On December 5, City Council reviewed and commented on the Port of Oakland’s Draft Environmental Impact Report (DEIR) for the Oakland Harbor Turning Basin Widening Project and on staff’s draft response letter. The Port proposes to widen the Inner Harbor Turning Basin to accommodate modern cargo ships maneuvering at the Port of Oakland. The project would significantly impact Alameda’s northern shore near Alameda Landing and Estuary Park if approved.
Harbor widening background
The Port is one of the principal seaports on the West Coast, serving more than 99% of containerized goods coming to the Bay Area. In 2001, the Port created the Inner Harbor Turning Basin to allow cargo ships up to 1,150 feet in length to turn around and exit. That project removed and dredged land on the Alameda shoreline at Alameda Landing.
Cargo ships have since grown in length. In partnership with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (USACE), the Port proposes to widen the turning basin by 334 feet to accommodate turning ships up to 1,300 feet long. The Port initially sought public comment back in May.
The harbor widening would involve removing six acres of shoreline and maritime commercial land uses, approximately 200,000 square feet for maritime commercial waterfront warehouses, and 400 feet of active maritime wharf space in Alameda. Widening would require over two years of demolition and heavy construction activities, including pile driving. Alameda residents and two public parks would be within 400 and 350 feet of the project. The Alameda Landing Master Plan, which requires preserving 18 acres and 365,000 square feet of maritime commercial use, would have to be amended.
Approval authority and mitigations
The City has approval authority over both the project and mitigation measures because land use entitlements are discretionary and subject to Planning Board review and City Council approval. Also, Alameda Municipal Code provides that the Council approve permits for any filling or dredging of City land.
The City’s DEIR comment letter aims to remark on the adequacy of the environmental analysis, which will support future decision-making. The letter does not state the City’s position because the decision will occur if and when the Port and USACE apply for City approval.
Staff proposed that project mitigations include:
- A City-approved Construction Traffic Control Plan.
- A City-approved Construction Noise Reduction Plan.
- An easement and funding for a bicycle and pedestrian bridge between Alameda and Jack London Square.
- Funding for a free public water shuttle between Alameda Landing and Jack London Square during construction.
- Seismic stability reinforcement and sea level rise improvements.
- Funding for waterfront public access improvements on the Alameda side.
Council comments and next steps
Councilmember Herrera Spencer expressed concern that few residents appeared at the Port’s most recent public outreach meeting in November despite a notification sent in October. City Manager Jennifer Ott said she would ensure that affected residents, such as those at Bay 37, were made aware of the project, the City’s draft comment letter, and the opportunity to comment.
Vice Mayor Tony Daysog asked staff to evaluate fiscal impacts, such as loss of sales and real estate transfer taxes. Planning, Building, and Transportation Director Allen Tai responded that an Environmental Impact Report doesn’t address fiscal impacts. However, Daysog argued that fiscal impacts could be a leverage point in negotiating mitigation.
Councilmember Malia Vella expressed concern about impacts on the Posey Tube due to construction traffic and wear and tear on the road. She acknowledged the water shuttle as mitigation but asked what else could be done. Tai responded that the Port must address City concerns as part of the Construction Traffic Control Plan. Ott added that additional mitigations could be construction transportation by barge and fees for road repair.
Councilmember Tracy Jensen asked if it was possible to shift the location of the Basin so that less of Alameda was affected. Mayor Marilyn Ezzy Ashcraft agreed, asking why Alameda appeared to bear more burden than Oakland. Further, she asked why Alameda shouldn’t just say no to the expansion. She added that if the project does proceed, she’d like to see mitigations related to preventing violations, such as truck speed monitoring. Herrera Spencer additionally recommended noise monitoring.
City staff will now incorporate Council comments into their comment letter to the Port.
Council revisits CIP pass-through ordinance
Council also revisited an ordinance amending and enhancing the Rent Control Program’s Capital Improvement Program. After a months-long debate on whether Alameda landlords should be permitted to pass through the costs of major renovation or construction to tenants through rent increases, Council voted on October 25 to revise the City’s Capital Improvement Plan (CIP) policy by barring properties with five or more units from qualifying for a CIP application.
Then, at its meeting on November 21, Councilmember Jensen motioned to reject final passage of the ordinance, citing “equity concerns.” She had previously supported passage but, upon a second reading, called for a revote. Daysog and Herrera Spencer supported her motion.
On December 5, Jensen argued that “by having this robust rent control program to protect tenants, we limit the amount that property owners can set aside because we don’t allow rents to be raised.” On this basis, she wanted to change her vote to support staff’s original recommendation (“Option A”), which would allow CIP pass-throughs on a tiered basis: Owners of two- to four- unit properties could apply for 100% of capital improvement cost recovery. Owners of five- to 15-unit properties could apply for 75%, owners of 16- to 24-unit properties, 50%, and owners of properties with 25 or more units would be ineligible.
Nearly all public speakers opposed any CIP pass-throughs. One speaker called it a gift to landlords, while another argued that landlords can use the fair return process if they need to raise rents above Annual General Adjustments (AGAs) to cover the cost of improvements.
Mayor Ashcraft agreed, saying she didn’t think renters, “some of whom are slipping into housing insecurity…should be burdened with helping their landlords pay for repairs and maintenance on properties which the landlords own and which will increase in value.” Councilmember Vella agreed, saying, “We need to ensure we’re not adding to the homelessness problem.” Mayor Ashcraft was troubled by the revote request, saying she didn’t hear any new information given to change a vote.
However, one landlord argued that a small property exemption is necessary for “Mom and Pop” landlords who financially struggle to make improvements. Herrera Spencer, herself a renter, agreed that she liked the tiered “compromise proposal,” noting that many smaller rental properties are over a hundred years old and need expensive updates. She added that requiring landlords to make improvements without allowing them to raise rents discourages rental availability.
Planning, Building, and Transportation Director Allen Tai explained that the Option A proposal limits the pass-through amount to 5% of a tenant’s current rent and the overall rent increase, including AGA, banked increases, and pass-through to 8%. Herrera Spencer called this reasonable. Vice Mayor Daysog agreed and noted hardship provisions in Option A that protect low-income renters.
The motion to pass Option A passed 3-2, with Herrera Spencer, Daysog, and Jensen voting yes. Ashcraft and Vella voted no.
In other business, Council:
- Provided feedback on Alameda County (AC) Transit’s Draft Realign Plan. Realign is a comprehensive review of AC Transit’s regional bus network to respond to shifts in rider travel patterns and prepare for future revenue shortages. AC Transit invites the public to learn more and provide feedback on its Realign website.
- Approved issuance of revenue bonds to finance the North Housing Senior Apartments Affordable Housing project at 2000 Lakehurst Circle (Linnet Corner). Bond payments will be the sole responsibility of the Developer and the Housing Authority. The project will create 64 housing units targeting seniors and formerly homeless senior veterans.
Contributing writer Karin K. Jensen covers boards and commissions for the Alameda Post. Contact her via [email protected]. Her writing is collected at https://linktr.ee/karinkjensen and https://alamedapost.com/Karin-K-Jensen.