Council okays contract to build fire station, emergency operations center

Council okays contract to build fire station, emergency operations center

Michele Ellson

City Council members have signed off on an $8 million contract to build a replacement mid-Island fire station and emergency operations center.

The approval, on a 4-1 vote, followed a wide-ranging discussion about what the city should be doing to better prepare for a disaster. Richmond-based Alten Construction was the winning bidder.

Once shovels hit dirt, construction of the two facilities, which will sit on a 0.57-acre site at the corner of Grand Street and Buena Vista Avenue, should be completed within 12 months.

"The emergency operations center we have now is inadequate," said Councilman Tony Daysog, who said he was swayed by city staff’s argument that a new facility is needed. "It's not just for the police, it's not just for the fire department. It's for the residents of Alameda."

Councilwoman Marilyn Ezzy Ashcraft questioned why city staff transitioned from a single, two-story building with a smaller footprint became two single-story building and also, whether there were other things the city could be doing to be better prepared for a disaster. She ultimately voted in favor of the construction contract.

“I think you’ve made a pretty convincing case,” Councilwoman Marilyn Ezzy Ashcraft said.

Vice Mayor Frank Matarrese, who voted against moving forward, said the thousands of new residents expected to live along the Island’s Northern Waterfront in the coming years justify a replacement Fire Station 3. But he questioned whether the city could stand up an emergency operations center in existing space, saying he thought more analysis regarding an emergency operations center was needed.

Councilman Jim Oddie said the city would ultimately need to build the facilities, whether they signed off on them Tuesday or not. He didn’t want to lose the nearly $500,000 the city has already spent on design.

“If we have an emergency, this is where the heart of our operations – this is where they’re going to function,” Oddie said. “Am I going to be the council that says, we’re not going to prepare for this? We’re not going to be ready for this?”

Firefighters occupied Fire Station 3 from the time it opened its doors in 1923 until 2000, after it was condemned as unsafe in an earthquake. They have been renting a home next door since then, at a cost of $40,000 a year. They have said their bigger vehicles don’t fit in the old fire station. When a fire call comes in, the department’s female staffers have to dress on the front lawn of the rental home, city staffers said.

Public Works Director Bob Haun said the city’s current emergency operations center, which is in the basement of Alameda’s 37-year-old police headquarters, isn’t big enough to accommodate the 30 to 35 people who will be coordinating responses there after a disaster hits. And he said there’s no guarantee it would be usable after a major earthquake.

The new center, he said, will be built to withstand a 7.0 magnitude temblor on the Hayward fault, and it will have redundant communications systems to better weather a disaster.

Former City Manager John Russo included the fire station and emergency operations center in 2012’s Measure C sales tax ballot measure, but voters turned the measure down. Still, the city moved forward with a design and approval process, which has taken place over the course of the past few years.

The city ultimately plucked funding from a variety of existing sources to pay part of the cost of the projects, and is seeking a $3 million bank loan for the rest, for a total of $9.3 million.

The contract vote prompted council members to ask city staffers to address a host of other preparedness issues. Mayor Trish Spencer asked city staffers to work toward ensuring the city has an emergency water supply in place before a disaster hits.

Ashcraft said she wants the city to do more disaster training sooner and also, to try to reconnect with the Rockefeller Foundation’s 100 Resilient Cities program, which offered the city money for a resiliency coordinator that the city ultimately turned down.

Haun outlined the challenges Alameda will face when a big quake hits. Some 8,000 Alamedans will be displaced, he said. None of the Island’s crossings will be usable after a quake; everything we need will have to be brought in by barge.

He said the city is in the midst of a disaster planning effort now.


Submitted by Bill2 (not verified) on Wed, May 20, 2015

My concern is the amount of space there is there. Not much room at all. If a disaster were to happen, Buena Vista around Grand Street will be packed with cars trying to get off the island. People will not stay where they are in an emergency. The 1989 earthquake proves that point. That entire area will soon be one of the busiest and congested areas on the island (once Del Monte is built out and additional homes are built.

Submitted by Bill2 (not verified) on Wed, May 20, 2015

When City Public Works Director Haun says "a big one," what exactly is he referring to? Is a "big one" 7.0 to 8.0? Could a 6.3 do as much damage to displace 8,000 people? If you look at Shore line and the amount of multiple families that live there, they could represent 8,000 people just in that location alone. Are there areas that are more dangerous than others? If so, where are they? Are they in mid-island? west island? That would be of interest and may help people be better prepared for what to expect.

Submitted by MJ (not verified) on Wed, May 20, 2015

I don't think anyone should expect the city government to provide white glove service in case of "the big one." This is really more a matter of personal responsibility and personal preparedness than anything else. If 8,000 people, or any other number of people, are displaced, it would most likely result in some mix of temporary camping, shared public and private housing in buildings unaffected, and relocation. Don't rely on the city to provide three hots and a cot, cause it ain't gonna happen.

Jon Spangler's picture
Submitted by Jon Spangler on Thu, May 21, 2015

Bill2--No one is going to be able to leave Alameda after a quake--the bridges and the tubes will be closed. If the streets are clogged, they will be clogged with gaping cracks, downed trees, and debris from collapsed buildings. Plan on staying on the island for the duration--unless you own a canoe or a sailboat, or like to swim.

The same people who complain about how "terrible" the traffic is (and it isn't really bad) seem equally unrealistic about life after a *real* major quake. (Hint: the Loma Prieta earthquake of 1989 will look like a Sunday school picnic compared to a 7.0 - 8.0 quake on the Hayward Fault...)