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Housing at Richmond Nursery Site Would Hurt History, Report Finds

Housing at Richmond nursery site would hurt history, report finds

local flavor vs. development

By Katherine Tam
West County Times

Posted: 07/01/2009 02:30:05 PM PDT

Updated: 07/02/2009 06:20:59 AM PDT


By Katherine Tam


Demolishing 38 greenhouses and other structures from a trio of prewar Japanese nurseries to make way for 336 units of affordable and market-rate housing would hurt local historic resources, a city report found.

The structures at the South Richmond site, some dating to the 1920s, are the state's last-remaining Japanese nurseries of this kind.

"Although the most significant structures from the Sakai nurseries would be retained, implementation of the proposed project would result in demolition of other contributing structures on-site and therefore would cause a significant adverse impact to historical resources," the draft environmental impact report states.

The 464-page report on the Miraflores Housing proposal lists several potential impacts, including on air quality and noise, as well as mitigation measures to reduce the impacts to less-than-significant levels. The loss of historic resources is the only one listed as "significant" and "unavoidable."

The public comment period for the report ends July 29.

Richmond, which owns the site, wants to build 110 rental units for seniors and 226 single-family homes to be sold at market rate. The site is bounded by BART tracks to the north, South 45th Street to the west, Interstate 80 to the east and Wall Avenue to the south. About 575 feet of Baxter Creek now hidden in an underground culvert would be uncovered. A path along the creek's west side would be created.

Most of the Sakai, Oishi and Maida-Endo greenhouses and other structures on the site would be demolished. One greenhouse, two houses and a water tower would be saved. An interpretive exhibit would detail the history of the Japanese-American flower-growing community. The city would honor that history in its selection of street names and landscaping.

The soil and groundwater have been contaminated by years of pesticides and other substances, and must be cleaned up before anything is built. A remedial action plan calls for excavating soil, removing underground storage tanks and monitoring groundwater.

The Planning Commission and City Council are expected to review the project before the end of the year, said Lina Velasco, senior planner.

The draft environmental impact report lists four alternatives:

  Build nothing.

  Preserve six greenhouses, the Sakai house and a water tower and reduce the number of new houses to 99. It would be harder to open Baxter Creek because some greenhouses sit in the creek's path.

  Preserve 28 greenhouses, the Sakai house, the Oishi house and several other structures considered historically important. No more than 77 new homes would be built. It would be harder to open Baxter Creek.

  Increase the number of new housing units to 471 by allowing buildings of up to four stories.

The Oishi, Sakai and Maida-Endo nurseries were among a number of other flower-growing businesses in the Bay Area in the early 20th century. Many families bought land before the 1913 Alien Land Law barred Japanese immigrants from owning property, according to local historian Donna Graves. The immigrants carved out a livelihood for themselves with nurseries they spent decades building.

Following the attack on Pearl Harbor in 1941, Japanese-Americans were forcefully relocated to internment camps. A number could not pay their mortgages and property taxes during internment and lost their nurseries; some were able to keep them and revived their businesses after the war. Operations continued for decades and ended relatively recently.

Today, the Oishi, Sakai and Maida-Endo nurseries carry 39 gable-roofed greenhouses, eight houses, sheds, pump houses, water tanks and other structures. A few have deteriorated and are no longer eligible for the National and California Historic Register; others still have enough historical integrity to make it on the list.

"The Sakai and Oishi properties are the only extant cut-flower nurseries begun by Japanese Americans before World War II in the entire Bay Area, and are the last remaining of Richmond's community of Japanese American flower growers," according to Graves.

Reach Katherine Tam at 510-262-2787 or ktam@bayareanewsgroup.com.

Read it yourself
The draft environmental impact report for the proposed Miraflores development is available at City Hall, 450 Civic Center Plaza; Richmond Main Library, 325 Civic Center Plaza; and Point Richmond Library, 135 Washington Ave. It also can be downloaded through the city's Web site at www.ci.richmond.ca.us under the "Planning and Building Services" section.
The 45-day public comment period ends at 5 p.m. July 29.