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.


  • Mark Irons

    Thanks to Eve for offering me the opportunity to write this piece. Somewhere in the various edits I dropped key references. The flooding shown in the Concept plan diagram is during a 100 year flood event with the 18″ increase. A non-flood tide could rest only 6″ inches from lowest grade at the Point. Also, the 18″ increase is projected to turn the 100 year flood cycle into a 10 year cycle.