Alameda, CA

Planning Board Approves Permit: Astra to Grow and Bring New Jobs to Alameda

Karin K Jensen

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Engine testing at Astra Space facility in AlamedaAstra/John Kraus

On October 11, the City of Alameda Planning Board unanimously approved Astra Space, Inc.’s application for an approximately 14-acre conditional use permit for rocket research and development, light manufacturing, and indoor rocket engine testing in the Enterprise District of Alameda Point, the former site of the U.S. Naval Air Station (N.A.S.)

The permit will allow Astra to bring hundreds of new jobs to Alameda, including engineering, technology, and skilled labor employment. City staff believes that Astra could become the type of business that will attract similar high technology businesses to invest in Alameda Point and help the City grow its employment base.

Background

For 25 years, the City has sought to replace the 14,000 jobs lost to the local economy when the U.S. Navy left in 1996. However, since then, there has been little investment in the Enterprise District, the non-historical area of Alameda Point designated for business uses.

Short-term tenants have leased properties but have been unwilling to invest long-term. One exception is the Water Emergency Transit Authority (WETA), which constructed its new Seaplane Lagoon Ferry Terminal and maintenance and operations center in the district.

Astra is a good candidate for adaptively reusing existing facilities in the district because its proposed uses are nearly the same as the Navy’s uses in the past. For instance, the Navy used to perform jet engine testing in two of the buildings.

Astra is researching and developing small rocket technology to deliver satellites into low earth orbit from their current remote launch site in Kodiak, Alaska. Their clients include Spire, Planet Labs, NASA, and the U.S. Space Force.

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Astra rocket launch from Kodiak, Alaska, December 2020Astra/John Kraus

In 2022, Astra expects to begin launching rockets in Alaska with 19 kg payloads for NASA while developing the ability to carry 100 kg payloads. By 2025, Astra hopes to deliver 300 kg payloads and a ‘Space Bus’ to deliver multiple satellites into space.

Astra has been a short-term tenant since 2017. Now they would like to stay and grow long-term. Currently, Astra employs 255 people at their Alameda Point facility, up from about 100 in January. They expect to employ about 350 people and up to 500 as they expand onto more land within the next year.

Conditions of Approval

The use permit establishes land-use rules and limitations to ensure Astra’s compatibility with current and future residential and commercial neighbors and wildlife.

For instance, the permit requires Astra to limit engine testing time during any 24-hours to no more than 120 minutes. No engine testing may occur between 10 pm and 6 am, and Astra will fund the installation and maintenance of a permanent noise monitor owned and operated by the City.

The City’s noise consultant, Bollard Acoustical Consultants, determined that ambient noise levels on Main Street are equal to or greater than the noise generated by engine testings. City staff observed that the noise of a truck passing on Main Street exceeded the noise of Astra’s engine test.

In addition, the permit requires compliance with all approvals and permits required by other agencies such as the Air Quality Management District and the Department of Toxic Substances Control, among others.

To comply with the City’s Climate Action and Resiliency Plan, Astra must convert all fossil fuel-powered appliances such as water heaters to devices powered by electricity or another clean energy source by the end of 2024.

Public Comment

Ten of the eleven public speakers spoke in support of Astra. Speakers ranged from local residents to representatives of neighboring organizations such as the U.S.S. Hornet and WETA to environmental non-profits such as Community Action for a Sustainable Alameda (CASA) to the Alameda Chamber of Commerce.

All praised Astra’s ability to bring high-quality jobs to the City, its restoration and reuse of dilapidated Navy buildings in line with their original use, its promotion of bicycling and public transit use by employees, its proximity to the ferry to minimize vehicular traffic, the possibility of its partnering with the U.S.S. Hornet for community events and its potential for partnering with the school district to develop STEM education opportunities for students.

One resident took issue with the noise survey, saying that she had observed the noise from engine testing to vibrate her back window late on Friday and Saturday evenings.

Final Vote

In the end, the Planning Board approved the motion to approve the permit 5 to 0 with two board members absent. With the permit approved, Astra will now pursue long-term lease options with the City.

Reference

City of Alameda Planning Board Meeting, 10/11/21

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Proud Alamedan writing about our arts, business, politics, and events. I also write about local Asian American history. On Instagram @karinkjensen.

Alameda, CA
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