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Trouble For Toll Brothers?

At last week’s City Council meeting, we had a spirited discussion of why Toll Brothers had not completed a portion of the Bay Trail along Brickyard Cove Road that was supposed to be completed by them as a condition of securing occupancy permits for Seacliff Estates.

At the end of the discussion, it was clear that Toll Brothers had misrepresented their reasons previously provided for not constructing the trail and had no credible excuses.

Those in the audience who spoke on the matter called for a moratorium on any more occupancy permits until the trail is constructed. It looked like it was going that way until some City Council members started whining about the hardship it might cause for prospective buyers who may have to delay their move-in date. Ultimately, the City Council voted to urge the city manager to meet with Toll Brothers and “work it out.”

The Bay Trail is not the only corner Toll Brothers cut at Seacliff.

  • They reduced the width of the Class I Bay Trail parallel to Brickyard Cove Road from the Bay Trail minimum of 14 feet approved by the City Council to only 9’-6” due to “Field conditions”. “Field conditions” means that Toll Brothers put in house foundations, retaining walls, curbs and road improvements in such a way that there no longer was space for the required trail!
  • In addition, the Seacliff Estates Final Development Plan requires Toll Brothers to convey a six-foot wide public access easement and build a four- to six-foot wide pedestrian trail from the Seacliff Drive Bay Trail to the ridge line of Miller/Knox Regional Shoreline. Toll Brothers has not done this.
  • There is a Cleanup and Abatement Order (CAO) from the California Regional Water Quality Control Board San Francisco Bay Region (CRWQCBSFBR) against Toll Brothers and Seacliff. Toll Brothers has failed to implement the “Native Grassland Restoration and Enhancement” plan that was submitted and approved as a part of the CRWQCBSFBR permit. This was also a condition of City of Richmond approval. There was also a “soft bottom culvert” that was supposed to be installed to allow wildlife to cross under a fenced roadway, which was never installed.

The California Regional Water Quality Control Board San Francisco Bay Region acknowledges it has been slow to enforce because of staff turnovers and higher priorities. The agency also acknowledges that Toll Brothers has not met their responsibilities but has not had time to formally conclude they are out of compliance.

The real question for Richmonders is why doesn’t our City government enforce these conditions? That is a question I asked at the City Council meeting, and it is one I have been asking for years. I still do not know the answer, but I do know that for whatever reason, the City of Richmond departments responsible for such things just don’t have it in their bones to enforce conditions on developers. They never have. Perhaps they feel that a majority of the City Council wants this City to be “developer-friendly” and “business-friendly,” and that is their way of carrying out public policy.

Now, let’s move on to another Toll Brothers project – Point Richmond Shores (formerly Terminal 1). This project is a little different than Seacliff Estates, in that the City of Richmond is actually a partner with Toll Brothers rather than simply a regulator. Point Richmond Shores has become an epic clash between a highly organized community watchdog group (see http://www.cccpointrichmond.com/shores.html) and City staff from several departments who have closed ranks with Toll Brothers to push this project through.

A host of approvals required for Point Richmond Shores, including certification of the environmental impact report, is on the Planning Commission Agenda for August 3, and as you can see below, staff recommendation (as one has grown to expect) is for “conditional approval.”

1. EID/TM/GPA/RZ 1101112 – Point Richmond Shores at Dornan Drive and Brickyard Cove Road PUBLIC HEARING to consider the Point Richmond Shores project, also known as Terminal One, proposed by Toll Brothers, consisting of an Environmental Impact Report (EIR) with Mitigation Monitoring and Reporting Program; a General Plan Amendment; Rezoning to Planned Area District; Vesting Tentative Map; and, Design Review. The project site is located at Dornan Drive and Brickyard Cove Road and is proposed for construction of the following: a) approximately 330 residential condominium units contained within two-5 story buildings constructed over a parking podium; and, b) an approximately 1.9-acre public park. C-C, Coastline Commercial Zoning District.

Redevelopment Agency, owner; Toll Brothers, applicant

Planner: Janet Harbin/Lamont Thompson

Tentative Recommendation: Conditional Approval

It is disturbing that the Design Review Board made a number of productive recommendations to improve the design of this project, but in passing them along to the Planning Commission, City staff conspired to gut or dilute many of them at the request of Toll Brothers.

There continue to be a number of flash point issues with the design, to which the City and Toll Brothers have responded with remarkable insensitivity, but what I want to talk about is the environmental impact report.

The environmental impact report for Point Richmond Shores has two glaring omission or inaccuracies.

  • The EIR acknowledges that the pump station serving the project needs to be replaced and that the treatment plant does not have the capacity to serve additional loads, but provides no required mitigation. The EIR does not acknowledge that the collection system is also under capacity in many locations in Richmond and may not have the capacity to serve Point Richmond Shores. Although Richmond has been sued by Baykeeper for multiple violations of the Clean Water Act related to capacity and a record of spills, and Baykeeper is likely to prevail in many of its claims, the EIR is silent about all of this.
  • The EIR made a major omission by not addressing an historic building on the site, the original Terminal 1 Building. A complete summary of this omission and error is in an attached PDF file and seems to be result of both City staff and he EIR consultant, LSA Associates, ignoring or misrepresenting facts they should have known about.

And yet, City staff remains in lockstep support of this flawed project, loyal to the end not to the Richmond citizens for whom they work but loyal instead to an out of town developer that has already shown its disdain for Richmond by failing to complete environmental and public amenities on its previous project.