Navy to sell vacant housing

On Wednesday, April 12, the Navy will auction off part of its long vacant military housing known as North Housing.  The opening bid for the 14.9-acre parcel is $5 million.  The online auction is being conducted by the federal General Services Administration.

In the coming months, another part of the North Housing neighborhood will be given to the Alameda Housing Authority and to Habitat for Humanity, and the former Island High School and Woodstock Child Development Center in the neighborhood will be given to Alameda Unified School District.

north-housing-land-use-map-added-detail
A complicated land disposal process for the area began about 10 years ago when the Coast Guard decided not to accept the housing site.  Continue reading “Navy to sell vacant housing”

Transportation agency calls for more housing in Alameda

The Metropolitan Transportation Commission (MTC) issued a new regional planning document on August 30, 2016, suggesting the amount of housing needed in Alameda to meet state goals. MTC is requesting input from local jurisdictions.

Alameda City Planner Andrew Thomas slammed the commission’s recommendations as being woefully out of touch with Alameda’s existing land uses and its limited regional transit connections.

Approved plan for Priority Development Area (PDA) at Alameda Point.
Approved plan for Priority Development Area (PDA) at Alameda Point.

MTC’s forecast calls for adding roughly 10,000 new homes in Alameda by 2040, with the majority to be added in existing neighborhoods, outside of so-called Priority Development Areas (PDAs) like Alameda Point and the Northern Waterfront. This could only be accomplished if a host of improbable and unrealistic events were to occur, according to Thomas. Continue reading “Transportation agency calls for more housing in Alameda”

Waterfront plans change at Alameda Landing

~ Developer proposes housing, hotel, and plaza at former Navy supply center

Alameda Landing is about to enter its final phase of development. A 2006 plan that once called for all commercial on the 41-acre waterfront parcel behind Target is being replaced with a new plan. It includes an additional 375 housing units, a 124-room hotel, restaurants, and a small amount of commercial space. An eight-acre waterfront park and promenade remain as the centerpiece.

Proposed Fifth Street Plaza with water shuttle. Courtesy of Catellus.
Proposed Fifth Street Plaza with water shuttle. Courtesy of Catellus.

The developer, Catellus, decided to shelve the all-commercial plan due to lack of demand, coupled with high costs to develop the seismically challenged site.

Sean Whiskeman, senior vice president of development for Catellus, points to the fact that zero new office construction is underway along the Interstate 880 and Interstate 80 office corridor. The lack of demand “is a very compelling statistic in our opinion,” said Whiskeman, “especially given the alternative office sites available within Alameda.”

In addition, current rents would not support the upfront investment of $90 million in land preparation costs, according to Whiskeman. “Asking rents on the island are approximately $16.50 per square foot,” said Whiskeman. “Rents would have to be close to $55 per square foot to justify building the office park on our waterfront site.” Assuming a 3 percent average annual growth rate of commercial rents, it would only pencil out if construction began 41 years from now, according to Whiskeman.

Another challenge is the seismic stability of the massive concrete wharf and the soft shoreline. The park and waterfront promenade will be built on the wharf. There is currently a warehouse on the wharf, but it will be demolished to make way for the public open space.

Two warehouses between Mitchell Avenue and Oakland Estuary. Warehouse on the right is on the wharf. San Francisco is in the background.
Two warehouses between Mitchell Avenue and Oakland Estuary. Warehouse on the right is on the wharf. San Francisco is in the background.

The wharf was constructed in the 1940s to handle train cars and cranes for Navy supply operations. There are over 4,000 piers underneath the wharf, and they have eroded and lost their structural integrity, according to Whiskeman.

The site is built with mud dredged from the Estuary, which is subject to liquefaction during an earthquake. The edges are stabilized with a rocky riprap, which creates the shoreline.

“In a seismic event of any size, that Bay Mud is going to build up a lot of energy, and it’s going to want to go somewhere,” said Whiskeman. “It’s going to want to go to the weakest point, which is the water’s edge,” continued Whiskeman. “That Bay Mud is going to explode out into the water and with a ton of force. It’s going to take with it anything in its path, including those piers and the wharf.”

The shoreline seismic plan will incorporate a system of several hundred underground columns of cement and soil mixed together, which could serve to both stabilize the shoreline and provide lateral restraint to the wharf structure.

The city currently owns the property. The city will continue to own the wharf after Catellus creates the eight-acre park and public space.

The 2006 development agreement for the former Navy supply center property allows for changes in land use, as long as no additional impacts are generated.

Aerial rendering of proposed plan for final phase of Alameda Landing. Existing Target store is at center left. Courtesy of Catellus.
Aerial rendering of proposed plan for final phase of Alameda Landing. Existing Target store is at center left. Courtesy of Catellus.

“We’re not generating any more trips than were already approved,” said Whiskeman. “We are net neutral, and in some respects we are net positive as far as trips because peak trips are about the same in the morning, and the evening peak trips are less than what was approved.” Transportation consulting firm Fehr & Peers provided the traffic impact analysis for Catellus.

The consultant’s data does not factor in the traffic reduction measures currently in place, according to Whiskeman. Alameda Landing residents and businesses already fund a BART shuttle to and from the 12th Street Station during weekday peak commute times.

“Part of the beauty of this next phase is that the transportation program gets more robust as more revenue is able to be put into the program to help fund the shuttle program,” said Whiskeman. It will also fund a new water shuttle to Jack London Square. Whiskeman said that the owners of the Alameda-based Commodore fleet would operate the water shuttle.

On May 23, Catellus sought input from the Planning Board. Board members suggested Catellus include more commercial space, smaller and more affordable housing units, and space for existing tenant Starlight Marine Services to continue operating its tugboat business there.

Starlight Marine Services tugboat at Alameda Landing wharf.
Starlight Marine Services tugboat at Alameda Landing wharf.

Catellus expects to return to the planning board with revisions to the plan on June 27 for final approval of the land-use change.

If approval of the new plan is granted, Catellus could begin work early next year and complete demolition and seismic work within 12 months.

Originally published in the Alameda Sun.

Alameda Landing promenade:park

Turning Basin Park facing the area of the Estuary where ships are turned around.
Turning Basin Park facing the area of the Estuary where ships are turned around.
Close-up of Turning Basin Park showing water feature play area. Courtesy of Catellus.
Close-up of Turning Basin Park showing water feature play area. Courtesy of Catellus.
Fifth Street Plaza proposal for Alameda Landing (close-up).
Fifth Street Plaza proposal for Alameda Landing (close-up).
Jack London Square directly across the Estuary from proposed plaza and water shuttle launch at Alameda Landing.
Jack London Square directly across the Estuary from proposed plaza and water shuttle launch at Alameda Landing.
Outline of areas developed by Catellus - Bayport and Alameda Landing - with final waterfront phase. Alameda Point is in the background. Courtesy of Catellus.
Outline of areas developed by Catellus – Bayport and Alameda Landing – with final waterfront phase. Alameda Point is in the background. Courtesy of Catellus.

Demolition of former Navy apartments begins

The demolition of 16 former Navy apartment buildings at Alameda Point has begun. On January 5, 2016, the City Council awarded a $547,000 contract to Asbestos Management Group of Oakland to perform the demolition.

Demolition of Navy apartment buildings at West Tower Avenue and Orion Street, Alameda Point.
Demolition of Navy apartment buildings at West Tower Avenue and Orion Street, Alameda Point.

In April of 2015, the city council directed city staff to come up with a plan to address safety and blight issues after KTVU Channel 2 aired a story about unsafe conditions at the abandoned housing area.

The structures are located on Orion Street, West Tower Avenue, Stardust Place and Pearl Harbor Road. Demolition began during the second week of March and is expected to be completed within 60 days. The job is being paid for out of Alameda Point base reuse funds.
Continue reading “Demolition of former Navy apartments begins”

City receives award for brownfield redevelopment

The city has received a prestigious award for its successful collaboration with a private developer on a brownfield redevelopment project—namely, Alameda Landing. The new retail and residential area is located near the Webster/Posey Tubes.  

“The Landing is a complex project that lends itself to a public-private partnership,” said Debbie Potter, the city’s Community Development Director. Potter accepted the Phoenix Award on behalf of the city at the “Brownfields 2015” conference in Chicago.  The award dovetailed with the conference theme of transforming blighted areas into productive sustainable development projects.  

An old warehouse used for the Navy's former Fleet Industrial Supply Center and a crane at the Port of Oakland provide a backdrop for condominiums nearing completion on Bette Street at Alameda Landing.
An old warehouse used for the Navy’s former Fleet Industrial Supply Center and a crane at the Port of Oakland provide a backdrop for condominiums nearing completion on Bette Street at Alameda Landing.

“Public-private partnership is pretty much the model at all former military bases.  But it’s not a business model that every developer embraces,” said Potter.  “Business is conducted in public.”  

More business will be conducted in public early next year when Catellus is expected to approach the city council with revised plans for the last and final phase, which will include downsizing the previously approved office space and adding housing.

One project is selected from each of the 10 U.S. Environmental Protection Agency regions. Alameda Landing took home the award for Region 9, which covers California, Nevada, Arizona, Hawaii and Pacific Islands.    

The city inherited a potentially valuable land asset from the Navy in 2000—a housing area that was to become Bayport, and an abandoned naval supply complex and hospital that was to become the Landing. Soon thereafter, the city selected Catellus as the developer.  

Since then, challenges have been a frequent companion.   The city and Catellus “had to work through infrastructure challenges, regulatory challenges, and financing challenges,” said Potter.  “Virtually every aspect has required special attention, from soil conditions to retail makeup to the strength of the pier structure along the waterfront.” 

As Bayport construction was underway, it became apparent that the initial proposed plan for 1.3 million square feet of research and development office space at the Landing was not viable.  The time to adapt or die arrived early.  “Being nimble throughout the process is key,” said Potter.  “Without flexibility, you end up with no project.”

By early 2007, the city had decided to give Catellus wide latitude on what it was allowed by right to construct at Alameda Landing.  Any configuration is allowed as long as the impacts, namely traffic, do not exceed the impacts identified in the environmental impact report.

The most significant changes were the slashing of office space to 400,000 square feet and the addition of up to 300 residential units at Alameda Landing.

In 2009, while the city and Catellus were waiting on the economy to rebound from the last recession, a fire of suspicious origin engulfed the abandoned hospital, which was still owned by the city.  Lead and asbestos were incinerated in the fire.  The added demolition and special cleanup costs amounted to several million dollars.  The city will finally recoup all of its cleanup costs with a final payment from Catellus during the waterfront phase, according to Potter.

Wooden debris being cleaned up after a fire destroyed the abandoned Navy hospital in 2009. Location is about 100 feet west of Target at Alameda Landing. Looking northwest. Photo used by permission from City of Alameda.
Wooden debris being cleaned up after a fire destroyed the abandoned Navy hospital in 2009. Location is about 100 feet west of Target at Alameda Landing. Looking northwest. Photo used by permission from City of Alameda.

Most of the Landing retail space is now filled, and the 284 residential units are nearing completion.  “Tri Pointe is the first private multifamily housing constructed in Alameda since the charter amendment known as Measure A was enacted in 1973,” said Potter.  “The Tri Pointe residential project was approved under provisions of the city’s Density Bonus Ordinance.”

Generous landscaping complements the loft-style condominiums at Alameda Landing near Target.
Generous landscaping complements the loft-style condominiums at Alameda Landing near Target.

Construction is about to begin on Stargell Commons, 32 rental units for low- and very-low-income households, along with a community center.  Catellus is bringing the infrastructure to the site and contributing $2 million for this project.  The City of Alameda Housing Authority will own the land and lease the land to Resources for Community Development, which will build and manage the complex.

Stargell Commons, to be located at Bette Street and Stargell Avenue at Alameda Landing.
Stargell Commons, to be located at Bette Street and Stargell Avenue at Alameda Landing.

The final phase of the Landing—in the warehouse area between Mitchell Avenue and the Oakland Estuary that was originally slated for office space, a Miracle League baseball park, and a waterfront park and promenade—begins next year.

But first, the city council will be asked to approve a major revision that will include the addition of housing and the subtraction of office space due to weak demand. The Miracle League baseball park has been scratched because it’s now slated to become part of Estuary Park nearby, which Catellus contributed toward.  

The authority for adding housing to the last phase of the Landing project originated in 2012, when the former city council updated the General Plan Housing Element, creating a Multifamily Overlay zoning designation. These special overlay zones, or sites, provide the rights for multifamily housing on specific sites.  It designated 10 acres at 30 units per acre on the land north of Mitchell Avenue.

“It gives Catellus zoning rights to residential if they want to pursue residential,” said Potter.  “No amendment to the development agreement or master plan is needed,” explained Potter. “But keep in mind that the zoning designation—multifamily overlay—is constrained by the requirement that any revised uses must fit within the environmental impact report and not generate additional impacts.”

The city currently owns the warehouse area north of Mitchell and collects about $800,000 a year in rent from two tenants. The land will be sold to Catellus upon approval of the revised plan. 

The Phoenix Awards Institute, Inc., a nonprofit, administers the awards. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and the International City/County Management Association organized the national conference in Chicago.

Originally published in the Alameda Sun.

Brownfield definition:  “A brownfield is a property, the expansion, redevelopment, or reuse of which may be complicated by the presence or potential presence of a hazardous substance, pollutant, or contaminant.”  Source:  U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.

Additional info:  California State Water Resources Control Board Brownfields Program.

Stargell Commons courtyard close-up.
Stargell Commons courtyard close-up.
Bioswale water filtration in the parking lot of Alameda Landing retail area.
Bioswale water filtration in the parking lot of Alameda Landing retail area.
Description of "bioswales" in Alameda Landing parking lot.
Description of “bioswales” in Alameda Landing parking lot.
Bioswale natural filtration for water runoff in residential area of Alameda Landing.
Bioswale natural filtration for water runoff in residential area of Alameda Landing.

Rooftop solar panels uncertain at Alameda Point

More than 24 new residential and commercial buildings are proposed for construction at the 68-acre Site A project at Alameda Point, which was approved unanimously by the Planning Board on Monday, May 11. All the buildings will be solar ready. But according to Joe Ernst, the project leader for Alameda Point Partners, there is no guarantee there will ever be any solar panels on the rooftops.

Site A aerial view looking northeast

Ernst blames the currently underfunded rebate incentive system and a lack of financing vehicles with tax incentives, which can leave developers having to absorb the full cost of the photovoltaic solar panels. He said it could take anywhere from seven to 10 years to offset the cost of the solar panels through power savings if his company had to fund them out of pocket.

The solar panel rebate programs offered by the State of California and Alameda Municipal Power lag far behind the ambitious goals recently launched by Governor Jerry Brown. The governor’s executive order on greenhouse gas reduction, issued on April 29, 2015, followed through on goals that he outlined a few months earlier in his inaugural address.

“I envision a wide range of initiatives: more distributed power, expanded rooftop solar, micro-grids, an energy imbalance market, battery storage, the full integration of information technology and electrical distribution and millions of electric and low-carbon vehicles,” said Governor Brown in his speech.

But at Alameda Point, the inconsistency between the governor’s goals and the programs to implement them stands in stark contrast. The proposed 68-acre Site A project next to the Seaplane Lagoon is left wanting for solar panels. But a few feet away at Hangar 41, Wrightspeed is preparing to manufacture fuel-efficient electric powertrains for trucks with the aid of $5.8 million in grant funding from the California Energy Commission.

Rooftop solar panelsIn order to limit the onsite production of power, which cuts into a power company’s bottom line, rate structures for buying and selling power from rooftop solar producers can be skewed in favor of power companies. This, in turn, can effect decisions on investing in rooftop solar. One of the hurdles is right here in Alameda.

Alameda’s Public Utilities Board recently held a workshop on rate structure alternatives known as Net Energy Metering (NEM) and Feed In Tariff (FIT) but held off on making any decision. Rooftop solar proponents favor an expansion of NEM.

A nonprofit agency in Palo Alto overcame obstacles to installing rooftop solar with a combination of independent financing and various incentives. In early 2014, the Oshman Family Jewish Community Center completed a rooftop solar project on their campus that was financed through a power purchase agreement and took advantage of available incentives. It required no capital costs to the center.

The company that packaged the deal, THiNKnrg, owns the solar panels. It will deliver electricity at 4 cents a kilowatt, half the current energy rate, saving the center an estimated $1.5 million over the 20-year contract. The deal covers 12 buildings with 1,840 solar panels, which will generate .5 megawatt of power. It is Palo Alto’s second largest rooftop solar system.

The rooftops at Alameda’s Site A project will be designed to accept the weight of solar panels. Conduits, pathways, switchgear and metering will be designed into the buildings. Although this new construction project is a prime candidate to turn on the lights with solar on the first day, it’s unlikely without the support of state incentives and Alameda Municipal Power.

Published in the Alameda Sun, May 14, 2015.

Location of proposed Site A development project at Alameda Point, looking west from Main Street.
Location of proposed Site A development project at Alameda Point, looking west from Main Street.

Site A aerial view looking west