On February 16, 2017, the state’s Bay Conservation and Development Commission (BCDC) — tasked with overseeing San Francisco Bay waterfront development — denied Mina Patel a permit to build a 98-room hotel at 2530 Harbor Bay Parkway, about a half-mile south of Alameda’s Harbor Bay ferry terminal. The commission’s vote was 11 in favor, six opposed and one abstention, falling short of the 13 votes needed for approval of any permit. It is rare for BCDC to deny a permit.
The hotel plan had returned to the commission after Patel tried to address BCDC’s previous concerns regarding lack of public access and benefits. The developer proposed removing one story by shifting rooms onto the parking garage, improving bicycle access, moving the structure 10 feet further back from the shoreline, and reducing the footprint by 5 percent. Sitting on 1.17 acres, the revised hotel design was four stories. The change in design also required a new review by the city’s Planning Board.
The project “obstructs views of the Bay and inhibits public access,” noted Commissioner and Alameda County Supervisor Wilma Chan. After pointing out various reasons why it did not meet the commission’s guidelines, Chan concluded, “There’s nothing that can be done to make it right. It cannot be mitigated.”
“The proposal is rather lazy,” said Commissioner and San Francisco Supervisor Jane Kim. “There’s nothing on this hotel that is a public amenity that provides greater access or even greater attraction or interest to the Bay.”
Many of the commissioners who voted in favor of the permit said that while they believed the project met BCDC requirements, they themselves would never have approved it at the city level. They did not think it was the best design or location but believed the developer had made an effort to address previous BCDC concerns.
“There’s nothing for the public here,” stated Commissioner and Richmond Mayor Tom Butt. “It’s a strange place to put a hotel. It’s isolated with no amenities near it.” The site plan offered no terrace for public viewing, and no restaurant, café or bar as BCDC’s design review board had requested. “Normally there’s a symbiotic relationship between the Bay and the project. But with this, there is none,” said Butt.
An organized opposition effort by the neighboring Cantamar and Headlands Homeowners Associations, the Sierra Club, Golden Gate Audubon Society, UNITE HERE Local 2850, and local residents produced dozens of letters and numerous public speakers at three different BCDC meetings. Harbor Bay Isle Associates (developer of Harbor Bay), the Harbor Bay Business Park Association, and Alameda’s Planning Board were in favor of it.
Despite all the reasons why the project did not meet BCDC guidelines, some commissioners thought the minor modifications the developer had made were enough to move it forward.
Commissioner and Palo Alto Mayor Greg Sharff reminded meeting attendees that BCDC’s decision is not based on whether the commissioners like a project. Instead they were only to look at the project in relation to the Bay and whether it provides maximum public access. But for some commissioners, constructing a hotel in the middle of an unobstructed shoreline area is bad in itself. Other commissioners thought the existing public park on both sides was good enough.
Below is a video, with audio excerpts from BCDC permit hearing.
Originally published in the Alameda Sun.