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Edgewater Technology Park Goes Residential?
March 9, 2003

Just as an unprecedented challenge to the EIR for the Breuner Marsh Mitigation Bank and Edgewater Technology Park shapes up for the City Council meeting of Tuesday, March 11, a simmering rumor of the plan's demise has just surfaced.

Probably at no time is recent memory have so many organizations teamed up to oppose an EIR. A broad coalition of 19 organizations are asking the Richmond City Council to reject certification of the Final EIR for the Breuner Marsh Mitigation Bank and Edgewater Technology Park on the southern edge Of Point Pinole Regional Shoreline. These include: Richmond Neighborhood Councils: East Richmond, El Sobrante Hills, May Valley, Parchester Village, Point Richmond and Richmond Annex; Other Richmond Organizations: Ma'at Youth Academy, Richmond Environmental Defense Fund, Richmond Vision 2000, Trails for Richmond Action Committee (TRAC) and West County Toxics Coalition; Regional Organizations: Communities for a Better Environment, East Bay Regional Park District, East Bay Bicycle Coalition, Environmental Science Institute, Golden Gate Audubon Society, Save San Francisco Bay Association, Sierra Club and Urban Creeks Council.

The subject, around which all these organizations have coalesced, is the Bay Trail, which is shown on both City and Regional trail plans on the site of the Breuner Marsh Mitigation Bank and Edgewater Technology Park. Normally, developers are expected to incorporate, within their development plans, transportation and public access shoreline improvements in or adjacent to projects. For some unfathomable reason, City staff allowed the developer to skate on the Bay Trail obligation for this particular project.

As the showdown heats up, the East Bay Business Times revealed what has been known on the street for some time -- the tech park concept called Edgewater Technology Park has become a victim of the economic downturn characterized by millions of square feet of "see-through" buildings in the Bay Area.

According to the East Bay Business Times: Tech Park goes residential? Richmond city staff last week signed off on the environmental impact review for Edgewater Technology Park — three years after Stan Davis of Davis & Associates purchased the property. 'To say we missed the market would be an understatement,' said Davis, who originally envisioned a 550,000-square-foot office and research and development park at the location, near Richmond Parkway and Highway 580. Despite finally securing the EIR for that use, Davis said he might sell the property for others. He wouldn't specify, but did say he'd been in discussions with home builders. An interested residential developer would have to return to the city for a new environmental review, as well as zoning changes, but Davis said: 'I'm under the impression they could get through the process a lot faster.'" (James Temple covers real estate for the San Francisco Business Times. He can be reached at jtemple@bizjournals.com or (415) 288-4931)

Some City Council members are not too keen on trading commercial development opportunities for residential development along the shoreline, citing the need to create jobs for Richmond residents. However, Brian Grunwald, the City's consultant for the Richmond Shoreline Strategic Plan, anticipated such market softness last year and advocated the addition of more housing to the shoreline mix. Although his proposals were hooted down by some (see http://www.tombutt.com/forum/020719a.htm and http://www.tombutt.com/forum/020719b.htm), he apparently turned out to be somewhat of a prophet.

From the July 19, 2002, E-FORUM"

"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 responded 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."

At any rate, if you want to support the Bay Trail, regardless of the ultimate land use of what is known as the "Breuner Property," come on down to the Richmond City Council Chambers Tuesday, March 11 when the public hearing will start after the 7 PM consent calendar items. City Council still meets on the third floor of old City Hall at 2600 Barrett Avenue. When you arrive, be sure to fill out and turn in a speaker's card up front if you have any inclination to speak. Those who have not filled out these cards before the public hearing has opened will not be allowed to speak.

According to TRAC, and as shown in orange on the attached aerial photo, "the Richmond General Plan, North Richmond Shoreline Specific Plan and San Francisco Bay Trail Plan each call for a 0.7-mile shoreline Bay Trail spur leading from the end of Goodrick Avenue over Rheem Creek to a scenic spit of public land extending about 1/4 mile into San Pablo Bay. This spit of land (jetty) in Point Pinole Regional Shoreline offers spectacular vistas looking over San Pablo Bay toward Point Pinole and is a fine site for picnicking, fishing and bird watching. The attached aerial photograph shows the project areas with the planned shoreline spur trail in orange, as well as the spine Bay Trail route in yellow from Goodrick Avenue along Rheem Creek and north to the border between the Tech Park and Point Pinole Regional Shoreline. In order to maximize the profitability of the mitigation bank, the San Jose developers propose to remove an existing gravel road which is the shoreline trail route shown in orange leading to EBRPD¹s Point Pinole Spit. The EIR does not examine alternative configurations of the Mitigation Bank to include the specified Bay Trail spur. Indeed, the EIR states that the project¹s failure to provide the planned Bay Trail spur and shoreline access to the spit of park land is not significant. Further, the EIR does not require mitigation. TRAC has insisted that this is a significant impact and proposed that reasonable mitigation would be completing the 1/2 mile gap in the spine Bay Trail shown in lavender from the border of Edgewater Technology Park to the nearest trail in Point Pinole Regional Shoreline."