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Myth of Pixar Loss Exploded

In response today’s E-FORUM “See Steve Jobs Complain About Chevron,” several readers responded with assertions that it was not Chevron but the City of Richmond that “lost” Pixar due to inaction. Examples;

·         Don't kid yourself about Pixar's leaving their Point Richmond headquarters. They left because Richmond would not work with them on their plans for a corporate campus and Emeryville was only too happy to oblige. That was one of the biggest failures ever to happen to Richmond and it was because of government inaction/obstruction. In those days every time Pixar was mentioned in the news, there was always the tag line "a Point Richmond company". You could not have asked for better publicity for our city, and the government could not have asked for a better corporate partner. Richmond simply blew the opportunity.

·         What about the Tax deal that Emeryville gave Pixar to move that Richmond wouldn't match??

The myth that Richmond somehow was sufficiently unresponsive to Pixar is just not accurate. Pixar made only made one initiative to “work with Richmond.” They met with former Mayor Rosemary Corbin and demanded that Richmond bulldoze the Ford Assembly Building and turn the site over to Pixar for free, and they demanded an immediate response.

Mayor Corbin and other City leaders explained to them that the building was on the National Register of Historic Places and could not be summarily bulldozed without going through a CEQA review that could take several months with uncertain outcomes. The prospect of giving away a public asset was also something she could not summarily do. She did offer for the City’s redevelopment agency to work with Pixar to find a suitable site in Richmond, but Pixar wasn’t interested. That was the end of it; Pixar never came back.


She felt that Pixar was just playing with Richmond, posturing to use the City as a bargaining chip with Emeryville.


Incidentally, Emeryville did not gift Pixar the land they eventually built on


These are the facts. You can verify this with former Mayor Corbin.


The Ford Building, by the way, is doing quite well now and has more employees than Pixar working there in high profile companies like PowerLight, Mountain Hardware and Vetrazzo. It is also now part of Rosie the Riveter WWII Home Front National Historical Park and will house the Visitor Center.

Following is a description of what Emeryville did for Pixar, and it did not include gifting a site or providing tax breaks:

During the last decade, Emeryville has transformed itself from a rusty manufacturing town into a modern commerce center largely through the use of redevelopment, plowing millions of dollars into infrastructure and environmental remediation (see CP&DR Deals, October 1998). So what did it take to lure Steve Jobs's movie studio from nearby Point Richmond--and to keep the studio growing in Emeryville? Not that much.

"It wasn't like they needed financial assistance," said Patrick O'Keeffe, Emeryville's director of economic development and housing. "They really only needed entitlement assistance. We just needed to make it happen."

The Pixar site had been a Del Monte cannery. During the 1990s, the city signed a development agreement with Kaiser Permanente for a new hospital on the site, but the deal fell apart. When Pixar showed interest, the city facilitated the deal between the movie studio and Del Monte, which parted with the land inexpensively, O'Keeffe said. The city and Pixar signed a development agreement in 1998.

The proposed expansion proved more involved. The most controversial aspect was the city's agreement to sell an undeveloped right-of-way to accommodate the expansion. Pixar agreed to relocate the bike path planned for right-of-way with a 40-foot-wide bicycle/pedestrian path and linear park along the eastern boundary of the campus. Also, because Pixar purchased a site where a redevelopment agency-subsidized housing project was planned, Pixar paid the $860,000 subsidy back to the city.

In fact, Pixar is paying a great deal to public agencies, including development impact and school fees of about $2.5 million and a $1.5 million "capital improvement and services fee" in three installments. Once Pixar's campus is complete, the city expects to receive about $3 million a year in revenue, largely in the form of redevelopment property tax increment, according to O'Keeffe.

During public hearings and the referendum campaign, project opponents complained that the city should get more concessions from Pixar. They suggested that because Pixar had already invested tens of millions of dollars in the first phase of the Emeryville campus, Pixar could not leave. Opponents sought additional Pixar funds for traffic mitigation, affordable housing, child care facilities and job training. The $1.5 million capital improvement and services fee can go toward those items, O'Keeffe said.

Pixar offers just the sort of jobs most communities covet: high-paying, tech-oriented and nonpolluting. So far, there has not been much spin-off, although a small computer training school has opened in Emeryville, and it is growing quickly, O'Keeffe said.

If anyone has documentation that something the City of Richmond failed to do persuaded Pixar to move to Emeryville, I would like to see it.