Q&A: John Russo on Alameda Point

Q&A: John Russo on Alameda Point

Michele Ellson
Alameda Point

A few weeks ago, we put out the call for your questions about the city's plans to develop Alameda Point. (Mostly, you wanted to know about traffic.) City Manager John Russo and his team at City Hall forwarded their answers late last week. Here are your questions, and their answers.

What plans are in place to deal with the traffic that the development of Alameda Point will generate, not just from the housing stock to be built there - but all of the other growth there (commercial, recreational etc.)?
The general plan and the environmental impact report (EIR) for Alameda Point require that all new development comply with a transportation demand management (TDM) plan for Alameda Point to mitigate traffic impacts from new development and to support the creation of a transit-oriented development. The draft TDM plan, which was reviewed by the Planning Board and approved by the Transportation Commission, will be recommended for approval to the City Council by staff at the upcoming May 20 City Council meeting. TDM refers to a range of strategies, measures and services that, individually or combined into a comprehensive program, helps create the envisioned transit-oriented development at Alameda Point; achieves the City of Alameda’s general plan goals to reduce automobile trips, and in particular, targets the reduction of single occupant vehicle trips; and mitigates potential traffic impacts. TDM strategies are designed to change travel behavior (when, where, and by what means people travel) by using combinations of incentives, disincentives, and convenient services.

Why are you not solving the transportation problems first before okaying all the new developments?
All new development will be required to comply with the TDM plan, including funding, monitoring and enforcing the TDM plan to help ensure mitigation of traffic impacts. The city is also actively seeking regional, state and federal funding opportunities to help build transit and other transportation improvements that help ameliorate the city’s traffic issues.

Here is my question: Other than ever-worse traffic jams, especially through the tube, what about the development plan is worth all of that time sitting in traffic for existing Alameda residents?
First of all, as mentioned above, the Alameda Point EIR requires all new development at Alameda Point to comply with a TDM plan to get people out of their cars on into alternative modes of transportation to mitigate traffic impacts. Additionally, in response to your question, there are numerous anticipated benefits that the development of Alameda Point will generate for existing Alameda Point residents, including over 250 acres of open space; over 10 miles of walking and biking trails; improved water quality in the surrounding bay waters; businesses employing close to 9,000 employees; waterfront promenades and restaurants; hundreds of affordable housing units for a mix of incomes; and millions of dollars in local and state tax revenues.

We already face gridlock and congestion on certain streets during commute hours and on the weekends. Why doesn't Alameda have an electric train system running from Webster to Fernside and Blanding to Shoreline? Can there be a link to such a train system running from Alameda Point - hooking up at Webster and from Bay Farm - hooking up at Fernside?
Electric train systems are prohibitively expensive to build. The city does not have the funding to build such a service. Even if the city could fund construction of such a system, the operation of a fixed line rail system cannot be financially viable absent greater housing densities than are planned either at the base or for that matter, allowed on Bay Farm or Fernside.

More people would ride AC Transit if the 21, 20, 51 came more often.
The TDM plan calls for regular and reliable shuttle service from Alameda Point to the 12th Street BART Station, with regular 30- to 15-minute headways, depending on the time of day.

Why does the ferry terminal have to be moved from Main Street? It would be cheaper to move the dog park to another location at Alameda Point and turn the current dog park, adjacent to the ferry terminal, into a much needed parking lot.
A new ferry terminal within the Seaplane Lagoon at the heart of the Alameda Point development within close walking and biking distance of Alameda Point’s major housing and employment areas is an essential part of the city’s transportation plans, business attract strategy, and planning vision for Alameda Point. The city hopes to obtain funding from regional, state, federal and private sources to help offset the cost of building a new ferry terminal.

Mr. Russo: Given the plan to have 1,400 new homes at Alameda Point, how many people do you feel that will constitute? Information on this may have been reported already, but I have not seen it. Is there a formula you and staff use to calculate the amount of people that eventually will live in those homes?
The Alameda Point EIR projects 3,240 residents will occupy the 1,425 housing units planned for Alameda Point. This can be found in Table 3-2 of the Alameda Point EIR.

I want to know, what it takes to do an automotive event on the old airstrip. I know the Porsche club does a lot of events out that way.
The city no longer allows autocross car events on the runways due to noise and other factors.

Could you offer an update on Estuary Park? Specifically, are there still plans to build a synthetic baseball field for use by special needs children?
Estuary Park is eight acres of fields and park space for people of all ages and abilities, which is located just east of Alameda Point at Mitchell Mosely Avenue. Yes, (the plan) still includes a synthetic baseball field, with a rectangular field striped in its outfield, specifically designed for youth with physical and mental challenges. The city is actively pursuing funding to expedite construction of Estuary Park. The park includes four acres of athletic fields with one synthetic baseball diamond prioritized for special needs youth plus one lighted synthetic rectangular field for soccer, lacrosse, rugby, and football. The remaining four acres is a community park space with playgrounds, small and large group picnic areas, basketball courts, open lawn, and a dog park. All of these park and recreation amenities are critical for the new residential housing anticipated at Alameda Landing and North Housing.

At an early Planning Board meeting, the question of the name "Town Central" came up and we were told repeatedly that it was only a "place name" and not intended to be the actual name of the development. Yet here we are downstream and every document lists the name "Town Central." Has the name become a fait accompli without public input?
The city is using the term “Town Center” as a placeholder until future public decisions about development within this area are made. It makes sense for the City Council to consider, as part of a transparent and public process, the opinions of future developers about the appropriate name for successfully marketing and branding this area. Additionally, the placeholder term was used as part of the city’s successful Metropolitan Transportation Commission planning grant application for preparation of a Town Center plan (which has been released for public review) and a change of name might confuse that funding process. Lastly, a public process was performed that surveyed the Alameda community on other potential names for the “Town Center” area; the results of which will inform any future City Council decisions about this issue.

How long is the (request for qualifications) period for developers interested in the two Point parcels you're set to develop? I thought I read something that said one month. It’s a real busy time now for developers in this hot real estate market, and I'm concerned that one month may not be long enough to get a good response. Three months would give developers more time to respond.
Developers will have six weeks to submit a response to the RFQ. While we appreciate developers’ competing priorities and the time and effort that submittals take, the city must balance these considerations with the city’s desire to take advantage of the current upturn in the economy, as it will take many months after the responses are submitted before construction can commence.

My husband works on the base, West Seaplane Lagoon to be exact, along with a bunch of other small business in the same commercial kitchen building. Can they be relocated to another location on the base since their current location is set to be redeveloped? It would be nice if the City of Alameda took care of these folks and help them to find a new location on the base since they have worked at that location for a few years now.
The city takes very seriously decisions regarding the future development of Alameda Point and how it may affect the existing businesses and customers there. We appreciate the investment that existing businesses have made in Alameda Point and the City of Alameda. We hope to grow and keep as many of these businesses as possible during this new chapter in the history of Alameda Point. However, the intensification of development at Alameda Point someday may affect certain businesses. The city will work with businesses and developers to prepare fair phasing and relocation plans for any business affected by new development.


Richard Bangert's picture
Submitted by Richard Bangert on Mon, May 5, 2014

Mr. Russo said, "there are numerous anticipated benefits that the development of Alameda Point will generate for existing Alameda Point residents, including over 250 acres of open space; over 10 miles of walking and biking trails."

The majority of the 250 acres of open space is not tied to development. The proposed region-serving 147-acre park on the Northwest Territories - out where the Antiques Faire is held - is tied to grant money from public agencies. This park could happen absent any development if the city would resume negotiations with the East Bay Regional Park District. The park district has $6.5 million of taxpayer money specifically set aside for Alameda Point, money which is typically leveraged to get two dollars for every tax dollar. The VA will be building a road to the western shoreline, with the main purpose being public access to not only the shoreline but to a future park.

We will be lucky if development spins off enough money to build the long-anticipated Sports Complex. Waiting for development to fund the Northwest Territories park will effectively mean nothing happens there for yet more decades. A regional, state, and federal cooperative funding package for a destination park next to the VA clinic and national cemetery is the most effective way to bring 147 acres of parkland into being.

Submitted by MJ (not verified) on Mon, May 5, 2014

Mr. Russo says that:

"The general plan and the environmental impact report (EIR) for Alameda Point require that all new development comply with a transportation demand management (TDM) plan for Alameda Point to mitigate traffic impacts from new development and to support the creation of a transit-oriented development."

I guess other areas with bad traffic don't have documents like these. Thank god these documents will prevent bad traffic. I was really worried for a while, but now I know there will be documents.

Submitted by Marc (not verified) on Mon, May 5, 2014

Clearly Russo is an attorney. His answers are in legalese.

Submitted by Joseph (not verified) on Mon, May 5, 2014

I have worked on and read many EA's and EIR's in my time with the federal government, and this document seems to be wired from the start. To dismiss the potential for significant negative traffic impacts by relying on this "TDM" is laughable - unless you are a developer - in which case its exactly what you paid for. Measure A must stand, and our political "leaders" need to remain loyal to the interests of Alamedans.

Submitted by Bay Farm Parent (not verified) on Mon, May 5, 2014

@MJ - I, too, am concerned that nothing seems to be done to mitigate traffic except maybe some public hand wringing or documenting that heavy traffic is, well, um, a problem, but no one in our fair city seems to be able to bring some solutions to the table. Another study is *not* needed, action to deal with the inevitable commute and event-related backups is.

Submitted by Richard Hausman (not verified) on Mon, May 5, 2014

I note the carefully-crafted response regarding the name "Town Central" and it's rather disturbing. Russo states, "It makes sense for the City Council to consider...the opinion of future developers about the appropriate name." I read that to mean preference for the name will be given to the developer notwithstanding the names provided by the community. Or, as he puts it, "...a public process was performed that surveyed the Alameda community on other potential names...the results of which will inform any future City Council..." In other words, the opinions of future developers will be considered, while the community's input will merely "inform."

Submitted by Julie Hughes (not verified) on Mon, May 5, 2014

I'm concerned about TRAFFIC and SAFETY.

SAFETY: What is the maximum amount of people that can live in Alameda and not be a fire hazard? I'm serious, have we consulted with the Fire Department? How many people is too many people on an island with a limited amount of exits?

TRAFFIC: Alameda Point will create '9,000 employee's along with 3,240 residents', all at the west end. That's 12,240 more people! On this small island that's a HUGE number. I can't believe they can build and plan this new development and not build an additional tube to accommodate the extra stress it will add coming AND going from Oakland.

Submitted by Chuck M (not verified) on Tue, May 6, 2014

Let's limit growth and use code words for traffic and historical preservation to keep out the "those people." Racism is part of Alameda's history and still in its laws.

"Measure A should be viewed for what it is, a historic relic with little applicable use in modern-day city planning. What was portrayed in the 1970s as a tool to limit growth has been exposed as a thinly veiled policy that promoted exclusionary zoning and did more to keep out low-income and minority residents than it ever did to manage the city's growth." -- Chip Johnson, San Francisco Chronicle, May 5, 2014

Submitted by frank on Tue, May 6, 2014

Chip Johnson's column the decline of journalism since the 1970's. In the 1970's developers were buying up beautiful Victorians and tearing them down and erecting ugly 'concrete boxes'. I have about 5 on my block alone. Real Estate agents were encouraging the carving up the remaining Victorians into illegal units which presented danger to those dwelling in them. Others may have had more sinister motives behind Measure A if so I was oblivious. To some degree I think that the rigidity of Measure A has strangled our growth but without it this would no longer be a 'charming City' but one made up of ugly substandard housing.
I don't any one yet has answered the question regarding traffic. Certainly not Mr. Johnson. Certainly not our City Leaders. I was hoping at some point during the Suncal Saga the voters would have the opportunity to revisit Measure A and perhaps amend it. Instead we were presented with a Yes or No vote on the approval of 4800 + Housing Units. Measure A is still a part of our City Charter although the present Powers pretend it isn't.

Submitted by Karen (not verified) on Tue, May 6, 2014

Frank, I’m a little confused about what housing you’re for and what housing you’re against. Recently you said you supported the housing project at 1835 Oak Street because the developers were targeting Google or high tech types but you’re against housing at Alameda Point. Both projects are multifamily, and both projects create traffic. Can you explain why some multifamily projects are acceptable to you and others aren’t?

Submitted by Joseph. (not verified) on Tue, May 6, 2014

Right, Measure A is racist. That' must be why all my black and brown and white neighbors all want it enforced. Accusations of racism simply reveals the absence of a coherent argument. Take a walk around Alameda and look at the multi unit apartment buildings with the trash and weeds and rusting cars right next to the proud Victorian or Craftsman homes that the owners diligently maintain. Measure A is why Alameda SURVIVED the blight of the east bay. And why many of us worked and saved to move here over the years. Do everybody a favor and Stow the racism rhetoric for when it is appropriate.

Submitted by Alley (not verified) on Wed, May 7, 2014

You can "like" this on Facebook https://www.facebook.com/AlamedaNAS to provide your input or email jott@alamedaca.gov or AlamedaPoint@alamedaca.gov.

Submitted by z (not verified) on Sun, May 11, 2014

I can paraphrase most of Mr. Russo's responses, "The answer to your question is in document XYZ; look there". He does not actually give the answer (doesn't know it?).

"Town Center"? We already have one, it's called Park St (sorry Webster).

Submitted by Harry Smith (not verified) on Fri, May 23, 2014

John Russo seems to care for himself only. Legalese is right. Some legacy he's helping to leave. Everyday will be quadruple Antique Faire Sunday through the tube. Fun.