|Saving the Northshore
March 12, 2010
After providing Councilmembers Viramontes and Rogers an opportunity to use the E-FORUM to present their vision of the future of the Northshore, now it’s my turn.
For years, community activists, supported by some elected officials including me, have advocated for preservation of the undeveloped shoreline west of the Richmond Parkway, roughly between Parr Boulevard and Point Pinole Regional Park. A website www.northrichmondshoreline.org, maintained by the North Richmond Shoreline Open Space Alliance (NRSOSA) has an amazing collection of maps, studies, photos, and history that provide a good background.
The area includes three parcels:
All three are designated “920 – Industrial/Office Flex” in the current General Plan. Thinking that residential use might be more profitable in the foreseeable future, owners of the Brunner and JHS properties began efforts to change the land use to include residential. Both have tried to “greenwash” their proposals, with the Brunner plan being called a “transit village” (wildly anticipating a train station on the UP line for Capital Corridor and AMTRAK) and the JHS plan being called “live work,” because it is the only way, with a conditional use permit, to build housing in an industrial zone without a General Plan and Zoning change.
On March 9, the City Council held a study session to provide direction to staff about how to designate several shoreline areas in the new Draft General Plan, including the “Northshore” area described above. All of the shoreline areas have generated controversy over future uses for a long time, and the Planning Department intended, unless direction was otherwise provided by the City Council, to defer a land use decision in these controversial areas so that the rest of the General Plan could be adopted on a reasonable schedule.
For the Northshore, I moved to designate the three North Shoreline properties for a mixed land use to be called “Community Low Intensity Commerce and Recreation,” using a combination of four already proposed classifications in the Draft Plan (1) Open Space, (2) Parks and Recreation, (3) Public, Cultural and Institutional and (4) Agriculture. The vote failed with three ayes (Butt, Ritterman and McLaughlin), one no (Bates) and two abstentions (Rogers and Viramontes). Lopez was absent. The proposed designation would provide legally defensible economic uses for the properties while ensuring that they will not be developed with isolated ticky-tacky homes or tilt-up warehouses. The four allowable uses would include:
The dissenters generally argued that:
My response is:
On March 9, we came tantalizingly close, only one vote short, of preserving the Northshore forever.
Viramontes, who abstained on the Northshore vote, has argued that changing the land use would be equivalent to using eminent domain to take the land but without paying for it. She characterized Northshore preservation as part of a manifest destiny policy by some councilmembers and derided focusing growth into already developed areas of Richmond with existing infrastructure as a “…few small boutique developments on a few blocks” that will not “make up for the lost jobs to the community and the lost tax base for the city which is always challenged to pay for services for our residents.”
Rogers, who also abstained, has argued for a “coastal cooperation agreement” among landowners and the City that would incorporate both development and recreation on shoreline property. I supported Rogers in this concept for the much larger and more urban Southshore area, and the Council agreed, voting to pursue a Southshore Special Area Plan with all property owners and other stakeholders. The Northshore, however, is simply too small, too isolated and too economically challenged for this to work. In 2009, there was a series of meetings involving the Northshore landowners and the community to consider such a plan, and there was absolutely no progress made.
What can I say about Bates? He continues to maintain that Richmond has too many parks and too much open space. Bates never met a land speculator or a project he didn’t like. Although the Northshore land use change proposal doesn’t necessarily involve converting these parcels to parkland, it is not true that Richmond has excess parkland compared to other cities. Technically, Richmond has 4,287 acres of municipal and regional park, but that includes the 2,430-acre Wildcat Canyon Regional Park, which extends all the way to the Tilden Nature Area in Berkeley and accounts for more than half of the park land in Richmond. This is very misleading because residential areas of Richmond do not border this park. Rather, the bordering residences are located in Berkeley, Kensington, El Cerrito, San Pablo and unincorporated Contra Costa County. Excluding Wildcat Canyon, Richmond's 1,857 acres of parkland represents 8.6% of the City's 21,568 acres of dry land. According to the Center for City Park Excellence, Richmond's 8.6% park land acreage is substantially less than San Francisco's 19.3%, Oakland's 10.7% and San Jose's 10.6%.
All three have also argued that existing parks are not being maintained as a reason not to preserve open space. Bates questioned why Brooks Island was not accessible to the public, and Rogers pointed out that the former shoreline park at Point Molate had been closed for years due to lack of money to maintain it. However, with the Northshore, we are not talking about expanding Richmond’s parks, although the East Bay Regional Park District has already expanded Point Pinole Regional Park through the purchase of Brunner Marsh. What we are talking about is preserving shoreline open space, a precious and priceless commodity that has value for everyone, including both the property owners and the public. There simply is no such thing as too much open space, just as there is no such thing as too much air, too much water or too much love.
I hope that we can find that one other vote and give a gift of shoreline open space to future generations while allowing the property owners to pick from among many options of low impact development. Under the proposed General Plan change, this area could include urban agriculture, golf courses, recreation oriented rental shops such as bike repair facilities, small restaurants, interpretation centers and museums, schools, soccer fields or even a velodrome.
You can hit “reply to all” and let your City Council members know you support preserving the Northshore.