In the last issue of the Yodeler, Matt Williams, chair of the Bay Chapter’s Transportation and Compact Growth Committee, wrote about a sustainable development success story in El Cerrito (read the story here). In this issue, Matt writes about a Priority Development Area that doesn’t look as promising.
There is a Priority Development Area in Newark, near the Dumbarton Bridge, where the number of households is expected to grow from 138 in 2010 to 2,498 by 2040. This PDA is alternately known as the Dumbarton Rail Station Priority Development Area and the Dumbarton Transit Oriented Development Specific Plan. The centerpiece of the PDA is a not-yet-built railroad station for passengers headed to southern San Mateo County.
Initially, the plan was to make track and station improvements and to acquire passenger cars to connect Union City with Caltrain across the Bay, via the rail station planned for the Dumbarton PDA. Since then, the transit situation has deteriorated due to defunding by both by the Metropolitan Transportation Commission and the Alameda County Transportation Commission.
The only other transit service in the area is one AC Transit bus line with a 45-minute headway (the time between buses), inadequate to the requirements of a PDA. There is no plan as yet to run the bus line with a 15-minute frequency during peak times, a requirement of the Regional Transportation Plan, Plan Bay Area.
The environmental documents prepared by the City over the past several years provide a wealth of troubling information about the area. A flock of concerned regional, state, and federal agencies have submitted comments about the proposed PDA on a host of issues including contaminated soil and groundwater, flooding and sea-level rise, and impacts on wildlife.
The California Regional Water Quality Control Board, in a comment made before the project’s Environmental Impact Report (EIR) was prepared, warned about contaminated soil and groundwater within the PDA, citing “high concentrations of chlorinated solvents, metals, flammable materials… phenols… [and] dioxins.” Many of these contaminants are left over from when the area was home to several industrial facilities. The Water Board comments go on to note that remediation, where residential development will occur, would have to be thorough. Newark was advised to have the EIR address the “potential threat to human health, water quality, and the environment from residual soil and groundwater pollution during…occupancy and use, based on a changed land use [to residential areas].”
The Water Board also recommended that the hazardous soil be removed to a depth of ten feet below grade at one site in the PDA. Hauling the soil out of the PDA would require about 19,000 truck shipments through populated sections of Newark.
The Federal Emergency Management Agency noted that the PDA is located in a flood hazard area and that all buildings must be raised on pilings and columns that are anchored to resist “flotation, collapse and lateral movement due to the effects of wind and water loads acting simultaneously on all building components.” Newark’s response was to propose raising the entire area with between 500,000 and 1,000,000 cubic yards of fill. Bringing in that much fill would require more than 50,000 truck trips, generating traffic and a large volume of greenhouse gases (which a PDA shouldn’t do).
The US Department of the Interior’s Fish and Wildlife Service noted that the proposed development area is located near the Don Edwards San Francisco Bay National Wildlife Refuge, and that some bird species and the endangered salt marsh harvest mouse would be adversely affected. The City’s response regarding the endangered mouse is that a “protective cat-proof fence would be established separating the developed project site from any suitable salt marsh harvest mouse habitat.” One Service recommendation is that the City “consider building farther away from the baylands or analyze the potential need for additional flood protection from sea level rise scenarios.”
The San Francisco Bay Conservation and Development Commission (BCDC) commented on sea-level rise and the safety of fills, noting that “local governments… should assure that new structures and uses attracting people are not approved in flood prone areas or in areas that will become flood prone in the future….” BCDC noted that, by the end of the century, the sea-level rise may be 55 inches. The mapping service of Our Coast Our Future makes it looks very much like projected end-of-century rise will flood a part of the PDA.
Earlier this year, Newark released a Final Environmental Impact Report on a proposed residential development within a section of the PDA. Curiously, if built, the housing would be 244 detached single-family residential units arranged in a street pattern that looks like it would generate more automobile trips, not curb them.
One other thing that stands out about the Dumbarton PDA is that it does not fit within the definition of a PDAs as envisioned by Plan Bay Area, That guiding document described PDAs as “transit-oriented, infill development opportunities areas within existing communities.” Besides the lack of transit, the Newark PDA is not “infill development” and there is no existing nearby community.
Newark’s Dumbarton PDA has enough troublesome issues that perhaps the best thing would be to cancel plans to develop the area altogether and follow the advice of the Fish and Wildlife Service by putting the housing and transit in another place. Regional grant funds would be better spent on other Bay Area PDAs, rather than on the inauspicious Dumbarton Rail Station PDA.
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— Matt Williams, chair, Transportation and Compact Growth Committee