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  Future of Richmond's Undeveloped Shoreline
September 18, 2005



On September 13, 2005, the Richmond City Council voted 5-3 to oppose a proposal on the September 20, 2005, agenda of the East Bay Regional Parks District (EBRPD) to acquire, by eminent domain, 238 acres of property near the North Richmond shoreline (see attached PDF file with aerial photo and general plan/zoning designations).


Known as the “Breuner property” after the name of a former owner, the area has been the subject of a multi-year grass roots initiative by a number of neighborhood and environmental organizations for preservation as open space.


Most of the Breuner property, which has approximately 3,400 linear feet of shoreline, is designated in the General Plan as a Natural Conservation Area, and 105 acres is actually submerged or mudflats. All but about 17 acres, currently zoned for development (M-1, Office/Industrial Flex), is considered wetlands and marsh and will not likely be developed under any scenario.


The current owners purchased the property for $3 million in 2000, and the EBRPD has recently offered to purchase it for $4.9 million, apparently unsuccessfully.


Although no development applications are currently pending, the owner has been shopping around a concept design for a “workforce housing” residential project on the property that would require a General Plan Change and a Zoning change. At this time, the market is flat for industrial buildings, but the residential market is still hot. Converting the property to residential use would require a General Plan change, a Zoning change, an EIR and a number of other discretionary approvals by the City of Richmond. Presumably, if such changes occurred, the value of the property would rise.


The City of Richmond staff recommended that the City Council “take all appropriate action” to oppose the EBRPD acquisition for a number of reasons that included the following:


  • The City needs to control land uses within the City

  • Property tax revenue from future development could each $4 million annually

  • Existing parklands are “abundant” for a city the size of Richmond, and many parks, including Point Pinole Regional Park are very underutilized

  • Development would alleviate unemployment

  • The City needs the potential tax revenue to provide critical services


Although the resolution adopted by the City Council to oppose the EBRPD acquisition has no legally binding effect on the proposed acquisition, I opposed it for at least the following reasons:


  • DMG-Maximus, a consulting firm in Sacramento, completed a Development Impact Fee Study for Richmond dated May 6, 2002. The recommendations of the study were adopted by the City Council as a resolution on December 17, 2002, as well as the enabling legislation, Richmond Municipal Code Chapter 12.65. Regarding park acreage, the DMG Maximus study reported that Richmond has 237.68 acres of parks, including 23.00 acres owned by the WCCUSD and maintained by the City. To that is added 107.22 acres of “public landscapes and open space,” such as Civic Center Plaza and 253.00 acres of “open space” such as Hilltop Lake Park. The level of service standard for parks in the Growth Management Element of the General Plan adopted in 1994 is 3.0 acres per thousand residents. The existing City owned parkland is only 2.11 acres per thousand residents, a shortfall intended to be covered by the impact fees. In other words, Richmond is 30% short on parks – which are not, in fact, “abundant” as described in the resolution adopted by the City Council.


  • For property tax revenue received by the City of Richmond to reach $4 million per year, the value of the developed real estate would have to be approximately $3.6 billion, a staggering $213 million per developable acre. I believe the economic projections in the resolution may have been substantially exaggerated.


  • I hark back to the TOM BUTT E-FORUM, City Should Weigh in on Breuner Marsh, November 14, 2004, where I previously disputed City Council assertions that the City of Richmond has too many parks. Then, as now, I would trade away “City of Pride and Purpose” any day for “City of Parks,” or even “City of Too Many Parks.”


I believe that the maximum preservation of open spaces on Richmond’s 32 miles of shoreline will add sufficient value to real estate in the rest of the City that there will be a net increase of jobs and property tax revenues that will far exceed what would be produced from building  “workforce housing” on previously undeveloped shoreline.


Richmond still has plenty of underdeveloped infill and brownfield land that should be a higher priority for development and to which will accrue other benefits such as becoming transit oriented communities and providing the critical mass required to bring retail services within walking distance in older established neighborhoods.