Michele Ellson

The city hopes to acquire much of Alameda Point on June 4. Conveyance map from the city's website.

The City Council is preparing to sign off on a major real estate deal that’s been two decades in the making.

On Tuesday, the council will consider allowing Alameda’s city manager to affix his John Russo to the deeds for 1,379 acres of Alameda Point, a deal city staffers hope to close on June 4.

“It’s an exciting milestone for us to be getting the property from the Navy,” said Jennifer Ott, the city’s chief operating officer for Alameda Point.

The parcels to be transferred in this deal include 509 acres of land and another 870 in San Francisco Bay. Another 445 acres of the 2,676-acre former Naval Air Station – including the southern portion of what city leaders hope will one day be a new town center; the northwestern tip of the Point, which is expected to become park space; and the million-square-foot Building 5 – are slated for transfer to the city between 2014 and 2019.

The Point makes up about a third of the City of Alameda, much of it former marshland filled in between 1900 and 1940.

The federal government announced plans to close the Navy base in 1993, and it shut down four years later. The Navy inked an agreement with the city in 2000 to hand over much of the Point, including the area that has since been redeveloped as the Bayport neighborhood, plus a supply annex that will soon hold a Target-anchored shopping center and hundreds of homes. But changes in the development plan for the Point and a longer-than-expected timeline for cleanup of toxins the Navy left behind stalled the handover of the Point for a dozen years.

The city struggled in its effort to redevelop the property, with one master developer, Alameda Point Community Partners, quitting a few years into the project and the council voting a second, SunCal Companies, off the Island after voters overwhelmingly rejected the developer’s plan at the ballot box. And the Navy’s cleanup efforts took far longer than originally anticipated.

Changes at the White House and in the development plan – which at one point grew to include nearly 5,000 homes – prompted the Navy to slap a $108.5 million price tag on the Point, which they removed in 2012 after the city agreed to reduce the number of houses it planned to allow there to about a third of that amount, in keeping with the 1996 reuse plan the community designed and the Navy approved.

City staffers are now in the midst of a massive planning effort that they hope will make the Point ready for development by early next year. In a report to the council for Tuesday’s meeting, Ott said the parcels were put together in a way that “will allow the City to assemble and sell parcels for private development with clear information about the specific conditions relevant to each parcel.”

The property comes with a host of restrictions designed to preserve the endangered California least tern, which has a 10-acre nesting colony on the Point’s former runways, and to protect the public from toxins that remain in the groundwater underneath the Point and the marshland it was built on top of for the industry and an airfield that preceded the Navy. More than 100 of the 500 acres the city is getting have open petroleum cleanup sites, though city staffers are optimistic that much of that will be cleaned up quickly. Homes, schools and hospitals will be prohibited on 27 acres that aren’t yet clean enough to allow those uses, and short-term restrictions will be in place for another 13 acres.

The Navy, which has so far spent $506 million to clean up the Point, which is a federal Superfund site, will continue its cleanup efforts after the property is handed over to the city.

All of the Point’s shoreline and a pair of interior corridors are contained in the state’s Tidelands Trust, where only marine-oriented uses are allowed, and its interior contains a historic district with dozens of buildings that, after being effectively abandoned for 16 years, will prove costly to restore. And the city and its future development partners must also address the impacts of sea level rise, which could flood most of the Point over the next century.

In addition to those challenges, the city has lost the ability to use future property taxes to help pay for the new roads and utilities the Point will need to support future development there, costs that have been estimated to top a half billion dollars.

Even with the challenges ahead, Ott expressed excitement that the transfer is, at long last, at hand.

"The city and the U.S. Navy have been planning and negotiating this property conveyance since the base closed in 1997," Ott said. "This is truly a momentous occasion and the City is very excited to finally have the opportunity to begin developing this extraordinary asset for the betterment of our local community and economy."


Submitted by Sylvia Gibson on Fri, May 17, 2013

Great Article!!! Thanks Michele!

I love it that we're looking at this piece of land realistically-- with clean up sites, endangered terns, historic buildings, and lots of beautiful space. I've been enjoying the revitalization of the point with the Bladium, Rockwall Winery, Hangar 9 Vodka, Alameda Futsal Club, weekend soccer games, and special events like the Children's Animated Film Festival. ETC. I look forward to what will come next and hope the city adppts a slow and steady approach to development that focuses on quality and sustainability.