Ospreys nest successfully in 2016 at Alameda Point

Location, location, location! But for a fenced-off dilapidated navigation light stand on a jetty at the Seaplane Lagoon, ospreys would not have had a successful nesting season this year.

In late August two adult ospreys took flight from their Seaplane Lagoon perch for parts unknown with two healthy offspring. It was a welcome sight because for the past three years a series of frustrating avian soap operas featuring other ospreys and unwanted nesting attempts aboard the maritime ship Admiral Callaghan were marked with failure. Previously in 2012 they had raised one chick, the only other recorded case of osprey reproduction at Alameda Point.

Two young ospreys on June 8, 2016, at Alameda Point Seaplane Lagoon.
Two young ospreys on June 8, 2016, at Alameda Point Seaplane Lagoon.

Continue reading “Ospreys nest successfully in 2016 at Alameda Point”

Parking shortage dogs Main St. Ferry Terminal

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.

O Club parking lot on Main Street for ferry riders. Licensed for use by WETA.
O Club parking lot on Main Street for ferry riders. Licensed for use by WETA.

“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.”

Unpaved city-owned parking lot on Main Street west of dog park used by ferry riders.
Unpaved city-owned parking lot on Main Street west of dog park used by ferry 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.

Dog park on Main Street next to ferry terminal parking lot. Looking west with San Francisco in background.
Dog park on Main Street next to ferry terminal parking lot. Looking west with San Francisco in background.

“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.

Estuary Park Phase 2 area

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.

WETA ferries operating on Oakland Estuary during weekday morning commute time.
WETA ferries operating on Oakland Estuary during weekday morning commute time.

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.”

Ferry riders' vehicles parked on shoulder of Main Street at Singleton Avenue.
Ferry riders’ vehicles parked on shoulder of Main Street at Singleton Avenue.

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.”

Ferry riders walking to terminal alongside dog park.
Ferry riders walking to terminal alongside dog park.

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.

Originally published in the Alameda Sun.

More photos and video

O Club parking lot

Main St. Ferry Terminal parking lot

Main Street dog park.
Main Street dog park.
City-owned unpaved overflow ferry parking lot, with dog park and terminal in background.
City-owned unpaved overflow ferry parking lot, with dog park and terminal in background.

https://vimeo.com/181268327

Harbor seals adapting to new float

A new concrete float for harbor seals was delivered to Alameda Point on June 22. It is the first-of-its-kind on the West Coast. With seals starting to use the new platform, a milestone has been reached culminating two-and-a-half years of citizen advocacy to maintain a resting site for harbor seals at Alameda Point. A ferry maintenance facility is slated to begin construction this summer where the seals have been finding solitude for over a decade. The new float will be anchored 300 yards away to the east.

Harbor seals on new float Alameda

In an effort to acclimate the seals to their new float and surroundings, the float is being moved in stages to its permanent location. It will be anchored a hundred yards offshore from the Bay Trail near the soccer field on West Hornet Avenue. Continue reading “Harbor seals adapting to new float”

Marine ecosystem thrives at Alameda Point

Conservation of wildlife isn’t just important at Crab Cove 

Visitors flock to Crab Cove, a State Marine Conservation Area, to learn about and experience the Bay’s sea dwellers. The educational lessons at the Crab Cove Visitor Center are equally relevant throughout the waterway south of the USS Hornet at Alameda Point where even more creatures thrive in relative obscurity.

The area encompasses an interconnected web of vegetation, birds, seals, fish, mollusks, crustaceans and worms. Ghost shrimp, bat rays, leopard sharks, striped crabs, mussels, California sea hares and fish with light-emitting diodes are just a sampling. A 36-foot-wide rock wall, known as a breakwater and built by the Navy in 1945, forms the mile-long southern boundary.

Ghost shrimp at Breakwater Beach, Alameda Point. Red spots on shrimp are baby shrimp. Click on photo to enlarge.
Ghost shrimp at Breakwater Beach, Alameda Point. Red spots on shrimp are baby shrimp. Click on photo to enlarge.

Ghost shrimp are seldom seen, since they spend most of their lives in tunnels constantly digging and filtering the sandy mud for nutrients. But the evidence of their presence is plain to see during low tide at the mudflat west of the Encinal Boat Ramp. Thousands of small mud mounds dotting the landscape have an opening in the center leading down into the shrimp burrow.

Mudflat at Breakwater Beach, Alameda Point, during low tide showing shrimp burrows.
Mudflat at Breakwater Beach, Alameda Point, during low tide showing shrimp burrows.

The shrimps’ perpetual mining and aeration of the mud makes the environment attractive to other species as well, such as the arrow goby. These tiny fish are only a few inches long and almost completely transparent. They share the burrows with the shrimp. At low tide they can be seen darting around in shallow pools of water in the sand. Occasionally least terns dive to grab a goby.

Two arrow gobies at Breakwater Beach, Alameda Point. The gobies take shelter inside of ghost shrimp tunnels and also benefit from the shrimps' feeding activities that release food morsels the fish can eat.
Two arrow gobies at Breakwater Beach, Alameda Point. The gobies take shelter inside of ghost shrimp tunnels and also benefit from the shrimps’ feeding activities that release food morsels the fish can eat.

Lugworm at Breakwater Beach, Alameda PointA neighbor of the shrimp and gobies is the lugworm or sandworm. They, too, are seldom seen, but at low tide their ropey casings of excavated sand and mud are a clear sign of their presence. Another sign of their presence in recent weeks are the almost clear egg sacs. At low tide they look like deflated balloons that washed ashore. But when submersed in water, it becomes apparent that the egg sacs are tethered to the worms’ tunnels. The jelly sac keeps the eggs moist at low tide.

Lugworm egg sacs on Breakwater Beach, Alameda Point.
Lugworm egg sacs on Breakwater Beach, Alameda Point.

Another seldom seen creature is the foot-long California sea hare or sea slug. Their brownish color and slow movement makes them difficult to spot, even when they venture among the rocks near the water surface. During egg-laying season, a clue to their presence is the large bright yellow clumps of eggs deposited on the rocks, which look like angel hair pasta. 

CA sea hare, or sea slug, foraging for food on rocky shoreline next to Bay Trail.
CA sea hare, or sea slug, foraging for food on rocky shoreline next to Bay Trail.

Sea vegetation serves as an anchor for herring eggs. Some eggs are churned up by tides and currents during the prolific herring-spawning season and eaten by birds.

Gull with herring eggs attached to shafts of vegetation it retrieved from just below the water surface in Alameda Point harbor.
Gull with herring eggs attached to shafts of vegetation it retrieved from just below the water surface in Alameda Point harbor.

Algae and vegetation on rocks in the tidal zone serve as food for striped crabs, always busy picking away. But crabs will quickly move under a rock if they spot a visitor with one of their eyes that can be raised up out of the socket.

Striped crab on breakwater at Alameda Point.
Striped crab on breakwater at Alameda Point.

Armies of kelp flies walk – not fly – along the waterline on the beach during warm weather waiting for kelp to wash up so they can lay eggs.

Kelp flies on Breakwater Beach, Alameda Point.
Kelp flies on Breakwater Beach, Alameda Point.

Small fish, such as the jack smelt, provide food for the diving California least terns.  Just about any size fish is prey for the California brown pelicans that hang out by the thousands on the section of breakwater surrounded by water known as Breakwater Island.  Fellow marine birds the double-crested cormorants dive deep, chasing down prey by paddling their webbed feet.  Mussels are a delicacy for gulls, which can often be seen hovering and dropping mussels on rocks and pavement to crack open the shell.

Mussels and barnacles on the breakwater at Breakwater Beach, Alameda Point.
Mussels and barnacles on the breakwater at Breakwater Beach, Alameda Point.

The strangest fish to appear in the channel is the plainfin midshipman. It can create its own light in the deep waters it inhabits during most of the year. Their skin is laced with hundreds of bioluminescent photophores that can help it attract prey, as well as emitting light that matches surrounding water to make it difficult for predators to see.

Cormorant holding plainfin midshipman that it retrieved by diving in the Alameda Point Channel. Dotted lines on underbelly of fish are light-emitting photophores. These fish lay eggs among shoreline rocks and their young are capable of breathing air during low tide before maturing and swimming away. Due to lack of research, it is unknown whether plainfin midshipman lay eggs at Alameda Point. Other smaller and easier to swallow plainfin midshipman were caught by this cormorant.
Cormorant holding plainfin midshipman that it retrieved by diving in the Alameda Point Channel. Dotted lines on underbelly of fish are light-emitting photophores. These fish lay eggs among shoreline rocks and their young are capable of breathing air during low tide before maturing and swimming away. Due to lack of research, it is unknown whether plainfin midshipman lay eggs at Alameda Point. Other smaller and easier to swallow plainfin midshipman were caught by this cormorant.

The leopard shark with its large leopard-like brown markings can grow to seven feet in length but is harmless to humans. These fish forage for food in the shallow intertidal zone going after crabs, shrimp, worms, other fish and fish eggs.

Leopard shark next to breakwater at Alameda Point.
Leopard shark next to breakwater at Alameda Point.

A gracefully beautiful fish and a regular at Alameda Point is the bat ray, which feeds along the bottom but can occasionally be seen swimming just below the surface.

Bat ray near Bay Trail at Alameda Point.
Bat ray near Bay Trail at Alameda Point.

A moon jellyfish was recently spotted in Alameda Point waters, drifting along near the surface.

Moon jellyfish drifting at the gap in the breakwater at Alameda Point.
Moon jellyfish drifting at the gap in the breakwater at Alameda Point.

Harbor seals, representing marine mammals, round out the marine life roster. Alameda Point hosts the only harbor seal haul-out in the East Bay between Yerba Buena Island and Fremont.

Harbor seals at Alameda Point at sunrise.
Harbor seals at Alameda Point at sunrise.

Originally published in the Alameda Sun.

More photos of Alameda Point marine life, with map

Ghost shrimp with eggs at Breakwater Beach, Alameda Point.
Ghost shrimp with eggs at Breakwater Beach, Alameda Point.
Red objects on ghost shrimp are baby ghost shrimp, at Breakwater Beach, Alameda Point.
Red objects on ghost shrimp are baby ghost shrimp, at Breakwater Beach, Alameda Point.
CA sea hare, or sea slug, foraging along rocky shoreline next to Bay Trail at Alameda Point.
CA sea hare, or sea slug, foraging along rocky shoreline next to Bay Trail at Alameda Point.
CA sea hare (rear view) with yellow strands of eggs recently deposited on the breakwater.
CA sea hare (rear view) with yellow strands of eggs recently deposited on the breakwater.
Closeup showing individual CA sea hare eggs at Alameda Point.
Closeup showing individual CA sea hare eggs at Alameda Point.
School of anchovies at shoreline next to Bay Trail.
School of anchovies at shoreline next to Bay Trail.
Tube worm on Breakwater Beach, Alameda Point.
Tube worm on Breakwater Beach, Alameda Point.
Jack smelt caught by fisherman at Alameda Point breakwater to use as bait.
Jack smelt caught by fisherman at Alameda Point breakwater to use as bait.
Two striped crabs eating vegetation on the breakwater at Alameda Point.
Two striped crabs eating vegetation on the breakwater at Alameda Point.

Alameda Point waterway

Dining on the farm at Alameda Point

The Alameda Point Collaborative (APC) served up gourmet meals at their annual Urban Farm Table fundraising event on Sunday, May 15, 2016. About 100 guests were seated under a canopy squarely in the middle of crops growing on the Alameda Point farm.

Keynote speaker Matthew Dolan, executive chef at Twenty Five Lusk in San Francisco, spoke at the Urban Farm Table fundraiser for the Alameda Point Collaborative.
Keynote speaker Matthew Dolan, executive chef at Twenty Five Lusk in San Francisco, spoke at the Urban Farm Table fundraiser for the Alameda Point Collaborative.

This year’s menu was again created by Jeff Rosen, executive chef at Blue Heron Catering of Oakland. Some of the salad and entrée ingredients, such as arugula, strawberries and onions, were grown within a few steps of the table.

APC is the largest supportive housing provider for homeless families in Alameda County. Adults in the community can acquire new job skills and self-confidence in APC’s various enterprises – Ploughshares Nursery, Farm2Market farm production, and commercial kitchen. The Farm2Market program sells produce through a subscription service.

May 2016 crops at Alameda Point Collaborative farm.
May 2016 crops at Alameda Point Collaborative farm.

Matthew Dolan, executive chef at Twenty Five Lusk in San Francisco, gave the keynote address. His message centered on food choices. Food that is bad for your health is often bad for the environment because of the way it is produced, according to Dolan.

Dolan singled out Monsanto Corporation for manipulation of agricultural seed production geared to boost production at the expense of the environment. He also said that some hamburger meat used in fast food restaurants was a grade below the meat used in dog food.  

Dolan praised the kind of positive changes in food choices that are being made possible by community farms like APC’s.

Guest speaker and APC resident Jamie Sneed exemplified the value of the Collaborative’s programs. Her story began on the floor of the emergency room at John George Psychiatric Hospital as victim of a suicide attempt in 2011. She went from the hospital to a shelter in Hayward, sharing a windowless room with nine other women, and then moved to transitional housing before landing a spot at APC.

Sneed credits APC’s career center and its on-the-job training program with motivating her. “It was such a transformative experience,” said Sneed. “I will never be the same. The six-month program gave my life structure when I needed it most.”

Sneed spends part of her time working on the farm. She is also polishing her writing skills and has taught computer skills to others, as a result of APC’s training program. “For those of you who have supported us over the years, thank you,” said Sneed. “I am here because of you.”

APC operates an education center to serve the more than 300 children and youth who live there. Literacy is a major focus of the academic programming. School-aged children get support with homework, one-on-one tutoring and participate in special enrichment activities at the center.

APC was formed in 1999 following the closure of Alameda’s Naval Air Station. APC was allowed to acquire 34 acres under provisions of the federal McKinney Act, which was created in the mid-1980s to address homelessness.

Originally published in the Alameda Sun.

Photos from Alameda Point Collaborative farm, May 15, 2016.

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.

Radium safety enhanced at Seaplane Lagoon

The City of Alameda became the new owner of the Seaplane Lagoon at Alameda Point on April 13, 2016. It came from the Navy with a new condition that exceeds normal protocols for dredging in San Francisco Bay.

As with all cleanup sites, the Navy, city and regulators agreed to what areas needed to be cleaned up in the Seaplane Lagoon. The cleanup plan approved in 2006 was based on testing the sediment throughout the 110-acre lagoon. The problem areas were confined to about 10 acres at the northeast and northwest corners of the lagoon where storm sewers dumped contaminants prior to 1970s environmental laws. The agreed upon plan said that there would be no restrictions on the lagoon when cleanup was done.

Dredging the northwest corner of the Seaplane Lagoon in February 2012.
Dredging the northwest corner of the Seaplane Lagoon in February 2012.

After cleanup was completed, two years of discussions between the Navy, state and federal regulators, and the city led to an amendment to the official cleanup decision to include a detailed management plan for any future dredging in the Seaplane Lagoon. The city led the effort to create a sediment management plan. It stipulates that all dredge sediment brought to the surface will have to be spread out six inches thick on a drying pad and scanned for radium-226 radiation at a cost borne by the city. Continue reading “Radium safety enhanced at Seaplane Lagoon”