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Shoreline Study Ends Abruptly and Inconclusively
July 19, 2002

In a stunning but inconclusive finale last night to 18 months of planning, the Mayor’s Richmond Shoreline Citizens Advisory Committee ended the Richmond Shoreline Strategic Plan process with a 6-5 vote to make no recommendation to the City Council. There is, however, some suspicion regarding the validity of the vote. Richmond City staff, in the process of credentialing voting representatives, arbitrarily allowed some substitutions and new members while disallowing others.

The $215,000 study, led by planning Consultant Bryan Grunwald Associates, was intended to implement the vision statement and three-year goal adopted by the City Council in 1998:

Richmond will develop all of its neighborhoods and businesses as quality places to live, work, shop and play, with its 32 miles of shoreline as a widely-recognized symbol of the city's success. Develop and implement an integrated and comprehensive shoreline development and marketing plan.

The 17-person advisory committee appointed by Mayor Rosemary Corbin in 2000 had dwindled to 11 voting members at the final meeting. After a heated discussion, a coalition of San Pablo Peninsula open space advocates and business and real estate interests managed to eke by a “no position” vote on alternate planning concepts that included elements each found objectionable. Those who opposed the “no position” motion were generally representatives of neighborhood and community organizations.

Grunwald had divided the 32-mile shoreline into four planning areas and then presented two alternate development scenarios for each. The first scenario generally followed existing patterns based on the current General Plan and Zoning Ordinance. The second scenario offered changes in land use and circulation intended to make the shoreline more accessible and vibrant.

Point San Pablo Peninsula open space advocates took exception to an alternative that would have moved some of the proposed former Point Molate Naval Fuel Depot reuse development further north into what is now Chevron property. This strategy, enabled by land swaps with Chevron, would place potential housing out of the Chevron Refinery ammonia Alternative Release Scenario radius and resolved an impediment to the future mixed-use development of Point Molate. Chevron has opposed future housing development at Point Molate for years, and the Reuse Plan EIS/EIR found that housing at Point Molate would be a use incompatible with the refinery. Open space advocates want minimal development on the peninsula and to wait for the results of a park feasibility study also currently underway by the City of Richmond and the East Bay Regional Park District. In defending the development scenario, Grunwald explained that a certain amount of new development was necessary in or around Point Molate to pay for the infrastructure improvements that would make rehabilitation and adaptive reuse of the historic Winehaven complex possible.

Business and real estate interests generally argued against any change in the status quo, particularly the concept of adding additional housing along the shoreline. Grunwald rsponded that a shoreline location does not “add value” for office and technology uses, whereas waterfront housing becomes an amenity for the City, creates neighborhood retail service demand, provides a 24-hour presence proximate to the Bay Trail and makes the waterfront more interesting and vibrant – all “Smart Growth” concepts. Grunwald cited the Richmond Shoreline Economic and Real Estate Analysis by his subconsultant, Strategic Economics, which concluded that the amount of shoreline land currently zoned for R&D, office and industrial space far exceeded the projected demand over the next 20 years. Changing some of the land to residential use would hasten as well as balance development. The representative for the U.C. Berkeley Richmond Field Station stated flat out that U.C. would not consider housing. Other landowners spoke vehemently against changing existing land uses and entitlements, stating that even the prospect would damage their ability to market their holdings. The consultant’s conclusions about projected R&D, office and industrial space demand were also disputed by real estate owners and brokers.

R&D, office and industrial development advocates cited jobs for Richmond residents as a strong justification for retaining existing land use patterns. However, existing developments have a poor history of employing locals. Less than 5% of Chevron’s workforce lives in Richmond. One of the most touted recent businesses to locate in Richmond, Alan Ritchie Company, was recently the target of a highly critical resolution by the City Council denouncing the company’s labor practices. And the City has refused to help recruit replacement workers for the former Point Pinole Steel plant after the existing workforce was laid off prior to a change in ownership. Even before the layoffs, a minority of the employees lived in Richmond. With residential development, at least you know all the occupant are Richmond residents.

Marina Bay residents took a position solidly against a proposed new north-south circulation route that would roughly parallel the shoreline and link up Regatta with Seaport, providing better access to the south shoreline. They felt that it would attract truck traffic. They also came out against additional housing on the south shoreline, citing toxic contamination and he opposition of Zeneca and the U.C. Field Station.

The shoreline study has not been without previous controversy. The Maritime Market and Feasibility component, conducted by BST Associates, found that the land area of the City’s Port property substantially exceeded current and future demand. The study recommended that the City request BCDC and MTC to remove a large part of the former Shipyard 3 from Port Priority designation, which limits use of the property to port-related development. Changing the designation would not foreclose the City’s opportunity to use the land for port purposes, but it would provide the opportunity to consider other uses. The City’s port director disputed BST’s findings, arguing that demand for port uses in Shipyard 3 was active and growing and that preserving the Port Priority designation was essential for long range planning and marketing. The City Council agreed (with me dissenting) and declined to pursue redesignation. There is, however, some of interest in revisiting this decision.

Presumably, the City Council will now receive the consultants report, including many alternatives and recommendations, without the benefit of a recommendation from the advisory committee. Each committee member, as well as the general public, was encouraged to make their opinions known to the City Council via other communication means.