I've started writing about this a couple of times, but I tended to get hung up with my usual overwritten involved arguments and pseudo-historical perspective and never finished. But the are intended to restart the stalled out conversation about Alameda Point development, so I decided I'd just get my basic thoughts out, fancy scribery be damned.
There's a fundamental question that needs to be decided. A lot of people seem to think this question has been settled, but based on what I've read and heard in the 7 and a half years since I moved here and started really paying attention, I'm not so sure it is.
That question is, Do we build another estuary crossing to Oakland?
However we answer that, all other considerations follow from it. If the answer is yes, then we need to determine the practical strategies for getting one built. If the answer is no, then we have to accept the drastic limits this puts on the commercial and industrial development of the Point.
The Webster Tunnel approach has been greatly improved and is much more efficient than it was when the base was still open; it can support a fairly substantial increase in traffic volume, but it has its limits. (And this ignores the mess on the Oakland end.) Thus, that outlet can support some healthy development in the immediate area, like Alameda Landing, Atlantic Avenue or the West End, generally, but it's just too far away from the Point. It's really as simple as that. And an additional crossing there, rather than alleviate pressure, would make it even worse.
If I were king of the forest, I might put a ferry at the mouth of the inner harbor, running between a spot down Panoramic, past the ferry terminal, across to the shipping terminal this side of Middle Harbor Road, with some kind of connection to the freeway. It would be for vehicles only (nowhere for pedestrians to go on the Oakland side), and one of those ferries that goes back-and-forth without turning around — slow but large. This would allow commercial access and development without putting excessive additional pressure on the main island — much the role Doolittle Drive has in respect to Bay Farm.
Since it would be dominated by commercial traffic, it could justify tolls high enough to avoid large subsidies. The probable outcome would be development much like Bay Farm (or Harbor Bay, or whatever we call it) with Atlantic Avenue playing the role of the Bay Farm Island Bridge. It might be possible to improve the Point's southwest corner to allow for commercial water traffic, although probably not a significant amount.
But the obstacles to managing something like that, or any additional crossing, seem insurmountable. Besides the costs in dollars, and the engineering challenges of which I am undoubtedly unaware, the political prospect of trying to get all the involved parties (Oakland, the County, the Coast Guard, Caltrans, just for starters) to go along with the idea is so horrible I understand Rob Zombie is making a movie about it. I think it's probably, as we used to say in the government, not practicable at this time.
So the facts on the ground, as the cliche goes, would seem to favor the small-development argument. This means reclaiming most of the landing-strip area, converting much of it into park, and putting much stricter limits on the scope and kind of industry. It means less centralized geographical organization, with smaller commercial facilities alternating with and combined with smaller residential areas with some kind of subsidized small-scale transportation system (jitneys or something) — including for commercial transport, and seriously restricting internal-combustion engines. The areas near the gates could be set up to act like an airlock; people could leave their cars there and switch to smaller electric vehicles; there could be places for bicycle storage.
We could do that, if we want. We could make a little Ecotopia that those hippies in Berkeley and Santa Cruz would drool over. But without providing for an additional, properly-placed, estuary crossing, we have to give up on the idea of any Harbor-Bay-Farm-type development (like the Lab) — which means we have to give it up. I think some of us are reluctant to do that.
These alternatives seem mutually exclusive, and to a large extent I would agree that they are. But the in-between proposals all seem to combine the worst of both, increasing traffic and scale just enough to be troublesome but not enough to be economically viable. (That's how South Florida got the way it is.) I don't think that approach will work — nor do most of us, apparently, since we've apparently rejected it at least once.
Personally, I don't emotionally favor one alternative or the other; I don't really have an ideological agenda in this regard, although I will admit that the idea of a 21st Century urban community appeals to me.