Naval Air Station Land Handed To City By Carolyn Jones

San Francisco Chronicle
June 25, 2013
Pg. C1

Alameda’s long, slow divorce from the Navy passed a major milestone Monday when military officials formally turned over the former Naval Air Station to the city.

In a ceremony replete with flags, patriotic songs and a full-scale model of a Navy jet, Alameda Mayor Marie Gilmore and Roger Natsuhara, assistant secretary of the Navy, signed documents that transfer 1,300 acres of the old base to Alameda, in hopes of re-creating the economic engine the base once provided for the East Bay.

“Alameda has been waiting a very long time for this moment. A very long time,” said City Manager John Russo. “And now, to use an old Navy quote, we must move with all deliberate speed.”

The Navy closed the base in 1997 as part of a wave of money-saving base closures throughout the country. Alameda lost 14,000 jobs and millions in tax revenue, and later saw two deals fall through with master developers in part because of the real estate collapse.

The city now plans to act as its own master developer, and gaining control of the property from the Navy was critical, officials said.

“This is it. No more middleman,” said former City Councilman Doug deHaan, a 36-year base employee who spent almost 20 years working on base closure issues. “It took an awful long time, and I am more than ecstatic.”

The Navy isn’t gone entirely. Environmental cleanup is likely to continue for years, as Navy crews remove 60 years’ worth of industrial solvents, paint thinner, acids and other toxic chemicals used to repair airplanes.

The city plans to proceed with development anyway, avoiding the contaminated sites until cleanup is complete, said Jennifer Ott, the city’s chief operating officer.

The city is planning for homes, offices, shops, restaurants and 700 acres of parks and open space at the old base.

The new development would join the Department of Veterans Affairs’ plans for a $2 million clinic and columbarium, as well as federally protected habitat for the endangered California least tern and other species that have settled on the vacant land.

City staff will spend the next year or so organizing zoning, infrastructure and permits, in hopes of seeing the first construction in late 2014, Ott said.

Officials hope the property will once again generate the jobs and tax revenue that the old base provided to the entire region. They also hope that an abundance of parks and shoreline trails will be a recreational draw for the Bay Area, especially with the property’s breathtaking views of San Francisco.

Monday’s ceremony drew about 100 people under rainy skies to witness what many called a milestone for Alameda.

Joanne Robinson, 77, a lifelong Alameda resident, came to celebrate what she hopes is a new era for the island city.

She remembers, as a kid, when every child in town could identify the airplanes taking off and landing at the base.

The base was an integral part of Alameda’s identity for decades, but now it’s time to move on, she said.

“I think it’s wonderful,” she said. “I’m looking forward to beautiful walking paths along the water. And families. Hopefully, lots of families.”

The city is planning for homes, offices, shops, restaurants and 700 acres of parks and open space at the old base.

Carolyn Jones is a San Francisco Chronicle staff writer.

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