This is a tale of two letters. The first, written by Alameda City Councilmember Stewart Chen states, "The City Council is responding to the community's desire to develop Alameda Point and is trying to do it with the least number of new housing units possible."
The second, written by Eugenie Thomson, a licensed civil and traffic engineer, longtime Alameda resident and winner of three statewide Engineering Excellence Awards, tells a different story and history from Chen's. She writes:
"n On July 3, 2012, the City Council rezoned 17 parcels of land with an overall site inventory capacity of 2,525 residential units, not including Alameda Point;
The differences between these two letters are instrumental and informative. Chen argues that 1,425 housing units are the minimal amount needed to develop Alameda Point. I don't know if he is correct or not. What I do know is he either forgot about the additional 2,525 units the City Council approved and the 2,227 units above the minimum number of units set by ABAG, or he purposely misled the public. I hope it is not the latter.
Let's be clear: The issues are not housing and development. They are traffic, safety and access/egress in the event of an emergency, and the current commuter gridlock.
Each housing unit in Alameda contains an average of two cars, which means an addition of 7,900 cars on the Island if 3,950 new units are built. Since most of this development is taking place on the West End, it means an additional 7,900 cars for the two old cement tubes and the not-so-young Park Street Bridge.
But that's not all. Oakland is planning and has approved new high-rises and developments near Jack London Square and Brooklyn Basin that will add at least 4,000 new housing units and 8,000 cars to that same stretch of land on the other side -- the Chinatown side -- of the estuary. That's a total of 16,000 additional vehicles on both sides of the estuary entering and exiting the same freeway exits and entrances between Broadway and the Park Street Bridge. How does that sound for your morning and evening commutes?
I am writing this letter as an open letter to Councilmember Chen. I would like to believe you when you write elsewhere in your letter that you "would like to limit the number of new housing units as much as possible."
I am writing to ask you to publicly reaffirm that statement and to follow it with action: vote to limit the number of new housing units approved and/or developed to no more than the minimum required by ABAG. I also ask you to join with your "friend Frank Matarrese," and provide the citizens of Alameda with alternative leadership that is not hellbent on maximum development of every space -- from Crown Beach to Harbor Bay, a four-story wall at the old Del Monte site and hundreds more units at Chipman Warehouse and Boatworks.
Stand up, Councilmembers Chen (and Tony Daysog), and do what is right and best for the Island -- not for the politicos, city manager and developers. Alameda needs new and better leadership. Hopefully, some of the people on the council and Planning Commission will see the light and change their views, as former Councilmember Frank Matarrese apparently has. If not, hopefully other people with better visions -- who care about preserving the best of what we currently have while not opposing reasonable change, development and affordable housing -- will step forward.
Elections take place in November. The deadline for candidate filing is this summer. The time to foment change is now. Chen is vulnerable because of his earlier indiscretions and his recent letter arguing in favor of housing at Crown Beach instead of open space -- which most people in Alameda seem to want. If he doesn't change his position on development, he should be challenged.
Matarrese, who earlier favored lots of housing development at Alameda Point, has apparently changed his stance. Friends of Crown Beach, Harbor Bay, the Del Monte neighborhood and other interested parties should interview Matarrese and other potential candidates to see where they stand on these issues and get a firm, public commitment from them if they want our support. Otherwise, we should assure them of our opposition.
We only need three votes. Councilmember Chen is running, Councilmember Lena Tam is termed out and cannot run and Mayor Marie Gilmore is running. Either the incumbents should change their views and publicly acknowledge that they have, or, we, the public, ought to change them -- starting with council members who speak with two tongues, a mayor who says and does too little, and a city manager who says too little and does too much. We only need three votes to change things. It is not too early to start.
Mark Greenside is a resident of Alameda and a retired history and political science professor from Merritt College.