Talks break down, Richmond North Shoreline plan in limbo
on January 11, 2012
Four hours of debate Tuesday night brought elected leaders no closer to resolving a decade-long dispute over the future of the city’s North Shoreline.
The Richmond City Council deadlocked on three separate development guidelines, finally agreeing only to return the measure to the Planning Commission to craft a fresh approach.
The north shoreline is a mix of a parkland, open beach, dormant industrial land and marsh. Owners there have offered several ideas for what they may develop there, including a Salvation Army facility, modern commercial office spaces and a business park.
The area at issue is about 200 acres overlooking San Pablo Bay, just south of historic Parchester Village. The only active land use is a shooting range, the Rod and Gun Club.
For years, environmental activists and open space proponents have sought to re-zone the area to preserve its scenic beauty and ecological health.
The council was presented with three options by Planning Department director Richard Mitchell and associate planner Hector Rojas. The first would have changed the existing zoning to prioritize the shoreline as open space, essentially halting any development, while the other two represented plans retaining the freedom for property owners to pursue commercial and industrial development. The pro-development plans included guarantees to safeguard space for a Bay Trail and other recreational uses, Soto said.
Staff recommended option C, which was something of a middle ground between wide-ranging development and open space preservation, said City Manager Bill Lindsay. “The area has visual and environmental resources that are important,” Lindsay said.
Tuesday’s debate was marked by testy exchanges among council members and passionate expressions from more than two dozen public speakers, most favoring options allowing more commercial and other development of the shoreline area.
“We believe in development. North Richmond is nearby and a community without any kind of shopping or a safe haven,” said Rafaell Madrigal, president of the 23rd Street Merchants Association.
Representatives for several people who own portions of the shorelines were on hand Tuesday, including Joshua Genser, Joe and Heidi Shekou, and the Murray family. Each owns at least 10 acres of the area, and each expressed dismay that the uncertainty over what the council would do was an impediment to productive development. A lawyer representing the land owners called the situation a “dark cloud” over their property.
“We need jobs in Richmond. We need to bring opportunities to people here,” Elaina Genser said. “Maintain the zoning, bring jobs to Richmond.”
But the council was evenly divided.
“I’m not willing to let this be paved over,” Councilman Jim Rogers said, responding to a question from Councilman Nat Bates, who took exception to Rogers’ insistence on additional safeguards to ensure preservation of open space. “I want a very specific amount as true open space. That is not a picky detail.”
All three motions failed Tuesday and the crowd in chambers grew restive as the debate stretched past four hours. Councilmembers Corky Booze joined Ritterman and Bates in voting for the pro-development options, but their motions failed in tie votes against Mayor Gayle McLaughlin, Councilwoman Jovanka Beckles and Rogers. Councilman Tom Butt recused himself from the discussion due to personal business interests that may be affected by the outcome.
McLaughlin and Jovanka Beckles were the only votes in favor of the guideline that would change the zoning to open space.
After talks broke down, staff agreed to return the matter to the Planning Commission. Lindsay warned that resolution on the North Shore plan is urgent.
“We can’t move forward with the General Plan until this is decided,” Lindsay said.
Background articles exploring the ongoing North Shoreline saga:
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