ALAMEDA (KPIX 5) — This week, the Alameda City Council voted to take a key step in creating a brand new shoreline park that also will include a final resting place for veterans that will be a lot closer to home.
The Council agreed Tuesday to grant a 66-year lease to East Bay Regional Parks to convert the old Alameda Naval Air Station runways into a nature preserve and public space that has views that you can’t buy anywhere.
The old runways aren’t exactly a thing of beauty, but someday soon the 158 acres will be a preserved habitat for seabirds and other wildlife. There will be walking trails and bike paths and a chance for the public to commune with nature, all with an incredible panoramic view of San Francisco just across the bay.
“It’s really unusual, especially in such an urban area, to have so much open space that we’re bringing back to nature. And getting kids, families, seniors, everyone out into nature right in their backyard,” said Alameda Recreation and Parks Director Amy Wooldridge.
But the park is only one part of the old base’s transformation. There is a plan to create a state-of-the-art VA medical center and a columbarium, a national cemetery holding the cremated remains of former military members.
“We are a Coast Guard city. The city is very proud of its Navy roots,” said Alameda Community Development Director Debbie Potter. “The opportunity to see the former Naval Air Station become a final resting place for veterans is very eloquent and is a very nice fit for what’s going on.”
The cemetery will start with 25,000 to 30,000 “niches’ or spaces for ash urns. Marine Corp veteran Joe Loparo says, with all the local military cemeteries already full, families face the prospect of burying their loved ones as far away as Davis or elsewhere in the Central Valley.
“At the rate we’re going, those 30,000 will fill up the day it opens, because it’s been such a long wait,” said Loparo. “I know many veterans, including my family, have ashes at their homes. And we are waiting. We can’t even reserve a space until the facility’s open.”
But unlike many facilities, as decades pass the Alameda facility will have room to grow. It is expected to become one of the largest national cemeteries in the country, holding the remains of up to 300,000 veterans.
The Navy still has to transfer the land to the city so it can give it to the parks district, and the project has already been delayed multiple times. But there was encouraging news; an additional $27 million were included in the 2021 budget to support the veterans facility.
The wheels of progress grind slowly, especially for the federal government, so it may take some time. But eventually, if all goes as planned, the old runways will one day be a place of beauty and remembrance the whole Bay Area can enjoy.