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Richmond Planning Topics in San Francisco Business Times
October 7, 2002

During the past week, Richmond has been mentioned twice in San Francisco Business Times articles about planning and economics. The articles are copied herein. There is no mention of the current administration’s ambition to re-expand Richmond’s industrial base by building an asphalt plant.


One is reminded about the plan touted by the same administration in March of 2001 to solve all Richmond’s problems by building a power plant. In a “confidential memo” to the City Council on March 15, 2001, entitled “Energy Solutions for Our City,” the city manager touted his plan:


“I have been working for several weeks with Chevron General Manager Rick Zalesky and an energy consultant, Bill Roth, on a proposal that would put Richmond in a position to own and operate its own power plant. This has tremendous positive ramifications for our residents, our economic development activities, etc.”


The city manager went on to predict that the plant’s benefits would include economic solutions for our residential citizens, an end to blackouts, lower energy prices, placing Richmond at the forefront in the competition for relocating or growing businesses and raising $3 million to $20 million in new annual revenues.


After a couple of months of public discussion, the 500 megawatt plant failed to ignite the imagination of Richmond residents and the City Council’s Energy Committee. In June of 2001, the city manager quietly distanced himself from the plan, and the Energy Committee killed and buried it with  4-0 vote.


Subsequent events, of course, proved the City Council correct. The great power plant boom in California proved to be as ephemeral as the dot.com boom.



Planning for Rebirth

Some Bay Area towns have discovered the keys to new life

Steve Ginsberg  

Cities rise and fall, and their leaders' civic aspirations have as much influence on growth or decay as any shifts in the economy.


San Francisco is blessed by its rich history, its location and its reputation as "America's favorite city."


It is also a city in rapid decline, battered by the miserable economy, increasing homelessness, middle class flight and a political quagmire that fosters a "bad for business" stigma. Mayor Willie Brown and the Board of Supervisors can't agree on appointees to the planning commission and appeals boards, who have not met since June -- literally stopping the approvals process.


"Tom Ammiano and Aaron Peskin are the best things that ever happened to the Peninsula," said a city planner on the Peninsula who has been able to attract biotech corporations from the East Bay and keep them out of San Francisco. Ammiano is president of the board of supervisors, and has been Brown's chief antagonist. He's perceived as anti-business. Peskin is a more recent supervisory force, but an increasing foe of Brown and his projects.


The upshot of San Francisco's planning stalemate is that other cities throughout the Bay Area that have their acts together are becoming magnets for development and economic revitalization. It's not a new trend, but the shift is accelerating, driven by cheaper land costs and incentives offered by those other cities.


San Francisco's planning debacle has roots in the 1950s and 1960s, when the city failed to develop a blueprint for its future. The city lacked the vision and political will to convert its industrial sections south of Market Street to new uses. As a consequence it never captured high-tech companies, which clustered on the Peninsula, or more recently biotech, which went to South San Francisco.


Instead, San Francisco became the Internet capital, and we all know how that turned out. The city's former industrial lands remain largely undeveloped or underutilized, with the exception of Mission Bay, a redevelopment project two decades in planning and still another decade from full build-out.


Conversely South San Francisco, East Palo Alto, Richmond, Hercules and San Rafael have worked to develop their own blueprints and are in various stages of turning their sagging fortunes and downtowns around.


South San Francisco has done a complete about face, transforming its steel mills and meat packing plants into the nation's biotech hotbed. It is the envy of many San Francisco officials, who now want biotech for Mission Bay and the empty dot-com buildings throughout downtrodden south of Market.


East Palo Alto is in the early stages of transforming itself from a crime zone into a big-box retail Mecca. Its location hugging Highway 101 is its potential savior as Office Depot, Home Depot and most importantly and controversially Ikea have clustered there.


San Rafael is where South San Francisco was two decades ago. It too has a blue collar reputation and is strategically located along Highway 101 in an affluent county — in this case Marin. Downtown revitalization has been the city's mantra and an "Alive After Five" program is starting to breathe life back into its Fourth Street corridor.


In the East Bay, Richmond's ambitious blueprint has been a work in progress since the mid-1980s. Industrial sites have been shuttered and the city has tried to attract office parks, as well as research institutes and biotech companies. A new parkway was carved through former industrial zones, but Richmond's reputation for heavy industry persists. Chevron's refinery is still the dominant player. Despite its polluting presence, residential growth has been dramatic.


Out in suburban Hercules, city officials are adopting a new urbanism blueprint. Some 400 acres in the city's heart were zoned mixed use as the city was divided into four sections. No particular use was mandated for each area. The theory is to mix residential, jobs and retail to cut down traffic. It's an attempt to create a downtown where a suburb exists, and many are following the experiment to see if it is workable in the Bay Area.


Steve Ginsberg covers retail and real estate for the San Francisco Business Times.





Rosie finds a new gig in WWII shipyard town

From the October 4, 2002 print edition

James Temple  


Richmond was where the iconic Rosie the Riveter built Liberty Ships that helped win World War II. But when the war ended, the shipyards left, and so did jobs and growth. For many years, Richmond's Rosies went jobless or left town.


But things have changed, and today she could be Ribosom Rosie or Router Rosie.

A plan adopted in the early 1990s helped reposition Richmond from a declining industrial center to a high-tech and biotech hotbed. As the deadline rapidly approaches for the city's next 10-year general plan, a team of new city employees are working to maintain the city's momentum and address flaws in the current planning system.


By the time Richmond was incorporated as a city in 1905, it already enjoyed a significant industrial base. Its reliance on heavy industry grew through the 20th century.


But as industrial production declined after World War II, many of these businesses shuttered, leaving behind years of environmental toxins and a large work force.


Heading for the hills


With the decline of the industrial base, the city's population dropped from 101,500 people in 1947 to a nadir of around 71,900 in 1960 and remained relatively unchanged until the mid-1980s, according to the Richmond Planning Department.


Amid much political debate, Richmond began devising a new general plan that renounced its industrial reliance and embraced office and light-industry land uses, particularly in the underdeveloped flatlands near San Pablo Bay on the west side of the city. Separately, the city was working to provide access to that area with a major new roadway — the Richmond Parkway — connecting the Richmond-San Rafael Bridge with Interstate 80.


"When the (Richmond) Parkway wasn't even built yet, they planned the area for high job-generating businesses, not big chemical manufacturers," said Cushman & Wakefield broker John Troughton.


The plan, which was formalized in 1993, coincided with an economic expansion that together brought a slew of technology, biotech and service businesses to Richmond. The city has added 3,500 jobs in technology and bioscience alone, according to City Manager Isiah Turner.


New growth


Serving as a backbone for the changes were a slew of new housing projects, including Marina Bay, Hilltop and Brickyard Cove. The city's population was 101,700 at the end of 2001 — ever so slightly surpassing its post-World War II apex.


Some say, however, that the current economic environment has exposed shortcomings in the city plan.

"Richmond was planning on capturing all these dot-com and biotech companies," said Josh Genser, chairman of the Richmond Chamber of Commerce and CEO of Richmond Development Co. "But demand fell off the cliff and somebody needs to go back and say maybe these grand plans for these areas aren't realistic anymore."


He believes it will take years for demand to fill the amount of space designated for that use along the shoreline in Richmond, and he suggests that space be dedicated to housing instead.

Genser also points out that the planning process in Richmond is far slower than in cities like Concord or Sunnyvale.


The process is out of date, concedes Barry Cromartie, the recently appointed planning manager who, along with Jay Corey, new assistant city manager for economic and community development, is working on the city's next general plan.


"We want to create a much more proactive response to developer concerns," Cromartie said.

Corey notes that a shoreline development study that will feed into the new general plan. But he said there's no clear consensus on how the areas should be zoned.


"It goes back to whether Richmond wants to be an importer of jobs at the cost of housing or strike a balance," said Corey. "There are economic and quality of life issues that flow from either scenario."


James Temple covers East Bay real estate for the San Francisco Business Times.