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.
The vacated residential area known as North Housing—located between Alameda Point and Alameda Landing—has been deemed environmentally safe for transfer out of Navy hands. The approval comes after a four-year effort to clean up groundwater to drinking water standards was declared unnecessary and terminated.
The original overly cautious risk assumption in the 2007 cleanup plan—that humans might somehow ingest the salty groundwater 10 to 20 feet below the surface—is now seen as implausible. The vapor extraction system covering a six-acre area of benzene and naphthalene-contaminated groundwater was dismantled in 2014 after a new round of tests showed that there is no evidence of harmful vapors rising to the surface.
The land was originally slated for transfer to the Coast Guard. But the Coast Guard decided in 2008 that it no longer wanted the property. The Navy and the city then worked out a plan that incorporates a federal requirement for homeless accommodation and a for-profit development.
The 22.7 acres slated for auction to a private developer will be tagged with utility infrastructure costs—streets, drainage, utilities—on all of the North Housing area, except for the Housing Authority’s 13.6 acres and Habitat for Humanity’s 2.2 acres. The Housing Authority and Habitat for Humanity will be responsible for bringing new utility services from the nearest street to their housing units.
Mosley Avenue will be connected between Alameda Landing and North Housing with 360 feet of new roadway.
In 2013, the Navy turned off its air pump and carbon filter vacuum cleanup system to see if it made any difference in the concentrations or movement of contaminants. It didn’t.
But before the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) would sign off on a permanent shutdown of the cleanup system, it wanted a new set of tests at ground level to ensure there is no risk of harmful vapors. The Navy conducted tests inside the vacant housing, in the crawl spaces, and under the parking lot and basketball courts at the former Island High School property. The negative results satisfied the EPA.
In April the Navy officially amended its original 2007 Record of Decision cleanup plan, with regulatory agency concurrence, citing new evidence. It also cited city, county, and state regulations that prohibit intrusive activities and specifically prohibit well installation in the shallow groundwater where the contamination is located. The cleanup plan amendment said that results of the evaluations of extensive data for this cleanup area “show that there is no unacceptable risk for current residential and school uses and any potential future land uses.”
The amended plan also cited new evidence that suggested the contaminants were part of what is called the Marsh Crust at around 20 feet below ground and essentially stuck there. The Marsh Crust is a layer of “hydrocarbon gunk” that Oakland Gas Light Company’s coal gasification plant discharged from about 1880 to 1910. The waste discharges went into what was then San Antonio Creek, and much of it settled on the nearby marshland where North Housing now sits.
The land was never cleaned up before being filled in for use as San Francisco Bay Aerodrome—hangars and two runways—from 1930 to 1941. The Marsh Crust extends from the Oakland Estuary to Bayport and over to central Alameda Point. A city ordinance requires a permit before digging into the Marsh Crust to ensure safe handling.
The 37-acre North Housing area lies adjacent to the new Alameda Landing residential neighborhood. The site currently contains 51 residential structures with 282 three- and four-bedroom units constructed in 1969. With the possible exception of the two acres going to Habitat for Humanity, all of the units will be demolished to make way for new construction.
The Housing Authority will build 90 units of supportive housing that will include a community center.
It is not yet determined what Habitat for Humanity will do with its parcel. The private developer area is currently zoned for 315 units of multifamily residential housing and may exceed that number if the density bonus is applied for.
The transfer of properties is expected in 2016. The auctioning of the for-profit North Housing Navy property will follow, but no firm timeline has been announced.
Edited version of article first appearing in the Alameda Sun.
Newly available funds from the 2014 Measure I school bond, as well as the expected growth in student enrollment, prompted Alameda Unified School District (AUSD) to submit a request to the Navy in April to acquire the vacant Island High School and Woodstock Child Development Center parcel on Singleton Avenue on the city’s West End. The Navy responded favorably.
The school district previously leased the 5.9-acre parcel from the Navy at no cost. AUSD was slated to receive the two sites from the Navy under a previous application for a Public Benefit Acquisition. However, AUSD vacated the sites in 2010 and 2011 and withdrew their application due to the estimated hundreds of thousands of dollars required for upgrades to the sewer and water lines.
The school district has been resorting to creative desk shuffling in recent years to cope with a shortage of adequate space and lack of funds. One example given by School Superintendent Sean McPhetridge in the application to the Navy states, “One school has gone so far as to relocate a classroom computer lab into a former student toilet room to accommodate the growth of enrollment.”
Currently, the Woodstock Child Development Center and Island High School jointly operate on the site of the former Longfellow Elementary School. The acquisition of the property will allow the district to relocate those two programs back to Singleton Avenue where they previously operated.
In the application, Superintendent McPhetridge describes a veritable ripple effect of efficiencies that would ensue as a result of the acquisition. It would “open the former Longfellow Elementary School site and allow the transfer of other programs from other elementary schools currently in operation, and in turn, it would open classroom space at many existing elementary schools,” stated McPhetridge. “The transfer of programs from existing elementary schools to the former Longfellow Elementary School site would provide for the growth of students at their neighborhood schools.”
A 2014 demographic study projects that the school district will add approximately 1,000 students over the next 10 years, the majority of them on the west side of Alameda. Redeveloped Alameda Point and Alameda Landing are projected to produce approximately 600 students.
“The District has not committed to a full modernization of the buildings at this time, but is planning on committing the funds necessary to open both campuses and provide safe and updated facilities,” stated McPhetridge in the application.
The property transfer process for public benefit conveyances involves sending the parcel from the Navy via another federal agency, in this case, the Department of Education. “The U.S. Dept. of Education approved this transfer and is now waiting to get the title from the Navy,” said Susan E. Davis, Senior Manager of Community Affairs at AUSD. “Once that happens, the Department of Education will give the title to us.”
“We’re hoping that the campus will be open sometime in the 2017-18 school year,” said Davis. “Designing, getting state approval, and doing the construction on school buildings can take some time.”
The Singleton Avenue school sites are located next to the Coast Guard housing to the south. Across the street and to the north of the school parcel is the vacant North Housing site, which is still owned by the Navy and zoned for a new residential neighborhood.
Located between Alameda Point and Alameda Landing (where the new Target store has opened) is the Navy property known as North Housing. After years of low-key planning efforts, the city will soon be the recipient of a beautiful new park, and eventually see over 400 new affordable and market rate housing units, including 90 Housing Authority units for formerly homeless individuals.
A key administrative milestone was reached in August of 2013 when the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) signed off on the city’s plan to accommodate homeless individuals.
The 42-acre Navy parcel sits directly adjacent to Alameda Landing’s future residential neighborhood. It includes the 8-acre Estuary Park where a baseball field, soccer field, basketball court, perimeter trail, and an open meadow flanked by mature trees await minor sprucing up by our city’s Recreation and Park Department.
Existing housing units to be demolished
The site currently contains 51 residential structures: 39 six-plexes and 12 four-plexes for a total of 282 three- and four-bedroom units. All of the buildings were constructed in 1969. With the possible exception of the two acres going to Habitat for Humanity, all of the units will be demolished to make way for new construction, according to the city’s Interim Community Development Director Debbie Potter.
The 13 acres going to the city’s Housing Authority will have 90 units of new housing and two acres of open space. Two acres will go to Habitat for Humanity. The remaining 19 acres will be sold by the Navy to a private developer.
“The Reuse Plan notes the private housing developer could build 315 units,” said Potter. After the Reuse Plan Amendment was prepared in 2008 and approved in 2009, the city certified a Housing Element in 2012 that rezoned this property to provide a Multi-Family Overlay zone, “so the number of units that could potentially be developed at this site is more than the 435 listed in the Plan,” Potter stated.
One problem cited by Potter with trying to reuse the existing residences is that all of the multi-unit structures have single utility meters for the entire building. To re-meter all the units with individual meters for electric, gas, and water would be expensive, according to Potter.
“In addition,” said Potter, “the property is not laid out particularly efficiently, which is also a challenge. North Housing has a multi-family overlay designation and it would be extremely difficult to take advantage of that zoning (30 units to the acre) with the current building layout,” she said. “The only exception to all of this is that Habitat for Humanity East Bay has a Self-Help Housing Public Benefit Conveyance request pending with HUD which proposes an option of retaining 30-32 units to be renovated and sold as self-help housing.”
Housing Authority plays a key role
The Housing Authority will be partnering with the Alameda Point Collaborative and Building Futures with Women and Children who will provide services to residents of the Housing Authority’s 90 units. A community center is planned.
Funding to build the Housing Authority’s homeless assistance units has not yet been identified. However, Potter said she expects project financing would be packaged from a variety of sources, “with the primary funding coming from an award of Federal/State tax credits (equity raised through the sale of the tax credits to an investor),” she said. “Other sources are most likely Federal HOME funds and dedicated housing authority funds the City receives as inclusionary housing in lieu fees and Affordable Housing fees paid by non-residential developers,” said Potter.
Alameda Housing Authority Director Mike Pucci has a good idea where the homeless housing will go, but is not ready to release a map. “In our agreement that HUD has approved we did delineate a specific site comprising 13 acres, but a meets and bounds survey has yet to be conducted to establish it’s exact location,” said Pucci.
Checklist of regulations
The Navy completed its environmental review for the entire North Housing parcel in 2009 and issued a Finding of Suitability to Transfer (FOST) for Estuary Park. A FOST for the housing area is awaiting decisions concerning Superfund cleanup issues early next year.
The preparation of real estate transfer documents for just the park, however, could not proceed until HUD signed off on the city’s federally mandated homeless plan, according to the Navy’s Base Closure Manager Anthony Megliola. “Now that HUD has made its determination, real estate documentation supporting the transfer is being prepared with transfer [of Estuary Park] planned in late 2013,” said Megliola.
The remainder of the North Housing Parcel will be transferred in the 2015 timeframe, according to Megliola. Factors include completing the cleanup actions for the benzene plume under part of the site, executing a Covenant to Restrict Use of Property (CRUP) with the California Department of Toxic Substances Control, executing a Finding of Suitability to Transfer (FOST) document, and preparing required real estate conveyance documentation associated with transfer. “Although the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) Environmental Assessment (EA) was completed in 2009, receipt of the August 14, 2013 letter from the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) was required before the Navy could complete the disposal actions for the North Housing area,” said Megliola.
Earlier in 2013, the Navy submitted a request to regulatory agencies to discontinue their vapor extraction work on the benzene plume hotspots, saying that vapor intrusion into buildings was not a risk. The benzene vapor pumps were turned off in the spring and a new round of interior vapor tests were conducted in some of the existing buildings. Results of these tests and a decision on whether to continue running the cleanup pumps for a few more years or terminate the program will be made in early 2014.
This former military housing site was originally to be conveyed to the Coast Guard and was not part of the city’s No-Cost Economic Conveyance deal with the Navy. (The new homes at North Housing will be in addition to the 1,425 units in the no-cost conveyance deal for Alameda Point.) Subsequently, the Coast Guard withdrew its request. In November 2007, the Navy notified the Alameda Reuse and Redevelopment Authority that it was going to declare an additional 42 acres of NAS Alameda – the North Housing parcel – as surplus property.
As part of its requirements as the local reuse authority, the city had to comply with the McKinney Homeless Assistance Act and reach out to homeless housing providers for proposals. In March of 2009, the city made its recommendations to HUD for compliance with the McKinney Act, approving the proposals from Habitat for Humanity, and the Alameda Housing Authority/Alameda Point Collaborative/Building Futures with Women and Children. They also recommended the Alameda Recreation and Park Department proposal to receive Estuary Park. These proposals became amendments to the 1996 Community Reuse Plan for Naval Air Station-Alameda.
The Navy often hears calls to increase its environmental cleanup effort. Now, the community and regulators are hearing a call from the Navy to eliminate one cleanup effort altogether.
Since 2009, several acres of the area north of Bayport that includes the Shinsei Gardens affordable housing development, former Coast Guard and military housing, the closed Island High School, and the Woodstock Child Development Center have been undergoing groundwater treatment to eliminate hot spots of benzene and naphthalene vapors. Shinsei Gardens also included special building slab engineering in its design as an extra precaution against vapor intrusion. The Navy now says that its groundwater treatment system is unnecessary and should be shut down.
In a report issued in December 2012, the Navy said the underground vapor extraction system called biosparging is not making the area any safer for human habitation. Biosparging is a form of bioremediation that uses air and oxygen injections to stimulate the growth of naturally occurring bacteria, which break down toxics. In this case, the contamination is composed of waste material discharged from an Oakland coal gasification plant and an Alameda oil refinery that operated long before the area was filled in. The contamination layer has been dubbed the Marsh Crust.
The Navy’s report points to the initial studies in the area that showed no risk from vapors. The only justification for the remediation in the first place was the limited risk of contact with water through non-potable uses, since drinking water will always be supplied by East Bay Municipal Utility District.
Now the Navy says that even non-potable uses are impractical and off the table due to high levels of minerals such as salt. With no way of coming in contact with water containing benzene and naphthalene, the Navy decided to review the data for vapor exposure and concluded there is plenty of evidence to turn off the pumps. The biosparge system was designed to run for eight years in order to reach its cleanup goals.
The Navy’s December 2012 Technical Memorandum is seeking to amend the original cleanup decision — known as the Record of Decision (ROD) — for this cleanup area. They will need the concurrence of the regulatory agencies: the regional Water Board, state Department of Toxic Substances Control (DTSC), and the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). But the EPA and DTSC are not ready to agree without further testing.
According to EPA’s Chris Lichens, “The Navy’s conclusions are not based on current data, site conditions, or investigation methods. Before proceeding with a ROD Amendment,” he said, “the agencies would like the Navy to collect additional data to verify that vapor intrusion would not present a significant risk in the absence of biosparging.” Lichens added, “Along those lines, EPA and DTSC jointly prepared recommendations for additional groundwater, soil vapor, and indoor air sampling and provided those recommendations to the Navy. The Navy has not yet agreed to collect additional data, although we are still discussing it with them,” he said.