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  June 7 Battle Royal Looms for Future of North Shoreline
May 28, 2011

The June 7 City Council meeting appears to be the time and place that a 10-year battle over the future of Richmond’s North Shoreline will play out. On one side are the owners of three properties who want to protect or enhance their current development rights, and on the other side are proponents for protecting these shoreline open spaces from high density development. The outcome will determine how the area is designated in Richmond’s new general plan. The City Council meeting will include a study session on the matter and conclude with direction by the City Council.

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Richmond’s proposed new General Plan and the Northshore

The current General Plan shows what is known as the “Northshore” or “North Shoreline” as predominantly “Heavy Industry” and “Industrial/Office Flex” as shown below in the color violet, although much of it is also designated “Open Space,” “Preservation Lands” or “Preservation Resource Area.” About half the total area was purchased by the East Bay Regional Parks District four years ago.

Attachment 4 1994 General Plan Land Uses Map.jpg

The Draft Richmond General Plan currently shows all of the “Northshore” as “Open Space” (Map 3.14, “Change Area 12 - Northshore,” page 3.95). The draft Land Use Classification (Page 3.21) describes Open Space as “…wetlands, mudflats, creek corridors and other natural preservation areas, as well as private lands deed-restricted for open space preservation. Public access should be allowed where appropriate. Except delineated wetlands and other open space preservation areas, used permitted in the Parks and Recreation designation are allowed.”

The “Parks and Recreation” classification “Includes publicly owned local and regional parks as well as privately owned recreational facilities such as golf courses. Small scale recreation-supporting uses such as rental shops, bike repair facilities, small restaurants, interpretation centers and museums are also permitted.”


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Property Owners

Not surprisingly, this proposal to change the land use from the current “Heavy Industry” and “Industrial/Office Flex” has caused considerable angst for the property owners, who have mounted a prolonged political and legal campaign to keep the land use either designation unchanged or enhanced to allow more development flexibility. The three major property owners are:

  • Richmond Development Company and Industrial lands Company (The Freethy Property”) shown below in aqua and mauve.
  • Murray Parkway Properties, LLC, shown below in bright green.
  • Donne and Lonne Carr (Remainder of the “Breuner” parcel after purchase of the balance by EBRPD, shown below in orange.


Attachment 3 Ownership Map.jpg
Basis for Change

The draft General Plan describes the basis for the proposed change as follows (Page 3.37):

This bayfront area is representative of historic San Francisco baylands, with marsh-lands and uplands along the shoreline. Portions of the area have been identified as important habitat for endangered plant and wildlife species. The area lacks infrastructure and has long remained undeveloped with the exception of an outdoor shooting range.

The Northshore area is envisioned as a natural open space restored and protected to continue its historic function as vital habitat and provide enhanced opportunities for public access and recreation. The entire area would be designated Open Space/parks and recreation to achieve this vision. Allowable uses would include publicly owed local and regional parks as well as privately owned recreational facilities such as golf courses. Small scale recreation-supporting uses such as rental shops, bike repair facilities, small restaurants, interpretation centers and museums would complement adjacent open spaces.

The City will work with area stakeholders to develop urban design guidelines for future open space and recreational uses in the Northshore area.

Citizens for East Shore Parks (CESP) writes:

You have this once in a lifetime opportunity to protect one of the last undeveloped shoreline corridors in the City of Richmond. The residents of Richmond deserve to have a place for solace and peaceful recreation in a natural setting. Not only will this open space provide habitat protection for many species along the shoreline today, but by including the upland parcels, you will ensure their survival as the sea level rises (as shown on Map 8.1). Habitat loss would adversely affect protected animal species such as the northern harrier, great Blue heron, great egret, snowy egret, Black-crowned night heron, whitetailed Kite, Caspian tern, California Black rail, saltmarsh common yellowthroat, San Pablo song sparrow, California clapper rail, California least tern, San Pablo vole, salt marsh harvest mouse and salt marsh wandering shrew as well as protected plant species such as Fritilaria liliaceae, Bromus carinatus var. maritimus, Grindelia hirsitula var. maritime, Dudleya arinose, and Romanzoffia californica.

CESP Supporting organizations include: Golden Gate Audubon Society— Sierra Club—Save the Bay— Oakland Waterfront Coalition—Berkeley Partners for Parks—California Native Plant Society—Ecology Center—Environmental Defense—Citizens Committee to Complete the Refuge—Friends of Aquatic Park—Oceanic Society—Regional Parks Association—Urban Creeks Council—CA State Parks Foundation—Citizens for the Albany Shoreline—Contra Costa Hills Club—NRSOSA.

For years many Richmond residents have advocated for preservation of the undeveloped shoreline west of the Richmond Parkway, between Parr Boulevard and Point Pinole Regional Park (“North Shoreline or Northshore”). A website www.northrichmondshoreline.org, maintained by the North Richmond Shoreline Open Space Alliance (NRSOSA) has an extensive collection of maps, studies, photos, and history that provide a good background. The area is shown outlined in red in the attached “Northshore Area Aerial” prepared by the City of Richmond.

Northshore Aerial

All of Richmond’s shoreline areas have generated prolonged and often bitter controversy over future uses. Current owners of the three parcels of Northshore property argue that they invested in the future development opportunities and that the City should protect their investment and provide them an opportunity for a reasonable return based on the current land use  and zoning designation.

In addition, the BCDC Climate Change maps show much of this low-lying area inundated by mid 21st century.


Recent Development Proposals

However, other than the Richmond Rod and Gun Club, the land has been vacant and undeveloped for years, the only use being horses grazing on parts of it, indicating that development has never been economically attractive. Significant portions of the properties are in the BCDC-regulated shoreline or are wetlands or proximate to Rheem Creek, further limiting their development potential.

Owners of two of the three properties are also quietly pitching development proposals that are intended to either garner political support or bolster the perception of economic viability of development.

  • The Freethy property owners are proposing a Salvation Army campus that would include dormitories for rehabilitation of substance abusers form throughout the Bay Area as well as distribution warehouses and offices. While seemingly a socially beneficial function that would be appropriate in the comparatively remote Northshore location, the Salvation Army is a church and pays no property taxes, making its benefit to the City of Richmond questionable. Proximity to the Richmond Rod and Gun Club, next door, which has live firing four days a week, 9:00 AM to 4:00 PM, seems problematic, particularly for mentally and physically fragile people in rehab. It would appear to be setting up a future smolder conflict into which the City would be dragged.
  • The Murray property owners are proposing a Latino themed sports complex that includes a shopping center and hotel with a quarter million square feet of commercial leased space and parking for nearly 1,000 cars (see below). Under the proposed new General Plan, the sports fields would conceivable be allowed, but the hotel and shopping center would not. Whether this is an economically viable project or just a ploy to enhance property values and protect current zoning is unknown.

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The political part of this battle is taking on an ethnic slant by inviting Latino support at the June 7 City Council  meeting (see below).

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The property owners also argue that the potential jobs and tax revenues that could be generated by future development are vital to the City’s economy. However, statistics provided in the EIR for the proposed General Plan show that development opportunities providing higher density focused in areas that already have infrastructure and access to services and public transit will easily accommodate the ABAG projection of a 41,050 population increase and job growth of 22,488 between 2005 and 2030. Furthermore, the new General Plan provides capacity for even greater population growth of 50,000 and job growth of 109,165. This is assuming low density zoning in the North Shoreline as currently recommended in the draft General Plan.

What this shows is that the potential jobs that may be created in the North Shoreline if the current General Plan designation is changed would have no effect at all on Richmond’s capacity to accommodate future projected growth or its capacity to absorb over three times the projected job growth.

The owners’ of these properties are trying to make the case that their development is critical to Richmond’s capacity to create or accommodate future job growth. That simply is not the case.

My Proposal

A modification to the draft General Plan that might be considered would be to designate the area as Community Low Intensity Commerce and Recreation, which would be consistent with its existing use that with the exception of the Richmond Rod and Gun Club, is open space. But it would also provide additional development potential to the owners. Community Low Intensity Commerce and Recreation would include the following:

  • Open Space - Includes wetlands, mudflats, creek corridors and other natural preservation areas, as well as private lands deeded to public or private agencies for open space preservation; public access should be allowed where appropriate.
  • Parks and Recreation - Includes publicly owned local and regional parks as well as privately owned recreational facilities such as golf courses; small-scale recreation-supporting uses such as rental shops, bike repair facilities, small restaurants, interpretation centers and museums are permitted.
  • Public, Cultural and Institutional - Includes public, semi-public and educational uses such as civic facilities, community centers, libraries, museums, national park facilities, hospitals and schools. (This would be allowed with a conditional use permit)
  • Agriculture - Includes uses such as grazing, crop production, small-scale farming and community gardens with some residential development (residential uses would be limited to a minimum number of residences serving as security or caretakers homes associated with agriculture and subject to a conditional use permit)

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