Many decisions are based on trade-offs, and choosing the path for developing Alameda Point is no different.
The “Community Benefits” page in the city’s “Going Forward” workbook caught my attention. It asks us whether we would be willing to build more housing at Alameda Point in order to pay for amenities such as a library, a new ferry terminal, trails and parks, historic preservation, a sports complex, or affordable housing. The city says the purpose of this exercise is to “gauge the sensitivity” on the number of homes to be built.
This seems to be the sticking point in going forward. The sentiment expressed at the workshops I attended is that a variety of housing types (single family and multi-family up to three stories high) is welcome, but the number matters. This is pivotal because the environmental impact analysis slated to begin next June will have some number of housing units attached to it. Based on past plans, the number could be anywhere from 1,650 to 4,845.
It’s a frustrating quandary. It appears that the amenities we want will dictate the amount of housing built, which will affect the amount of auto traffic we end up with. While the benefits of increasing housing are often played up, the drawbacks are not.
By relying mainly on revenue from new housing to pay for amenities and infrastructure costs, we could be limiting our possibilities. Settling for housing as a revenue source does not capitalize on Alameda Point as a unique landmark destination, nor does it give us discretion when deciding in what order and manner to redevelop the Point. Alameda Point has features that make it special: a deep-water port, unusual natural habitat, panoramic views, and adaptive reuse potential. Building housing first, before more employers are in place, will ensure that traffic on the island will drastically increase.
While common wisdom tells us that having housing developers pay for amenities is the only practical approach, I can’t help but think it’s also closing the door on a more creative, beneficial long-term plan. Using the number of housing units to prioritize funding for community benefits leaves residents with a hamstrung choice.
The “New Ideas” column in the city’s workbook is begging for alternative suggestions for covering infrastructure costs and delivering community benefits, while protecting us from unmanageable traffic. The last community workshop is December 8 and online comments must be made by the end of January.
Originally published in the Alameda Sun