Joyce Roy: MTC stealth action contradicts sustainability policy

16 Aug

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?

390 Main Street, San Francisco

1100 Broadway, Oakland (image from SKS website)

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. 


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:,,,,,,,,,, ,,,,,

17 Responses to “Joyce Roy: MTC stealth action contradicts sustainability policy”

  1. Andy K August 16, 2011 at 8:59 am #

    Seems like a no brainier.

  2. Jame August 16, 2011 at 9:44 am #

    Sending off an email now. I was so mad when I saw the news.

    • Rebecca Saltzman (aka Becks) August 16, 2011 at 9:50 am #

      Thanks! I too am very upset about this for multiple reasons (waste of money, making the agency inaccessible, arguably illegal use of funds, etc.).

  3. Roobs August 16, 2011 at 10:05 am #

    So is 1100 Broadway being built again? When I was still living in the area that project was still stalled.

  4. jackterrier August 16, 2011 at 2:05 pm #

    Thanks for the write-up. This whole transaction smells foul.
    Do you know how long the meeting is set to last? I can take a lunch break at 10, but 9 is hard to justify.

    • Rebecca Saltzman (aka Becks) August 16, 2011 at 2:10 pm #

      I understand that!

      It looks like there will be two separate meetings – one at 9am with MTC and BATA and another at 10:05am with just MTC. Unless they have some sneaky way around it, they should allow public comment at both. For more info on the series of meetings tomorrow, see the MTC’s website:

      It would be awesome if you could come testify – they often hear from the same few people on issues like this so particularly if you’re not a regular, your testimony could have a big impact.

      • Joan Lichterman August 16, 2011 at 4:25 pm #

        Rebecca, thanks for including the MTC link. And cheers to Joyce for writing. I plan to be there tomorrow.

  5. John Gatewood August 16, 2011 at 10:53 pm #

    I cannot attend the meeting tomorrow. However I have just sent my email in opposition to this boondoggle to the Commissioners.
    Thank you Rebecca & Joyce!

  6. Joan Lichterman August 17, 2011 at 8:18 pm #

    I attended (and spoke) today too, armed with a printout of the Oakland Tribune editorial and this Living in the O post. A number of disabled people spoke about the poor accessibility of the site, and challenged the commission to go to 390 Main Street on public transit and see the building (a number hadn’t seen it). Probably the same number of state policymakers sent their reps to urge the commission to stay in Oakland as the appropriate regional center — to the point of annoying at least one commissioner. (Senator Mark DeSaulnier also had asked the state auditor to examine this expenditure — see — and other policymakers, including Rebecca Kaplan, suggested that the commission wait for the results.) Kaplan also effectively challenged the MTC’s estimates of renovation costs for 390 Main (no bids for anything, so they were pulling numbers out of thin air — my comment, not Kaplan’s). As the meeting wore on, it became clear that a number of significant questions needed to be answered before the commission could make a decision. It’s amazing that the process had gone so far without public input, which clearly turned them around. Look for Joyce’s post later, and stay tuned. This issue will return for further deliberation after they can answer the questions we raised today.

    • Joyce Roy August 17, 2011 at 10:09 pm #

      The MTC unanimously rescinded their July 27 vote for purchasing 390 Main. A committee consisting of the Chair and Vice Chair, and one other member, will come back to the commission in six weeks with a report answering all of the public’s and commissioner’s questions. This will also give them a chance to see how the state legislature responds. (Thanks for that link to Mark DeSaulnier’s statement, Joan.)

      There were so many speakers, that even with a two-minute limit, the meeting lasted till noon. All of the speakers were against the move to 390 Main, except the Executive Director of the Air District. I learned that only five of the commissioners had toured the building. One who did, Mark Green used a technical term to describe it—“it sucks.”

      • Daniel Schulman August 18, 2011 at 7:35 am #

        “only five of the commissioners had toured the building”

        And yet the majority of them voted to spend over $180 million of the public’s money buying and refurbishing it. This is horribly irresponsible decision-making.

        • Naomi Schiff August 18, 2011 at 10:36 am #

          I was really surprised that they had not bothered even to go and look at it!

  7. Joyce Roy August 17, 2011 at 10:43 pm #

    Link to Cecily Burt article in the Tribune:

  8. jackterrier August 18, 2011 at 12:34 pm #

    I had a hard time comprehending Commissioner Wiener’s statement that Oakland stakeholders had “stirred up a hornet’s nest” and that 390 Main might fall through as a result.
    It’s a pretty offensive comment, suggesting 1. that the public’s comments and concerns were unwarranted, unnecessary. 2. Oakland, without representation on the Commission, was in the wrong in their efforts to rally citizen support. 3. They, (the commission), might as well rubber stamp whatever plan was in front of them and the whole bit was a waste of time.

  9. Jame (@jameane) August 19, 2011 at 10:41 am #

    I sent over a few comments related to the fact that the surrounding area around 390 Main was a pedestrian nightmare that SF has hardly started to address, and frankly, it is a low quality neighborhood for workers: limited transit, few restaurants, and full of huge traffic jams. I can’t even believe that location was on the list, not even taking into account the building itself. I didn’t realize that bridge tolls would be used to fund that purchase what makes it even more appalling. Hopefully they continue the decision making in a logical manner that incorporates public feedback.

  10. Theresa in Temescal August 19, 2011 at 8:26 pm #

    jackterrier – What that comment was that the activists did their jobs and were a goddamn pain in the ass. Politicians who have made up their minds really don’t like it when they’re forced to do the right thing and publicly change their minds, but they’ll do it if the activists make it hurt enough. Brush it off. It means the tactics worked and we should keep doing it.

  11. darrell caraway October 13, 2011 at 11:14 am #

    That LEED line is pretty out of place isn’t it? Considering there are tens of thousands of exiting buildings in Oakland alone, it would seem a better task for a working architect to change a dungeon like dark dank old building into a vital living thing like we do now-a-days and not build a new building. It makes sense because it uses fewer natural resources. That BART company has done a lot of odd things and they make a lot of money so it is probably easy to try to say they do something wrong when it is a board deciding these things, but they moved out of their original building years ago so what difference does it make where they go? They will still make lots of money and need a remodel for the new building.

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