Waterfront Housing Proposal Returns Again

The Encinal Terminals project is coming back before the city council for the third time on January 4, 2022.  [Continued to January 18.]  The proposed project would be located on an old shipping site along the Oakland Estuary, behind the historic Del Monte building.  But part of the project site sits on state public tidelands controlled by the city, which cannot be used for residential development.  So a land swap that would allow the developer to build housing on these public tidelands is being considered, again.

approved 2018 plan

In 2017, the city council approved the project’s environmental impact report, but balked at approving the land swap until they were provided with information showing the valuation of the land if the city up-zoned it for residential via the land swap.  Instead of providing the requested valuation, the developer, North Waterfront LLC (formerly Tim Lewis Communities) dropped the tidelands swap idea and came back with a plan to build the entire project on land it already owns, which was approved in 2018. 

As for the city-owned tidelands, the city was to advance a commercial plan that would complement the adjacent Fortman Marina, noting the tidelands parcel has “the potential to become a major maritime commercial center with space for marina land side facilities, boat and paddle boat sales and rentals, maritime and ‘blue tech’ leased space, restaurants and other visitor-serving commercial services.”  But the city has not yet moved forward with this planning.

Now, three years later, the developer is saying the no-swap plan they had proposed, and that the city had approved, is not financially feasible.  They are returning with a request that the city council approve what is essentially the same tidelands swap originally proposed.  But they still have not addressed the valuation of the state tidelands, leaving the city again not knowing if it is getting shortchanged.

“What makes us think that this going to be any different than the last time it went before council unless it is made more attractive?” asked former City Council member Jim Oddie at a planning board meeting in March 2021.  “First, there needs to be more transparency on the financial numbers.”

The current proposal is basically the same as the first one with 589 housing units and public shoreline access.  The only difference in the current plan is that the developer will remove about half of the aging wharf on the western edge of the property because it allegedly is too costly to retrofit to new public access safety standards.  The area is in an earthquake liquefaction zone.

This change substantially reduces the developer’s costs as wharf demolition is less expensive than retrofitting.  In addition, gas lines will no longer be needed for the housing because those buildings will be all electric, saving the developer millions of dollars in gas-line infrastructure.

The Sierra Club raised concerns about the land-swap deal in the 2017 proposal and is again asking whether the public will be getting the best possible deal in exchange for giving public tidelands to a for-profit developer.  Noting the developer’s cost savings, the club wants a financial tideland-to-tideland benefit in the development agreement.  If the city plans to give up public tidelands at the Encinal Terminals for new construction, notes the club, then why not ask the developer for funds to enhance currently paved tidelands elsewhere on the island by returning them to nature.

These funds could be set aside in the city’s Tidelands Fund for wetlands and used for the proposed ecological tidal wetland park, dubbed De-Pave Park on the Seaplane Lagoon at Alameda Point.  The park project currently lacks funding to begin the planning and permitting phase of the project.  For its Del Monte project, the same developer contributed $2 million toward Jean Sweeney Park.

“We have to do something different, otherwise we’ll end up with more delays and fallow land,” stated Oddie.  “I’m not quite sure these changes have done anything to sway the people whose minds need to be changed.”

The planning board heard the Sierra Club’s request but said their hands were tied because the board does not get involved in development-agreement negotiations.  “There could be items discussed to make it more favorable,” stated then Planning Board President Alan Teague.  “But negotiations with the developer is a city council item.”

A super majority, four votes, of the city council is required for approval of the land swap deal because it involves city real estate.

Originally published in the Alameda Sun

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