Vision of 'Land of Tomorrow' at Base

But bold plans will require vote to revise Measure A


Marc Albert

Alameda residents examine a futuristic scheme for the former Naval Air Station.

The community got a second look last night as Irvine-based developer SunCal Companies floated their vision for carving a harmonious futuristic mini-town of up to 14,000 residents out of the husks of the former Naval Air Station-Alameda. However, not much more emerged in the way of concrete details.

The meeting, at City Hall, followed a larger, focus-group-style event held aboard the USS Hornet Aug. 7. "It's clear that those in attendance know that there is an opportunity to create a first of its kind sustainable city of the future," said SunCal spokesman Joe Aguirre, about the earlier meeting.

SunCal is scheduled to present more fleshed-out plans to city officials Sept. 19. The public, invited to weigh the merits of two potential scenarios, one with 4,000 units, the other with 6,000, continue to be alternately wowed by futuristic amenities including proposals for a solar power plant and monorail, yet dismissive of both options for running afoul of the city's anti-growth statute, Measure A.

The 1972 ballot initiative regulates lot size and forbids construction of housing units that would accommodate more than two families. The developer has put forward two potential options, both of which would require a ballot initiative, likely in 2009, that would waive Measure A at least at Alameda Point.

Aguirre said nothing is set in stone. "It's too early to speculate what the final form will be. We have much additional input to gather and weigh from ... decision-makers. There's a great deal of time left to shape the vision for Alameda Point. Ultimately it will be up to the people of the city of Alameda, who will decide what kind of community they would like us to build," he said.

At the company's presentation, SunCal officials said that allowing their more intense development would provide the funds to make a solar power plant and monorail system viable. Aguirre could provide no cost estimates or specifics for either of the innovative amenities. Questions regarding how much the electricity generated by the proposed solar farm would cost, and whether or not the so-called Personal Rapid Transit system would link to BART along with cost estimates, could not be answered.

But the time will come soon enough. Andrew Thomas, an official with the city's Planning Department, said cost estimates outlining the viability of both options will be expected when SunCal submits a business plan along with it's preliminary development plan Sept. 19.

"Neither plan was appropriate for Alameda," said Alameda resident Rachel Bennett aboard the Hornet several weeks ago. She dismissed plans to construct a mini-downtown of residential buildings with ground floor retail clustered around Seaplane Lagoon as too dense and too tall. "Seaplane Lagoon is tremendously polluted," she said, adding that she found it difficult to fathom encouraging children to playing there. The waterway is contaminated with radioactive radium among other chemicals dumped during the U.S. Navy's long presence.

According to SunCal's analysis, the majority of construction would have to be near the lagoon, as much of the rest of the former base is either prone to seismic liquefaction, in danger of inundation should sea levels rise, or polluted by toxic plumes remaining from the Navy's environmental stewardship.

Personal Rapid Transit presents other challenges. Relying on four-person computer-driven monorail pods, PRT requires construction of an entirely elevated line. Connecting it to BART may prove astronomically expensive. "One of the questions is that how are people going to feel about an elevated line across all of Alameda," Thomas asked. In theory, the PRT cars would be waiting at various stations for passengers, rather than passengers awaiting a bus. However, it is unclear how the system would function at rush hour, when large numbers of passengers are taking the pods in one direction, potentially creating delays. With required emergency walkways and robust seismic reinforcement, the elevated loop of monorail track may more closely resemble BART's elevated structures, rather than those shown in conceptual drawings.


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