According to former Design Review Board Chair Jonathan Livingston, the proposed housing project at the site of the former PG&E gasholder tank at Brickyard Cove has taken a turn for the worse with the full complicity of City staff. Regarding the design, Livingston wrote to the current DRB members:
In 2022 the DRB heard this item and worked arm and arm for a few months with the architect to come up with an appropriate hillside kit of parts (massing, colors and materials) that was intended to blend into the hillside environment and complement the Brickyard Landing development. Everyone agreed, and the board was satisfied; the only minor adjustments were the saturation of the color and adding a muted sage green and taupe colors to blend into the hillside natural color.
I now see a totally different approach to the architecture, one that seems to look at the individual buildings as if they were alone lined up on some flat urban landscape somewhere in San Jose. The architect is altering the materials to help differentiate the masses - again as if it were on some flat site and viewed as a lone building. However, this is not the context that the community will see. The intent of the 2022 Board’s direction was to encourage the overall development to blend into the hill and not call attention to the individual buildings with an array of colors and a mish-mash of horizontal hardiboard mixed with shingles, both with different colors. The direction the board took was to play off the architectural success of Brickyard Landing in terms of one material and color and allow this new development to blend into the hillside just like modern contextual architects of the 90’s like BAR, Fisher Freidman, Halprin, Turnbull and Esherick. The overall idea was to have the architecture blend into the
The plan that you are reviewing has reversed direction and is heading in the absolute wrong direction. The citizens in the cove all like the way the “Landing” blends into the hill, as opposed to the Sea cliff homes that look like they are from some urban
subdivision in San Jose. Please advise and direct them to return to the 2022 material and colors that the board liked as well as the older massing. Those were carefully considered by all and for the good reasons mentioned above.
Not everyone is sensitive to aesthetics, and some may think Livingston’s critique is a subjective dispute among designers, but in a separate email, Livingston discusses the seemingly nonchalant treatment by Planning staff of the issue of importing some 14,000 truckloads of fill into the site:
At issue is a massive import of outside soil fill (14,000+ or so truck loads) to be transported into the Brickyard Cove area from somewhere in the Bay Area and dumped onto the former PG&E site that is situated between Brickyard Landing condominiums and Seacliff Estates homes. This soil will then be pushed into place with earthmovers, moisture conditioned and compacted under the supervision of civil and soils engineers. The compacted fill reaches depths of over 30 feet. The objective seems to be to create a sloped site that in the end will offer bay views for buyers.
From the perspective of the developer, this might seem like a great idea. The marketability of the proposed bay view units on grade as opposed to a flat in a mid-rise building with parking below is a logical idea given the current market conditions. The new California laws also encourage any development, so long as there are no adverse environmental impacts, and the project complies with general plan policies and current zoning. To help ensure the approval of this project, the developer has opted to use the many state-sponsored off-ramps from regulatory framework we all have embraced and understand. Don’t feel singled out - this is happening everywhere.
From the perspective of the City of Richmond, I would venture to say they are duty bound to uphold the new state laws and directives from the City Council as well as the city manager. However, and perhaps of the utmost importance, City staff has a sworn fiduciary duty to uphold the Health Safety and Welfare of the citizens of Richmond. They have a tough job….Developer on one side with an army of lawyers and the confused body politic on the other wondering why on earth is this happening.
From the perspective of the local citizens, they are absolutely confused and feel betrayed. Why?
- The Richmond Planning staff chose the absolute least restrictive environment analysis possible - and that would be to use the city of Richmond’s General Plan EIR that is intended to be used on infill urban projects that have little or no environmental impacts- as a base document and then “ tier” off that. Somehow the locals can't understand how Terminal One had to do a full blown EIR; Shea Homes had to do one, but the project that is the most impactful in the Cove gets a hall pass, and the conclusion of the document is, “There are no significant environmental impacts?” How is that possible given all of that fill?
- Even after the huge Seacliff landslide of early January, the City has not bothered to include a soils engineer’s peer review of the massive fill and the long term potential for hydro compression and the domino failure of underground systems that could cause a similar slide onto the Brickyard Landing that we are seeing at Seacliff.
- Circulation, transportation, evacuation and the Auto Warehousing train impacts. People and businesses that live in the Brickyard area and work on Canal have been dealing with major circulation blockages for over a decade. Fire, EVA, police and others also are being impacted….somehow our city planning staff has failed to include the Council approved Honda / Auto warehousing EIR mitigations to this problem in their analysis. How did they miss this one?
- The Bay Area Air Quality Management District has thresholds of significance that planning staff shared with the community as their guideline. Under the BAAQMD construction related impact section guidelines it states that if the project has more than 10,000 cubic yards of fill, it could be considered significant….well we have 10 times that amount of earth moving. How did they miss this? The amount of earth dust combined with fugitive particles of diesel exhaust adjacent to sensitive receptors such as 1,000 human lungs does not even make the city health and safety regulator needle even move…..How does this happen? Where are the sworn upholders of our health, safety and welfare?
- Is Tiering off the General Plan’s EIR even legal on this site? Perhaps not. As noted in the code below, the City can only Tier off the general plan EIR if the development has no significant environmental impacts , or as noted below is consistent with the Zoning and General Plan. In this case the development is NOT consistent with the zoning. The proposed project exceeds the height limit by 22 feet and is not in compliance with the hillside ordinance. Reasonable legal minds can and will debate this, so we may be in for a long slog here.
Cal. Code Regs. tit. 14 § 15152. (e) Tiering under this section shall be limited to situations where the project is consistent with the general plan and zoning of the city or county in which the project is located, except that a project requiring a rezone to achieve or maintain conformity with a general plan may be subject to tiering.
The project as designed is the most environmentally impactful possible. There are two other alternatives that do not require the truck traffic and dust and noise. These should be considered in a new EIR.
Yes, please develop this great site, but this current proposal is not congruent with best environmental practices here and globally and not respectful to the health, safety and welfare of the good neighbors that live here. We all owe it to the planet to be responsible custodians of this sacred land, this project is a gross example of how not to build sustainably. Example: importing 70,000 cubic yards of soil (14,000 truck loads) along with all of the required fuel to be burned to excavate the soil from the source site, transport it here over our highways with huge trucks, clog up our roads and off ramps, impact the citizens for months with diesel trucks, noise, soot, the destruction of the sensitive ecosystems, then dump the soil , grade it, compact it, re-grade it, then excavate again for foundations, then re-grade it again and again, for what purpose ? housing? Well good! Except anyone with a sustainable mind set can do the same thing without all of the environmental damage. Think globally , act locally…send this disaster of a project back to staff and the applicant to re-think in a more sensitive and sustainable way -
I urge all involved to remand this application back to staff and have them start fresh with a proper EIR that will address all of the valid concerns from the developer’s side, the city’s side and from the perspectives of the impacted neighbors, citizens and business owners of Richmond.
Oh, staff, Please read and act on the approved resolution that was part of the Honda Port EIR that dealt with train crossings and all of the great mitigations presented and agreed upon a decade ago before you subject the folks out in the cove with more development and no plan for fire and life safety concerns.
Editor’s note: The Honda Port of Entry EIR had required mitigations for acoustics (“wheel squeal”) and grade crossing blockages that were never implemented. The Minutes of the November 18, 2008, City Council meeting, copied below, when the Honda Port of Entry EIR was certified included:
- The project shall not undertake switching operations that block traffic on Canal, West Cutting, and Garrard Boulevards. Project operations shall occur primarily between 7:00 p.m. and 4:00 a.m. Grade crossing blockages associated with the project shall be in the 1.5 to 6 minute range and in no case shall the project create blockages that violate CPUC Rule 135. The city shall be responsible for installing an automated monitoring system that automatically records grade crossing blockages on Canal, West Cutting, and Garrard Boulevards and that information shall be made available to the public on a monthly basis.
- Following implementation of carb regulation for fuel sulfur for ocean-going vessels in 2009 and 2010 the emissions of NOX and PM10 including those from this project shall be lower in Richmond than in current base line and the health risk assessment shall indicate a lower risk than which currently exist. Calculations shall be provided to show how this conclusion could be reached and such calculation shall be incorporated in the Design Review Permit”. Mr. Matzorkis stated the calculations could be provided within 30 days. City Attorney verified that Mr. Matzorkis read conditions to the permit not mitigation.
- The Port of Richmond, in conjunction with BNSF shall investigate, adopt a plan and apply best practices to continually reduce wheel squeal on tight radius curves on tracks serving the Honda Port of Entry Project. Practices may include gauge face lubrication; top of rail friction modification and the maintenance and modification of track and rolling stock
Why were these legally required mitigations never enforced? For years, the Port has enjoyed an autonomy unique among City departments, protected and insulated by City Council majorities and a string of city managers fearful of offending their bosses. Only recently has this cozy arrangement been successfully and politically challenged.
From the Minutes of the November 18, 2008, City Council meeting:
The city clerk announced this was the time set, pursuant to published notice, to conduct a public hearing to consider an appeal by Fred Arm from the Design Review Board's (DRB) approval of the certification of an Environmental Impact Report (EIR) and Design Review Permit for the Honda Port of Entry Project at Point Potrero and affirm, modify, or deny the certification of the EIR with Statement of Overriding Consideration and accompanying Mitigation Monitoring Reporting Program and affirm, modify, or deny the Design Review Permit, subject to conditions. Planning Director Richard Mitchell gave an overview of the item. Mayor McLaughlin declared the public hearing open. Fred Arm and Legal Counsel Bradley Brownlow spoke as the appellants. Mr. Brownlow submitted, for the record, a detailed list of concerns with the status of the current Environmental Impact Report (EIR). On motion of Councilmember Bates, seconded by Councilmember Lopez accepted into the record the detailed list of concerns regarding the EIR submitted by the appellant by the unanimous vote of the Council. Jim Matzorkis and Bill Robbins spoke as the major opponents. Speakers from the audience were: Katrinka Ruk, Robert Lane, Anthony J. Craig, Jim Dewitt, Eva Craig, A William Bodle, Jack Bryant, Harold Brinkley, Allison Bryant, Douglas Kidder, Bruce Beyaert, Lee Jones, Larry Magid, Bobbi Scott Hlebek, Amon Rappaport, Ric Borjes, Michael Davenport, Jerome Smith, Corky Booze, Theresa Wilkerson, Sherry Padgett, and Kate Spaulding. Bradley Brownlow gave a rebuttal on behalf of the appellant. Port Director Jim Matzorkis and Bill Robbins gave a rebuttal as the major opponents. On motion of Councilmember Bates, seconded by Councilmember Viramontes closed the public hearing by the unanimous vote of the Council. Discussion began. Councilmember Butt stated that an agreement had been reached on the last two issues regarding grade crossings and emissions. Mr. Matzorkis read the new mitigations conditions as follows: “The project shall not undertake switching operations that block traffic on Canal, West Cutting, and Garrard Boulevards. Project operations shall occur primarily between 7:00 p.m. and 4:00 a.m. Grade crossing blockages associated with the project shall be in the 1.5 to 6 minute range and in no case shall the project create blockages that violate CPUC Rule 135. The city shall be responsible for installing an automated monitoring system that automatically records grade crossing blockages on Canal, West Cutting, and Garrard Boulevards and that information shall be made available to the public on a monthly basis. Any grade crossing blockages in excess of 10 minutes that violate CPUC Rule 135 shall be prosecuted by the City.” Jim Matzorkis read the following language regarding emissions: “Following implementation of carb regulation for fuel sulfur for ocean-going vessels in 2009 and 2010 the emissions of NOX and PM10 including those from this project shall be lower in Richmond than in current base line and the health risk assessment shall indicate a lower risk than which currently exist. Calculations shall be provided to show how this conclusion could be reached and such calculation shall be incorporated in the Design Review Permit”. Mr. Matzorkis stated the calculations could be provided within 30 days. City Attorney verified that Mr. Matzorkis read conditions to the permit not mitigation. Councilmember Viramontes requested that the record reflect that the agreement was reached with Councilmember Butt outside of the Council Meeting. Following discussion, a motion was made by Councilmember Bates, seconded by Councilmember Viramontes to deny the appeal and affirm the DRB’s decision. A friendly amendment was offered by Councilmember Butt to adopt the five amended conditions of approval that the applicant has agreed to which includes: train noise, grade crossing blockages, solar electricity generation, historic resources parking, and emissions. Also modify finding 11 to reflect the latest projections provided by the Finance Director Jim Goins. The amendment was not accepted. A substitute motion was made by Councilmember Butt, seconded by Councilmember Thurmond to deny the appeal and certify the EIR with the change in finding 11 and adopt the five amended conditions of approval that the applicant has agreed to which includes: train noise, grade crossing blockages, solar electricity generation, historic resources parking, and emissions. A second substitute motion was made by Councilmember Viramontes, seconded by Councilmember Butt to deny the appeal and approve the staff recommendations and conditions of approval that the applicant has agreed to modify finding 11 to reflect the latest projections provided by Finance Director Jim Goins. Discussion ensued and a friendly amendment was offered by Councilmember Bates to direct staff to evaluate for two years noise impacts and also to work with the railroads to eliminate horn noise. The amendment was accepted. The second substitute motion passed by the following vote: Ayes: Councilmembers Bates, Butt, Lopez, Rogers, Sandhu, Thurmond, and Viramontes. Noes: Mayor McLaughlin. Abstention: None. Absent: Vice Mayor Marquez.
From the Staff Report for the November 18, 2008, City Council Meeting:
The project will increase train traffic south of the Canal Boulevard Grade crossing, and it is possible that trains will be sounded at grade crossings. The City of Richmond shall determine what is required to establish a Quiet Zone and shall obtain cost estimates for providing sufficient grade crossing safety devices at grade crossings south of the Canal Boulevard grade crossing to qualify for a Quiet Zone. The City of Richmond shall maintain a reserve fund for a period of two years sufficient to pay for such devices, if required. If train horns are routinely sounded at grade crossings south of the Canal Boulevard grade crossing, the City of Richmond shall implement a Quiet Zone extending from the Canal Boulevard grade crossing to the PPMT. After two years, the reserve capital fund shall no longer be required, but if after two years, train horns are routinely sounded at grade crossings south of the Canal Boulevard grade-crossing, the city of Richmond shall install such devices in a timely manner as necessary and establish a Quiet Zone from the Canal Boulevard grade crossing. “Routinely sounded” means sounded in accordance with Federal Railroad Administration orders at grade crossings but does not include sounding in case of emergencies. In addition, the City of Richmond shall complete the required improvements and establish a Quiet Zone from the existing Garrard Boulevard (Richmond Parkway east leg) to and including the grade crossing at Cutting Boulevard near 4th Street.
The Port of Richmond, in conjunction with BNSF shall investigate, adopt a plan and apply best practices to continually reduce wheel squeal on tight radius curves on tracks serving the Honda Port of Entry Project. Practices may include gauge face lubrication; top of rail friction modification and the maintenance and modification of track and rolling stock.