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Hilltop Mall, Revisited: Developers Envision Nearly 10K New Housing Units – But Critics Worry Current Residents Could Be ‘Priced Out’

on November 2, 2017

When LBG Real Estate Companies purchased the struggling Hilltop Mall this past July, it announced a vision for a rehabilitated, mixed-use hub with a laundry list of amenities, including new shops and restaurants, entertainment, and even small medical facilities. But the developers also want to build 9,600 housing units — a number equivalent to nearly 9 percent of Richmond’s population.

An infusion of new housing units on this scale has the potential to alter the real estate market in both the Hilltop region and also Richmond at large — though the extent of its impact is hard to gauge this early in the game.

Jack Burns, owner of the Richmond-based firm Security Pacific Real Estate, said that an influx of new homes could be a boon for the area.

“There is a huge shortage of housing not only in Richmond but in all of California,” Burns said. “To have more housing could be a positive for everybody in the city, generating taxes and business.”

Housing construction is slated to begin after retail and commercial enterprises are refurbished and new stores are lined up to fill the empty spaces. This would likely occur in phases, according to Doug Beiswenger, managing partner at LGB.

“We’re still very early in this process of figuring out what the timing and phasing is going to be, understanding that we’ve owned the property for around 60 days,” he said.

Cesar Zepeda, president of the Hilltop District’s Neighborhood Council, regards his neighborhood as one of the holdout gems of the Bay Area, and “one of the last places that anyone will be able to build” with 360 degree views of the water.

But Zepeda wants all Hilltop residents to enjoy the view, not just those with high incomes. “We can’t price out our community. We have to be able to build and sustain our community smartly,” he said.

He met with investors and developers prior to LBG’s purchase, and emphasized the Hilltop community’s vision: a mixed-use development that incorporates affordable housing units. But while housing is needed all over the Bay Area, Zepeda said the new owners and the community need to be “realistic and understand what the Hilltop area is able to give.”

It’s not 9,600 housing units, he said.

“They can’t really build that many homes up there,” Zepeda said. “The infrastructure is not there, and it never will be.”

Traffic, he said, is already an issue on Hilltop Drive and Richmond Parkway, the latter a main thoroughfare for the city.

It is also unclear whether LBG will opt to construct affordable housing units or pay a fee to the city of Richmond instead — in compliance with the city’s inclusionary housing ordinance, which requires developers to do one or the other.

“We haven’t gotten that far to make any decision like that,” Beiswenger said.

Nikki Beasley is the executive director of Richmond Neighborhood Housing Services, a nonprofit that aims to ensure affordable homes and rentals for Richmond residents. To Beasley, this level of development sends up a red flag: The area is primed for gentrification.

“It’s considered a nicer area, a little bit more infrastructure where people can go and live,” Beasley said. “Richmond is one of the last cities to be impacted by gentrification. But it’s coming.”


  1. Commenter on November 2, 2017 at 11:58 am

    According to anti “gentrification” reasoning, Hilltop would never have been built in the first place. But it was, and it saved Richmond as a shopping destination for decades. I have no problem at all with high end residential units at Hilltop. Look at what a dump Richmond is with cheap ugly building construction the norm, we could use the nicer housing stock. If anything we should be encouraging the developer to build something even nicer than they plan to, not something less desirable.
    I myself welcome the new owners and their grand plans, and encourage them to hold out for the nicer development in spite of the inevitable naysayers and whiners who resist any change regardless if it’s one for the better of all Richmond.

    • resident on November 2, 2017 at 3:53 pm

      What are you talking about?

      • Commenter on November 2, 2017 at 4:12 pm

        A pervasive ignorance and negative attitude that keeps Richmond mired in crime, poverty and dysfunction.

  2. Richmond Citizen on November 2, 2017 at 3:20 pm

    As a long-time resident of Richmond, CA and the Bay Area we know that we must develop A LOT of housing to deal with the housing issue and homelessness that we are living with today. It is the LACK of ANY BUILDING of housing that has caused many of our problems with the affordability of housing in the entire Bay Area.

    As long as they have plans to develop the INFRASTRUCTURE to support the development (more roads, better traffic management, public transportation options, walkability and safety), I say that at least SOMEBODY is trying to do something about creating places we can LIVE and have a ROOF over our heads!

  3. Commenter on November 2, 2017 at 3:59 pm

    Remember how successful the RPA was working everyone up with fear tactics, and shaking down UC Berkeley with all kinds of unreasonable demands. How did that work out for Richmond? They killed off the project instead of encouraging and working for the success of it. I really hope we don’t replay that disaster with Hilltop. The truth is we are very lucky Hilltop has new owners who want to invest so much into the site and make it a nice destination for all once again. We are competing with lots of other very nice places people can go to and spend their money at. Why on earth would you want the developer to build something cheap there? Richmond is already full of cheap ugly buildings. How will that bring in the customers and tax revenue? We should encourage them to build the very nicest development possible there if we wish to see it succeed and compete with other shopping destinations. A successful development will bring many years of benefits to the city and it’s residents, as the mall did for decades. Look at downtown Richmond if you want to see how an unsuccessful development turns out.
    I hope that all those that can see that, and I know they are many, will speak out and try to get ahead of all the complainers and naysayers who can’t stand to see Richmond rise out of poverty and dysfunction.

  4. A.N. on November 2, 2017 at 4:43 pm

    the cynic in me says the new owners wouldn’t be willing to invest so much into the site and make it a nice destination for all once again if they weren’t planning on making serious money from it. That means market rate housing.

    • Commenter on November 2, 2017 at 7:15 pm

      How do you think they came to be in a position to be able to buy a whole shopping mall of this size? It isn’t necessarily a bad thing. I don’t see anything wrong with market rate housing there, it makes sense. Richmond is a town that would benefit greatly from thousands of new residents with disposable income to spend in town.

  5. Richard Stark on November 4, 2017 at 1:03 pm

    “There’s no such thing as a deal,” Parker told him. “There never was, anywhere. A deal is what people say is gonna happen. It isn’t always what happens.”

    Excerpt From: Stark, Richard. “Dirty Money.” PENGUIN group, 2010-11-15T10:21:20+00:00. iBooks.
    This material may be protected by copyright.

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