A recently released Navy document reveals that an implausible last-minute health-risk theory killed the Navy’s plan for upgrading and expanding wetlands at Alameda Point where a regional park is planned (“Navy To Create New Wetlands,” Jan. 3, 2019).
A 60-acre cleanup site, known as Site 32, was on track to include 15 acres of seasonal wetlands, along with a doubling of watershed drainage into the wetlands. The regulatory agencies overseeing cleanup — namely, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, Regional Water Board, and Department of Toxic Substances Control — had signed off on the plan in 2018. But nothing has been done since the tons of clean soil for the project were delivered there in 2019.
A support agency, the CA Department of Public Health (CDPH), interjected claims that trees, other vegetation, and burrowing animals could compromise the proposed soil cover underneath the 15 acres of proposed new wetlands, exposing people and animals to radiological contaminants from paint residue on scattered objects that have been buried there for 65 years.
It was an unsightly mess that motivated concerned residents to spring into action.
About 20 volunteers showed up on Sunday morning, October 17, to pick up the blanket of litter along the western shoreline of the Seaplane Lagoon at Alameda Point. This area is a popular destination for recreational visitors, many of whom leave their trash on the ground. The city recently took steps to stop side-show activity there.
Sideshow activity and drag racing at Alameda Point has now become a weekend routine. Despite community outrage and being given a host of ideas on how to curb the activity, the city appears to be doing nothing about it. Even the private security detail is absent when needed.
The sounds of screeching tires on the western side of the Seaplane Lagoon can be heard a mile away, as plumes of white tire smoke drift away. And an afternoon of wine tasting at Building 25 on Monarch Street now comes with car-racing ambience. The sight of families riding bikes through the area has given way to cars, whose drivers prefer loud exhaust systems.
Everything is looking up at Alameda Point rocket manufacturer Astra. Contracts to launch small satellites are up, partnerships are up, and capital investments in the company are up. And now the company is ready to expand its facility.
Astra is headquartered at 1900 Skyhawk Street in Building 360, next to the Main Street Soccer Field. The building was formerly used for repairing jet engines and is still owned by the Navy due to groundwater contamination that is undergoing remediation. Astra renovated the southern portion of the building in 2018 and 2019 under a license agreement with the City of Alameda to begin manufacturing rockets. Its rocket engines are tested in a facility across the street that was formerly used by the Navy to test jet engines.
In April 2021, the company received the go-ahead from the Navy and regulators to finish renovating Building 360 to expand rocket production. On May 25, the city issued a building permit for the northern portion of the 180,000 square-foot building.
Political favoritism may have affected the decision.
The San Francisco Bay Restoration Authority has denied the city’s request for a planning grant for DePave Park at Alameda Point (City to Seek Funding for Wetland Park at Alameda Point, Sept. 24, 2020). This ecological wetland park is proposed for the western side of the Seaplane Lagoon. The rejection letter and the agency’s ranking of applicants raise questions of fairness in awarding grants.
The Alameda City Council did not help matters when it rejected calls to include funds for a DePave Park master plan in the recently-adopted two-year budget.
In the recent round of grant awards from the Restoration Authority, Alameda’s request for $1.165 million for DePave Park planning was denied, while the East Bay Regional Park District (EBRPD) was awarded $500,000 for designing the Hayward Marsh Restoration Project. Whether or not a 2016 campaign contribution from EBRPD to the Restoration Authority’s ballot Measure AA gave them a bump in the rankings is unclear. But the optics are not good.
When an airplane is coming in for a belly landing or has an engine on fire, the only way to prevent the entire plane from becoming engulfed in flames is by dousing the runway or the plane with fire suppression foam. Navy firefighters were trained in the use of fire suppression foam near the airplane runways at Alameda Point.
Over the past two decades, there has been one bad news story after another about the foam’s toxic ingredients contaminating drinking water. These same toxic ingredients are also found in common consumer products. The Centers for Disease Control estimates that as many as 95 percent of the population have traces of these cancer-causing, endocrine-system-disrupting chemicals in their body.
That’s partly because consumer products with the same chemical compounds, such as water repellant outdoor wear, carpets, food packaging, and even cosmetics, are still on the market. Some household brand names that pioneered the marketing of products with the harmful chemicals, like Scotchgard and Teflon, have been reformulated and claim to be safe. Environmental advocacy groups like Earthjustice are not convinced.
As the science about the human health effects has become more compelling and public awareness so great, the military is now embarking on a cleanup program at active and former military bases, including Alameda Point.
A new state law that took effect in January 2020 has stymied the City’s plan for commercial development on a plot of land at Alameda Point. Assembly Bill No. 1486 requires cities, counties, special districts, and the state to first offer any and all “surplus” land to affordable housing developers before it can be leased for more than one year or sold. This legislation amended the Surplus Lands Act and, unbeknownst to the city when they supported the bill, swept in former military bases.
The city had received proposals from 10 commercial developers as a result of its marketing campaign in 2019. Each applicant was willing to pay at least the minimum listing price of $36.5 million for 22 acres in the Enterprise District and provide a construction timeline. The acreage is within the larger commercial and light industrial zone adjacent to Main Street, and includes the self-storage facilities. This new law meant that the City was unable to proceed with the selection process.
“It’s ironic,” said Nanette Mocanu, Assistant Director of Base Reuse & Community Development. “The City is a proponent for affordable housing and supported this legislation. We and many other communities were caught off guard when the legislation was applied to leasing and base reuse properties,” said Mocanu. “Cities across the state are working to find solutions to the unintended consequences of this legislation.”