This guest post was written by Joyce Roy. As a retired architect, Joyce has raised her sights (or sites?) to the whole city of Oakland and so has been active in advocating for better transit, the right development in the right place and the reuse of existing structures. She is an active member of ULTRA.
With little public knowledge or input, the Metropolitan Transportation Commission (MTC) voted on July 27 to purchase a 1940’s warehouse in a desolate San Francisco area, a half-mile from BART, for a new headquarters to share with other regional agencies. This violates their own land use policy of locating ”job centers within a quarter mile of transit.” And it will take many years and more than the $180 million allocated to transform this 8-story humongous plug-ugly warehouse into humane habitable office spaces. No matter how much money is sunk into this building, it is doubtful it can be rated a Class-A office building because of its location.
MTC has another choice, a superbly sustainable one, for $153 million—a proposed new, fully entitled, 20-story Class-A office tower above the 12th Street BART Station at 1100 Broadway in downtown Oakland which will be LEED Platinum certified! With 310,000 square feet of office space and 10,000 square feet of public/retail space on the ground floor, it would more than meet the needs of all three (or four?) regional agencies—it would become a signature regional center. And the façade of the attached Historic Key System building, the birthplace of Bay Area mass transit, would be restored! What better demonstration of sustainable development could there be?
MTC’s decision was a stealth action. Unless you are a government insider, this is probably news to you. The agenda item did not spell out the decision to acquire the warehouse at 390 Main St., it simply called for the formation of a Joint Powers Authority to develop and acquire a regional office facility.
Oddly, last December, MTC approved a Public Participation Plan after more than 4-years’ work. And now they want to move their headquarters from a site that is easily accessible to one that is a challenge for anyone without a car. That half-mile unpleasant walk will keep away much of the pesky public, particularly the elderly, disabled and the poor. Isn’t this asking for an equity and ADA challenge?
The vote was 12- 2 with Scott Haggerty, an Alameda County supervisor, and Mark Green, Union City mayor, voting against it. I doubt if any of those who voted for it went to the Embarcadero station, walked to 390 Main and were given a tour of the building before they voted. If they didn’t, they voted to purchase a pig in a poke.
Sharing a facility with other regional agencies is a laudable goal. The other agencies are Association of Bay Area Governments (ABAG), the Bay Area Air Quality Management District (Air District), and, perhaps, the Bay Conservation and Development Commission (BCDC).
However, only the Air District has signed on. Its present building needs upgrades and is even farther from BART. ABAG with its Class-A office next to Lake Merritt BART has declined. This negates the “regional office facility” concept. It simply means that instead of two agencies, MTC and ABAG sharing a Class-A building next to BART, MTC will share space with the Air District in a less than Class-A building with poor transit access. For three, or even four, agencies to share space will require finding, or constructing, a Class-A office space near transit. That is not the warehouse at 390 Main Street!
The building was purchased from the Post Office for $60 million in March 2010 and MTC will slap down $106 million for it and up to $74 million for “building improvements.”
Estimation of costs and timing of construction projects is not MTC’s forte. Case in point: the eastern span of the Bay Bridge! The $74 million is a fantasy figure. It will take much more than that to turn this ex-military tank factory into an office building. The first floor will be needed for parking (unless they purchase the adjoining parking lot) and carving out an atrium is essential to provide even a glimmer of natural light or breath of fresh air to the inner spaces. So, only about 280,000 square feet of its 500,000 can become usable office space. And the claim that the building can be occupied by December 2012 is laughable. A General Plan Amendment and EIR will be required and will take at least 18 months.
This choice would turn MTC on its head; it goes against everything it espouses. It increases auto use, decreases transit use, and increases greenhouse gases and energy use. It other words, it does not practice the sustainable development it preaches. And all this with funds intended to decrease congestion in the toll bridge corridors.
The use of bridge tolls for the source of funding is questionable. Its purpose is “to fund various transportation projects within the region that have been determined to reduce congestion or to make improvements to travel in the toll bridge corridors.” Since 60% of the staff, and many public participants, live in the East Bay, locating to a transit-challenged site in San Francisco will increase congestion. While a “regional office facility” is not on the list of capital projects for bridge toll funding, it can be argued that locating one in downtown Oakland, the Bay Area’s most transit accessible location, will decrease congestion in the toll bridge corridors.
NOW, THE GOOD NEWS: We have another bite of the apple because MTC has called a special meeting for this Wednesday, August 17, solely for this proposed action due to the City of Oakland’s claim of a Brown Act violation at the July 27 meeting.
WHAT WE CAN DO
Forward this to others who may be concerned.
Speak up at the meeting! MTC needs to know they cannot hide from the public! It begins at 9:00 am on Wed. August 17 in the MTC auditorium at 101 Eight Street in downtown Oakland.
And/or (if you cannot attend the meeting) email the Commissioners:
email@example.com, firstname.lastname@example.org, Thomas_W._Azumbrado@HUD.GOV, email@example.com, firstname.lastname@example.org, email@example.com, firstname.lastname@example.org, email@example.com, firstname.lastname@example.org, email@example.com, firstname.lastname@example.org, email@example.com, District3@sanjoseca.gov , firstname.lastname@example.org, email@example.com, firstname.lastname@example.org, email@example.com, Scott.Wiener@sfgov.org.