Alameda 2012: The year in review

Alameda 2012: The year in review

Michele Ellson

The end of 2012 heralds the close of yet another year chock full of local news. What stories did you care about most? We looked at our traffic figures to see which stories drew the most readers this year. Here’s our top 10, counting up to the most-read news of the year.

10. The Historic Alameda High School fence: The fence schools leaders elected to install around portions of Historic Alameda High School this summer after being told by experts that much of the campus is at risk of pancaking if there’s a major earthquake on the Hayward fault was the focus of intense debate here on the Island. Some residents questioned whether the fence was necessary and whether it would provide enough protection from falling debris in a major earthquake, while others pointed out that generations of Alamedans who sought to preserve the buildings had tried but failed to find the money to retrofit them properly. What’s next: Schools leaders are preparing to embark on an 18-month long community engagement process to try to figure out how to handle an estimated $92 million in fixes needed at Alameda’s schools, including Alameda High, starting this spring.

9. Jobs strategy for Alameda Point: SunCal’s 2010 ouster as master developer for Alameda Point ushered in a renewed focus on jobs, instead of housing, at the former Naval Air Station. Consultants presented a roadmap for jobs-focused Point development in November. What’s next: Council members signed off on the consultants' reports, though Councilwoman Lena Tam noted that the city was already doing a number of the things they suggest and Mayor Marie Gilmore said the city needs an overall vision for the Point that supports existing businesses at the Point.

8. The Boatworks saga continues: The Alamedan’s readers were very interested in the demolition of defunct warehouses lining a stretch of Clement Street near the Park Street Bridge. The demolition efforts capped years of litigation with the property’s owner, Francis Collins, including a 2011 suit from the city demanding Collins clean up the property and Collins’ countersuit, which claimed the city’s demands were scaring away potential buyers. What’s next: Collins is expected to ask the city for permission to build more than the 153 homes and 29-unit apartment building city leaders approved in 2011.

7. A new middle school option on Bay Farm Island: Earlier this month, Alameda’s Board of Education approved a proposal to expand Bay Farm Elementary School to include seventh and eighth grades. Some board members raised concerns about the nearly $800,000 price tag the district could incur by adding and housing seventh and eighth graders on the Bay Farm campus, with the board’s newest member, Barbara Kahn, voting against the proposal because she wants to see the district spend its money more equitably across schools. Bay Farm principal Babs Freitas said the district would stand to lose students – and the money the district gets to educate them – without the full middle school in place. What’s next: Bay Farm is now slated to add a seventh grade in 2013 and an eighth grade the following year, and schools leaders will need to figure out how to pay for portables to house them. Separately, the board will also be discussing the fate of Wood Middle School over the next 12 months. Since Wood has not met government mandated test score targets, the school may be forced to jettison all of its teachers, change its educational program, accept outside management or close.

6. John Russo’s first year: John Russo left his post as Oakland’s elected city attorney to become city manager of Alameda, after a tumultuous period that saw the departure of a succession of top city officials. After enduring a fractious relationship with Mayor Jean Quan, Russo came to Alameda in June 2011. City Council bosses are for the most part happy with his performance, according to a profile we ran this past June.

5. Park district sues the city: For the last few years, the East Bay Regional Park District has been trying to gain ownership of a 3.9-acre piece of federal property across the street from Crab Cove, thinking it would never be used for housing. Then – under threat of a lawsuit from affordable housing advocates – the city rezoned it to allow housing as part of its effort to comply with state rules that require cities to show they have enough land to accommodate the affordable and other housing the city needs. Now the park district is suing, saying the city failed to follow proper procedures in putting together its housing plan – a lawsuit that could scotch the federal government’s sale of the property to housing developer Tim Lewis Communities. If the park district wins, the city may need to redo the plan, known as the housing element of the city’s general plan. What’s next: A case management conference is set for January 23, 2013, though settlement talks were to be conducted Monday.

4. Appeals court nixes portions of Measure H tax: This month a state appeals court struck portions of a 2008 school parcel tax that levied different tax rates on homeowners and commercial property owners, saying that in doing so, the school district exceeded the taxing authority it holds under state law. The three-judge panel determined that state legislators who granted school districts the power to levy such taxes expected everyone to be taxed uniformly, and they sent the case back to a local trial court to determine whether the district would need to pay back millions of dollars in taxes it collected and spent. The ruling could affect other, similarly structured parcel taxes elsewhere in California that have recently been approved by voters or are headed to the ballot. What’s next: District officials announced Friday that they plan to pursue an appeal of the ruling on the tax, which was levied for three years before being replaced by the district’s current Measure A tax.

3. City Council okays apartments despite Measure A: In July the City Council okayed a new housing plan that allows apartments on 10 to-be-developed sites, despite a 1973 voter referendum that banned multifamily housing. The council – which was anticipating a lawsuit from affordable housing advocates – argued that state law that requires city to develop plans for affordable and other housing trumped Measure A’s development restrictions. But Measure A backers accused the city of rushing the housing plan through without adequate public input. What’s next: The East Bay Regional Park District has sued the city over its housing plan because the city zoned land it wants to expand Crab Cove for homes (though city officials have said a park expansion could take place there too, if the park district can get the land). If the court agrees that the city failed to manage the approval process properly, the housing plan could be impacted.

2. City okays CVS drugstore on Park Street – with conditions: The city has been working for the last few years to develop a plan to revitalize its former auto row on Park Street and to recapture some of the lost glory – and tax revenues – of those earlier days. But the revitalization efforts are outpacing the city’s ability to complete that planning process, as evidenced by recent city hearings regarding the approval of a new CVS drugstore at the site of the former Good Chevrolet on Park Street at Tilden Way. The Planning Board signed off on the development – along with 80 separate conditions of approval – in August and CVS’s builder appealed to the City Council, hoping the council would consider changes that included allowing customers to exit on Park Street (the council added more conditions instead).

1. Top story: The November 2012 election Our primary mission here at The Alamedan is to be your resource for information on local news and issues, and there are few times of the year when that’s more important than during election season. In addition to our live election night results coverage, a lot of our readers took advantage of an elections page that included questionnaires from every candidate, short candidate videos, a breakdown on each local ballot measure (our piece on the Measure D land swap initiative was among our most popular) and detailed accounts of who was funding candidates’ campaigns. What’s next: More election coverage the next time a ballot rolls around. Stay tuned.