Tom Butt
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  RPA Controlled City of Richmond Fails at Historic Preservation
May 29, 2024

As I head off today for the 2024 California Preservation Conference in Los Angeles, it saddens me in this Preservation Month of May how far the City of Richmond has fallen in its stewardship of irreplaceable historic sites. Partially because of mismanagement by the City of Richmond, the historic structures at Miraflores remain at great risk. While one councilmember has expressed hope that a new owner may pursue development, that same new owner is flaunting multiple City ordinances that require the new property owner to secure and protect the property. Recently, I received an email from a concerned Richmond resident:

Another sad state of affairs are the buildings that once were associated with Japanese nurseries. Long ago there was the promise they would be turned into an interactive historical center as Mira Flores was developed. The buildings now sit abandoned, usually the haunt of homeless folks. The city can’t even keep the gate locked allowing entrance to the buildings by anyone who wants. If these buildings are allowed to decay, or worse, be burned down, there goes the last bit of history of the Japanese contributions to the city of Richmond. It’s criminal.

Neglect of the Miraflores property goes back to the previous owner that lost it in foreclosure while the City failed to enforce ordinances requiring protection and maintenance.

Because the City failed to enforce the same ordinances at another historic property, the International Hotel burned down in April of 2023.

Figure 1 - International Hotel destroyed by fire

This is not just a problem with Miraflores. The City has a responsibility to secure and maintain Point Molate, including the irreplaceable Winehaven Historic District structures, but they continue to deteriorate with no prospect for future development. Councilmember Doria Robinson joined with other RPA members to help assure the ultimate destruction of Winehaven. A member of the RPA-affiliated Point Molate Alliance has urged bulldozing Winehaven (Save Winehaven Historic District, December 20, 2023)

RPA stalwart and former planning commissioner Jeff Killbreth on his desire for Winehaven to be “bulldozed”. This is a commonly held opinion by the RPA and Point Molate Alliance, and it highlights the importance of the effort to save Winehaven.

“Part of the problem of moving toward a resolution is an illusion that Winehaven can be turned into a successful development and cover renovation costs, said Jeff Kilbreth.

“I honestly suspect that the best thing that could happen would be if we bulldozed Winhaven and made it all a park. Call me crazy, but I actually think that it’s so deteriorated and so expensive to make that place work as any kind of normal development,” Kilbreth said.

Kilbreth said former Mayor Tom Butt made a misguided backroom deal in selecting Suncal to develop Point Molate, and Butt was committed to Winehaven in a “maniacal way.”

“He also remains unreasonably devoted to this endeavor. He’s fixated on developing it, particularly emphasizing the preservation of Winehaven’s Historic District and keeping the aspiration of revitalizing Winehaven alive,” Kilbreth said. “If the development couldn’t support a nut as expensive as a $6 million a year cost for a fire station. What makes anybody think that any development scenario at Winehaven could support a $400 infrastructure investment.”

The iconic General Warehouse at historic Shipyard 3 continues to deteriorate after a series of ill-conceived development contracts turned sour.

Figure 2 - Graffiti covered General Warehouse

One bright spot in historic preservation at historic Shipyard 3 is the Riggers Loft, restored by the City in 2013 and turned into a popular winery, Riggers Loft Wine Company. For the last four years, however, the City has been trying to evict the Riggers Loft for failing to pay full rent when it had to close down during Covid. It seems the mayor and the City Council want to see the Riggers Loft vacated so it can be used to support offshore wind projects (Point Potrero Marine Terminal – Historic Shipyard 3).To the City’s credit, the Riggers Loft is finally being repainted and the missing and damaged signage repaired, but the City has doubled down on eviction, which, if successful, would leave another derelict historic building.

Figure 3 - New paint job on the Riggers Loft

Miraflores project not dead yet, city in negotiation with new owner

Soren Hemmila
Soren Hemmila
May 28, 2024 — 3 min read
Miraflores project not dead yet, city in negotiation with new owner
Council finds new hope for stalled Miraflores project with new owner. Photo/Linda Hemmila

Richmond Councilmember Doria Robison reported the new owner of the former Miraflores property is possibly interested in picking up the bankrupt housing project near I-80.

Miraflores is the former site of the historic Sakai and Oishi nurseries, founded by Japanese immigrants in the early 1900s.
The proposed project consisted of 22 detached multi-story buildings containing 190 residential units on an 8.17-acre parcel in the Park Plaza neighborhood, bordered by South 45th Street, Wall Avenue, Interstate 80, and the Richmond Greenway.

Miraflores is a 7.3 site originally proposed for a 190-unit mixed market-rate and affordable-for-sale housing development.

“I know a lot of people, if you’ve been tracking that project, you thought it was kind of dead because the developer went into bankruptcy,” Robinson said at the Richmond City Council meeting on Tuesday, May 28. “It finally went through foreclosure and there is a new owner of the property who is now interested in possibly picking the project back up.” 

“We did not forget. We did not let it go. We had to be clear that the developer that we had was not the developer that we needed. We are hopeful for the future.”

The Richmond Redevelopment Agency purchased the nursery property in 2016. Richmond officials wanted to build affordable senior housing, create a park, and rehabilitate the nursery structures on the property.

The city selected Miraflores Community Devco to develop the property and transferred the property in 2018 for $4.2 million.
After the transfer, the developer used the land to secure several loans totaling $10 million, according to a presentation on the project. The Disposition and Development Agreement requires city approval of this financing, which did not occur.

In 2022, the developer approached the city to modify the project from a for-sale development to a workforce rental project, maintaining the exterior building design and site plan to change the financing structure.

The developer's anticipated site improvements did not happen. The site was rapidly becoming a major dump, former Richmond Mayor Tom Butt wrote in his e-forum in April 2023. 

“The developer appeared at a community event at Miraflores Park and told the community to anticipate a groundbreaking this summer, knowing full well it was a lie,” Butt wrote. “It turns out that the developer breached his DDA by mortgaging the property without city permission, and he wanted to abandon his market rate for sale housing for a rental project with higher density, fewer benefits and more risks for the city.”

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The city received notification of defaults for the developer. On January 26, 2023, a notice of default and election to sell was recorded for $7,311,718 by Artes Capital, which now owns the property.  

A second trust deed for $1,694,276 was recorded from the GF Fund on January 18, 2023.

Robinson said to “stay tuned” as the council reaches out to neighborhood councils near the project site and sets up a community meeting for residents following the project.