Tom Butt
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  Soon-to-open Richmond ferry terminal could revive shoreline, usher in gentrification - SFChron
July 5, 2018

The RPA folks, this time Melvin Willis and Eli Moore, are at it again, complaining that anything that makes Richmond better is suspect because it might bring gentrification. Involuntary displacement  of any of our residents is a concern we all share, but complaining about and reversing everything we have accomplished to keep Richmond cheap as our highest priority is just plain crazy.

The way to provide adequate housing and suppress the cost of shelter is to build more of it, not make Richmond less desirable and freeze the status quo with more rent control.

Perhaps the RPA would like to turn the clock back to the year I arrived in Richmond. 1973 was a great time to find cheap housing. Richmond’s post WWII population had bottomed out at a little over 70,000, down from over 100,000 at its 1945 peak. Empty storefronts and vacant buildings were everywhere. Crime was rampant; Hell’s Angels were a common sight; blight was overwhelming and unemployment was off the charts. There was no ferry, no BART, no Knox Freeway (I-580) and no Richmond Parkway.

But housing was cheap, really cheap, probably cheaper than it ever has been adjusted for inflation. Why was it so cheap? Because Richmond had become a miserable place. Most people had no desire to live here. This is the Richmond the RPA would like to return to.

For me, no thanks. I would rather concentrate on improving transportation options, building more housing, creating and training people for more jobs, and making Richmond a more desirable place to live, work and play.

Tom Butt

Soon-to-open Richmond ferry terminal could revive shoreline, usher in gentrification

Rachel Swan July 5, 2018 Updated: July 5, 2018 3:02 p.m.

Local // Bay Area & State

Construction cranes loom over the Richmond shoreline, a briny landscape of weeds and eucalyptus trees that’s on track to become a transportation hub.

Come fall, passengers will board ferry boats from a new $20 million terminal at Harbour Way South, an industrial strip of roadway that spills onto the Bay Trail. From there it’s a half-hour commute by water to downtown San Francisco.

Officials, business owners and real estate developers see the terminal as a trigger for economic development. They say it could spur the revival that Richmond leaders have talked about for years, although it’s always seemed just a little out of reach.

It will probably bring new shops and restaurants to the area around the former Ford assembly plant, now a gleaming brick-and-windowed showroom called the Craneway Pavilion. It may draw tourists to the Rosie the Riveter WWII Home Front National Historic Park Visitor Center or lure tech workers into shoreline housing developments — including a planned apartment building on a weed-choked lot at Harbour Way South, which could hold as many as 600 units.

The developer of that building, Todd Floyd, whose firm, New West Communities, is also planning a 200 unit mid-rise on nearby Seacliff Drive, said he picked those sites because they are near the ferry terminal.

“That’s what got our attention,” he said. “I mean, it’s an absolute game changer.”

Most importantly, it could change outside perceptions of Richmond, a scrappy East Bay city long known for crime, the Chevron oil refinery, struggling schools and boarded-up storefronts downtown.

“As far as Richmond is concerned, perception is everything,” said Mayor Tom Butt, who believes negative stereotypes about blight and violence have slowed economic development.

But the possibility of an economic boom on the shoreline worries members of Richmond’s progressive political wing. Some are concerned that the ferry will speed up tenant displacement in one of the Bay Area’s least costly places to rent that is connected to a BART station.

If a new mass transit option entices newcomers and there isn’t enough housing to accommodate them, they will compete for Richmond’s existing housing stock, said the city’s vice mayor, Melvin Willis.

Alternatively, Willis said, the ferry could lead to prodigious development but also bump up property values.

“If rents go up in certain areas around the ferry, that would cause rents to go up in other parts of Richmond,” Willis said. He worries that longtime residents will get priced out.

Such fears prompted Richmond voters to approve a rent-control ballot measure two years ago. Since, then, the median rent for a two-bedroom apartment has climbed marginally, from $2,381 a month in November 2016 to $2,500 a month in April 2018, according to real estate tracking site Zillow.

Willis said the ferry is “something to be very vigilant about.”

To transportation and housing experts, the ferry service is a form of smart urban planning. Up to 1,000 apartment and condominium units are planned for the vicinity of the terminal, and the people who live there would have easy access to San Francisco — with no need to drive.

“So they’re not creating congestion or exacerbating air quality issues,” said Nick Josefowitz, a board director for BART and the San Francisco Bay Area Water Emergency Transportation Authority, which oversees ferry service throughout the region.

When East Bay cities build dense housing near transit nodes, they help ease the housing crisis in San Francisco, Josefowitz noted.

Eli Moore, a researcher at UC Berkeley’s Haas Institute for a Fair and Inclusive Society, expressed guarded optimism. He speculated that many low-income residents may miss out on the convenience and job opportunities provided by the ferry because they won’t be able to afford tickets.

The proposed fare is $9 one way for adults, $6.75 with a Clipper card, which is more expensive than BART. It will probably be half price for seniors and those ages 5 to 18, $2.90 for those in school groups and free for children younger than 5.

Yet when a city adds a new transit service — even a service that only a slice of the population can afford — it helps alleviate congestion for everyone, said Matt Lewis, an environmental consultant in Berkeley. Officials from the Water Emergency Transportation Authority predict that the boats from Richmond will carry 500 to 1,000 passengers per day during their first year.

That number will probably go up. Data from the authority show that in the past six years, ridership nearly tripled on the ferry boats coming from Jack London Square — from about 40,000 people in April 2012 to more than 108,000 in April 2018. The number of passengers riding ferries from Vallejo jumped from about 100,000 to more than 236,000 over the same time interval.

If commuters use the service in Richmond, fewer cars will jam the interlocking streets and boulevards that feed the Interstate 80 and 580 freeways, Lewis said. That means the people who have to drive would face less traffic.

The area around the ferry is already starting to change, with the addition of Assemble Restaurant, a popular brunch spot next to the Craneway, and the R&B Cellars winery.

Park Ranger Betty Reid Soskin hopes that small crop of businesses will mushroom with the addition of the ferry service in October.

“My fantasy is that we’ll make this the East Bay entrance to Alcatraz, which gets a million visitors a year,” said Soskin, arriving to work at the Rosie the Riveter Center on a recent weekday morning.

Nearby, Mohan Ram was walking along the Bay Trail. He stopped by the soon-to-be-developed lot at Harbour Way South and craned his neck to look at the ferry construction site.

“Do you know anything about this ferry opening?” asked Ram, who owns a condo in the Marina Bay area — an outcropping of town houses and wraparound streets near the waterfront.

He said the condo will be vacant soon, and he’s hoping the ferry will attract prospective tenants. He also anticipates that it will raise his property values.

Kevin Brown, owner of R&B Cellars — one of several wineries to open along Richmond’s waterfront in the past few years — said the former shipyard is “on an upswing.”

When Brown opened his business three years ago, restaurants and tech companies were already moving into the ramshackle warehouses that dot Richmond’s waterfront. He sees the addition of the ferry as part of that evolutionary process.

“The nice thing is that now it will be easier for people to get to us from San Francisco,” he said.

Rachel Swan is a San Francisco Chronicle staff writer. Email: Twitter: @rachelswan