The developers of the proposed 54-unit “Trader Vic’s” housing project abruptly withdrew their plans on Tuesday. A variety of concerns were raised by neighbors at a January 9 community meeting and it was likely to be engulfed in a protracted legal fight.
But what was a win for Watergate residents and fans of Trader Vic’s was another loss for so-called “YIMBY” politicians like Mayor John Bauters who have attached their political value and ambitions to how many housing units they can claim in the cities they help govern.
9 Anchor Drive Study Session Abruptly Canceled
The Trader Vic’s project was scheduled for its first study session at the January 26 Planning Commission meeting. This agenda item was abruptly removed at the request of the architects per the city memorandum below.
“This decision was reached based on a combination of factors including the myriad of complex and expensive requirements associated with being feet from the bay (which put the financial feasibility of the project in doubt) and the unexpected level of opposition at the neighborhood meeting on Monday evening,” provided Trachtenberg Architects Principal Isaiah Stackhouse in a separate letter to the city.
“Ultimately, it seems like [the project sponsors] decided that facing that level of opposition didn’t make sense for a project with such uncertain viability,” Stackhouse added.
The City’s December Progress report noted other challenges the project would face including fire access, sewer capacity and the fact that the Bay-facing portion of the site is noted to be among “the areas vulnerable to a 16-inch sea level rise by mid-century” according to the city’s General Plan mapping.
Latest Housing Projects Withdrawn or Dramatically Scaled Back
This is not the first housing project that has been withdrawn in the past few years. The city has seen 1,193 units withdrawn since the pandemic although more because of financial feasibility than neighborhood opposition.
Emeryville’s established housing target by RHNA is an ambitious 1,815 units by 2031.
Two of the withdrawn projects have come back to the city in different forms but with far fewer units. The 5850 Shellmound Way project, once slated for 244 units (upper right), has been whittled down to 30 affordable units (a concession by the developer who originally wanted to build exclusively Life Science space).
The Onni Tower (lower-right), once slated for 638 units, is now earmarked for a mixed-use project by a different developer with just 94 units (78 market & 16 affordable).
Despite these concerning trends, Bauters gleefully tweeted out the latest City of Emeryville project bar chart showcasing his accomplishments to his followers (a chart that includes the withdrawn “Trader Vic’s” housing project).
“1,532 new homes moving through the development approval/construction process. 772 are market rate. 760 are below market/affordable.”
Our 1 sq. mile city has 1,532 new homes moving through the development approval/construction process.
772 are market rate.
760 are below market/affordable.
— Mayor John J. Bauters (@JohnBauters) December 30, 2022
Scrutiny of the figures tell a different story though. Of the 772 market rate units he referenced in his tweet, 610 units or 79% were already in the approval process prior to his election in 2016. 500 of these units (85 affordable) are from the massive “The Emery” project that whose goes planning back to 2006. The Emery is among the East Bay’s largest in-construction development projects. Two of the buildings consisting of 194 units are already complete and currently being leased but will not be removed from these totals until the entire project is complete.
The under-construction Bayview Project (former Nady site) accounts for 186 of these units (8 affordable) and was initiated in 2013.
Bauters is also reluctant to point out the fact that nearly all the units in Emeryville’s housing pipeline are rental apartments. This has has been among many obstacles within the city that poses a challenge for resident retention. The city has missed the opportunity to capture residents, most notably families, who are looking to root in Emeryville by failing to provide incentives to build ownerships housing.
Most Remaining Housing Projects City-Funded
525 or 69% of the 760 affordable units Bauters references above would come from three affordable projects partially financed by Emeryville’s 2018 voter approved Measure C $50M housing bond.
The city owns two small sites along San Pablo Avenue (a combined 156 low and very low income units) and the larger Christie Sites adjacent to the Public Market.
None of these projects have broken ground and are likely years away from housing anyone. Furthest along is the 90-unit Nellie Hannon Gateway project. which has received city approval.
Emeryville has been criticized for creating “concentrated poverty” by pushing their 100% affordable projects along the San Pablo Avenue Corridor instead of distributing them throughout the city. The Christie Ave project will partially address this.
EAH Selected for Christie Ave & 4300 SPA Sites
The Christie Ave sites project was recently awarded to EAH Housing. EAH will be given $24 million by the city to develop the site. They are also hoping to leverage state and federal tax credits.
EAH also developed the 87-unit Estrella Vista project on San Pablo Avenue. The cost of the Estrella project came to $64 million totaling $735K per unit and took about eight years from remediation to occupancy.
EAH hopes to break ground on the Christie project in fall of 2025 and estimates completion in the summer of 2028.
The units will be made available to residents making 60 percent of the area’s median income or less.
Emeryville is hoping to spur housing in the city by achieving prohousing designation through the state. “Prohousing” cities are cities recognized for working to address California’s housing crisis.
Emeryville was not named among the initial six cities that achieved the coveted status. Neighboring Oakland was named to this Prohousing Incentive Pilot Program enabling access to additional community development resources and funds.