Blogging Bayport Alameda

December 4, 2015

In the eye of the beholder

Filed under: Alameda — Lauren Do @ 6:04 am

By now you should know that the container project went down in (sort of) flames.  But what it boiled down to is that this project lost the political game that they were unaware they would be facing on what should have been sort of a gimme project.  After all in the three separate hearings there was very little opposition to the project, they simply were unprepared for the loyal opposition that exists for every single development in Alameda.

But now they know and hopefully they will be more prepared the second time around.  This was not a complete repudiation of the use for the site but it was an aesthetic argument that, well, personally is going to be hard to make everyone completely happy about.  Just to recap what happened after lots of cranky people came and spoke about how horrible it all was including delightful comments like the containers will contribute to the “ghettoization” of Alameda.  And that if the container building was erected there people would get lost coming into Alameda because it would be too confusing.  The attempt to give the building a quirky pejorative name like “the green monster of Alameda.”  I’m sure that if someone had “ugly” or “hideous” as their City Council drinking game word they’d be drunk three opposition speakers in.

The way that people spoke about the corner made you think that it was some super precious intersection but let me just remind you what it looks like and what it has looked like for forever:

So it came down to this: Frank Matarrese claimed to be intrigued by the design but was convinced by all people disgusted by the container-ness of the containers that it was not appropriate.  Trish Spencer was not thrilled by the containers because it’s not her design aesthetic — she mentioned something about a silver bean in Chicago but it was unclear if she was asking the developer to model the design off of that or just make the building super shiny —  but wouldn’t object if containers were used as long as it didn’t look like containers.  Even though the point is to have containers look like containers, but at one point she asked if “curves” could be incorporated into the containers.  Jim Oddie and Marilyn Ezzy Ashcraft were prepared to approve but instead tempered a direct “no” by proposing a motion to send it back to the Planning Board.

And Tony Daysog, the king of attempting to worm his way around taking a definitive decision by trying to find technicalities that “force” him to vote a certain way.  At least Trish Spencer was honest that she didn’t like the design, but Tony Daysog claimed to like the design, just not on that side of the street.  Tony Daysog went through a torturous “process” argument where he claimed that the design review manual for the North of Park Street area forbids modern architecture on that particular parcel.  The site is zoned G-NP which is the North Park Street Gateway sub-district:

The North Park Street Gateway sub-district (G-NP) is a significant gateway to the City of Alameda. The intent of the NP-G sub-district is to guide the redevelopment of the Park Street commercial area with attractive buildings located near the sidewalk with a mix of commercial workplace, retail, and compatible residential uses that support a pedestrian and transit friendly environment.

Tony Daysog used this particular section in the North Park Street Design Review Manual to insist that he would have been okay with the project had the zoning been different:

Alameda does not currently have many examples of Modern buildings, however applicants may consider Modern architecture as an appropriate style for infill opportunities throughout the Waterfront and Workplace Commercial Districts The Waterfront District in particular, which currently has an existing stock of industrial buildings, provides an appropriate setting for modern design. In this setting, as in other coastal communities, modern design may draw inspiration from nautical themes. While individual expression is encouraged, fundamental design principles of rhythm and facade articulation, and a delineation of entries and ground floor treatment should be emphasized.

Now this can be read two ways.  It can be read as modern architecture is only allowed in the Waterfront and Workplace Commercial Districts.  Or it can be read as modern architecture would be preferred in the Waterfront and Workplace Commercial Districts when it comes to infill sites.  Naturally if you are looking for a reason to appease a certain angry portion of the population you’ll read it the first way even though there is not definitive wording in the Design Review Manual that says “Modern architecture is precluded in districts other than the Waterfront and Workplace Commercial Districts.”   As it stands the lack of that specific wording means that the is room for interpretation that, while not preferred, Modern architecture can exist in zoning areas other than the Waterfront and Commercial Districts.

Add to that in the larger City of Alameda Design Review Manual, the wording is much looser with regard to infill projects and Modern architecture:

Alameda does not currently have many examples of Modern buildings, however applicants may consider Modern architecture as an appropriate style for infill opportunities. Waterfront districts in particular, including areas such Alameda Point, the Park Street Waterfront, and areas adjacent to the estuary may provide an appropriate setting for modern design. In this setting, as in other coastal communities, modern design may draw inspiration from nautical themes. While individual expression is encouraged, fundamental design principles of rhythm and façade articulation, and a delineation of entries and ground floor treatment should be emphasized.

Tony Daysog seems to want to hold the line on the “no modern architecture ever!” in that space, but given that the document does not specifically preclude modern architecture in that space, his reading of that is simply subjective and — in my opinion — wrong.

But here’s what’s important, even though Trish Spencer seemed to think she was the only person to have read the Gateway/North of Park Street documents, there is this section in the Strategic Plan that is really important here:

1. The Strategic Plan is not static. As the district evolves, so too may the market forces and consumer preferences that affect development feasibility. On-going evaluation of the revitalization process and updates to the Plan’s strategies will ensure longterm success.

2. Revitalization is most successful when public and private investment are coordinated to work towards a common goal. The City is dedicated to district revitalization, and where possible, will invest in capital improvements in support of desired change.

As staff reiterated these documents are guides, they are not the be all end all.  The Strategic Plan that guided the crafting of the Design Review manual even says that it’s not a static document that should be held up as the last and final word.  The goal of the Strategic Plan was to revitalize the area with economically feasible developments.

Oh there’s also this in the Strategic Plan:

Encourage special ‘corner treatment’ building design at key locations such as the intersection of Park Street and Blanding Avenue to announce entry to the district and emphasize key aspects of architectural character.

I mean what would have been more special that an interesting bit of architecture that — while not everyone’s cup of tea — definitely would be memorable and get people talking.  “Special” does not need to mean aesthetically pleasing to the masses and “architectural character” does not need to read as traditional.

I’m really hopeful that this local business owner will come back with something just as amazing and special and not fold to the faux-historic architecture that tends to default when too many hands are “fixing” what they find aesthetically unpleasing about architecture.

Every time I hear a complaint about the “hideous” and “ugly” new construction, I think about this episode of the Twilight Zone.

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31 Comments

  1. Given the economic benefits of this project, and the potential for innovative incubator space to become a new “use” on and around Park Street, the “no modern architecture ever” does not make good economic sense.

    The economic benefits of this project far outweigh the strict adherence to a design manual that Andrew Thomas explained was to be used only as a guide.

    Comment by Karen Bey — December 4, 2015 @ 6:59 am

  2. The blow back on the project was most likely due to the design circulated on social media shortly before this last meeting. Most people don’t go out of their way to find out about these projects, but when they see something they don’t like, they react. Rather than the attitude that anything is better than what’s there now, the fact that the area has been an eyesore for ages is precisely why many people would like to see something that will stand the test of time rather than a very “flavor of the month” contemporary fad of the moment type of thing that a container project suggests.

    I also suggest that this design inspired a strong reaction for another reason. Many long time Alamedans feel threatened by the rapid influx of urban hipsters and the culture shift which has occured in the last two years. A major player in the violence at City Hall was not a mistreated tenant but an outside activist from San Francisco whose aggressive tactics inflamed an already tense situation. Expletive laden videos on YouTube and posts on Facebook all but declare war on anyone who is older and doesn’t agree with those posting on how the city should evolve. Alameda is in the midst of a culture war, pure and simple.

    I suppose I am among the people who get branded as being “against everything” but that is categorically unfair. I supported the new library, the theater complex, and I support the plan to turn the Carnegie into the Pacific Pinball Museum. I would be in favor of a different design at that location, too. Something that appeals to more than just a narrow segment of the population. What I am against is forcing an unsustainable number of people into a restricted space, thus making life more difficult for everyone. I’m also pretty tired of people moving to Alameda and then spending much of their time bitching about what they think is wrong with it. Makes one wonder why they showed up in the first place.

    Comment by Denise Shelton — December 4, 2015 @ 7:17 am

  3. Good for you, Council Members. Let’s leave it as Honest Abe’s Well Used Car Lot. Because that’s the Perfect Fucking Use for property at the gateway of Our Fair City. Sheesh.

    Comment by Not. A. Alamedan — December 4, 2015 @ 7:21 am

  4. I believe that both people that were arrested the night of Nov. 4 were Alameda residents. The narrative that it was outside agitators is completely false. Additionally a lot of the tenants at risk of displacement are older Alamedans, populations that are the most vulnerable and have the least resources if facing rent increases and evictions. The faces of tenants that spoke and were angry at the meeting on Nov. 4 looked a lot like those of the landlords that spoke.

    I suppose we should all sit around and say nothing about neighbors and community members getting displaced because it’s what’s wrong with Alameda right now and we should simply shut up and be happy that we have a roof over our head. What is “unsustainable” is a complacency with families spending more than 50% of their income on a basic necessity: housing and families getting priced out of a city in which they have built a community.

    Comment by Lauren Do — December 4, 2015 @ 7:28 am

  5. We don’t live in a feudal society. We are not tied to the land. You get no extra points (moral or political) for being a long-timer here.

    This is a changing city. Let’s not pretend we live in some Thomas Kinkade painting.

    Comment by BC — December 4, 2015 @ 7:55 am

  6. Yes, thank you BC — a changing evolving city.

    Denise, I welcome the urban hipsters to Alameda – they are tolerant, innovative and creative. The symbolic nature of this container project – being across the street from a rest home suggests it’s time to blend the old and the new and look towards the future!

    Comment by Karen Bey — December 4, 2015 @ 7:59 am

  7. I have continued to be on the fence with regard to how I think the finished project would impress me, but even a pile of containers as sculpture would be a quirky homage to water front in my mind. I’m not afraid to experiment. To me it would either integrate well, or it would get a double take, inject a little sense of humor. We put up with the Silver Building for years and I always liked the eccentricity, but things evolved. But these are highly personal thoughts and I’m actually getting a little lost. I just worry that Alameda gets another notch in the “don’t try to do business here” column.

    What also alarms me is the article in the Sun about Alameda Marina development proposal for more housing. I get the supply and demand argument for more housing, but that marina is sort of hallowed ground. Yes, I said that. There are lots of businesses there which are in a sort of niche and tearing it apart to develop housing will just disrupt the continuity that exists.. It’s a great marina and the construction will just fuck it up. I kept a boat there and really enjoyed the ambiance which will simply be gone for good. I like all the waterfront loft stuff which has been built in Oakland from produce district down to the Laney canal ( accept that last condo building Embarcadero next to KTVU which is dead at street level). But the towers at Clinton basin also cross a line for me because the connectivity is broken by Oak Street and 880. On our side I would just like to see all the current projects in the pipe line for the north water front get completed before there is another one approved. I guess I’m an incrementalist. It’s not like the people behind these projects care about anything but money. Del Monte is a good compromise but it didn’t hurt that the Tim Lewis got lots of push back at Crown Beach.

    Comment by MI — December 4, 2015 @ 8:38 am

  8. I don’t know whose a hipster and who is not, but young and new people are easy to identify. They don’t all embrace everything either. Folks buying in to Wedge neighborhood residential stock were sort of pioneering that area, but they didn’t unanimously embrace affordable housing proposal for Island High site. I think we are all NIMBYs at heart. Even you Karen, who seem to embrace all development had some discomfort on rent control, right?

    Comment by MI — December 4, 2015 @ 8:45 am

  9. There continues to be an unanswered question that shadows City Hall and the residents of Alameda. What is Alameda going to be in the next 5-10 years? What will be the foundation that we will live by, build by, work by, etc. Without a well defined position of who and what we want to be, no one knows in what direction they are going.

    Comment by Bill — December 4, 2015 @ 8:48 am

  10. I hope we’re not to the point of deciding individual projects on the basis of a culture war. On the other hand I didn’t think this project would be approved when the renderings came out several months ago. My first thought was not about newcomers versus locals but rather a rough visual equivalence with the windowless concrete beachfront property otherwise known as the U.S. Post Office. I wish they would have waited for something better back then too.

    Comment by MP — December 4, 2015 @ 8:49 am

  11. I saw a very cool buildings in Berlin built out of containers. Very modern lookng and quite eye catching. I am 50 if that matters.

    Comment by JohnB — December 4, 2015 @ 8:59 am

  12. I saw a container project recently that was used as an office. I didn’t realize it was a container at fist until the owner mentioned it. Containers painted, and mixed with various finishes and windows can be quite nice – which is what I see when I look at the proposed project on Park Street.

    Comment by Karen Bey — December 4, 2015 @ 9:21 am

  13. My comments about tolerance of urban hipsters had to do with the fact that this urban hipster has no problem locating his home and business across the street from a rest home – yet some of the older crowd has problems with the urban hipster crowd. This project is symbolic in that way.

    We need to remember that it will be the “young” that will take care of us when we get old.

    Comment by Karen Bey — December 4, 2015 @ 9:33 am

  14. Reading comments here i am reminded that at one time Alameda had two old railroad cars converted to office space down behind the Tube next to what is now “the old folks’ home”. Sorry, can’t remember the name. No slurs on Old Folks intended. I’m 67. Crown Point?

    Comment by Not. A. Alamedan — December 4, 2015 @ 9:33 am

  15. post # 3, Not A. Alamedan, I’m with you on this one, I remember well over ten years ago when the city council refused a project on the corner of Webster and Atlantic. It was well designed and a good use, but the council had other idea’s. The lot was very similar to the lot we are now discussing, and it is still a vacant unused eyesore. So much for forward thinking.

    Comment by John P. — December 4, 2015 @ 9:49 am

  16. So I guess next time we vote for Mayor and City Council we need to have the candidates document their design aesthetic preferences in addition to their political positions?

    Since it has a direct effect on their decision making, we need to know exactly what kind of architecture and design they like right? Each candidate should have to put together a portfolio of the types of buildings, parks, public art, etc. that they will allow during their tenure.

    The City Council is behaving like they are the HOA of the City. I tried to avoid HOAs when I moved here, but I guess I got stuck with one anyway.

    Comment by brock — December 4, 2015 @ 9:50 am

  17. @9. With all due respect, some of us are very against the idea of “planned communities”.

    Or maybe its just me. It’s not like we have a club or something.

    Comment by brock — December 4, 2015 @ 9:53 am

  18. Brock, there is a sort of “club” here in Alameda if you are “connected,” why fight with the planning board, and planning dept., when you can go to the city council to effect your wishes.

    Comment by John P. — December 4, 2015 @ 10:20 am

  19. I guess we will continue to see Oakland’s High Street shredding businness’s trucks parked in the lot until the property owner can come up with a rate of return to justify breaking ground on a gateway building.

    Comment by fatso8 — December 4, 2015 @ 10:28 am

  20. 18. Yes! We have a well connected gerontocracy in this town (one might refer to it as the inner circle, to borrow Alameda! Action’s term), with the Alameda Citizens [sic] Taskforce as its brain-trust.

    Comment by BC — December 4, 2015 @ 11:06 am

  21. I guess I missed the update. The original story I read from KTVU included the following: “One of the people arrested, 68-year-old Bob Davis, a transgender woman and music professor at City College of San Francisco, could be facing serious charges in the assault of interim Assistant City Manager Bob Haun, who suffered a broken bone, Alameda police Lt. Jill Ottaviano said Thursday.”

    I might also point out that the Bayport development’s success in selling high-priced homes has something to do with the dollar signs in the eyes of developers today. It also seems that the more building that goes on, the higher the price of what’s already in town goes up. Where is all this affordable housing the developers keep promising? It never really seems to materialize. A $600,000 home may seem like a bargain when similar properties are going for $800,000 but it’s still very much out of reach for most people.

    As for hipsters being tolerant, you must be kidding. Just read the comments on Blogging Bayport for a couple of weeks. Just like any other group, a lot of them appear to be mostly tolerant of those who think and act exactly as they do.

    Comment by Denise Shelton — December 4, 2015 @ 11:17 am

  22. Sorry, I meant to say Alameda Peeps, although a few of the newbies have found their way here as well. I also want to be clear that many of the new people in town honestly appear to be just as concerned as the old timers that the character of the city that they find attractive will be destroyed by unfettered development. It will be interesting to see how the this shakes out in the next couple of elections and if a new voting block will emerge.

    Comment by Denise Shelton — December 4, 2015 @ 11:23 am

  23. If people who can afford to buy $800K homes have $800K homes to purchase then they won’t purchase the $500K homes or less that may be the only homes that are available if, like in Alameda, there has been a choke on the supply of new housing units to come on the market. If they only thing that is available are $500K homes then people who can afford $800K homes will continue to bid up those, what should be $500K homes, because they have the means to do so.

    New development is pricing at higher than $900K or higher because (1) land is really expensive (2) single family homes are larger and therefore command higher prices (3) there’s a housing shortage so scarcity equals higher price (4) inclusionary housing requirements, while great, impose an additional cost on developers which they pass along to market rate housing (5) land use regulations and getting through the regulatory process is a long and expensive protracted process which is also then reflected in the eventual sale price.

    New development subsidizes “affordable housing” by paying for the required inclusionary units. The only way to build to affordability is to build densely, which Alameda has very little political will to do.

    I’m not sure how “a transgender woman and music professor at City College of San Francisco” can be read as “an outside activist from San Francisco.” Lots of people who work in San Francisco live in Alameda.

    Comment by Lauren Do — December 4, 2015 @ 11:26 am

  24. Hey Denise, are you still living in New York or are you back in Alameda. If you are still in New York then you are an “outsider”. (sarcasm)

    Comment by John P. — December 4, 2015 @ 1:30 pm

  25. O.K., I just spent some time going back and watching the video of both meetings having to do with this project. The first meeting, public comment was five people in favor of the project, no one opposed. The second meeting was six people opposed and six people in favor. Hardly a very big issue as planning board meetings go, however our council seems to be a very different story. Somehow they felt that this was a major issue and decided to turn it back. Its my opinion that a very small select group of people lobbied the council to kill this project, and being politicians the council caved in (election next year). To all of the council, shame on you.

    Comment by John P. — December 4, 2015 @ 2:27 pm

  26. It is lamentable, that given the obvious need for greater density we have allowed new planned communities of single family residences to be built, including in the past decade. Maybe council should pass a law to allow streamlining infill and garage units notwithstanding, or repealing, the CCRs in those developments, or anywhere in the city

    Comment by MP — December 4, 2015 @ 4:03 pm

  27. 23. Careful, don’t burst the bubble.

    Yes, in fact there are Alamedans who work in San Francisco. Yes, there are Alamedans that are transgender.

    Reminds me of how every property crime in Alameda is assumed to be committed by one of “those people” from Oakland.

    Comment by BMac — December 4, 2015 @ 6:29 pm

  28. 23, 27:
    I’m sorry that I missed the (apparently geriatric-based) pitchforks-and-boiling-oil demonstration at the City Council; meeting. Although I am 63, I was intrigued by the container-based design and thrilled with the mixed-use descriptions of the project that I studied online and was willing to give the development a shot at being successful on its merits. Too bad that we now have a significant “failure of vision” as well as a leadership vacuum on the part of some members of our City Council–despite the valiant efforts of other elected officials who do their homework, ask good questions, and use their God-given intelligence.

    OTOH, I appreciate most members of the Planning Board–and not a few alumni of the PB as well–who have collectively exercised superb judgment 99% of the time I have lived in Alameda. I usually worry far less about the quality of PB decisions than about the quality of the choices made by the City Council–especially since the last election.

    Speaking of which, I received a phone call tonight from a pollster from “Creative Expressions” (or something like that) tonight, mostly asking about rent control and other issues. I was *not* impressed by the quality of some of the questions. I suppose that this was the (Gallagher & Lindsay-funded?) “push poll” I was warned about by my fellow renters, but I do not like abdicating my opportunity to affect outcomes like poll results. If it was a pro-landlord push poll, it was not very well done and it most certainly did not change this pro-rent-control voter’s mind.

    Comment by Jon Spangler — December 5, 2015 @ 1:02 am

  29. “ugly” may be relative to the eye of the beholder, but I wonder how the facade of the building immediately north would rate in a poll? That faux stone represents an absolute low point in modern construction. Maybe some of the plywood crap boxes from the period immediately following are worse. There was a time where buildings themselves didn’t matter at all, just space for business.

    It may seem nit picking to be critical of Trish’s question about curves, but it’s a great example of how clueless she can be. Really, you either get this one or you don’t. Like it or hate it, but “curves”? Duh.

    BTW- I’m now extremely curious to see conceptual drawings for Alameda Marina project. They are talking about temporary relocation of boats. Lots and lots of BCDC involvement on this one. Boat work is notoriously toxic and Sven’s is one of the only haul outs and repair sites around. What’s going to happen when they try to put housing there? Groan. Aside from the Island Auto Movie flea market, working on boats at Alameda Marina was the other reason I came to Alameda in the early days. Boats cost lots of money, but there is still a culture of low rent boat people, live aboards etc. Last frontier for eccentrics. 5th Avenue Marina in Oakland has long been the equivalent of Gate 5 Sausalito which was cleaned up long ago for super high end million dollar house boats. There are a lot of artists over there and they are having fair today. “End of the Road Sale” . That’s double entendre because 5th Ave ends at the estuary, but they see Clinton Basin Towers as a big old nail in their coffin. Take advantage and go wander around today. It will blow your mind. I know a guitar repair shop who is hanging a show of local plein aire artist. Great stuff.

    Comment by MI — December 5, 2015 @ 9:50 am

  30. almost forgot to mention. 5th Ave has creative reuse of containers and has for last 35 years.

    I also seem to recall the first comment I ever posted on Bayport was in response to Lauren making negative comment about the funk across the estuary from Wind River. It may have been the second, after commenting that Tony Daysog’s M.O. was equivocator, “on the other hand, there’s the other hand”. Oh how time flies!

    Comment by MI — December 5, 2015 @ 10:03 am

  31. #2 and #21 DS. Oh dear! Both of the people arrested on Nov. 4 are in their 60’s and both live in Alameda. Are you saying now that people must also work in Alameda? (Bobbi works at SFSU). If you’ve got a thing that people must be residents of Alameda before they are allowed to exercise their political and civil rights, it may surprise you that only three people supporting the moratorium on Nov. 4 were from outside Alameda. How do I know this? The speaker cards are public documents and I’ve got them all. Furthermore, 13 people who opposed the moratorium were not Alamedans, including real estate agents from Elk Grove, Dublin, Daly City and the usual cities of Oakland and SF. Personally, I don’t begrudge people coming to Alameda for something like this. We are all Americans and Californians and we all have the same constitutional rights – period.

    Comment by John K — December 6, 2015 @ 5:19 pm


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