Tom Butt for Richmond City Council The Tom Butt E-Forum About Tom Butt Platform Endorsements of Richmond Councilmember Tom Butt Accomplishments Contribute to Tom Butt for Richmond City Council Contact Tom Butt Tom Butt Archives
E-Mail Forum
City Property Looted, Vandalized and Dumped On

Nurseries' fate in developers' hands


(Also see Richmond Community Redevelopment Agency Competes for Title of City's Worst Slumlord, May 18, 2007)

By John Geluardi

Contra Costa Times

Article Launched:05/23/2007 03:06:37 AM PDT


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 Friday.

"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 illegally.

"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 said.

"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 jgeluardi@cctimes.com.