News About Cleanup, Sustainability, Parks, Open Space, and Wildlife at Alameda Point, Alameda, CA
Category: Ferry Facilities Projects
The San Francisco Bay Water Emergency Transit Authority (WETA) is constructing a ferry maintenance facility on the south side of Alameda Point. WETA, in partnership with the city and developer Alameda Point Partners, will be constructing a passenger ferry terminal in the Seaplane Lagoon, which is projected to be operational by 2020.
~More bike space, faster boarding, quieter ride, lower emissions
Ferry riders at the Alameda Main Street Terminal will soon be boarding the MV Hydrus, the cleanest running 400 passenger ferry in the world. The state-of-the-art ferry is designed for quicker on-boarding and off-boarding, faster speeds, low noise and vibration, and low emissions. The bicycle storage capacity will be more than doubled to 50 from the current capacity of 20 on the MV Encinal, which it will replace.
Captain Al Lewis and the Hydrus crew were running through training exercises in the Oakland Estuary on March 28. They stopped at the Main Street Terminal just after the Encinal departed with passengers. The Encinal was built in 1985 and was owned by the City of Alameda during the period when the city operated the ferry service to San Francisco. At 27 meters in length, the Encinal looked small by comparison to the 41-foot-long Hydrus.
Ferry riders driving to the Main Street Ferry Terminal began using an extra parking lot in May. The city-owned O Club parking lot across the street from the terminal provides 121 spaces under a temporary license agreement with the Water Emergency Transportation Authority (WETA). Despite the added parking lot, the street shoulder and unpaved lot west of a dog park continue to absorb overflow.
“Ridership has grown 29 percent since May, the month we opened the lot,” said Kevin Connolly, WETA’s manager of planning and development. “Given that the street and dirt lot were basically full at that time, it makes sense that the O Club has absorbed the additional riders.”
A ferry access study conducted by WETA in 2014 led to the O Club interim parking solution. The option of converting the nearby dog park to ferry parking was put on hold until the dog park could be moved a mile away to the planned Estuary Park.
Dog owners interviewed this past weekend at the Main Street dog park don’t see why the area they use for exercising their dogs should be blocking expansion of ferry parking. “I believe that it would be a better use of taxpayer money by relocating this dog park and turning it into a parking structure,” said Jennifer Keene, who lives near the Bay Farm Bridge. Keene drives across the island because it’s less crowded than Alameda’s other dog park.
“I really like the idea of moving this dog park to Estuary Park because it has a lot more trees, and it’s a better area for the dogs,” said Madison Walzberg, a resident of Coast Guard Housing. “It doesn’t take much to make a dog park. If they just fence it in, it would be a great solution for anyone with dogs,” said Walzberg.
Construction work on the first phase of Estuary Park on Mosley Avenue, featuring sports fields, began in August. Phase 2 of park construction, featuring an open meadow, picnic area and dog park, has yet to be funded. This four-acre section near the Alameda Landing residential area, which is already fenced in on three sides, could serve as an interim dog park by adding fencing to the remaining 500 feet along the street, according to Walzberg.
The demand for added ferry service at the Main Street Terminal prompted WETA to add five additional weekday departures last year. The enhanced service was set to expire this fall, but WETA will be extending the enhanced service through the end of 2017, thanks to a grant from the Metropolitan Transportation Commission.
In her report to the WETA Board of Directors in August, Executive Director Nina Rannells said, “The service enhancement would coincide with the delivery of two new vessels for central bay service, the Cetus and the Hydrus in early 2017.” Both vessels will have capacity for 399 passengers and up to 50 bicycles. “The new vessels represent a significant improvement over today’s operations, where average capacity in the AM period is 324 seats and bikes are sometimes limited to 30 spaces,” said Rannells.
Combined monthly ridership for the Oakland and Alameda Main Street terminals increased by 18,234 passengers from July 2015 to July 2016, representing an increase of 15.69 percent. The systemwide increase for the same period was 7.78 percent.
“All the parking spots get full very early, and you have to fight for a spot,” said Keene. “They park all the way down the road past the nursery, and that’s kind of a hazard, especially early in the morning or late in the evening trying to cross the street.” Keene said that she would gladly pay to “park in a legit parking structure.”
Dog owner Jeff Anderer, a resident of Marina Village, says he uses both dog parks but does not use the ferry. “I come to this dog park on the warmer days for the sea breeze,” said Anderer. “Strictly speaking as a dog owner and not as a ferry user, I do think the parking is more important.”
Asked about costs for expanded parking, Connolly said, “That’s something we will be studying in the coming year or two as part of a comprehensive look at Main Street and its capital needs.”
The city council will be discussing the goals and objectives of a $400,000 citywide transit and transportation plan on September 6.
The new residential and commercial developer at Alameda Point has set aside $10 million toward the construction of a passenger ferry terminal at the Seaplane Lagoon. The Bay Area’s ferry agency – the Water Emergency Transportation Authority (WETA) – however, has made it clear there is currently no funding to operate a ferry there.
WETA “will entirely exhaust its available operating subsidies on an annual basis, relying upon projected increases in ridership and fares to cover increasing operating costs for existing services,” stated a draft 10-year Short Range Transit Plan that WETA issued in January for public comment. “WETA’s ability to increase service levels and meet future demand for ferry service will be restricted until new regional or local sources of operating subsidy are secured,” the draft stated.
WETA’s revenue picture is more limited than other regional transit agencies, such as BART. In WETA’s case, half of its operations funding comes from fares. Most of the other half — $15.3 million — comes from bridge tolls through Regional Measure 2, which was passed in 2005 adding a $1 bridge toll. A Harbor Bay parcel assessment funds 10 percent of the Harbor Bay service
WETA will be receiving about $1 million a year from the 2014 voter-approved Measure BB transportation sales tax. But it won’t help expand ferry service. The funds will be kept in reserve to cover inflationary operating expense increases and events that increase these expenses like the Super Bowl or a transit strike, according to Kevin Connolly, WETA’s manager of planning and development.
BART, on the other hand, receives more than 70 percent of its operating budget from fares. Revenue from close to 20,000 parking spaces at BART stations is the largest source of non-passenger fare revenue. It also receives funds from a regional sales tax and a regional property tax, both of which increase over time.
WETA does not charge for parking on the roughly 600 parking spaces that it has direct responsibility for; a parking fee charged at the Vallejo Terminal goes to the city of Vallejo, rather than to WETA. In addition, WETA receives no property tax revenue, and sales tax revenue is limited to the token amount from Measure BB.
“When WETA was formed in 2009, there wasn’t a good understanding of the cost of operations and expansion,” said Connolly. “The structural deficiency with the bridge toll funding is that it’s a set amount, and it does not escalate over time,” said Connolly. He pointed out that as the years roll on, the $15.3 million that comes from bridge tolls loses its value in terms of dollars due to inflation.
“It gets to a point where fares are covering an increasing amount, or we’re increasing fares a lot,” he said. “The ferry service could be priced out of reach of most people and only be available to people with high incomes. The solution is to either fix the existing funding to allow an escalation with inflation so it maintains real value, or find another funding source.”
New ferry service out of Richmond, scheduled to begin in 2018, is one example of bringing in a new source of revenue. Last year, the Contra Costa Transportation Authority pledged $38 million toward the operating costs of the Richmond-to-San Francisco ferry service over the next 10 years. New boats to provide the service will be purchased with the help of $12 million in bridge toll funds awarded by the Metropolitan Transportation Commission and $30 million in state grants.
Treasure Island ferry service, also scheduled to begin in 2018, will be funded by the project itself, with its 8,000 residential units, hotels and commercial space. Part of the funding will come from a vehicle toll to exit that island.
Connolly suggests that emergency response funding could help underwrite WETA’s ferry operations. WETA gets emergency response funding for facilities, such as its maintenance facility at Alameda Point. But it receives no operations funding for maintaining the ferry system’s emergency readiness. “We’re tasked to do it,” said Connolly, “but there’s no funding attached to it. So, that could be a source.” About 20 percent of operations relates to emergency preparedness, according to Connolly.
Newly available California Cap and Trade funds from greenhouse gas emissions are a potential source of funding that WETA is looking into.
The city and the current mixed-used developer are studying the costs to build the proposed Seaplane Lagoon passenger ferry terminal. “The operating expense will be about the same as Harbor Bay ferry service, a little over $3 million a year,” said Connolly. “Plus, there is the cost of a new vessel.”
WETA’s draft 10-year plan provides an overview of service and performance, along with projections of capital, operating expenses and revenues for the next decade. Preparation of the plan is a requirement of the Federal Transit Administration and is updated every two years. WETA is seeking public comments by February 19, 2016 via its website.
Jennifer Ott, chief operating officer for Alameda Point, said that the city is working on an agreement with WETA regarding the proposed Seaplane Lagoon ferry, and she could not disclose details. Ott said that she is hoping to bring the draft agreement to the city council in mid-March for approval.
The Water Emergency Transportation Authority (WETA) is aiming for the delivery of a new dock for harbor seals at Alameda Point as early as April, ahead of the start of construction of its new ferry maintenance facility this summer.
Because the maintenance facility’s new berthing dock would displace the seals’ current resting spot, a provision was approved for a new harbor seal dock as a condition for permitting the new facility. WETA, the city council, and the Bay Conservation and Development Commission (BCDC) approved the provision at the urging of community activists.
WETA issued design specifications for its 12-berth maintenance facility and administrative offices to prospective contractors in December. It expects to award the contract on March 31, with work commencing as soon as May 6. The estimated cost is pegged at $45 million, $9 million of which is for design work and the remaining $36 million going for construction, according to Chad Mason, senior planner at WETA. Funding for the project is coming from federal, state, and regional funds.
The facility will include a 70-foot-tall four-story building and is expected to be complete in 2018.
The project will also fund other benefits, among them, a new water line from Main Street, park enhancements, and sand for the least tern nesting area on the airfield.
WETA will construct a shoreline viewing terrace, bicycle parking, interpretive signage, improved lighting and landscaping, and seating on an adjacent half-acre of parkland on West Hornet Avenue.
WETA will also be providing some assistance for the California least terns, an endangered bird species that nests at Alameda Point and dives for fish in surrounding waters. As a mitigation for the impacts of the new ferry traffic on the terns’ foraging waters, WETA will be delivering enough truckloads of sand to the terns’ nesting area on the airfield in February to add a few inches of depth. Erosion of the 9.6-acre beach-like nesting landscape necessitates periodic replenishment.
The replacement harbor seal dock, also referred to as a haul-out, will be the first time such a structure has been built on San Francisco Bay specifically to retain or attract harbor seals. It will be located a short distance to the east of the old dock. Time will tell whether this experimental effort is successful.
“Meeting the permitting requirements for the new harbor seal haul-out is underway,” said Mason. BCDC is the state permitting agency for all Bay shoreline and in-water projects. It requires assurances from other agencies that the harbor seal dock does not introduce any unwanted environmental impacts before granting approval.
“With the help of the environmental consulting firm Dudek, the harbor seal haul-out is on a fast-track approval timeline,” said Mason. “The only regulatory delay is due to the herring spawning season. Regulations require that the pilings for the new haul-out be installed after the end of the herring spawning season in late March of 2016.”
“We are currently reviewing two options for providing the new harbor seal haul-out: Build a new one from scratch, or modify an existing mobile dock if we can find one that meets our needs,” said Mason. “We hope to issue the contract for the haul-out in January.” WETA will be responsible for constructing, maintaining and replacing the harbor seal dock when necessary for the 60-year term of its lease.
WETA has been working with a citizen advisory group of local harbor seal advocates who spearheaded the effort for the new haul-out. The group gained the support of the Sierra Club and the Audubon Society. The location for the new seal dock was chosen with the help of marine mammal expert Dr. Jim Harvey, Director of California State Universities’ Moss Landing Marine Laboratories.
This winter, the seals favor the afternoon for getting out of the water. Their numbers can vary from a dozen to a recent high of over three dozen. It is the only haul-out site in the East Bay between Yerba Buena Island and the marshlands of Fremont and Newark near the Dumbarton Bridge, both of which require watercraft for public viewing access. The seals at Alameda Point can be viewed from the Bay Trail.
Ferry commuters driving to the Main Street Ferry Terminal will find a new parking lot option this fall, pending timely work plan approvals by the city.
Since 2013, passenger boardings have increased by over 50 percent at the Main Street ferry terminal, far exceeding the capacity of the parking lot. Commuters have been filling up an adjacent unpaved parcel next to the dog park, as well as the shoulders of Main Street.
The Water Emergency Transportation Authority (WETA) initiated a ferry terminal access study for the Main Street and Harbor Bay terminals in 2014. They have been discussing access improvements with city staff, the Transportation Commission, and the community.
As a result of the dialogue, the city has offered the use of the nearby O’ Club parking lot, across the street from the terminal, to WETA through a license agreement. The lot is currently used to park city vehicles.
At its June 4 meeting, the WETA board of directors approved spending $250,000 to make improvements, in exchange for free use of the lot. WETA will resurface and stripe the lot, construct ADA-compliant walkways that lead to a new crosswalk that WETA will also construct across Main Street.
The crosswalk will connect with an existing paved pathway on the western end of the main parking lot. An existing vehicle entryway on Main Street will become the entrance to the O Club lot.
“In terms of the mid-term improvements at Main Street, the city has let us know that the dog park cannot be converted to parking until a replacement at Estuary Park is open,” said Kevin Connolly, WETA’s manager of Planning & Development. The new home for the dog park at Estuary Park on Mosley Avenue between Singleton Avenue and Alameda Landing is tied to the availability of funds for the second phase of the park. Those funds will be secured through a combination of developer fees and grants.
The first phase, four acres of sports fields, is expected to begin in 2016. The four acres of the second phase is designed as a community park space with restrooms, playgrounds, picnic areas, basketball courts, open lawn, and a dog park with sections for big dogs and small dogs.
WETA was working with AC Transit to re-introduce bus service to the terminal. However, Connolly said that AC Transit recently scuttled plans for a Line 50 that would have carried passengers in a loop around the Island City to the Main Street ferry terminal. The city learned of this last Wednesday. In explaining its decision, AC Transit told Connolly that when it ran buses to the ferry terminal in 2009 “nobody rode them.”
Connolly points out that in 2009 the ferry carried 350 passengers a day with hourly departures. Today the ferry provides service to some 1,800 passengers with departures every 30 minutes. AC Transit also told Connolly that the bus service was not feasible because WETA does not charge for parking. Connolly questioned that criterion, pointing out that South Shore Center and other shopping malls do not charge for parking and AC Transit serves South Shore Center and these other malls.
“WETA is disappointed that AC Transit cannot see that demand warrants local bus service at the Main Street Terminal,” Connolly said. He added that AC Transit’s proposal would have offered ferry riders more choice in how they get to the terminal.
With parking relief in the pipeline, WETA plans to focus on more non-auto options for getting riders to and from the ferry terminal. “The implementation of an overflow parking lot, in addition to future improvements for pedestrian, bicycle, and transit access are vitally important in terms of WETA’s ability to continue accommodating future ridership demand at the Main Street ferry terminal,” said Nina Rannells, WETA’s executive director, in a June 4, 2015 staff report.
Measure BB: Voters approved Alameda County Transportation Commission’s Sales Tax, Measure BB on November 4, 2014. It’s priorities are to expand mass transit, improve highway infrastructure, improve local streets and roads, improve bicycle and pedestrian safety, and expand special transportation for seniors and people with disabilities.
Line 50 added, then removed: Line 50 was added in AC Transit’s March 2015 draft alignment plan. At the July 8 meeting of the City of Alameda – AC Transit Liaison Committee, AC Transit announced that is was removing the line. If brought into service, Line 50-Encinal would run between the Fruitvale BART Station and the Alameda Main Street Ferry Terminal every 20 to 30 minutes between 6 am and 10 pm. The route, subject to city approval, would enter Alameda via the Fruitvale Bridge and turn from Tilden Way onto Fernside Blvd. It will continue down Fernside Boulevard, right on High Street, right on Encinal Avenue, into Central Avenue, right on Webster Street, left on Appezzato Memorial Parkway, and right on Main Street to the terminal.
Line 50 service to schools: Line 50 would provide bus service to these schools along the route: Alameda Community Learning Center on 3rd Street at Appezzato Memorial Parkway; Academy of Alameda Middle School on Pacific Avenue on 4th Street; College of Alameda on Appezzato Memorial Parkway at Webster Street; Encinal High School on Central Avenue at 3rd Street.
WETA 2009 Transition Plan: In 2007, WETA was created by passage of SB 976 as the successor to the Water Transit Authority. In June of 2009, WETA issued its transition plan in conjunction with the cities of Alameda and Vallejo, and the Metropolitan Transportation Commission. The 2009 plan anticipated closing down the Main Street Ferry Terminal once a new ferry terminal is built nearby in the Seaplane Lagoon at Alameda Point.2009 Transition Plan
Due to a surge in ridership, current plans assume that the Main Street Ferry Terminal will continue to operate after the Seaplane Lagoon Terminal is constructed. The recently approved development agreement for Site A, adjacent to the Seaplane Lagoon, includes a $10 million commitment from the developer toward the new terminal. WETA has yet to complete its feasibility study for the new terminal.
Alameda Point vs. Main Street: Alameda Point development will attempt to discourage automobile usage. Residents will be able to walk to the Seaplane Lagoon ferry terminal. Shuttles will offer rides from Alameda Point to Oakland BART stations. AC Transit is expected to operate a rapid transit bus from Alameda Point through the Tube into Oakland. Meanwhile, at the Main Street ferry terminal a mile away, AC Transit will provide no assistance in discouraging automobile usage.
The National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS or Fisheries Service) issued a permit to the Water Emergency Transportation Authority (WETA) on February 25, 2015, for proposed in-water dock construction activities at Alameda Point that may impact resident harbor seals.
In its permit, they brushed off concerns of the Sierra Club, the San Francisco Bay Conservation and Development Commission (BCDC), and many residents that removal of the old dock used by harbor seals as a haul out could cause them to abandon the area.
The Fisheries Service doesn’t seem bothered that the seals might abandon the area. They suggest the harbor seals could use a nearby rocky breakwater or a beach on Yerba Buena Island about four miles away. The Fisheries Service even went as far as belittling the dock structure and location preferred by the harbor seals as being “artificial” and “manmade,” even though examples of artificial wildlife habitat enhancements are widespread, some of them sanctioned by the Fisheries Service.
The Fisheries Service stated, “NMFS does not consider building an artificial harbor seal haul-out is a good conservation measure to compensate for the loss of the old floating dock that is being used as a haul-out by 10-20 harbor seals. The floating dock proposed to be removed is a manmade structure that is bound to disappear as it deteriorates and falls apart. To build another new structure without maintenance will likely have the same issue in the near future. Therefore, NMFS considers it better conservation practice not to construct a new structure just to replace the current deteriorating artificial one.”
No one suggested that conservation measures come “without maintenance.” Some periodic maintenance would obviously be necessary.
Fisheries Service philosophy out of touch
If “manmade” artificial landscape features were poor conservation measures, then we would have to assume the Fisheries Service would not approve of fish ladders in rivers and streams to aid fish migration. Nor would they have approved of the artificial reef constructed off the coast of Texas using decommissioned and cleaned ships, and decommissioned oil rigs. A thriving marine reef habitat — through artificial means — has been the result.
At Alameda Point, the entire least tern nesting site is artificial, from the imported sand, oyster shells, shelters and fence to the entire land mass underneath it created by filling in a marsh. Likewise, the least tern nesting island in the Hayward Shoreline marsh is artificially constructed and may someday be underwater. Both of these artificial sites are successful in aiding endangered birds by replacing habitat lost due to human development and uses.
The Fisheries Service response to the comments on the impacts of the ferry maintenance facility gives the appearance of being out of touch. Instead of calling for a small mitigation measure in the form of a new haul out by the agency that is altering the ecosystem, they have shifted the burden to the harbor seals. This is backwards. It sets the baseline conditions as “tomorrow” rather than “yesterday” before modern development ruined most of the shoreline habitat in the Bay.
But there is still hope. The Alameda City Council will have an opportunity at its Tuesday, March 3 meeting to rectify the pending lease agreement with WETA that fails to include provisions for the harbor seals. And a few weeks later, BCDC will have an opportunity to ensure that its permit for the project contains harbor seal haul-out requirements.
Alameda Point is on the cusp of a new era in civilian reuse. Plans for construction of residential neighborhoods and commercial space are taking form, alongside growing productive reuse of aircraft hangars. The U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) is poised to begin the first phase of their $240 million clinic and columbarium project. In addition, the Water Emergency Transportation Authority (WETA) is studying plans for accommodating their increasing ferry ridership.