DePave Park Remains a Nebulous Concept
The idea to turn a paved 14-acre western edge of Seaplane Lagoon into an ecologically-rich shoreline park has fans but nothing has been settled yet because of the looming cost.
DePave Park renderings by CMG Architecture
As smoke from the Kincade fire in Sonoma County drifted through the Bay Area this fall, and the United Nations released a report confirming that man-made climate change is heating the world’s oceans, melting ice, and accelerating sea level rise, the Alameda City Council met to consider a plan that, while small on a global scale, could help address climate change adaptation locally, support wildlife, and create new public open space where people can learn about tidal ecology and global warming.
At issue was the question of whether to implement a plan to transform the paved 14-acre western edge of Seaplane Lagoon into an ecologically-rich shoreline park, specifically designed for sea level rise. The concept, loosely known as DePave Park, was included in the council-approved 2014 Alameda Point Town Center and Waterfront Specific Plan. That plan called for the removal of the pavement from the west side of the lagoon and the addition of wetlands that can naturally adapt to rising sea level and climate change to create a waterfront park “that combines a proactive ecological agenda with a compelling visitor experience by placing a picnic, camping, and interpretive program within a large-scale sustainable landscape.”
But while work has begun on Alameda Point’s Site A, which is adjacent to Seaplane Lagoon, nothing has happened to transform DePave Park from nebulous concept to funded project — a frustrating situation that led Councilmembers Tony Daysog and Jim Oddie to refer the matter to the council to kick-start the process.
At the council’s Oct. 15 meeting, Recreation and Parks Director Amy Woolridge agreed to prioritize all current and upcoming park projects, including approved items, conceptual plans, and projects under construction, for the council to review and weigh in on, in early 2020.
“It’s a matter of balancing these projects,” Woolridge said after the meeting, as she clarified that there never was a specific plan for DePave Park. “But the concept was included in planning documents used to envision the Point’s revitalization, and I think there is a community interest in seeing this happen, and a connection between that and the City’s Climate Action and Resiliency Plan and the need to create more marsh-like areas and sequester carbon,” she said.
In a telephone interview after the meeting, Councilmember Oddie said, “We need these kinds of wetlands to help us adapt to sea level rise, but first we need an implementation plan with dates and deliverables, so the community can know when to expect improvements to start.” Oddie surmised that the reasons for inaction thus far include, “The reality that depaving the area is a big project, and the city’s Recreation and Parks Department has other priorities.”
So how much would DePave Park cost? Woolridge noted that it took $10 million to create 11 acres of the Jean Sweeney Open Space and will take another $14 million to complete the project, which requires significant remediation. “That’s $24 million for a 25-acre park,” said Woolridge, who expects the conversion of the 14-acre DePave Park to be equally difficult. “DePave Park is unusual in that the concrete out there is incredibly thick because it was runway material, so it’s challenging but also very exciting,” she said.
But where are those funds going to come from? So far, there is nothing in the city’s Base Reuse budget, which was set up to collect development impact fees from Alameda Point that could fund the park. “That’s because Alameda Point Partners is doing significant infrastructure work at the Point, and that work offsets any fees paid,” Woolridge said. “But as more development comes in further down the line, developers would be paying impact fees rather than doing offsets, and those fees would then be earmarked to cover costs in a number of buckets, including streets, safety, and parks.” Observing that the current federal administration does not recognize climate change, and therefore federal funding isn’t flowing, Woolridge noted that the state of California does recognize the urgency of the issue. She suggested Measure AA, which voters approved in June 2016, as a potential funding source. One of its main objectives is to revitalize marshland.
For his part, Councilmember Oddie suggested the city could successfully apply for funds from Proposition 68, a $4 billion bond for state and local parks, environmental protection, water infrastructure, and flood protection that voters approved in 2018.
“So I think there’s an opportunity to tap into state funding, if we have plans in place,” Oddie said. Noting that the pavement needs to be taken away from the DePave site, Oddie speculated that the debris might be of value to other developers at Alameda Point, including the U.S. Department of Veteran Affairs. The VA owns 512 acres of land at Alameda Point that is slated to become a nature reserve but would need to raise the elevation by at least 4 feet for sea level rise protection. That is an undertaking that requires huge amounts of soil and crushed rock.
“There’s always that hope that developers might need the wetland mitigation credits that contributing to DePave Park could provide,” Oddie continued, noting that the Point’s Site B remains to be developed, as does Enterprise Park, which runs from behind Encinal High toward the USS Hornet.
As for the fate of Buildings 25 and 29, two occupied structures that are on the DePave Park site, Oddie clarified that, in the original concept for the park, Building 29 was to be demolished, but those plans won’t move forward until the project is funded. “Until we are at the point of working on the park, we are not ready to do that,” he said.
DePave Park has the support of Bike Walk Alameda, the Community Action for a Sustainable Alameda, and the Golden Gate Audubon Society, as well as former Councilmember Frank Matarrese and environmental activist Richard Bangert. The concept fits into the city’s broader strategy of transforming the vast obsolete paved area that encompasses the northwestern sections of Alameda Point by removing concrete and nurturing ecological succession — and has an inventive design twist. As Bangert explained, placing floating wetlands on the lagoon has the merit of adding vegetation without adding fill.
“That’s the beauty of it,” Bangert said, adding that without such measures, “shoreline areas won’t provide birds with much mud or plant space during high tide, because of the impacts of sea level rise in future.”
Bangert opined that removing the thick concrete pads that once served as runways and still cover the land adjacent to Seaplane Lagoon could be undertaken separately from installing the floating wetlands. “The idea for DePave Park is still a concept, at this point, and given that funding could take maybe six to eight years to secure, and we do know that we don’t want concrete there. In the interim, we could take out 80 percent of the concrete and still have a road for site tenants to use,” he explained. But while Bangert supports the basic concept for DePave Park, he thinks the area could function well with even less concrete than envisioned in artistic renderings of the area.
As for camping, which was floated as an option in the original concept, Bangert said that is not a compatible use of the land. “I don’t support camping, because the area has no shade and would be very hot and lacks bathroom facilities,” Bangert said. “Urban camping sounds nice, but we already have a campsite, albeit an unused one, near the Encinal Boat Ramp.”