Twelve years after the base closure, however, the City’s redevelopment effort has hit a number of snags. Hazardous waste cleanup operations, paid for by the Navy but carried out by the City, are way behind schedule, and an optimistic estimate is for completion by 2013. Gil Hollingsworth, Mare Island conversion program manager for the City, said he hopes that cleanup of 3,000 acres on the western side of the island, which are mostly wetlands, will be completed this year. The rest is a question mark, as the full extent of hazardous waste pollution has not been determined. The City can sell or lease parcels, however, as soon as they are cleaned up and approved by the appropriate agencies, he said.
On May 23, the City of Vallejo filed for bankrupcy, but when asked what the effect on Mare Island would be, Hollingsworth said: “None whatsoever” because “all the money generated on Mare Island from leases, etc.,” goes into a separate account and is spent on Mare Island. The original intent of that arrangement was to protect taxpayers from having to pay for improvements on the island, he explained.
The housing-market slump has hit hard, however. No new homes have been built for a year, Hollingsworth said. Of 1,400 called for in the City’s redevelopment plan, only 230 have been completed thus far, according to Lennar spokesman Jason Keadjian. All but three have been sold, Hollingsworth said in mid-May, but “a lot are available for resale.”
In August 2007, the Vallejo City Council approved the map of Lennar’s Town Center site, where several developers are interested in building banks, dry cleaning facilities, or small grocery stores. Environmental cleanup is incomplete, however, so that’s on hold. Meanwhile, the new subdivisions feel a bit like ghost towns, and some of the first residents are getting restless waiting for services, and more neighbors.
Where Do You Buy Milk?
Tim Christie, 30, lives on a quiet street lined with impeccably landscaped Spanish- and Colonial-style homes, most of them empty. “Just about the only things you hear at night are the frogs,” Christie said. “It’s nice, it puts you to sleep. If there was at least one convenience store on Mare Island, I’d probably never leave, except to go to work.”
His satisfaction is not shared by some of his neighbors. “We hate it here,” said a woman who did not want her name used, pulling her little daughter in a wagon along Captains’ Row, a tree-shaded street lined with mansions that once housed top Navy brass. She said she moved to Mare Island with her husband and child two and a half years ago, attracted by its affordability and also by the City’s redevelopment plan. Now they have put their house on the market. “We feel isolated out here,” she said. “It [a planned retail center] would be great, but they’re saying it won’t be done until 2010, so wait that long for a grocery store? I don’t think so.”
The nearest large grocery store is on the other side of the Napa River, nearly three miles away. None of the services one expects in a community exist here. There is no coffee shop, no place to buy ice, or diapers, or a beer on Mare Island.