Naval base transferred to City of Alameda

September 29, 2011 7:23:29 PM PDT
After decades of negotiating and miles of red tape, the City of Alameda is getting a whole lot larger.

The former naval air station, now called Alameda Point, is being handed over to the City of Alameda -- all 900 acres of it.

When they're not socked in by fog, the airfield at Alameda Point has a panoramic view of the bay and the San Francisco skyline, and soon Alameda hopes thousands of employees will enjoy that view as they turn the field into a center for science and technology.

Speaking in front of a fenced-off field of weed-torn, abandoned runways, Alameda's mayor said she hopes to finally make good on a promise made long before she took office. When the naval air station closed in the mid-90s, then-President Clinton insisted it would become a bustling center for innovation.

"The East Bay has the potential to be a magnet for technology, for aviation, for manufacturing," Clinton said. "If we succeed, this military axis could be transformed into a thriving, high-tech commercial hub."

For a brief moment, it was.

John Bossel started a company, Calstart, in 1995. The company moved into Hangar 20 and started a business incubator for the emerging electric car. Bossel used a runway where F-14s and F-15s once took off and landed as a test track for prototype electric vehicles.

For five years, moving science experiments zipped their way around more than 100 busy engineers, but it didn't last.

"The price of oil went lower, which made it very tough for all the alternatives to compete," Bossel said.

Now covered in rust and broken glass, the hangar is mostly empty and the charging stations gather cobwebs.

"We know that it was gonna take some time," said Assemblyman Sandre Swanson. "We thought it would take 20 years."

Swanson worked for then-Congressman Ron Dellums when the process began. Swanson said the initial failure happened because the city didn't own the land and couldn't make long-term deal with tenants.

"You can't really successfully develop property on a long-term basis without ownership," Swanson said. "Now this question of ownership has been addressed, and that is one of the main issues."

In a navy blue folder, military officials signed over 918 acres at no cost to the city. Now called Alameda Point, it won't likely replace the 14,000 jobs lost when the base closed, but city leaders hope it's a start.

"Alameda Point will be the economic engine that drives the city of Alameda," said Mayor Marie Gilmore. "As it used to be, it will be again."

The city's hoping this will become the new home of the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory.

Bossel says he wouldn't rule out the possibility that electric cars will someday make a return.

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