Council Majority: "Toxic Waste Dump" Left Under 'Transit' Center No Problem
In a 3-2 vote, the City Council voted to overturn the Planning Commission and approve the controversial 'Transit' Center development on Horton Street Tuesday night. The vote culminated a decade long process for favored Emeryville developer Wareham Development to leverage millions of dollars in subsidies from the taxpayers of Emeryville to forward a project the Planning Commission recently said was "too low in public benefit" to accept. The project will leave significant levels of highly toxic soil under the proposed building, a change from a previous iteration of the project that proposed removing virtually all the toxic soil.
The vote to approve, (Asher & West dissenting) saw the same Council members, that had previously assured the public that the proposed project would clean up a site contaminated with toxins, suddenly reverse themselves and now sheepishly accept an undetermined amount of toxins left under the new 'Transit' Center tower. The site, previously used by Westinghouse Corporation, has toxins that were left behind in the soil including PCBs, VOCs and other nasties. City staff referring Tuesday night to the contamination as a "toxic waste dump" recommended approval of the project regardless of the fact that the site will remain a toxic waste dump with "elevated concentrations of PCBs and other toxins that will remain" according to Earl James, a toxic waste researcher retained by the former Emeryville Redevelopment Agency. Mr James testified that Wareham will only remove about seven feet of soil on the site, forever leaving "high [toxin] concentrations below the remediation level."
The 'Transit' Center will provide four bus bays to complete its transit promise and will provide some 850 parking spaces for cars using the Horton Street Bike Boulevard, a street that according to the Emeryville General Plan may not carry more than 3000 vehicle trips per day, a number already in gross excess on the street. The large number of parking spaces proposed drew ire from former City Councilman Ken Bukowski who called the project more rightly an "automotive center" than a transit center.
Wareham secured unprecedented City funded tax increment financing in addition to the approximately $4 million in City subsidies it will receive. The tax increment financing means Emeryville will receive no taxes for the project for 12 years, something Mayor Jac Asher said made her "deeply ambilvolent" about the project. She added, "With the amount of money and time we've invested, we should have a much better project".
Council member Kurt Brinkman excitedly told the audience this project should be approved because it completes Wareham's "vision" for the site. "Wareham makes things happen" Mr Brinkman said. Councilwoman Nora Davis expressed displeasure that "there will be residuals [toxins]" but she found solace in the fact that the existing asphalt cap meant to entomb the toxins will be replaced, "the building will be a hefty cap" she said.
For its part, Wareham indicated through Mr James that (contrary to a past promise) removing all the toxic soil was now too expensive.