Emeryville Transit Center developer Wareham Development responds to allegations by Richmond Mayor

Published On October 6, 2016 | By Rob Arias | News, News & Commentary, Planning & Development

Wareham Development is defending itself from accusations by Richmond Mayor Tom Butt who has alleged them of “a form of toxic dumping” in his city. Wareham admits it temporarily moved clean commercial fill soil from their forthcoming Emeryville Transit Center project without proper permitting to accommodate the construction of a parking garage that is part of the project. Wareham is known in Emeryville for their many properties including EmeryStation and their Greenway property.

Wareham spokesperson Andrew Neilly is defending the decision of the company as an oversight and noted they are already moving to have the soil removed from their land in Richmond which was the plan all along. “The soil was temporarily moved offsite quite simply because the development area was not big enough. This is not a conspiracy.” He noted that this “clean commercial fill” is very commonly used in commercial projects of this nature. The soil was intended to be reintegrated back into garage portion of the project as infill.

The story broke when neighbors of a Wareham owned site in Richmond noticed the three mounds of soil that were covered in tarps and labeled as having PCB’s. The site is a mostly industrial area of Richmond on East Richmond Avenue and Canal Blvd but near some recently developed housing. A neighbor posted a picture on a NextDoor.com thread and the story was picked up by Mayor Butt who happens to live nearby.

“To classify this as ‘dumping’ would imply that this was done secretively and that we had no intention of coming back for it which is not accurate. To classify this is ‘toxic’ would not be responsible.” noted Neilly. The Transit Center site is a former Westinghouse Factory and a site that has been “extensively” remediated. The clean fill was trucked in in 2002 to backfill the site following the remediation. The Commercial fill has been tested three times since then and deemed appropriate for off-site storage and re-use as clean infill by the agencies overseeing the project according to Neilly.

The three mounds of earth were secured behind a fence, clearly labeled, secured by tarps and moved under the supervision of an environmental consultant. Wareham concedes that they did not file for the appropriate permitting and that this was an oversight on their part. “It would be reckless of us to pollute our own land.” noting that they did not know a permit was needed to utilize their own private property for temporary storage of this clean commercial fill.

Neilly notes that the level of PCB’s in the soil as less than 2 PPM which is significantly below the threshold of 25 PPM that is the standard is set by the Regional Water Quality Control Board for off-site storage and re-use. Neilly also notes that Wareham has probably “cleaned up more soil than any other developer or municipality in the East Shore over the last 40 years”. Wareham, ironically, had to apply for a permit with The City of Richmond to remove the soil which is scheduled to be done by the end of this week.

EmeryStation West north of the Amtrak Station is being designed to meet LEED Gold standards

Is Butt “making a mountain over a molehill”?

Thomas King Butt, was elected Mayor of Richmond in 2014 after serving as Vice Mayor twice and has been on city council since 1995. The quibble seamed to dig up some old wounds between the cities that stems back to 2000. A rivalry over Pixar Animation studios who left Richmond in 2000 to expand to Emeryville. Richmond was accused of being unresponsive to Pixar and that this expedited their departure. An accusation Butt addressed in a 2008 forum titled Myth of Pixar Loss Exploded noting “They left because Richmond would not work with them on their plans for a corporate campus and Emeryville was only too happy to oblige”. Emeryville is often accused of giving up too much to accommodate Pixar having demolished the architecturally significant Del Monte Factory [NOTE: This factory was not demolished specifically to accommodate Pixar] and creating an impenetrable “super block” that alienates residents. Butt noted in this Richmond Confidential piece that his city is battling a sort of “Wild West” reputation that allows some to act with impunity.

Wareham has a reputation of being good corporate citizens within the city and donate to many charitable, educational and cultural causes including ECAP, the Emeryville Celebration of the Arts, Emery Unified School District and is a founding partner of the Emery Go-Round among others. Almost everyone I’ve spoken with consider them to have integrity and are responsive which seems to contradict what Butt has alleged.


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About The Author

is a third generation Californian and East Bay native who moved to Emeryville in 2003. A new parent in the community, he can often be seen walking his French Bulldog rescue "Fiona" around his Park Avenue District neighborhood, traversing the greenway on his bike or enjoying his favorite Emeryville small businesses. Rob's "day job" is as a creative professional.

12 Responses to Emeryville Transit Center developer Wareham Development responds to allegations by Richmond Mayor

  1. Will Leben says:

    Wareham is wrong if they expect cities and residents to let them dump their soil. Whether the dumping is secretive or not, whether it’s temporary or not, whether the soil turns out to be clean or not, and whether it’s an oversight or not, my impression is that it’s irresponsible and illegal to do what Wareham did. If one of us did that, we’d expect to be fined.

    • Rob Arias says:

      Thanks Will. I agree with you that if you break the law, a penalty should be assessed and my assumption is that Wareham would be happy to pay a fine to move past this. But when a news source reports this story as “Company Illegally Dumps Toxic Dirt Piles” as EBX did, I think this is just as reckless and it just riles people up and perpetuates this “all corporations are evil” rhetoric.

  2. Tim says:

    Rob,

    How much are you paid by Wareham and other developers to run pro-development stories like this one? How does payment work? Are you paid per story or is more of a general retainer type deal? Will you agree to disclose all forms of payment you receive relating to this site or “consulting” or “design” work you perform for these special interests?

    • Rob Arias says:

      Tim, which part of the story are you refuting? You’re right though, I could have gotten waaaay more clicks/$ if I would have taken East Bay Express’ approach with their click-bait “Dumping Toxic Dirt Piles” headline. If you have something on Wareham, please disclose this because I want to know. Do you normally get your “news” from The Berkeley Daily Planet?

      • Tim says:

        Rob,

        You didn’t answer my question. Are you paid by developers and other business interests, either directly or indirectly (for instance, being hired for your graphic design work), to publish stories that serve their interests? Richmond has a news website that is similar in tone to the E’Ville Eye called the Richmond Standard. Like the E’Ville Eye, it has all kinds of folksy general interest stories. But it is run by Chevron’s PR department and publishes pro-Chevron stories. http://richmondstandard.com/

        This sort of astro-turfing masquerading as “grass roots” journalism is sad, but at least Chevron is open about it. What about you? Don’t you think your readers deserve to know whether you are getting money from developers and other business interests?

      • Rob Arias says:

        Tim, I’m kinda flattered that you think my site is that big of a deal! Perhaps Developers should fund my site. Perhaps I’d actually be able to quit my day job and better support my family. My advertisers are listed on my site and I’ve been critical of many of them at some point. My personal clients are listed on my portfolio website that I link to in my bio (hint, none of them are Wareham or any other Emeryville Developers). My story is in the about section. I started this website after being a victim of gun violence in my neighborhood and noting the lack of local news coverage in our town. I am unabashedly pro-small business and make no apologies for this. They are the ones making Emeryville vibrant, NOT our local government or any other so-called resident advocacy groups. Businesses know they’ll get a fair shake from me as will anyone that is willing to speak openly about things and I don’t go out of my way to blast them unless they deserve it.

        So now you answer my question. If you have some dirt (no pun intended) on Wareham, come out with it. I reached out to my network and everyone seems to think they’re good corporate citizens. This is not effin’ Erin Brockovich! 😉

      • Anonymous says:

        Tim, you almost pulled it off, but it works better if you use phrases like “Lots of people are saying” and “Something’s going on” and then repeat them over and over.

        While your efforts are pretty good (you definitely got the “be a jerk”, “attack little guys”, and “say crazy things” part down), you missed the mark when you went against the local community guy we all love who uses his spare time to report for free to us about our community rather than write stupid insinuations. “I don’t want to say it”, but “I’ve been hearing” that if you want to manufacture a scandal, it’s better to pick on whole groups of minorities. It’s pretty lousy, but you seem inclined to that sort of thing.

        Anyone who reads the EBX knows they don’t give a rat’s behind about integrity, so it’s hilarious that you’ve held them as such fine journalism that, in contrast, reporting both sides of a story looks biased. Scandal, headlines, and pandering, that’s what’ll make Emeryville great again. Maybe a little locker room talk too.

        Tim, maybe you should disclose who you are and why you decided to go at Rob for reporting on both the dumping and the local company’s position? Is it time for some political maneuvering brought to us by yet another political group trying to manipulate Emeryville for its own purposes? Please Tim, we’re waiting for you to disclose your emails.

  3. Tim says:

    Rob,

    You haven’t actually answered my question, so I’ll ask again — Are you paid by developers and other business interests, either directly or indirectly (for instance, being hired for your graphic design work), to publish stories that serve their interests? I will save you the trouble of writing a response by drafting one for you: “I am not paid by developers or other business interests, either directly or indirectly, to publish stories that serve their interests. Wareham has never advertised on the Eville Eye, I have never provided graphic design services to Wareham or any related entities, and I have never offered such services to Wareham. In short, I have never received compensation from Wareham directly or indirectly, and I have no financial relationship with Wareham.” If this statement is accurate, cut and paste it into your answer and I will thank you for your for your answer and apologize for my first post.

    I will note that I searched this site and could not find a comprehensive list of advertisers and I searched your portfolio site and could not find a comprehensive list of personal clients (if you are like most independent professionals, I would suspect that some clients cannot be disclosed due to NDAs). If you could provide URLs to comprehensive lists of individuals and entities that have paid you, I and other readers would be grateful.

    I’m not sure I would say that your site is a “big deal.” But it is a good-looking website that looks like a news source and that you promote as an objective news source. And today there are few other options for those seeking local news. Even if your site is small, if it is being funded by business interests hoping to affect public opinion in Emeryville, your readers deserve to know this.

    As to your question to me, after reading your article I do not feel I’m sufficiently informed to have an opinion on Wareham and these dumping allegations. I certainly do not think that the fact that Wareham donates “to many charitable, educational and cultural causes” has any relevance to the question of whether the dumping was illegal. The fact that you think this is relevant gives me pause. And I can’t remember the last time I read a news article that ended with a statement like “Almost everyone I’ve spoken with consider them to have integrity and are responsive which seems to contradict what Butt has alleged.”

    • Rob Arias says:

      Tim, it’s alright to have a healthy degree of skepticism but it’s clear that
      A). You’re NOT an Emeryville resident
      B). You have not been following the evolution or narrative of this website that I’ve been working on for 5 years and started as a community passion project.

      I’ll definitively say I’ve never taken a dime from a developer or business in exchange for publishing a story. The advertisers are listed in the right rail of the site in desktop view and there are no clients on my portfolio site that I am not disclosing.

      Where do I “promote as an objective news source” as you state? I think you made that up. I take a strong bias toward Emeryville and its residents and make no apologies for this.

      If I had to guesstimate who’s supporting us, I’d say:

      35% coming from residents donating anywhere from $1 to as much as $600.
      50% – Small Businesses
      15% – Big Businesses (i.e. Bay St.)

      I was part of a resident advocacy group that actually took on Lennar corporation (one of the biggest developers on the planet) and helped advocate for a Community Benefits Agreement:
      https://evilleeye.com/news-commentary/development/parc-negotiates-community-benefits-agreement-compromise-sherwin-developers-ahead-council-eir-certification/

      I’ve organized neighborhood candidate forums, our annual National Night Out event for the past three years, helped Sponsor an open streets event for our neighborhoods, brought a documentary about homelessness for our community, been on city committees, helped bring a neighborhood dog park, etc, etc, etc.

      Your next comment should probably be an apology for accusing me of something you clearly know NOTHING about. Do your homework first and get back to me.

  4. justgrc says:

    Rob, excellent replies and clearly represented by the content of your webpage as it has progressed over the years. It’s easy to attack corporations and their supposed lackeys when all you need are blind accusations to do so. Keep up the good work.

    • Rob Arias says:

      Thanks justgrc, I appreciate this. I can understand Tim feeling this way if it was the only post he’s ever read of ours and had no background on the site. I also think it’s fair to ask me how the site is funded and something I should add in the about section at some point. I have nothing to hide. He lost me when he started making baseless accusations that warranted a rebuttal.

  5. Roland Lazzarotto says:

    I am surprised that no one brought up the historical legal battle(s) between Butts and Wareham.

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