Tom Butt
  E-Mail Forum – 2024  
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  Silence from City Hall on Craneway Pickleball
February 26, 2024

The Craneway is unique, in that we, the residents of Richmond actually own it. Our elected officials and City management staff have the responsibility to see that it is being used in a way that benefits the community.

When Eddie Orton purchased the Ford Building from the City of Richmond, the Craneway had restrictions on its use because it was located over tidelands regulated by the State Lands Commissions with restrictions that limited uses to those that had certain public benefits. Because of the restrictions on its use and other considerations, the Craneway was eased to Eddie Orton’s company, Ford Point LLC, for 55 years at $1.00 per year, which he paid in full upfront. Another reason for the $1.00 annual lease was the presumption that the City would benefit substantially from public-serving uses and from taxes on the rest of the building so that any lease revenue from the Craneway was not critical. Of course, Orton sold off the rest of the building for over $100 million.

There were restrictions in the lease, excerpted below, to protect the Craneway’s status as a historical structure and its limitations to uses consistent with the Public Trust.


For some 15 years, the people of Richmond were generally pleased with the way the Craneway was used, even though it might have been a stretch to find exactly which of the public trust categories some of them fit into. I never heard a single complaint except some grumblings about how some users avoided hiring local people. Richmonders were generally proud of what the Craneway had become, and a lot of them attended some of the various activities, whether a crafts fair, the 3rd of July celebration and symphony, a Rosie the Riveter event, a fine arts production, a trade show or Labor dinner. There was something for everyone, and it constantly changed.

Then came pickleball. The initial proposal from Orton was to transfer the lease to the pickleball organization, which would have required consent from the City of Richmond. After seeking advice from the State Lands Commission and receiving a negative response, the City denied the initial application, and it was withdrawn,

After that, whatever was going on among the City, the pickle ball people and Orton became opaque. There were posts on social media intimating that the application had been modified, and the City was receptive. We know the mayor has been on record as supporting the Craneway use for pickleball.

What we do know is that a pickleball promotor is now running the Assemble Restaurant (now called Assemble Kitchen) and that continues to announce the opening of the Craneway Pavilion pickleball venue at the Craneway. New athletic flooring is being installed at the Craneway, presumably in preparation for pickleball courts. The move to turn the Craneway into a pickleball venue appears to march inexorably on, regardless of any attempts to stop it. See “Unauthorized Craneway pickleball courts revive controversy.”

Figure 1 - Athletic floor being installed at the Craneway February 25, 2024

Figure 2 - Mayor Martinez extolls pickleball at a 2023 Rotary Club meeting and says the craneway “is addressing a need for pickleball in the Bay Area.”

Back when the Craneway enjoyed popular support, people weren’t looking at the fine print of the lease, but some provisions might be worth reviewing.

The lease agreement includes a provision for prevailing wages for capital improvements. Are the people installing pickleball court improvements being paid prevailing wages? There is a “First Source” requirement in RMC Chapter 2.56 for any entity receiving a “subsidy” from the City of Richmond, which includes “” a ground lease at below market value.” Is $1.00 per year below market rent? Most people would say, yes. The First Source provision requires an employer to follow a hiring process that requires first consideration to Richmond residents.

The answer to all these questions is simply silence from City Hall.