Under management of the Richmond redevelopment agency, the
sprawling grounds of the Oishi, Saki Nurseries have been
regularly looted, vandalized and dumped on.
The Richmond Community and Economic Development
Agency purchased the 13.5-acre complex of family homes,
greenhouses and water towers in June and renamed it Miraflores.
At the time, the nurseries were operational and
the homes in good condition.
But 11 months later, the homes have been
ransacked, the grounds are strewn with broken glass from
greenhouse vandalism, and nearly all the property's 70
structures have been looted or otherwise defaced.
"For a city to own something that looks like this
is just disgusting," Councilman Tom Butt said. "If this property
were owned by a private individual, he or she would be subject
to daily fines of thousands of dollars and could actually be
sent to jail."
The redevelopment agency wants to demolish the
existing buildings to make way for more than 100 single-family
homes and up to 70 apartment units on the property, which is
wedged between Interstate 80 and raised BART tracks.
The city has done the best it can to secure the
site, Redevelopment Director Steve Duran wrote in an e-mail
"The city and redevelopment agency, with the
direction of the City Council and agency board have ensured a
security company was hired to watch the site and worked with the
police department to effect arrests on the site," he wrote.
But there were no security officers on the
property Friday, and the main gate at Florida Avenue and South
47th Street was wide open. For weeks there has been a steady
flow of looters driving off the property with trucks and cars
loaded with steel piping, aluminum and appliances, neighbors
said. Others drive trucks onto the property to dump garbage
"You see the police drive by during the day, but
they don't come at night," said one neighbor who asked not to be
named. "We see trucks coming and going well after midnight."
Since the lack of security and property
destruction were reported in Butt's widely read e-mail forum,
the city has locked the gates and hired a security company to
patrol the property.
To make way for building on the site, the
redevelopment agency may have actively diminished the property's
historical value by carrying out a "demolition by neglect," Butt
"I think the redevelopment agency would love to
see those buildings completely looted or burned down so the
historical preservation aspect of the site goes away," he said.
In his e-mail, Duran dismissed that allegation.
But the agency has a history of undermining
potentially historic buildings. In 2003, a redevelopment project
manager cycled through at least two qualified historical
consultants before finding one who would predetermine a
91-year-old waterfront warehouse was historically insignificant
so it could be razed to make room for a 330-unit condo complex.
The Oishi, Saki Nurseries were a complex of three
separate Japanese family-run, cut-flower businesses that
operated on the site for nearly 100 years, according to a
63-page historical evaluation commissioned by Eden Housing, the
proposed nonprofit developer for the site.
The property -- heavily contaminated from years
of pesticide use -- is undergoing environmental review, which
will include additional historical analysis. If the buildings
are deemed significant, the city will have to document the site
extensively before demolishing the buildings.
That could be tough now that that the site has
been looted, ransacked and vandalized.
The greenhouses, residences, warehouses and water
towers make up the only intact, prewar Japanese nurseries in the
Bay Area and perhaps the state, said historian Donna Graves, who
co-wrote the Eden Housing evaluation.
"We deemed the site historically significant,
definitely on the local and state level and possibly the
national level," she said. "This is a very rare gem, and the
fact that people are in there destroying it is heartbreaking."
The nurseries would be a good fit with the nine
sites of the Rosie the Riveter/World War II Home Front National
Historical Park because the Japanese families that ran them --
many who were second-generation Americans -- were imprisoned in
internment camps for three years during the war, Graves said.
Late last year, the Historic Preservation
Advisory Committee advised the Richmond City Council to
designate portions of the nurseries as historically significant.
The council rejected the committee's recommendation by a 5-3
vote April 3.
Reach John Geluardi at 510-262-2787 or