Delays of VA Project tied to Trump Administration

Observations by former Secretary of Veterans Affairs (VA) David Shulkin may shed light on why the VA Project at Alameda Point continues to be delayed and why the health clinic may never be built.   Constructing a new clinic conflicts with the Trump Administration’s goal of privatizing VA healthcare services.

In his book “It Shouldn’t Be This Hard to Serve Your Country – Our Broken Government and the Plight of Veterans” (Public Affairs Books, October 2019), Shulkin recounts his experiences after being appointed to head the VA by President Trump in January 2017, and then fired by Tweet 15 months later.  Shulkin asserts he was fired because he would not go along with efforts of White House insiders to privatize VA healthcare. Continue reading “Delays of VA Project tied to Trump Administration”

Unexpected Environmental Review of VA Project

The City of Alameda announced on February 22 that it will be preparing an environmental impact report (EIR) on the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) project for a health clinic and columbarium cemetery at Alameda Point. The VA completed its environmental review for the project in 2013. The deadline for commenting on what the city should evaluate is March 22.

The belated environmental review was triggered by California regulations requiring a state EIR in order for the Regional Water Quality Control Board to approve the VA’s wetland mitigation plan.

An EIR is also required for City of Alameda approvals. “Although construction of federal facilities by federal agencies is typically exempt from local land use regulations and review,” said city planner Andrew Thomas, “in this case, the VA plans to construct an access utility/road on approximately 6-acres of city land to the east of the VA Transfer Parcel and two new storm drains across city-owned land to the north of the VA property, which will require approval of easements from the city, which are discretionary actions subject to CEQA [California Environmental Quality Act].”

Revisiting the project’s environmental impacts six years after the VA completed its review presents an opportunity to evaluate the potential environmental benefits of locating the medical clinic and benefits offices in the business “Enterprise District” rather than in the open space on the former airfield. Continue reading “Unexpected Environmental Review of VA Project”

Views of wetland cleanup area to be dug up, upgraded in 2019

The Navy will implement the environmental remediation plan for Site 32 on the western end of the former airfield.  The plan calls for covering the entire 60-acre site with three free of clean soil without raising the elevation of the existing wetlands.  Thus, the existing wetlands will be excavated to a depth of three feet, and then three feet of replacement clean soil will be brought in to re-contour the wetlands.

Most of the water in the accompanying photos, taken in March 2019, is from rainwater.  However, this wetland is also low enough in elevation that it receives water via tidal pressure from the Bay. Continue reading “Views of wetland cleanup area to be dug up, upgraded in 2019”

Navy to create new wetlands

The Navy is nearing completion of plans for a cleanup area called Site 32, 60 acres that lie on the old airfield west of where the monthly Antiques Faire is held.  The site requires remediation because investigators discovered radium-226 in the soil and on various objects.  The Navy mixed radium-226, a naturally occurring mineral, with paint to allow dials and markers to glow in the dark.  Repeated exposure to high levels of radium can cause cancer.

The Navy collected radium-impacted waste, such as used paint brushes from refurbishing dials and gauges, scraping solids, and rags, from its dial painting shop on a regular basis and discarded it at the Site 1 underground dump adjacent to Site 32.  The Navy presumes that the radium-impacted items were spread beyond the dump site when the runway was expanded in the 1950s and a bulldozer was used to grade the area above the dump. Continue reading “Navy to create new wetlands”

VA wetland study censored

The planned U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) Alameda Point healthcare facility and columbarium will eliminate about 12 acres of existing wetland on the former Navy aircraft runway area.  The federal Clean Water Act requires that the VA compensate, or mitigate, for the adverse effects of their project.  But the proceedings have been cloaked in secrecy. 

“(b)5” is Exemption 5 in the Freedom of Information Act.

In February 2017, five months after submitting a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request for information related to wetlands, the VA provided a copy of a consultant’s study on the feasibility of expanding and enhancing a different wetland on VA property.  But the document arrived with over half of the study either blacked out or stamped “Page withheld in its entirety.”

Continue reading “VA wetland study censored”

VA project adds to legacy of letdowns on airfield

A legacy of disappointment continues on the aircraft runway area at Alameda Point.  In the nearly 20 years since the Navy ended operations there, the community has lost 74 acres of open space that was once slated to become city property.  The community has also lost the possibility for a 550-acre national wildlife refuge and a state-of-the-art community hospital to be run jointly with Alameda Healthcare District to serve veterans and non-veterans. 

There is still no groundbreaking scheduled for the veterans’ clinic and columbarium.

U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) plans for outpatient clinic, medical and benefits offices, and a national cemetery at Alameda Point. San Francisco in background.
U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) plans for outpatient clinic, medical and benefits offices, and a national cemetery at Alameda Point. San Francisco in background.

The only recent expenditures on the 624 acres of federal property, now owned by the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA), have been to fund landscaping over an underground dump and the management of the endangered least terns that nest on 10 acres, which includes the widespread application of herbicides and vegetation removal on 300 acres of pavement at the direction of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. 

Mitigating the loss of wetlands appears to be the only planning underway. Continue reading “VA project adds to legacy of letdowns on airfield”

City leads tour across airfield to SF Bay shoreline

Around 50 people took part in the first city-sponsored tour across the old naval airfield to the western shoreline of San Francisco Bay on Monday, Oct. 26.

The convoy of automobiles stopped near the future site of the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) clinic and at the shoreline next to a restored 30-acre wetland site. The wetlands are located within the Navy’s 100-acre cleanup site known as Site 2.  

Tour group at the western shoreline listening to Dr. Peter Russell explaining environmental cleanup work the Navy has completed at Site 2.
Tour group at the western shoreline listening to Dr. Peter Russell explaining environmental cleanup work the Navy has completed at Site 2.

While Site 2 has been known for the past 18 years as a mysterious off-limits environmental cleanup site, most of the visitors on Monday’s tour seemed more interested in the area as a scenic viewing site.

Despite the sparse showing of birds on the wetland during the visit, the group appeared awed by the vast expanse of land, water and sky that surrounded them as they stood on the embankment overlooking the wetland and the Bay.

View of the trail on embankment, with tour group and Port of Oakland in the background. Wetlands are to the right. San Francisco Bay is to the left.
View of the trail on embankment, with tour group and Port of Oakland in the background. Wetlands are to the right. San Francisco Bay is to the left.

A future leg of the San Francisco Bay Trail will eventually pass between the wetland and the shoreline, with views all the way to the Golden Gate Bridge on a clear day. The state’s Bay Conservation and Development Commission requires the VA, via its shoreline authority, to grant an easement to the city for construction and operation of the trail. No date has been set for when this process will begin.

During the stop near to the future VA clinic site, Jennifer Ott, the city’s chief operating officer for Alameda Point, informed the group about the public roadway, including underground utilities, that the VA is going construct leading to the western shoreline. The roadway will provide public access and utility hook-ups for city-owned open space property along the Oakland Estuary. The group parked at the western shoreline where the future observation point and trail access parking lot will be located at the end of the road.

Tour group listening to Jennifer Ott explaining plans of the US Dept. of Veterans Affairs while stopped next to future clinic site. San Francisco skyline in the background.
Tour group listening to Jennifer Ott explaining plans of the US Dept. of Veterans Affairs while stopped next to future clinic site. San Francisco skyline in the background.

The tour was arranged at the urging of Vice-Mayor Frank Matarrese. Also in attendance was Mayor Trish Spencer.

“The VA’s future home and the wetlands restoration area at Site 2 are key features of the old airfield surrounding the least tern nesting area,” said Matarrese.  “It is absolutely important that people get a chance to see how these three assets work together in this huge tract of land.”

Another view from the stop next to the future VA clinic site. Small wetland in between runways can be seen in the background. VA is expected to enhance the wetland, which remains covered with water in the middle of the airfield despite a drought.
Another view from the stop next to the future VA clinic site. Small wetland in between runways can be seen in the background. VA is expected to enhance the wetland, which remains covered with water in the middle of the airfield despite a drought.

The Navy still retains some responsibilities at Site 2 — namely, for ensuring that the grassland vegetation on the landfill soil cover is successful.

Jennifer Ott answering questions at the western shoreline. This location is where the VA's future road will end, with a small parking lot, benches, and access to the Bay Trail.
Jennifer Ott answering questions at the western shoreline. This location is where the VA’s future road will end, with a small parking lot, benches, and access to the Bay Trail.

“Seeing the wetlands makes me want to accelerate our wetlands efforts on city property,” said Matarrese.