2nd 'No' Vote From Planning Commission
to Transit Center
"Not Enough Public Benefit"
Thursday night, Emeryville's Planning Commission gave a thumbs down to Wareham Development's contentious 'Transit Center' proposed to be built north of the Amtrak station on Horton Street. The No votes among the Commissioners (Kuemmerle & Gunkel) said the project doesn't offer enough public benefit especially considering a $4.2 million grant of public money Wareham is to receive for the project. Two Commissioners voted Yes (Cardoza & Keeler) and two abstained (Moss & Tann). A tie vote results in a rejection of the application. The City Council will be the final arbiters in the project and they could override the Planning Commission as they did in 2010 on an earlier vote on the controversial project. That earlier Council vote split 3-2 (West & Asher dissenting).
The Transit Center project is comprised of an office tower on a parking podium, a small public plaza and four bus bays in the parking garage. The bus bays are meant to accommodate the Amtrak station.
Some residents cried foul when City Council earlier in the year voted to grant Wareham $4.2 million in public money to build the project, funds leftover from the remains of the former Redevelopment Agency. Wareham had promised to clean up the toxins left over from the polluting days when Westinghouse Electric Company manufacturing operated at the site, a fact Council Member Nora Davis said was a deal maker. Ms Davis it should be noted has been very vocal on using developer and public money to clean up toxins from Emeryville's industrial past. In the intervening years since the agreement was hammered out with Wareham however, the development firm reneged on their promise and they will now only partially clean up the site, leaving toxins entombed in the soil beneath the new building.
Thursday's Planning Commission vote against the Transit Center marks the second time the planning body has rejected the project. In 2010, they said the project with it's four bus bays in the garage and small plaza was too light on the public amenities to approve because of the traffic the project would generate and the fact that the building was too tall for the neighborhood. That Planning Commission vote was made before Wareham retracted it's agreement to clean up the toxins it should be noted. The Transit Center project as proposed today is worse from a public benefit analysis (no complete clean up and a new grant of $4.2 million public money).
Wareham, a favored developer at City Hall, has received more than $4 million in subsidies already from the City Council to help them build their other development projects around town. In November 2012 a generous Council OK'ed a deal with Wareham to allow the developer to bank increment taxes the project generates for 12 years even as the Transit Center uses city services.
The $4.2 million in left over Redevelopment funds the Council earmarked for Wareham and the Transit Center is money the City could have applied to other proposed public projects in town including the moribund South Bayfront Bike/Pedestrian Bridge now starving for money and dying for lack of it.
The Council is expected to vote soon, one last time, to give the final OK for the Transit Center.