the way to, but not including, the Big Whites, virtually everything is going to get torn down, not just because the structures lack historical value, but also because they lack adaptive reuse value.

    This report on the Historic District is essentially a short course history book on NAS-Alameda: Worth reading.

    Comment by Richard Bangert — August 19, 2013 @ 8:21 pm

  12. #11 – Richard, Thanks for the info!

    Comment by M.T. — August 19, 2013 @ 8:30 pm

  13. “…along with the pace of projected sea level rise to 2100 and beyond…”

    How high should the dike be?

    Comment by Lavage10 — August 20, 2013 @ 8:53 pm

  14. 3′ by 2100

    Comment by MI — August 21, 2013 @ 7:05 am

  15. For an 18-month period beginning in 2010, the oceans mysteriously dropped by about seven millimeters.

    Comment by Put on your Hip Waders — August 21, 2013 @ 9:06 am

  16. So we’re going to need a 3′ tall dike?

    Comment by lavage1o — August 21, 2013 @ 11:05 am

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