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What Makes These East Bay Cities Ideal For Development

With many companies and residents being priced out of San Francisco, East Bay cities are becoming new hot spots. Cities like Hayward, Alameda and San Leandro are undergoing development booms due to increased demand for affordable office, industrial and residential. These midsize cities offer a small-town feel and a strong sense of community, but also provide access to San Francisco via public transit.

San Leandro Mayor Pauline Russo Cutter

San Leandro Mayor Pauline Russo Cutter’s vision is to create a place that her three kids would want to return to and start their own families, and she said it takes a holistic approach to create the ideal city.

“The schools have to be there. The jobs have to be there. Housing has to be there, and there has to be something to do after six at night,” Cutter said.

San Leandro’s sense of community has helped attract and retain its current residents.

“One of the best things about San Leandro is it has a small-neighborhood feel,” Cutter said. “It is a city with 90,000, but still feels like a small city with strong neighborhoods.”

While the city’s plan is to attract younger people, it also is maintaining its heritage and working to renovate and support affordable housing stock so low-income families can stay in the city.

One thing San Leandro is missing is a grocery store like Trader Joe’s, according to Cutter. Even though there are a lot of mom-and-pop grocery stores in the city, having a Trader Joe's, Sprouts or Whole Foods is what people judge as a success, Cutter said.

Seaplane Lagoon at Alameda Point

Alameda with its population of 79,000 is one of the largest island communities along the West Coast, but often feels like a smaller community.

“Once you come onto the island [of Alameda], it feels like a small town where you get to know your neighbors,” Alameda Mayor Trish Spencer said.

The city has thrived off word-of-mouth, according to Spencer. Often people who come to work in Alameda end up becoming residents.

“Once people come on the island with its world-class views of San Francisco and Oakland skylines, its marinas, people want to stay,” Spencer said. “A lot of people still think we’re a hidden gem.”

Future Business Centers?

Rendering of Site A at Alameda Point

New development in both San Leandro and Alameda has begun attracting significant companies into the area. Alameda is attracting more tech companies, green companies and medical device companies. Companies like Penumbra, ABB Optical Group and VF Outdoor now have offices in Alameda. Old Navy buildings have been transformed into the sports complex Bladium and wineries at Spirits Alley like Building 43 and Rock Wall.

Alameda’s biggest development challenge is updating infrastructure at the old naval base to meet the needs of current and future businesses. Alameda Point Partners has proposed developing Site A into a mixed-use community with hundreds of units of housing and 600K SF of commercial.

Alameda also has strong connections to the local business districts and city staff has worked closely with businesses to make sure they are nominated for innovation awards. Nine Alameda-based companies have been finalists and five have won awards, according to Spencer.

Since Alameda is not near BART, the city is working with the San Francisco Bay Water Emergency Transit Authority to build a second ferry terminal. The city also is looking into adding water shuttles on the Oakland estuary side of Alameda to increase crossings into Oakland’s Jack London Square and increase connections in and out of the city. The city plans to develop more safe bike paths and pedestrian paths.

One of the city’s priorities is to protect and support the maritime sector. It is working on protecting the island from sea level rise. The city also wants to make sure that as development increases residents can still see the water and views are not blocked.

The Draw of High-Speed Internet

San Leandro's fiber optic network

One of the biggest draws of San Leandro is its fiber optic network that supplies super-fast internet throughout the city. The fiber network was originally proposed by OSIsoft CEO Patrick Kennedy, who approached the city and city engineers with the idea of using the existing conduit loop to add fiber internet, according to Cutter.

Through a public-private partnership, the city added 11 miles of fiber to the city. Using a federal grant, the city added another seven miles. The network has grown to 20 miles and contains redundancies to increase its dependability. In 2015, the city agreed to share fiber connectivity with all 17 schools in San Leandro, and the city launched public WiFi in downtown.

Among its biggest developments is the San Leandro Tech Center, a 500K SF Class-A tech center next to BART developed by Westlake Urban. The center is already bringing in a lot of people who would otherwise work in the I-680 corridor who can benefit from the high-speed internet. The developer also recently proposed adding housing near the site.

“Where else can you have a workforce right next to BART with all these amenities?” Cutter said. “San Leandro has a cheaper housing market than San Francisco and Oakland. We’re winning on all three fronts.”

Bringing Back Manufacturing

Rendering of the future San Leandro Business Center

While attracting tech is a huge positive for the city, San Leandro wants to rebuild its connection to manufacturing, which was lost years ago. Its industrial core was turned into warehouses, and Cutter wants to bring back more manufacturing. Historically, 25% of the city's land has been devoted to manufacturing.

The city wants to bring in more advanced manufacturing to replace some of the warehouse space and to get back to its roots as a city that makes things, Cutter said. Developers have been pushing forward with industrial redevelopments: Trammell Crow is developing San Leandro Business Center on behalf of Principal Real Estate Investors. This Class-A industrial project will total 553,200 SF of high-tech manufacturing, assembly and distribution space.

Another way development has thrived in San Leandro is through its ability to attract like-minded companies to similar areas to create hubs.

“Development encourages development,” Cutter said.

At The Gate, a 24-acre property with space for businesses, tech, artists and makers, there are variety of companies involved in manufacturing 3D printers.

The city also participated in the Startup In Residence program, which matches startups with cities to address different challenges. San Leandro partnered with Sink Fab, which processed data on manufacturing and found machines within the manufacturing area that rest at night, but can be used by other companies to increase manufacturing capacity.

San Leandro is helping to build a workforce for local manufacturing companies. It offers a trade program with the local school district to help train high school students in various trades like woodworking or metal working. The city also offers a summer program where kids can visit a local business and learn about what the business does and what a career in the industry is like.

Find out more about development in Alameda, San Leandro and other East Bay cities during Bisnow's East Bay Emerging Markets event Aug. 23 in Oakland.