Choppy Water at the Alameda Marina

Early discussions about adding condos, townhomes, and light business have coincided with one resignation, a termination, and a tenant eviction.


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Housing pokes over the fence across from the Alameda Marina, where owners evidently hope to build more.

Photo by Chris Duffey

In November, local tenants in Alameda's Northern Waterfront received written notices about a pair of community meetings to address the future of the Alameda Marina.

Built almost a century ago, the 43-acre Alameda Marina is home to hundreds of boat slips and more than 65 businesses, including the iconic Svendsen Boat Works, a facility that designs submersible vehicles, and a scenic design construction company.

Representatives from Bay West Development and Pacific Shops, Inc.'the owner of the Alameda Marina since 2006'informed the audience that the marina was in dire need of redevelopment due to its aging infrastructure. They also cited PSI's new tideland lease, which was signed with the city of Alameda in 2012. The lease, which deals with a portion of the marina that is owned by the state and managed by the city, stipulates that the owners of PSI must create a master plan for improving the marina before 2020 and invest at least $10 million into the project.

'The facilities are disintegrating,' said Andrew Thomas, director of the Alameda Planning Department. 'They do need to be upgraded. We do need to reinvest in those maritime facilities and the docks if we want to preserve it for the next 50 or 100 years.'

The four scenarios presented to community members all involved converting much of the marina into high-density townhouses, condos, and light retail businesses. This wasn't that surprising, given the area's recent zoning history. The Alameda Marina was rezoned from an industrial space to a mixed-use planned development district in 2012. The most recent Housing Element also marked it as one of 11 sites for prioritizing housing growth. Neither of those facts requires the developers to build housing on the marina, Thomas noted, nor do they mean commercial businesses on the marina will have to relocate.

From the developer's point of view, it is 'reimagining Alameda Marina' and promises a collaborative process. 'The owners of the Alameda Marina are compelled to reimagine what a future could look like,' they say on their website. 'We have no formal development plan, and would like to work with you, the Alameda community, to help us envision'from scratch'the best possible future use for this underutilized space.'

James Falaschi, a project advisor from the Alameda County Economic Development Alliance for Business who attended the November meetings, said that the developers are now reaching out to tenants individually to solicit feedback on the project.

'We may not all agree on the direction for the future marina, but always remain open to hearing from our tenants and the community as part of this ongoing process,' Falaschi said.

It's difficult to gauge, though, how tenants feel about these proposed changes because few are willing to publicly discuss their feelings. Several marina tenants declined to speak on the record for an article focused on the proposed redevelopment.

One tenant, who would only agree to speak anonymously out of fear of possible eviction, expressed concern that the proposed redevelopment project would destroy Alameda's heritage and displace local businesses.

Alarm bells went off in the marina community on Jan. 16, when PSI President Sean Svendsen resigned. Three days later, PSI Chairman and majority owner Bill Poland fired Brock de Lappe, the marina's harbormaster since 2011. Rumors swirled online about the cause of the two departures. Poland stated that Svendsen's resignation 'was out of the blue,' and that de Lappe was let go because 'it was a time to make a transition' in management.

Svendsen declined to comment on his resignation. De Lappe said his termination stemmed from differences with Poland about the future of the marina. 'The perception was that I was not sufficiently supportive of the proposed redevelopment plans for the marina,' de Lappe said.

De Lappe said he feared that Poland's vision for the marina would not include a place for many of the maritime businesses that have existed there for years, including Svendsen's Boat Works and the Island Yacht Club. He also worried that the redevelopment would force out dry trailer storage sailors who rely on the marina for shore-side parking. He said he wasn't surprised that tenants were reluctant to comment on the project. De Lappe said they were probably 'scared to death' of facing retaliatory action.

This isn't just idle speculation. On Dec. 23, while de Lappe was still harbormaster, Poland ordered him to serve a tenant named Alan Hebert with a 30-day written notice of termination. Poland wouldn't speak on record about the cause of Hebert's eviction, and de Lappe refused to speculate about it. But there are two events that seem to be tied to Hebert's departure.

On Nov. 18, Hebert, who has been a frequent visitor and occasional occupant of the marina since 2008, attended one of the November meetings. According to an individual who attended the same meeting, Hebert raised strong objections there.

On Dec. 17, Hebert wrote an opinion piece in the Alameda Sun warning Alamedans that the marina was 'in danger of being bulldozed' and that the redevelopment would kill local jobs. Three days later, he filed paperwork with the Alameda Marina harbormaster to rent a space to put his boat in dry storage. Three days later, Poland ordered his eviction.

Representatives from Bay West Development and PSI declined to comment on the record about Hebert's eviction, other than to note that he had received a 'parking space license agreement' from the harbormaster, not the same as a lease.

Not everyone opposes changes. Diane Lichtenstein, from the housing advocacy nonprofit Alameda Home Team, wrote a letter to the Alameda Sun praising Poland's idea for building housing and expanding waterfront access.

Another business tenant who wished to remain anonymous stated that he, too, was open to the idea of redevelopment. But he was more concerned about his business being displaced for housing.

'I'm not opposed to development that improves the marina,' the business tenant said. 'What I will be opposed to is the demolition of the space and having to find space elsewhere, which will be very difficult for me.'

 Thomas said PSI has not yet submitted an official project application to the city.

 

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