|Miraflores Charrette Next Wednesday
April 21, 2007
MIRAFLORES CONCEPTUAL LAND PLAN FOR THE RICHMOND COMMUNITY REDEVELOPMENT AGENCY – COMMUNITY CHARRETTE
The Richmond Community Redevelopment Agency, Eden Housing, the Community Housing Development Corporation of North Richmond (CHDC) and consultant firm Design, Community & Environment (DC&E) are holding a public meeting (charrette) to talk with the community about the Miraflores Conceptual Land Plan and gather community input.
This meeting will be held Wednesday, April 25, 2007, 6:00 p.m. and 9:00 p.m., at the Booker T. Anderson Community Center at 960 South 47th Street, Richmond, CA 94804.
The charrette will consist of a large group presentation and discussion, as well as hands-on work in small groups, that includes:
♦ Introduction and overview of the project, conditions in the plan area today, and the desired development program for the site.
♦ Discussion of the opportunities and constraints on the site, including historic resources, Baxter Creek, noise, air quality, traffic and circulation. DC&E will facilitate a large-group discussion to solicit meaningful public input on these topics and articulate a clear community vision for the site.
♦ Presentation of three alternatives that address each topic on the site in a different way. These alternatives will form the basis of the small group work.
♦ Collaboration in small groups to create a preferred site plan based on one or more of the identified three alternatives. Small group facilitators will guide charrette participants using maps and game pieces, as well as drawing on and annotating the site map, to locate single-family housing, multi-family housing, new streets, a daylighted Baxter Creek, bicycle and pedestrian paths, historic elements, and other facilities.
♦ Large group discussion of each group’s findings and major points. A spokesperson from each group will report back to all workshop participants. DC&E will summarize the points of consistency and disagreement between the groups. From this discussion and summary, a preferred alternative will be distilled for the Resident Advisory Committee to review before environmental review begins.
For more information, contact Natalia Lawrence, Development Project Manager, Richmond Community Redevelopment Agency at 510 307-8180
This public meeting on the future development of the Miraflores project is significantly important because of critical issues relating to the restoration and preservation of Baxter Creek, preservation and interpretation of historic structures, proximity to the Richmond Greenway and the new, low cost housing it will provide. Anyone interested in creeks, trails, history, smart growth and housing should attend.
Miraflores is the name given to a cluster of former nurseries owned and operated by Japanese-American families from the early 20th Century until just last year when the property was acquired by the Richmond Community Redevelopment Agency for housing development. It is adjacent to the Richmond Greenway, which is connected by an abandoned railroad tunnel under I-80 to san Pablo Avenue and the Ohlone Greenway. It is a short walk to BART, making it fit the definition of transit oriented development.
The property, located near Wall Avenue across I-80 from Home Depot, is not only the last vestige of a once-thriving industry that spread along the Richmond-El Cerrito border, but it is arguably the last of the intact pre-WW II nurseries in California. Donna Graves, director of a statewide project funded by the California State Library, Preserving California's Japantowns, which is documenting historic resources in 43 pre-WWII Japanese American communities across California, notes: “This project has not found any other pre-war nurseries in California, despite the fact that floriculture was a major area of occupation and innovation for Japanese immigrants and their children throughout California. This makes the Sakai and Oishi properties even more unique and significant not just to Richmond's history, but at the state and national level.”
The Miraflores site is also bisected by Baxter Creek. Originating in underground springs beneath the El Cerrito and Richmond hills, Baxter Creek runs down three narrow watersheds through Canyon Trail, Poinsett, and Mira Vista Parks. Also known as "Bishop Creek" and "Stege Creek," the entire watercourse flowed freely above ground in earlier times. The three branches join just south of Angelo's Delicatessen near the corner of San Pablo and MacDonald Aves. in Richmond. From there, the single stream flows below ground across the Richmond flats, above ground through Booker T. Anderson, Jr., Park, and finally into San Francisco Bay via Stege Marsh. Today, Baxter Creek remains above ground for only about one tenth of its length: quarter-mile sections in Canyon Trail, Poinsett, and Mira Vista Parks; a third-mile section on the east and west sides of San Pablo Ave. near MacDonald Ave.; and another third-mile section in Richmond's Booker T. Anderson, Jr., Park.
Old nurseries deemed historic
Posted on Sun, Oct. 29, 2006
Efforts to acknowledge the last remnants of a piece of local history got a boost earlier this month when Richmond's Historic Preservation Advisory Committee voted to recommend that the City Council put a 14-acre site along Interstate 80 on the city's register of historic resources.
The site -- slated to be redeveloped with nearly 200 units of housing -- contains greenhouses and other buildings that are all that's left of a string of family-run Japanese-American nurseries dating 100 years. They once straddled both sides of San Pablo Avenue in Richmond and El Cerrito from Potrero to Macdonald avenues.
Because of its historic status, a consultant has suggested mitigations that include retaining a small number of buildings, thoroughly documenting the 40 greenhouses and other structures, and installing a permanent interpretive exhibit on the site describing the history of the Japanese-American flower-growing industry in the area.
But the site isn't just saturated in history. The soil under the nurseries is sufficiently contaminated by years of pesticide use and underground fuel storage to qualify for an EPA Brownfields grant, and hearings on the cleanup plan for the proposed Miraflores housing development were held earlier this year.
The cleanup alone would likely limit the amount of preservation possible.
"To me, (the recommendation) seems like a reasonable thing to do," said City Councilman Tom Butt, who sits on the Historic Preservation Advisory Committee. "It would be a credit to the neighborhood and a credit to the city if they do that."
The question is whether his council colleagues feel the same way. The council has the option of accepting, rejecting or modifying the committee's advice.
The Oct. 10 recommendation from the committee was made as part of a consultant's historic architecture evaluation performed for the Miraflores development, which would bring 80 affordable apartment units and 114 single-family homes to the site bounded by Wall Avenue, South 45th Street, I-80 and BART tracks.
The project still must undergo state and federal environmental reviews, and construction would not begin until late 2008 or early 2009, project manager Natalia Lawrence said.
The site is largely hidden from view at street level, but I-80 offers a good look at the last operations of their kind. Butt was among the thousands of motorists who noticed the site from the freeway and didn't know its background.
"I had been seeing those for years and had no idea what they were," he said.
Beginning in the early 20th century, flower-growing operations founded by Japanese immigrants were common not just in El Cerrito and Richmond but in a number of cities on both sides of the Bay. The oldest locally may have been the Adachi nursery, established in 1905 where the Home Depot store in El Cerrito is today.
The consultant's report for the housing development concluded that some structures on the former Oishi and Sakai nurseries appear to meet the criteria for inclusion on both the state and national register of historic places. The oldest buildings of both nurseries date from the 1920s and are the last of their kind in the Bay Area.
The Sakai nursery started in 1906 with an initial 2.5 acres in Richmond and a single greenhouse salvaged from Berkeley. The Oishi nursery started shortly after. Both grew as more land was acquired and more buildings were added, both shut down in 1942 during the World War II relocation of Japanese, and both resumed operations when the families returned after the war. Operations continued until fairly recently.
The historic aspect has caught the attention of the local National Park Service unit, which oversees the Rosie the Riveter/WWII Home Front National Historical Park.
"They're very interested in it," Butt said. "They see that as an integral part of the larger home-front story."
Groups such as the El Cerrito Historical Society also have taken an interest, and the society wrote a letter supporting the preservation recommendation.
If Richmond fails to take any steps to document or preserve any of the site, said society President Tom Panas, "people are going to be saying we had rocks in our head 100 years from now. Why didn't people take pictures? Why didn't they save one of those buildings?"
The society is making the nurseries the centerpiece of its meeting today, which will discuss historic preservation. A short film by Berkeley-born filmmaker Ken Kokka, filmed in part at the Oishi-Sakai properties, will be screened.
Reach Chris Treadway at firstname.lastname@example.org or 510-262-2784.
The second is a move to save at least a remnant of the once thriving Japanese nurseries that once lined San Pablo Avenue along the Richmond El Cerrito border near what is now Home Depot as well as in North Richmond. How does this thread coincide with the Richmond WW II Home Front story? In 1941, some members of these same Japanese-American families were actually part of what became the Home Front, working in the Richmond shipyards, building Liberty Ships to support the allies. After Pearl Harbor, they were shipped off to internment camps, but many volunteered for military service and eventually served with distinction. One of the most poignant stories is how some of their neighbors and former competitors cared for and operated a few of the nurseries in their absence and returned them in good shape after the war.
But other nurseries were abandoned and vandalized. In an ironic twist of fate, wartime leaseholders of many of the nurseries found they could reap greater profits by renting the structures out as temporary housing to shipyard workers.
After the war, the returning internees, some who had become war heroes, struggled to successfully rebuild their businesses. Eventually, competition from low-cost flowers imported from Mexico and parts south made locally grown roses, carnations and other cut flowers uneconomical. One after another, the nurseries shut down and became big box stores and houses. The last of these were the Oishi and Sakai nurseries located near Wall Avenue and South 47th Streets.
The Historic Architecture Evaluation (Ward Hill, Architectural Historian, 2004) states:
The Richmond Japanese-American nurseries are historically significant as Nikkei (Japanese immigrant and their American-born descendants) community centered around an industry important to this ethnic group surviving from the initial wave of immigration of the 19th Century into the late 20th Century. The Sakai and Oishi properties are the only extant cut-flower nurseries begun by Japanese-Americans before WW II in the entire Bay Area and are also the last remaining of Richmond’s community of Japanese American flower growers. The properties are rare surviving Bay Area nurseries, a once prominent industry in the core Bay Area counties that has been almost entirely displaced by development pressures during the last thirty years.
The former Sakai, Oishi and Maida-Endo nursery properties are now owned by the Richmond Community Redevelopment Agency and slated for residential development in a project the Agency call “Miraflores.” Unfortunately, the evocative name that recalls the property’s historical use has been the Agency’s only recognition of its history. The Agency would like to simply tear everything down. The Historic Architecture Evaluation, however, makes a modest recommendation of saving one of the homes, the (water) tank house and at least one greenhouse and providing a permanent interpretive exhibit to communicate the history. The historic ensemble could be easily and economically integrated into the new development, giving it more than just a name to recall the site’s historically significant past.