While some communities around San Francisco Bay are looking beyond a landscape of pavement to better the natural environment, Alameda city staff have decided to shelve a plan for creating wetlands at Alameda Point. Why? Because they'd rather earn lease revenue from a few buildings.
This outlook is shortsighted. Postponing wetland creation in the face of ecological crisis and opportunity is tantamount to denial of history and science.
The detrimental effects of having lost 80 percent of wetlands around the Bay have been known for decades. The impact of fossil fuel burning on the atmosphere has reached alarming levels. Wetlands capture carbon dioxide from burnt fossil fuels, produce oxygen and enhance wildlife and marine habitat.
The western shoreline of the Seaplane Lagoon is mostly pavement, with a few buildings. Last year, during the planning process for the town center, the city's consultant recommended depaving the area in order to create city wetland, connecting it to the existing wetland on the federal property. But now city staff seek to defer that wetland plan for decades in favor of maximizing leasing opportunities.
How much revenue is expected from leasing these buildings, and is the money worth the wait before adding wetland? And how much value would the expanded and upgraded wetland add to the value of real estate projects anticipated for the north and east sides of the Seaplane Lagoon?
There is a vast amount of leasable commercial space at Alameda Point. But only a few shoreline areas offer opportunities for the city to expand wetlands. The west side of the Seaplane Lagoon is one area. Another area is along the Oakland Estuary near the site of the monthly Antiques Faire.
How would the wetlands be funded? A good vehicle for wetland creation is through formation of a wetland mitigation bank. The city of Alameda could create an Alameda Point Wetland Mitigation Bank. Simply put, the bank takes in money from investors to perform the work. They make their money when credits, but not the land itself, are sold to developers needing to offset impacts of their projects. Caltrans is also another potential buyer of credits for its road building projects.
Wetland mitigation banks are a regulated market-based tool for adding and enhancing wetlands. The city has yet to explore the mitigation bank option for the west Seaplane Lagoon area and the 147 acres of its open space along the Oakland Estuary.
There is no need to keep buildings in the western Seaplane Lagoon area for adaptive reuse until sea level rise is lapping at their doors. The Sierra Club urges the Alameda City Council to prioritize wetland development alongside economic and recreational development. They have an opportunity to do so at their Tuesday meeting when the council will vote on the specific plans for the Seaplane Lagoon town center and waterfront.
Norman La Force is chair of the Sierra Club San Francisco Bay Chapter East Bay Public Lands Committee.