Wareham Flexes Political Muscle
By Brian Donahue
In an example of how some in Emeryville are more equal than others, a favored developer will likely gain approval for a bulky office tower without answering criticism from Emeryville’s normally pliant Planning Commission.
Wareham Development Corporation, the builder of most of Emeryville’s bio-tech and office complexes, is so confident that its planned 165-foot tall office tower and parking garage will sail through as-is, that the firm didn’t bother to address any of the reasons the city’s appointed Planning Commission cited when they rejected the building’s plans two weeks ago.
Wareham didn't have to. The Planning Commission's ruling was appealed by Nora Davis and other members of the pro-business council majority.
The so-called "Transit Center," was rejected by the planning commission after it ruled that the accompanying environmental studies required by state law "lacked credibility." The commission also dismissed the resident amenities and benefits touted by the developer, as ‘dubious.’ One commissioner stated that the proposed building was clearly "out of scale" with the neighborhood.
A rejection of this sort, especially by a body seldom finding fault in any project, would normally cause reconsideration by the city bureaucracy or the firm making the proposal. But this is not a normal project, nor a normal city.
No need to go back to the blueprints. Wareham, and its leader, Rich Robbins don't need to listen. After all, this is a firm with the ‘chutzpah’ to name a parking garage and office tower a “Transit Center.” Robbins is also a man with enough juice in Emeryville to get what he wants.
The council majority didn't even wait for Robbins to pony up the cost of filing an appeal. Instead, they appealed it themselves. Now the council gets the chance to overrule its own hand picked commissioners.
Tomorrow, the council will likely ignore the planning commission’s objections and approve the project without alteration. Even the planning department's official report urges full acquiescence to Robbins wishes.
The project has created controversy over the years. Many millions of dollars in taxpayer subsidies were demanded by Robbins and granted by the Council. Before the ink was even dry on the city's new general plan, a special exemption was added for Robbins' garage and tower. Construction will disturb one of the city’s EPA Superfund Sites, a toxic legacy of a Westinghouse plant currently sealed beneath the Amtrak parking lot. Construction will excavate tons of PCBs and truck them through our community. Additionally, the Bike/Pedestrian Committee unanimously objected to what the project will do to the city’s new and only Bicycle Boulevard----bring heavy traffic to a street from which bicycle lanes were removed.
The Council will consider their own appeal of the Planning Commission's decision Tuesday. To anyone who might want to witness an expression of raw political power, attend the meeting, scheduled to get underway at City Hall on Tuesday, February 16 at 7:15 p.m.