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Wednesday, January 22, 2014

'Transit' Center Vote: City Council Overturns Planning Commission Decision

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.


  1. More new development by Wareham means more security systems provided by Intrepid Electronics.

  2. One of my concerns is yet again this developer receives extraordinary subsidies. How much money does he really need? He has not always produced healthy buildings for the people of Emeryville (the Terraces). I am more than disappointed that the council trio continues to grant lavish subsidies for developers such as Rich Robbins. This development should have been negotiated with the citizens of Emeryville being considered first. I wonder just how much profit Mr. Robbins has made from this city over the years? Remember, we, the people, are still paying for the many redevelopment giveaways to developers. What is the trio's thinking other than just add this to the bill for the citizens to pay? A predictable outcome from Atkin, Brinkman and Davis.

  3. Entirely predictable votes from Nora Davis and Kurt Brinkman. People they perceive as political enemies raised some questions about the project, which served to harden Nora's heart and bring along her lackey, Mr. Brinkman. Perhaps even more disgusting is the fact that this office building is receiving over a million dollars in voter approved state mass transit money because it is a "transit oriented development" meanwhile, it moves the Amtrak buses FURTHER from the train station, and does NOTHING to improve transit services (coordinating AC Transit to SF, local AC Transit buses/EmeryGoRound/Amtrak/Amtrak Buses to SF). And Ruth Atkin reveals herself once again as a fraud who pays lip service to sensible development but sells out her supporters at every turn. I wonder how that phony sleeps at night. Disgraceful

  4. Will Wareham Development have soil vapor intrusion monitoring in place to see if the removal of the 7 feet of contaminated soil is enough to keep the levels of VOCs and PCBs below Risk Based Screening Levels? Have they completed a Human Health Risk Assessment in order to determine that this 7-ft deep removal of soil will keep the site within EPA levels? Are they capping the entire contaminated site with asphalt? And why are the citizens of Emeryville being ripped off once again by our elected officials with tax dollars being shunted over by the millions to Wareham? Why should they be subsidies. Crooked, wrong.