Mark Irons: A perspective on Alameda Point

Mark Irons is an Alameda resident and a self-described environmentalist who has been active in local politics since arriving in Alameda in 1991.

by Mark Irons

Lately I have become preoccupied with three issues regarding Alameda Point: the possibility of renegotiating the cost with the Navy under the new Obama Administration, the impact from rising tides due to climate change, and mitigating the risks from seismic activity.

Renegotiating cost of transfer from Navy

I was reading a San Francisco Examiner article, which speculates on whether the new administration has local economic development on its radar with regard to base closures. There is an assumption that with Robert Gates remaining as Secretary of Defense, President Obama will be less likely to include things like low-cost transfers in his stimulus package, and that the Department of Defense will continue to look to the sale of former base properties for income, at a minimum to defray cleanup costs.

Whatever the new administration’s priorities, let’s hope our elected representatives press the issue, including our mayor who was at the National Conference of Mayors in Washington D.C. during Obama’s inauguration. A call to the mayor’s office (1/22/09) could not confirm her agenda while in Washington.

Climate change and rising tides

Before we can employ higher density housing to address climate change through reduced vehicle trips, we have to ensure a literal physical foundation for any project, especially in an area that will more than likely face rising sea levels and at least one significant seismic event.

SunCal’s draft Redevelopment Concept Plan is, as the title states, a “concept.” To SunCal’s credit the RCP is thorough in addressing all general factors and concerns, even if the plan is general at this stage.

The Concept Plan cites the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change figure of an estimated 18-inch rise in tide—though it doesn’t specify a date. The Bay
Conservation and Development Commission
report due out February 5 predicts a 16-inch sea level rise by 2050, accelerating to a 55-inch rise by 2100.

Even if the BCDC prediction is a worst case scenario, the map in the SunCal Report indicates a majority of the development site will be underwater if the sea rises by 18 inches.

San Francisco is considering fill and sea walls to protect Treasure Island. I haven’t found cost projections for those items, but costs for the entire build out are in the billions.

The earthquake challenge

The geology chapter of the SunCal report cites the vulnerability of current fill to lateral failure within 800 feet of shorelines in a seismic event and states the weight of additional fill will aggravate that condition. In plain language, that means the area is high-risk during an earthquake. New
buildings may be kept safe by piers drilled deep into bay mud, but in any large seismic event, the streets, underground infrastructure and existing buildings at the Point will be at higher risk than the historic island.

I am in favor of trying to develop the most forward thinking plans possible to mitigate things as far reaching as climate change, but only on a solid foundation.


Comcast billing in Alameda, tricky-tricky

When last I ran into trouble with Comcast (my phone wasn’t working), they told me 1. there’d be no charge for the repair visit and 2. that I’d get a credit for two days—very generous.

But then a week or so ago I got a past due bill that 1. did not reflect that I’d paid the previous month’s tab 2. charged me $48 bucks for the repair and 3. didn’t reflect the credit they said they’d give me. (The bill does reflect, though, that I’m getting the Starz channels, which were offered to me as compensation for my troubles earlier in the month.) Then a couple days later I got another bill from Comcast (??) this one slightly smaller in size and reflecting one but not both of my most recent payments to their company.

I waited a few days, minding my other life responsibilities, and then, yesterday morning sat down, bills in hand, to call Comcast. Since last time I’d had reasonably good results with the Alameda Power & Telcom changeover office, I called them. Immediately, though, I was into their recorded-voice-system, and I hung up. I remembered the real-life manager who’d called me last time and that he had—kindly!—given me his cell phone number. I called it. He answered. He was home (daughter was sick) but said he’d have the right person call me back. And a few hours later a man did! I explained my situation, the confusing and contradictory bills, the unexpected charges. It turns out that when I signed up for Comcast, nothing was done to stop the billing for the AP&T (now Comcast) service: they were billing me for service twice, once as Comcast and the other time as Comcast.

A few minutes later, the man called back, said it was all fixed: accounts combined and properly credited. And the remaining balanced totaled. I promptly sent them a check. I am curious if others have had double billing issues and if they have had good results for resolution. I for one feel extremely lucky to have the cell phone number of a particularly dedicated and able Comcast employee.


Webster Tube reopened after fallen debris removed

The Webster Tube from Oakland to Alameda was shut down on Sunday after an 8-foot-by-8-foot chunk of decorative concrete fell onto the roadway about 6 p.m. According to Caltrans no one was injured, and the tube was reopened in time for this morning’s commute. Details here. Last Thursday, the parallel Posey Tube, which moves trafffic from Alameda to Oakland, was shut down for a bus accident.


Alameda firefighters making ‘robo’ calls

I got a phone call yesterday with a recorded message from an Alameda firefighter. The message was so fast that I did not catch the name of the firefighter who was speaking, though I think it was Mike or Mark. The core of the message was that cuts to the fire department (on January 26 the department has been mandated to reduce overtime) will impact response time for some Alameda neighborhoods. The message mentioned the Gold Coast, Bay Farm and Alameda’s West End and then urged the listener to lobby City Hall to prevent cuts. How much does it cost to auto-dial every Alameda household? Who funds these efforts?

I can’t help but think of the line from Obama’s speech Tuesday, in which he honored the hard work and sacrifices Americans are making to make things better for all of us. He referenced employees who allow their own hours to be cut so others may keep their jobs. That is bravery, no? To say, I will make do with a little less so others don’t lose everything entirely.

In a time when so many are losing jobs, losing retirement security, having their pay cut and otherwise struggling economically, I can not find legitimacy in the stance being taken by Alameda firefighters. There is not an infinite pot of money. Times are bad. Everyone should be impacted as budgets shrink…not everyone with the exception of some. Of course I wish it weren’t so…of course everyone wishes it weren’t so. But it is. So, it’s time to move away from the adversarial stance, an I-me-my orientation, and it’s time for the firefighters to work with the city to maintain emergency services as well as all the other services that make for a vital community.

As I have mentioned previously, Alameda firefighters make over $100,000 a year, with many earning 10 and 20 and 40 thousand additional dollars a year in over time. Alameda firefighters receive full, life-time medical benefits for themselves and a spouse after just five years of service. They are eligible to retire at 50, with 3 percent of their highest salary in pension for each year of service. Meanwhile, Alameda’s non-public safety employees receive only a tiny stipend (something around $100 a month) toward health care in retirement, and they are eligible to retire at 55, with 2 percent of their highest salary per year of service in pension. I am not, of course, saying that I don’t think firefighters should be well-compensated and have security in retirement…I just think that taking a hard bargain stance when the current system is so out of balance (so many employees now have no pensions, no health care on retirement…heck, no health care even while they are working) and when the economy is such a disaster is really perplexing.


School board trustee Mike McMahon launches blog

Mike McMahon’s web site has long been the motherlode for school-district-related documents and information. And now he has launched a blog.

And while all heads have been turned toward the change in leadership at the national level, there are lots of fish to fry re the state budget and school funding in particular. McMahon’s site is sure to be a good resource.


Alameda shop featured in Christian Science Monitor story

A Christian Science Monitor story, “Good times for repair shops and secondhand stores,” features Alameda’s Watch Hospital:

On a Saturday afternoon in downtown Alameda, Calif., Gabe Morgan waits in a line of customers at The Watch Hospital to get a timepiece fixed. The economic downturn has made him think more about repairing than buying new.

News on budget free fall and its regional impact here, here and here.


California budget woes abound

Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger wants to require state employees to take two mandatory, unpaid furlough days each month. Some state officials are saying no. You can read more about it here, here and here.

Sacramento Bee reporter Peter Hecht has this piece about how no one really seems to be paying attention to the budget crisis: “Warnings of budget ‘Armageddon’ don’t rouse ordinary Californians.”

MSNBC Story: Is California Dreaming Over?


Alameda fire department cuts make KTVU

KTVU ran a story tonight on Alameda fire station “brown outs.” They interviewed Alameda firefighter Dom Weaver and Councilmember Frank Matarrese, both of whom have been opposed cuts all along. For balance, they interviewed a woman in a cafe, saying, generally, that tough times call for budget cuts and, too, they interviewed Mayor Beverly Johnson, who talked about the millions upon millions the city has trimmed from its budget in recent years.

While the story mentions the economic downturn as an underlying cause of the cuts, it fails to Continue Reading