Blogging Bayport Alameda

December 10, 2020

Not financially viable

Filed under: Alameda — Tags: — Lauren Do @ 6:00 am

This was an interesting tweet — and still falls under my Housing Element concentration right now — about how jurisdictions are going to navigate these very large RHNA allocations for the next cycle:

But specifically about Alameda:

In response to another twitter user asking about the retail plans for Alameda Point:

What is notable about this is the information that “the blue building didn’t pencil out, and is not moving forward at the moment.”

Remember this was going to be Block 11 in front of the shared plaza which a portion has already been constructed. It was 220 units. Of course this had units that were “free” meaning that it did not incur the per unit penalty. Site A also has a multi family overlay and this project is definitely maxing out on every workaround to A/26 which exists.

And still the project could not pencil out.

Which means that it will hard for the City to make the case to HCD that zoning anything at Alameda Point using Alameda’s maximum 30 du/ac multi-family housing overlay simply will be sufficient to meet the standard for affordable housing since even market rate housing can’t be built. Because I’m assuming that was the strategy for Tony “not at Harbor Bay Landing, not at Harbor Bay Club, not at South Shore” Daysog: to shunt everything off on to Alameda Point and call it a day.

The failure of this project is one of the reasons I’ve learned not to get too excited about any plans for Alameda Point.


  1. Many urban planners now believe transit will be fundamentally changed due to the virus, regardless of a vaccine.

    Gone are the days of crowding into any congested transportation unless you can afford nothing else. The eyesore construction at Alameda Point looks more like East Germany during the Cold War than anything currently existing in Alameda, as if the architect was able to parachute into the site without reference to visible landmarks.

    Meanwhile it looks like the lid broke on the Hunter Biden investigation into money laundering/influence peddling and an Eastbay Congressman on the intelligence committee may have had a relationship with a Chinese spy while accusing President Trump of being a “Russian asset.” Not too ironic, is it?

    Heh, maybe Biden and Swalwell can use their “close ties” with China to get new investment into the Alameda housing market…

    Comment by Nowyouknow — December 10, 2020 @ 7:14 am

  2. It took 20 years for the City to create the right development plan, and find the right development team to develop the Alameda Naval Base. But after the long wait, we are nearing completion of the first phase of development at Site A.

    These are the major accomplishments at Site A to date:

    1. At least 90% of the back-bone infrastructure has been constructed.

    2. The Seaplane Lagoon Ferry Terminal construction is complete

    3. Blocks 6 & 7 (the townhomes) are under construction. Move ins have started at Block 6.

    4. Block 8 Senior Affordable project is constructed and appears to be fully occupied.

    5. Block 8 Family Affordable project is currently under construction.

    6. Block 9 market rate apartment project is under construction – appears to be about 65% – 75% construction complete from the exterior.

    7. Neighborhood park and shared plaza (portions of it appear to be complete)

    Given all the constraints of developing on a military base, I consider these to be major accomplishments.

    So, what’s left?

    1. Block 11 market rate apartment project (the vertical developer appears to be planning a construction start sometime in 2021).

    2. Waterfront Park (portions of it appear to be complete)

    3. Block 10 Retail

    4. Phase 2 and Phase 3

    It’s not uncommon at this stage of development for a developer to reassess their project. Most military base projects suffer huge losses in their first phase due to the continued increase of construction, material, and labor costs; construction delays; and unknown forces like a pandemic and a change in market conditions.

    It’s no wonder that Block 11 is having trouble penciling out.

    The good news is that these problems can easily be resolved by working with the developer, and it behooves us to do so. Why?

    Because Alameda Point is one of the city’s largest asset for future housing development and job growth – and its transit ready.

    Comment by Karen Bey — December 10, 2020 @ 8:32 am

    • Re: Seaplane Ferry

      When it opens, will the Main St terminal continue operating or will all West End ferries be at Seaplane?

      Comment by dave — December 10, 2020 @ 8:42 am

      • Seaplane will go directly to SF. Main Street will change hop directions to make Alameda last in the route. Example: Alameda -> Oakland -> SF. Reverse: SF -> Oakland -> Alameda.

        Comment by Lauren Do — December 10, 2020 @ 8:45 am

        • Thank you.

          Any guess when this happens or is it on hold due to Covid delays in ridership?

          Comment by dave — December 10, 2020 @ 9:14 am

        • Definitely appears to be on hold, but keep an eye on this website which has all the details about the changes:

          Comment by Lauren Do — December 10, 2020 @ 9:23 am

  3. I doubt very much that the need for increased density is an issue at Site A for the following reasons:

    1. Site A is a 60 acre plot zoned for mixed use. A few years ago the Asst. City Attorney Chen cited me case law that indicates that maximum allowable units are calculated on the entire acreage of a contiguous mixed use plot, not just the portion thereof dedicated to residential use. Thus 60 acres would allow far in excess of 800 units, even at the Art. 26 21 units/ acre limit.

    2. Site A provides 25% affordable housing which would have earned at least a 20% density bonus, raising the unit count to 960 units. The developer chose not to take it.

    Comment by Paul Foreman — December 10, 2020 @ 9:45 am

    • Site A is governed by a Specific Plan developed by the city that regulates building heights, block sizes, uses, and much more. There is also a strict 1,425 housing unit maximum set by the Navy (which includes 260 existing units) which can only be exceeded by paying a very substantial per unit penalty to the Navy. Those few units are required to be distributed around the base and not limited to Site A. There are also requirements for Site A to install backbone infrastructure that will be utilized by the subsequent phases of development at the base, prevailing wage requirements, sustainable design requirements, a requirement to pay for the new ferry terminal, and more. And, due to many factors construction costs in the Bay Area have been rising at alarming rates for a number of years.

      But sure, let’s just say the developers “chose” not to build more units. It plays into the disingenuous narrative of the greedy developers (in service to a no growth agenda) rather than recognizing the complicated nature of development at Alameda Point.

      Comment by David Burton — December 10, 2020 @ 7:53 pm

      • David, Maybe there is some misunderstanding here. I fully agree with your comments. My intent was to counter Lauren’s argument that the problems with Site A indicate that 30 units per acre do not “pencil out” at Alameda Point by showing that Site A could contain many more units. Your make it very clear that there are a myriad of issues which inhibit residential development of AP. However, a lack of adequate density is not one of them. If I am missing something, please fill me in.

        Comment by Paul Foreman — December 10, 2020 @ 9:31 pm

      • David, you can’t tell me that if we’re facing a housing site shortage, that the current Alameda Point plan can’t be amended to address today’s challenges. We amended the Catellus Alameda Fisc Master Plan 4 or 5 times to address changing market conditions.

        Comment by Karen Bey — December 11, 2020 @ 10:08 am

        • I specifically remember after the bust — Catellus requested a master plan amendment to change their Office portion of their development to retail. It took a couple of years to make the changes, but it happened — thus the reason we have the Alameda Landing Shopping Center. And with each amendment they made to their original masterplan, they received an allocation of more housing.

          I worked for Catellus during this time, which is why my recollection is quite clear. Yes, I remember it being complicated — but that’s what developers do is solve complicated problems.

          Comment by Karen Bey — December 11, 2020 @ 10:26 am

    • Can someone point us to a description or explanation of the permanence of the 1,425 threshold/cap before the per unit “penalties” apply? Technically/legally, does it require an amendment to the US Constitution, legislative action, agency rule-making, or can it be modified or waived with a mere presidential or vice-presidential Tweet? Does the federal government have any ongoing legal duty to review / reconsider the cap in light of current/changed conditions? What action, if any, would be required by the state or city? What are the political factors that would bear on any action (or inaction) required of the federal government to effectively remove the cap?

      Comment by MP — December 11, 2020 @ 5:10 am

      • There’s a staff report linked in this blog post:

        Comment by Lauren Do — December 11, 2020 @ 5:15 am

      • I’m wondering the same thing MP. Given the shortage of housing sites in Alameda, seems like there’s a good case to be made to amend the original cap. A lot has changed since the original agreement.

        Comment by Karen Bey — December 11, 2020 @ 6:30 am

        • Has the city made efforts or inquiries in that direction recently? I remember the cap coming up in 2016 Is it considered worth someone’s time to try? Is it a matter of persuading a Deputy Undersecretary of the Navy or would it require an act of Congress? Thanks to Lauren for the link explaining the origins of the cap.

          Comment by MP — December 11, 2020 @ 7:32 am

        • MP, I’m not aware of any talks with the Navy. Normally this is a role a master developer would play — but since we as the City have somewhat taken on that role — I would think the City would take on this task in coordination with a developer or developers.

          Comment by Karen Bey — December 11, 2020 @ 7:56 am

        • Negotiations would have to be completed before the Housing Element is due for review by HCD. If the land isn’t “available” meaning the cap remains in place with the per unit penalty it won’t be considered.

          Given that we have a road ahead with Coronavirus recovery, I can’t see renegotiating this deal as a priority in 2021 for the incoming Biden administration.

          Comment by Lauren Do — December 11, 2020 @ 8:00 am

        • Yes, maybe take it in smaller chunks at a time, and roll it up in a larger revised master plan when the time is right. But I’d leave it up to the experts to determine timing and strategy.

          Comment by Karen Bey — December 11, 2020 @ 9:31 am

        • I would think that there is someone deep in the salt mines below the Secretary of the Navy who could hammer out the due diligence, environmental, economic review part of it without detracting too much from Coronavirus response. Maybe it would be consistent with that effort when we are in a housing and economic crisis. Maybe it’s too sensitive politically, but the Biden administration would seem to have plenty of room to maneuver before damaging the prospects of the Democratic Party in the Bay Area, or state. Would one of the swing states get mad or jealous?

          Comment by MP — December 11, 2020 @ 11:58 am

        • I would think so too, time will tell.

          Comment by Karen Bey — December 11, 2020 @ 12:29 pm

  4. I wonder how much scrutiny HCD give cities’ identification of “adequate sites.” Housing projects fail for a wide variety of reasons. Could Alameda make the case that it should be allowed to reuse a site from the previous RHNA cycle because a developer wasn’t sufficiently motivated, couldn’t get their act together or some other reason unrelated to the adequacy of the site itself?

    Comment by Doug Letterman — December 10, 2020 @ 3:29 pm

  5. Worst. Rendering. Ever.

    Comment by BMac — December 10, 2020 @ 5:48 pm

  6. Paul, I think we should be looking at our existing housing sites from a long term perspective. We’re going to face these same issues for years to come. In other words, based on the challenges we’re facing today with the shortage of developable housing sites, we should be planning not just for this housing element but for future housing elements.

    So I think we should be identifying sites, and looking at planning tools today that will address these long term challenges.

    Comment by Karen Bey — December 11, 2020 @ 6:51 am

    • Karen, I agree with you. We should not only look for sites but also look at ways in which Art. 26 might be amended to open up more sites, while still protecting our existing built-up low density neighborhoods. That was my goal from the very beginning of the charter revision process and we came very close to accomplishing that before Council reversed course and decided to seek full repeal.

      Comment by Paul Foreman — December 11, 2020 @ 8:55 am

      • Which “built-up low density neighborhoods” are you suggesting should be “protected.”

        Comment by Lauren Do — December 11, 2020 @ 9:22 am

        • In the opinion – or methodology – of ABAG, Atherton, Ca.

          Comment by MP — December 11, 2020 @ 9:31 am

        • Now do Brisbane.

          Comment by Lauren Do — December 11, 2020 @ 9:34 am

        • ….and in the opinion – or methodology – of ABAG, not Brisbane.

          Comment by MP — December 11, 2020 @ 10:10 am

        • You do realize the Atherton’s multiplier is 0.1% right? Anything multiplied by 0.1% is going to represent a really small number.

          You have an issue with ABAG’s preferred methodology? You do understand the CoCoCo methodology pushed by factions in Alameda give Atherton a big fat zero in housing allocations. Would that be preferable?

          Comment by Lauren Do — December 11, 2020 @ 1:31 pm

        • Yes, your previous posts showed:

          (a) some worrisome effects of the CoCo-puff alternative, including zeroing out the already low quotas of several locales that presently do very little in terms of supplying housing for a broad range of income levels, or at all, including Atherton; on the other hand, this may indicate problems in the way each factor is constituted or determined, just as much as it may indicate the downsides of altering the weight given to each factor (which I understand is what the CoCo alternative proposes); furthermore, were one to defend CoCo-puff’s flaws, its zeroing out of Atherton et al’s quotas might be characterized as its smallest flaw given that the likely ABAG model allocates so few units to those jurisdictions in the first place. It’s the difference between a glass that is almost completely empty and one that is simply empty.

          (b) another post showed some of the basic steps in the ABAG methodology that rate Atherton as less of an “opportunity” town than Alameda and other mathematical operations the result of which is (1) an average “0.1% multiplier” and (2) that the Silicon Valley town of Atherton won’t be asked to make much of an effort alter its basic 1 unit per acre pattern (an allocation of only 300 units to a land area that is nearly half of Alameda’s, where the allocation is tentatively 4,900). Although I am sure the numbers add up internally, and make sense within the given definitions used, I also have flashbacks to mathematics exams where I thought I was setting up the proper equation but the answer at the bottom of the page left me feeling uneasy and that something was wrong. That Brisbane comes out at the opposite end of the spectrum does not necessarily mean that the equation balances.

          Randy Rentschler, who you have quoted, I think conceded something to the effect that no one likes the methodology (or everyone gripes about it, or there is no perfect solution, etc.). Will be curious to see if Atherton raises much fuss (and, if so, whether it amounts to more than “don’t throw me into the briar patch”).

          Comment by MP — December 11, 2020 @ 7:08 pm

        • It is not for me to choose. It is a concept. The protected areas need to be determined in a public process with as much community involvement as possible.

          Comment by Paul Foreman — December 12, 2020 @ 9:45 am

        • Didn’t you post the Guardian article about Atherton? Your answer about whether Atherton is unhappy with their existing allocation is found within the text. Your question:

          Will be curious to see if Atherton raises much fuss (and, if so, whether it amounts to more than “don’t throw me into the briar patch”).

          The answer:

          In November, George Rodericks, Atherton’s city manager, drafted a letter to the Association of Bay Area Governments asking that the planning committee reassess its allocation methodology.

          Atherton is only the most visible of the small wealthy communities which would get an elimination in housing units under the CoCoCo model. Put it this way. It will be a difficult political lift to argue for a methodology which reduces all allocations to small wealthy communities when the State of California has explicitly called for an equity based allocation. But please, I’m interested in seeing folks argue that towns like Atherton, Woodside, Ross, St Helena, and Mill Valley should be responsible for zero units.

          Comment by Lauren Do — December 14, 2020 @ 5:51 am

        • Yes, that is Atherton taking the “don’t throw me into the briar patch” approach. Though Atherton protests, I’m sure Atherton is thrilled that the same ABAG methodology that gives Alameda a 4,900 unit quota, would give it a quota of only 300 units.

          Recall that Atherton has fully half the land area (5 sq mi) of Alameda, is but one mile from Facebook, and, according to the article, it has a lot of land rich, cash poor residents (avg. 1 acre lots). That last bit was offered as a sympathetic defense by the city against the claim that Atherton does not want to do its “fair share”. The land rich, cash poor have had a solution since cash was invented. ABAG should help them out with a higher quota.

          It’s not much of a defense of the ABAG methodology to say that some alternative plan reduces Atherton’s very very small allocation (one mile from Facebook) down to nothing. That’s not the problem.

          Comment by MP — December 14, 2020 @ 7:03 am

        • I’m with you on Atherton needing more units. But the alternative that Alamedans are suggesting (CoCoCo) doesn’t do that.

          If that’s the goal of Alamedans, to ensure MORE equity by making sure that Atherton gets a larger share, they should have supported the furthering equity option which would have bumped Atherton’s allocation:

          Oh but that wouldn’t have reduced Alameda’s share by much so…

          Comment by Lauren Do — December 14, 2020 @ 9:00 am

        • It’s a Wonderful Methodology

          Comment by MP — December 14, 2020 @ 9:05 am

        • I mean, yeah, people are free to shit on the work of dozens of people who have been trying their best to craft some semblance of an objective process for months and years and offer no meaningful alternative for a highly fraught subject matter. That’s always a highly effective way of getting one’s point across.

          Comment by Lauren Do — December 14, 2020 @ 9:35 am

        • Alameda 10 acres: 4,900 units. Atherton 5 acres: 300 units. You are right that I do not a comprehensive analysis and overhaul of the methodology, econometrics, demographic projections, etc. I’m just pointing out an anomaly about which you appear to agree, at least in part. Saying that a lot of people worked really hard on the methodology – something I don’t question – does not place the methodology beyond reproach.

          Comment by MP — December 14, 2020 @ 10:01 am

        • obvious mistake. Alameda 10 sq mi, Atherton 5 sq. mi.

          Comment by MP — December 14, 2020 @ 12:36 pm

  7. MP, Alameda is getting the 4900 because it is meets the ABAG methodology perfectly. As they say in the real estate business. location, location, location. It is contiguous to the Oakland and SF job centers. It has very good public assets like schools, libraries, senior services, etc. It has easy access to both cities by both auto and mass transit. It is flat, so has good bike options. All of this attractiveness blinds ABAG to our underlying flaws, the most troubling of which are sea rise, emergent groundwater, liquefaction and limited ingress/egress routes.

    The argument that we are somehow not being good regional citizens by trying to lower our numbers is ridiculous. As long as we are making reasonable arguments based on facts, we are being good regional citizens. ABAG’s methodology has not been written in holy script.

    Comment by Paul Foreman — December 12, 2020 @ 10:01 am

    • Breaking news. A team of archeologists and religious scholars just found a rock up top Mt. Sinai with the words Dixon, Pinole, Hercules, and Oakley all have the location, location, location, schools, and job center things better than Atherton, which is about 1 mile from Facebook as the crow flies.

      Comment by MP — December 12, 2020 @ 5:19 pm

      • Some things require a leap of faith

        Comment by MP — December 13, 2020 @ 1:58 pm

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