It seemed as though the plans for a veterans’ facility at Alameda Point were moving full steam ahead. But no. Last year the project almost died until the East Bay Regional Park District stepped in to help.
The $210 million veterans’ project includes an outpatient clinic, a columbarium, administrative space, and associated parking. It will provide primary and specialty care, including ancillary services, mental health, substance abuse, ambulatory surgery, and vocational rehab for over 7,000 veterans from Northern Alameda County.
It was to be built on part of the 549-acre wildlife refuge parcel at Alameda Point that the Navy was giving to the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) for the project. As a condition of the land transfer, however, the VA had to agree to take over the entire 549-acre parcel.
Because it was being built on Alameda’s wildlife refuge, the VA project ran into strong opposition from both the Audubon Society and the US Fish & Wildlife Service. As designed, the project’s buildings would encroach on a buffer zone that had been established to protect the endangered least terns’ nesting area. After years of controversy, it became increasingly clear that the VA project might never get off the ground because of the least tern issue.
Two years before this impasse, both the US Fish & Wildlife Service and the VA had independently approached the East Bay Regional Park District about helping to manage Alameda’s wildlife refuge because neither agency had an interest in managing the refuge portion of the property the VA was going to acquire from the Navy.
Last year, with the project in doubt, the Park District called the Navy, the VA, the US Fish & Wildlife Service, and the city together at district headquarters and presented a plan that includes moving the VA buildings northward onto the Northwest Territories away from the least tern nesting area. The district plan also would establish a Veterans’ Memorial Park around the VA facility, which would be part of a larger regional park and trail system on the remainder of the Northwest Territories.
At the meeting there was consensus that the city would lease the Northwest Territories parkland to the East Bay Regional Park District for $1 a year, now that the former Navy base land is coming to the city at no cost.
Although the parties all supported last year’s compromise plan, it still needs to be officially adopted by the city in order to be implemented. Time is of the essence because the Navy wants to convey its land to both the VA and the city by the end of this year. Should the city fail to act and the proposal falls apart, it is unclear whether the VA will find another city in which to locate its new facility. It is also unclear to whom the Navy would convey the 549-acre wildlife refuge parcel if the VA backs out. The entire runway area that comprises the wildlife refuge and the Northwest Territories could flounder in limbo without an open space, public access management plan. Under the 1996 base reuse plan, the property owner and the city council, with public input, are responsible for developing a management plan and philosophy for Alameda’s wildlife refuge. The Park District’s proposal could be the foundation for this plan.
“Our estimate for building the Veterans’ Memorial Park and the regional shoreline park is between $10 and $20 million,” said Park District General Manager Robert E. Doyle. “Our $6.5 million in Measure WW money for Alameda Point is a start. The Park District has a good track record of leveraging our money. We usually can get two dollars for every one of our dollars when all the parties are working together for the same concept and vision.”
Serving our veterans, resolving the wildlife issues, and creating parkland for all to enjoy is the Park District’s ultimate goal. It should be the city’s as well.