Blogging Bayport Alameda

April 17, 2014

Alameda Point break

Filed under: Alameda, Alameda Point, City Council, Development — Lauren Do @ 6:07 am

You want to know what led to the the beachfront at South Shore looking the way that it does?   Look no further than the City Council meeting from Tuesday night.   Essentially we have created the draft for a “vision” for the Town Center portion of Alameda Point.   I means it’s really not much of a vision other a few form based codes,  very general zoning, some height limits, and open space requirements.   That’s it.   As long as the developer doesn’t violate anything in the “Precise Plan” then it’s open season.

The agreement from last night’s meeting was to open this Request for Qualifications (RFQ), not proposals, because we don’t want to see what people might do, we just want someone who has the financial ability and the past history to have been able to do something to build anything.

Given the scope of the RFQ and the limitations placed on the developers, it’s HIGHLY unlikely that we’re going to get anything visionary, innovative, or special.  And given the constrained time line (six months) it’s even less likely we’re going to get anyone of quality and we’ll just get some cookie cutter developer that has some plan they’ve tried out elsewhere that they think they might be able to shoe horn at Alameda Point.

Here’s the funny thing, last night, according to public comments made by Council member Lena Tam, the City of Alameda wasted six month with Charles Company to just try to figure out if they had the financial wherewithal to develop this same parcel we’re offering up under the RFQ.   But now, we’re under some ticking clock to pick someone in the same amount of time that was used to just vet some random developer’s financials.

City Council member Marilyn Ezzy-Ashcraft noted that she disagreed with the part of the RFQ that stated that any developer that submitted renderings would be disqualified.  City Manager John Russo responded that he wanted to put that language in there because he felt as though pretty renderings “poisoned” the process and would rather use past projects completed as a judge as to whether the developer can do the job.   Not to beat a dead horse, but given how long the City wasted going back and forth with Charles Company, if anyone had even taken a peek at their completed projects, none of those projects would be appropriate for the Alameda Point waterfront.  I mean, of the set which would you want for Alameda Point?   I’m not sure why the rules that were initially proposed were different for the Charles Company than for these respondents to the RFQ.

Anyway, it was a pretty contentious meeting and honestly if you need a rationale why Stewart Chen shouldn’t be re-elected, his performance on this agenda item is a great example of how he just doesn’t grasp these land use concepts and should disqualify him from sitting on the City Council.  I mean when he sits there and pontificates about what portion will be “reserved” for residential and which for commercial in the same breath that he says it will be “mixed use” it’s clear he doesn’t get what “mixed use” is supposed to be.   Also when he calls a projected 25 ac/unit “high density” he clearly doesn’t understand what high density is either.   Let me put it this way: One Rincon Tower — that’s the huge new residential tower in San Francisco off the freeway — is built on 1.3 acres.

1.3 acres.

And has 709 units. That is dense.  800 units scattered on a 68 acre site is not high density.   By the way sales prices for those units ranged from a low of $500,000 and a high of $2.5 million.  But that’s San Francisco.

So what ended up happening after this super frustrating discussion, there were some modifications (bigger deposit, no immediate disqualification if the developer chooses to send an inspirational rendering in, 800 unit cap on “free units” but developer will have to pay for the overage) but in the end, we’ll need to really pray that an innovative developer decides to take a chance on Alameda and gets through the vetting process.  I’m not very optimistic, but given Alameda’s track record, this whole thing will probably fall through and we’ll be back to where we started again in another 12-24 months.

As an aside, City Manager John Russo need to dial it back like 10 notches.  When he gets overly defensive — and then goes on the offensive — he starts getting loud and aggressive and make it seem as though there might be something there.   No one on this particular Council is trying to deliberately malign the honor of City Staff, so when he makes a big f-ing deal about it he simply draws more attention to and makes it seem like it’s a bigger issue than it actually is.



  1. My understanding is that Russo and the Mayor (sounds like a rap duo–or maybe a sitcom) were both against renderings because they “poisoned the process” and if the final result didn’t look like the drawings, people would be disappointed. This is garbage. They don’t want renderings because they want the public in the dark, unable to make any substantive argument against what they decide to do. Once they get the go ahead, it will be too late. Yes, I’m sure it’s tiring listening to public input when, in fact, it doesn’t make a bit of impact your personal decision making process and renderings will certainly increase the number of folks who speak out,, but it’s part of your job, kids. Deal with it.

    Comment by Denise Shelton — April 17, 2014 @ 7:46 am

  2. Excellent piece. We should prefer a devisive, messy and poisoned process that results in a compromise solution to one like this where essentially we throw up our hands in favor of the fast track and end up with a waterfont McD’s, the hind end of a truck depot and the second ugliest courthouse in the Bay Area (thank goodness for Hayward). We have the time, we have the patience, and we appear to have the market now to insist on reasonable conditions on our offer so we dont end up with the next showcase of a developer’s vision of economy and bad taste. If our current leaders cant handle that then they should take a pass. In this case nothing is better than “something” permanent based on past experience.

    Comment by Joe — April 17, 2014 @ 9:09 am

  3. I’ve had the opportunity to sit on panels for selecting potential developers/design consultants etc. Renderings could be useful in getting an understanding of how the developer views the project, but all too often they have become eye candy that is used to detract the reviewer from important aspects of the qualification review. I liked the idea of eliminating renderings because it would put applicants out of their comfort zone a bit, and force them to provide information specifically for this project, rather than cutting and pasting from previous proposals.

    Comment by Doug Biggs — April 17, 2014 @ 11:22 am

  4. It will be interesting to see if any developers good enough for our Alameda actually want to get involved in our little island shitfight.

    Comment by lavage10 — April 17, 2014 @ 11:23 am

  5. Doug, I have to agree with you. I would want to get down to brass knuckles since we’ve been through this process several times. In other words – show me your qualifications to do the project that has been entitled and vetted through the community. Show me what similar projects you’ve done? These are the most important renderings if you ask me. What is your financial capacity to complete the project? Describe your team and their experience, etc. etc.

    The community vision has already been articulated in the zoning, and the RFQ has outlined a framework for what the City wants to see built on the various parcels. This process seems to be a focused interview process to make sure we end up with qualified developers that are committed to developing the community vision.

    Comment by Karen Bey — April 17, 2014 @ 11:43 am

  6. Regarding the 800 homes on Parcel A, I understand Tam’s and Ashcraft’s frustration. I think those of us who want to see a high density project at Alameda Point are all frustrated (me included) – but we have to live within the constraints of the Navy deal – 1,425 homes. Remember, the city was given a no-cost conveyance based on the agreement that our project would focus on jobs. That is why there is 5.5 million sq. ft. of commercial entitled at Alameda Point. In addition to residential, Parcel A has been entitled for office, retail, and hotels.

    A $50K per unit penalty if the developer exceeds 800 homes is perhaps the best we can do given the constraints of the Navy deal.

    Comment by Karen Bey — April 17, 2014 @ 12:22 pm

  7. The problem with the logic of only assigning 800 of the “free” units to Area A is that has assumed, before even having a public discussion or understanding if it is even viable, that the BEQ units *must* be converted into residential. We are talking about $91 million in infrastructure costs for Area A alone but we want to put up artificial constraints and then say we’re trying to retain flexibility? Because Area A must be the “jewel” in the Alameda Point crown it would be better to front load everything possible there and then allow the other residential areas, particularly the single family homes, to bear the burden of the $50K/unit penalty since there are no lack of developers eager to build those units.

    Comment by Lauren Do — April 17, 2014 @ 12:58 pm

  8. You lost me on the connection between the homes in area A and the BEQ was the assumption they would be turned into residential made as part of the presentation or rfq process?

    Comment by Doug Biggs — April 17, 2014 @ 1:10 pm

  9. The City Manager stated that they had to set aside more of the “free” units because the BEQs will be expensive to rehabilitate and a future developer couldn’t bear the $50K/unit costs on top of the cost to rehabilitate the BEQs to housing. Which is true, but pre-supposes that we’ve had the discussions that the BEQs must be converted to housing.

    Comment by Lauren Do — April 17, 2014 @ 1:13 pm

  10. I’ll also point out that the initial RFQ (set at a max of 800 units for Area A) doesn’t even align with the precise plan for the waterfront (which has yet to be officially adopted). COO Jennifer Ott stated that the approximate density (if you only consider usable land, take out all the streets, take out all the parks, and take out the Main Street homes which will have a density set more like Bayport) would be 25 units/acre, but I mean you had to do a lot of funny math to reach that calculation. The precise plan states this about that area:

    Development Density minimums to support frequent and convenient public transit and other amenities. For the Alameda Point Town Center, the Precise Plan recommends a minimum density of 35 dwelling units / acre overall and higher densities in the Core area. [emphasis added]

    Comment by Lauren Do — April 17, 2014 @ 1:25 pm

  11. I hate the idea of an outlet mall in Zone B. Perhaps that’s a bit of NIMBYism because I live in the adjacent neighborhood, but I just don’t like the idea of an outlet mall at all on the point and certainly can’t see why one would be placed right next to an established residential area. I would be much happier if the space was developed into an office complex that was primarily generating incoming traffic during the Mon-Fri commute or to locally-owned mixed retail. Is there any chance we could see something akin to the hellish Sunday traffic situation that occurs once a month following the Antiques Faire if we add cheesy “destination retail” like an outlet mall? That’s not a rhetorical question, I don’t presume to know the answer. That aside, I have another question about developing this area. Do we think the stand of trees (cypress, I think?) at the intersection of Central and Pacific will be preserved?

    Comment by Sarah — April 17, 2014 @ 1:37 pm

  12. Spreading the entitled housing over the parcels that are entitled for housing was probably a difficult task given the constraints, but the bulk of the housing was placed on Parcel A. The good thing is that at some point, the developer can and probably will build more than 800 homes on Parcel A.

    Comment by Karen Bey — April 17, 2014 @ 1:39 pm

  13. It is not a question of whether the City wants to see — and share with the public for comment — what developers can do for Alameda Point, it’s a question of when. Once developers have sufficiently demonstrated to staff, the City Council and the Alameda community through concrete past experience that they have the right qualifications to work with us in realizing the community’s vision for Alameda Point, and once they have site control, then we want to see what they can do. Developers do not provide real plans based on economic reality until they have site control. No development rights are provided to any developer that cannot obtain successful approval in public from the Planning Board and City Council of a detailed development plan. These approvals, of course, come at the end of a very public process.

    Comment by Jennifer Ott — April 17, 2014 @ 2:40 pm

  14. Jennifer Ott: What we need before anything is built is a 3D Model, to show the size & massing of the proposed buildings. Other projects do it all the time. Alameda should not settle for less.

    Comment by notmayberry — April 17, 2014 @ 2:52 pm

  15. A good example is the Del Monte building. For several years now, the Del Monte site has been entitled. The zoning describes what land uses are approved for that site, but now there is a qualified developer that controls the site and who has invested in architectural drawings and plans for a project that will go through a separate public process to get approvals for what actually gets built on that site.

    Comment by Karen Bey — April 17, 2014 @ 3:23 pm

  16. Well this is just my opinion, but I sat on the planning board for 8 1/2 years, during that time I never saw one set of developer drawings that even came close to what they were offering. Sorry Denise, One thing I did learn from a very brilliant lady, Anne Cook, was if they won’t put in in writing then they aren’t really offering it. To put it in my very street language, they will throw so much B—S—. at you to make their case that you won’t be able to breath. That is the very sad fact folks, so I’m with the Mayor and the Italian guy.

    Comment by John P. — April 17, 2014 @ 6:23 pm

  17. As a developer who has done a lot of work in Alameda I can tell you renderings pollute the process. They can always be made to look nice but never convey detail or true intent of quality. They should be banished from the process. One needs to look at past projects for the developer and it’s appointed design team to get true understanding of what is to be developed. Renderings are a cheap distraction. The project at the corner of Park and Buena Vista is a good example. Looks nice in renderings but the finished product looks like cheap sh!t and now wonder it sits vacant. Look at track record, actual projects and credibility to perform.

    Comment by Joe — April 17, 2014 @ 7:56 pm

  18. 17. actually, even if drawings are distraction it is not that hard to remind yourself that it is slight of hand and that there is no guarantee. The Wallgreen’s is the same sort of dimensional vernacular as building at Buena Vista with the turret etc, but architecturally there is no real there there, in terms of materials and finishes, quality of windows etc. I actually think the parking structure for what it is , has much better detail and aesthetic than the cinema, and the tile facade has a lot to do with that.

    This example of Gaia Building in Berkeley ( is not a perfect example because it is imitating Julia Morgan and we have few buildings of that style ( Adelphia?), but if we are going to use stucco as major element, which is not typical of the Victorians we should think about some tweaks. There is a building at Shattuck and University which employs tile on the facade , as in this Gaia example. Other corbels as well. Even the faux whatever style at Southshore is more effective than the buildings on Park, though it’s cheap construction. Trellises help. The increased cost of these tweaks can be limited, but we are stuck with these buildings for at least 50 years. Our architectural aesthetic is being dumbed down and eroded in increments. Buildings with no eaves are cheaper to build, but can look scalped.

    Comment by MI — April 18, 2014 @ 9:39 am

  19. I should clarify that the costs in the example of Gaia are probably substantial, but a lot can be done for more modest amounts. There are a lot of examples of people putting a lot of effort into jazzing up Victorians by attempting their own imitations ( especially porches and stair railings) which are just a jumble of near misses.

    Comment by MI — April 18, 2014 @ 9:46 am

  20. “…which are just a jumble of near misses.”

    I own I never could envy Didius in these kinds of fancies of his:—But every man to his own taste.—Did not Dr. Kunastrokius, that great man, at his leisure hours, take the greatest delight imaginable in combing of asses tails, and plucking the dead hairs out with his teeth, though he had tweezers always in his pocket? Nay, if you come to that, Sir, have not the wisest of men in all ages, not excepting Solomon himself,—have they not had their Hobby-Horses;—their running horses,—their coins and their cockle-shells, their drums and their trumpets, their fiddles, their pallets,—their maggots and their butterflies?—and so long as a man rides his Hobby-Horse peaceably and quietly along the King’s highway, and neither compels you or me to get up behind him,—pray, Sir, what have either you or I to do with it?

    H/T to Tristram Shandy, Gentleman

    Comment by Jack — April 18, 2014 @ 4:28 pm

  21. 20. whatever. if our home is a our castle, sure to each their own, but a lot of it makes me wince just the same. For all the preservation efforts trying to maintain historic structures from being defaced, there sure is a lot of well intentioned bastardization of the original Victorian aesthetic. Even painting them 11 colors has no historic basis, including gold leaf. A lot of it looks cool, but a lot can be said for 3 or 4 colors total. Much of the ornate Victorian wood work was not meant to be painted elaborately, but instead the natural shadows are meant to high light the ornamentation with a little more subtlety. Maybe I’m just pontificating, but to me Victorian craftsmanship was high art and I get tired of seeing hack jobs.

    Comment by MI — April 18, 2014 @ 7:26 pm

  22. Just think in two hundred years we’ll be bitching about whoever owns Joe’s Bayport solar paneled roof wants to replace it with cube technology.

    Comment by Jack — April 18, 2014 @ 7:55 pm

  23. I actually like the building at Buena Vista and Park. I thought they did a fairly good job except for the old Car dealership building it could use some help. At this point they have been fighting and bickering for 15 years about the base…just build something already. They demolished the Chipman building and it looks like the plans for the Del Monte space is starting to happen. I hope that whatever come of the old base they will paint some of the building a different color than that baby diarrhea yellow.

    Comment by Joseph — April 21, 2014 @ 9:58 pm

  24. BTW Joe’s Bayport paneled roof doesn’t have solar panels but I am interested in them.

    Comment by Joseph — April 21, 2014 @ 10:00 pm

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