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”

Seaplane Lagoon ferry service in limbo

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.

Ferry passengers boarding at the Alameda Main Street Terminal bound for San Francisco. The popular Main Street Terminal at the north side of Alameda Point on the Oakland Estuary will continue in operation, even if new ferry service comes to the Seaplane Lagoon. Parking here will be expanded in mid-2016.
Ferry passengers boarding at the Alameda Main Street Terminal bound for San Francisco. The popular Main Street Terminal at the north side of Alameda Point on the Oakland Estuary will continue in operation, even if new ferry service comes to the Seaplane Lagoon. Parking here will be expanded in mid-2016.

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.”

Location of proposed Seaplane Lagoon ferry terminal. Looking north, with Ferry Point Road to the immediate right.
Location of proposed Seaplane Lagoon ferry terminal. Looking north, with Ferry Point Road to the immediate right.

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.

Originally published in the Alameda Sun.

Main Street Ferry Terminal getting more parking, no buses

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.

Ferry riders leaving the Main Street Ferry Terminal in the background and walking toward makeshift parking lot.  Dog park is on the right.
Ferry riders leaving the Main Street Ferry Terminal in the background and walking toward makeshift parking lot. Dog park is on the right.

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.

O Club parking lot.  Main Street to the left.
O Club parking lot. Main Street to the left.

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.

Main Street entrance to O Club parking lot.  Oakland Estuary and arriving ferry on the left.
Main Street entrance to O Club parking lot. Oakland Estuary and arriving ferry on the left.

“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.  

Close-up of community park section of Estuary Park, with dog park located in upper portion.
Close-up of community park section of Estuary Park, with dog park located in upper portion.

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.

Originally published in the Alameda Sun.

Additional notes:

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.

News updates: Main St. neighborhood planning, Veteran Affairs project, ferry service

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.

Designing the Main Street neighborhood

Alameda Point zoning - Main St. neighborhood

At next Tuesday’s city council meeting, the council will be updated on the pending 68-acre Site A residential and retail plan. They will also consider authorizing an urban design firm to draft detailed plans for a 100-acre residential neighborhood along Main Street near the ferry terminal. Continue reading “News updates: Main St. neighborhood planning, Veteran Affairs project, ferry service”

Ferry agency seeks harbor seal harassment permit

Construction of the ferry maintenance facility at Alameda Point is delayed another year. Originally scheduled to begin in August of this year, the project is on hold while the Water Emergency Transportation Authority (WETA) seeks a federal permit allowing for harassment of harbor seals during demolition and construction.

Harbor seals at Alameda Point 2014

The public, beginning in January of 2014, raised concerns about the harbor seals being displaced at the project site. The Central Bay Operations and Maintenance Facility is slated for construction east of the USS Hornet where the Navy operated a recreational boating dock.

14 harbor seals resting on June 4, 2014, at Alameda Point dock where ferry facility is planned.
14 harbor seals resting on June 4, 2014, at Alameda Point dock where ferry facility is planned.

Part of the dock structure has sunk, but the main dock and remnant timbers have attracted harbor seals in recent years that manage to haul themselves up onto the wooden islands to rest. In May 2014, a female harbor seal was observed nursing a pup on the old dock and leading the pup in training exercises around the dock area.

Nursing harbor seal pup - May 2014 - Alameda Point
Nursing harbor seal pup – May 13, 2014 – Alameda Point

In its permit application published in the Federal Register on September 17, 2014, the description of the type of harassment for which WETA is seeking a permit is limited to sounds emitted during demolition of the existing pilings and hammering in new ones.

The application makes only passing reference to residents having observed seals at the site. The loss of a resting site is not contemplated in the federal review, even though the Marine Mammal Protection Act lists habitat loss as a form of harassment. A haul-out resting site is considered habitat integral to the welfare of seals.

Adult harbor seals with silver pup - May 29, 2014
Adult harbor seals with silver pup – May 29, 2014

The permit is being processed as part of a federal Environmental Assessment and is being prepared by the National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS). The NMFS is an arm of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration that enforces the Marine Mammal Protection Act (MMPA), as well as aquatic components of the Endangered Species Act.

The permit being applied for by WETA is called an Incidental Harassment Authorization (IHA). An IHA “Level A” involves injury to a marine mammal. “Level B” involves disruption of behavioral patterns. The WETA permit is Level B.

The preliminary conclusion of NMFS is that no significant impact will occur, especially in light of the acoustical mitigation measures worked out between WETA and NMFS. The mitigation measures call for gradual start-ups to demolition and dock construction work, a sound curtain in the water, and NMFS-approved biological monitors.

Silver-colored harbor seal pup nursing on May 13, 2014.
Silver-colored harbor seal pup nursing on May 13, 2014.

Despite the fact that a regular haul-out site will be eliminated with the dock removal, NMFS concludes, “No permanent impacts to marine mammal habitat are proposed to or would occur as a result of the proposed Project.” WETA’s proposed facility “would not modify the existing habitat. Therefore, no restoration of the habitat would be necessary,” stated NMFS.

The most recent harbor seal data for the area cited by NMFS in the application is from 1998. It highlights Breakwater Island, the rocky barrier forming the south side of the Alameda Point Channel, as “the only haul-out site in the Central Bay that is accessible to seals throughout the full tidal range.”

The Alameda Point seals have been seen again in the project area in recent weeks after an absence of a few months, which corresponds with behavior predicted by NMFS.  Citing harbor seal research, NMFS stated,  “Haul-out sites are relatively consistent from year to year, and females have been recorded returning to their own natal haul-out when breeding.” 

The public can submit comments no later than October 17, 2014. Pending review of the comments, the NMFS may impose additional mitigation measures. Comments can be sent via email to: itp.guan@noaa.gov. Paper mail to: Jolie Harrison, Chief, Permits and Conservation Division, Office of Protected Resources, National Marine Fisheries Service, 1315 East-West Highway, Silver Spring, MD 20910.

Adult harbor seal with pup at proposed ferry facility site, Alameda Point, May 13, 2014.
Adult harbor seal with pup at proposed ferry facility site, Alameda Point, May 13, 2014.

WETA will also need a permit from the Bay Conservation and Development Commission, which follows state rules regarding marine mammal impacts. WETA will be leasing the site from the city, and still needs to conclude a lease agreement and obtain a building permit. Demolition and dredging at the site can only occur between August 1 and November 30 due to foraging by least terns in the spring and summer and fish migration in late fall. The permit is for 2015.

The project was authorized by WETA in 2009 and has been undergoing review ever since. It will include berths for 11 ferries, a service yard and a four-story workshop and administration building. The facility would also function as an emergency operation center for passenger service in the event of an emergency.

National Marine Fisheries Service permit page

Federal Register notice

Related story:  “Ferry Maintenance Facility Shoreline Public Access Hearing”

Harbor seal adult and pup

Harbor seal at Alameda Point

Harbor seals on dock remnant at Alameda Point, January 5, 2014.
Harbor seals on dock remnant at Alameda Point, January 5, 2014.

Harbor seal at Alameda Point

Recreational boating dock where harbor seals haul out, as it appeared on May 9, 2014.
Recreational boating dock where harbor seals haul out, as it appeared on May 9, 2014.
Proposed WETA ferry maintenance facility at Alameda Point.
Proposed WETA ferry maintenance facility at Alameda Point.