The Oakland City Council can revisit its approval of the Oak-to-Ninth project at its meeting on Jan. 20 when they will be asked to certify a revised EIR. A court ruling that upheld a CEQA lawsuit challenging the original EIR’s adequacy necessitated this revision. Three things in particular have changed since the original approval in July 2006.
1) The bottom has fallen out of the housing market.
2) We have become more aware of the effect of auto usage on global warming.
3) With the city’s current budget deficit, can it afford to pay a developer approximately $27 million for 4.47 acres next to a freeway to dump low-income families and seniors? (The developer is to pay $18 million for the entire 64 acres!)
The California Environment Quality Act (CEQA) requires agencies to prepare an Environmental Impact Report (EIR) for projects with possible significant impacts so they can make an informed decision. But it seems the City Council, instead of basing its decision on this information, simply considered that since the EIR requirement was out of the way, they could approve the project even though it identified horrendous adverse impacts.
Because of these adverse impacts, the City Council should reject the project and tell the developer to return with a project that does not have such adverse impacts. Reducing the scale, which has been urged by some comment letters, would lessen the adverse impacts. The Environmentally Superior Alternative of 540 units would do that. The present proposal of 3.100 units is equivalent to nine San Francisco Rincon Hill 60/49 story towers!
Particularly alarming in the EIR is the extensive comments from the California Public Utilities Commission on the railroad safety hazards for pedestrians, bicycles and autos presented by this site, which are unmitigated. This auto-dependent isolated site is located on the wrong side of very active rail lines and a freeway. This is not “urban infill;” it has been likened to “an island with inadequate bridges.”
It would be an environmental injustice to locate very low-income families and seniors next to a freeway with a high level of diesel truck traffic and with little or no public transit. Providing HEPA filtration systems is not a solution. It does not filter out the very fine particulates that are the most harmful, particularly for the most vulnerable populations, young children with developing lungs and seniors. Besides the problem of maintaining any such system, who wants to live in a sealed box and feel it is unsafe to spend much time outdoors? The lack of good public transit would isolate this population or force them to buy polluting clunkers, which they can ill afford to buy or maintain.
And all these social and environmental concerns do not address the loss of a truly regional public park on our estuary as visualized in the Estuary Policy Plan.
So what is the solution? Scale-back the project to 540 units so it can be built in this century. Locate units 500 feet from the freeway and keep the Public Trust land as open space. Accept the Vintners Hall proposal for the Ninth Avenue Terminal. With the lower density and some higher structures, the units will be more attractive because they will have more light and air and great views that take advantage of its waterfront site.
Joyce Roy is an Oakland resident and a plaintiff on the CEQA lawsuit.