Rick Holliday’s The Intersection housing project received its occupancy permit by the City at the end of September. The project, whose planning goes back to 2013, endured as many obstacles as a construction project could including two devastating fires and a global pandemic leading to a temporary work stoppage.
The 105-unit project at 3800 San Pablo Avenue cleared its last obstacle by receiving its final permit sign-off from the city prior to occupancy. “It will be occupied in the next 30 days,” Holliday gleefully noted when contacted. “We finally got all of the government sign offs last Friday.”
The project will now officially be donated to UC Berkeley for graduate student and postdoctoral scholars housing. The housing donation to UC Berkeley was at the request of the primary investor, a Cal alumni, who passed away amid the lengthy construction.
Students are feeling the pinch of our housing crisis as much as anyone with an estimated 20% of postdoctorate students and 15% of graduate students having experienced homelessness during their time on campus according to a 2017 housing survey.
The project will integrate a campus-operated health service that will have both an instructional and community-serving component according to The East Bay Times.
Two “Career Fires”
A six-alarm blaze, described as a “career fire” by then Fire Chief Dave Winnaker, destroyed the project on July 6, 2016. After construction restarted, a second blaze less than a year later consumed the project again despite their beefed-up security protocols. Arson was suspected in both cases and a 45-year-old Oakland man was arrested and sentenced to 5 years for the arson of a nearby project.
After the second blaze, Holliday opted to use his modular construction company Factory_OS to expedite the time on site and reduce the window when the project was the most vulnerable. The first two attempts at building the five floors using conventional framing each required about eight months. The modular build required only six weeks.
Global Pandemic Causes Temporary Work Stoppage
Another delay they had to endure was having construction shut down by the county during the early part of the pandemic. Projects with affordable housing were exempted from the shut down but the city pushed back on wether this project met the criteria since the affordable units were exclusively for students and being provided through a private donation and not city regulations. The city deemed his acceptance letter from the University to be inadequate and non-binding.
A stop order was issued by the city temporarily shutting the project down. Holliday arranged a workaround by committing affordable units as a form of collateral until the transfer of ownership to UC Berkeley was completed. The requirement added additional red tape to the project and yet another delay.
“The amount of bureaucracy to get all that done between UC Berkeley, the city, Alameda County … just for a hypothetical. There’s just a lot of wasted energy.”
“The amount of bureaucracy to get all that done between UC Berkeley, the City [of Emeryville], Alameda County … just for a hypothetical,” Holliday expressed. “There’s just a lot of wasted energy.”
The county order was ultimately modified in May allowing all construction to resume making the point moot.
Using Technology to Attack our Regional Housing Crisis
Holliday, a figure in the heralded story of the Bay Area housing crisis “Golden Gates”, thinks off-site building will eventually become the standard because of a variety of advantages including speed, cost, a reduced environmental footprint as well as benefits to workers. “The fact that a project is built off-site doesn’t limit your design potential,” Holliday explained to us from his Emeryville office. “It influences it, but it doesn’t limit it.”
Factory_OS has seen a sizable investment from the Bay Area’s technology sector. Autodesk has made two investments in Factory_OS to help integrate their software into the planning & building process and help retrain workers on how to use it.
Google and other tech giants have expressed culpability in the housing crisis and has pledged large amounts of funding to help tackle it. Google has committed $1 billion and was followed by Apple ($2.5 billion), Facebook ($1 billion) and Microsoft ($500 million) among others.
Demand for modular housing has increased so much that Factory_OS recently opened a second Mare Island facility.
Holliday’s “Final” Emeryville Project?
The 66-year-old Holliday reflected on a long career in building that includes three projects in Emeryville including The Warehouse Lofts, Blue Star Corner and this Intersection project. He still maintains an office in Emeryville and is knowledgeable about its history as anyone. “Development is a boom or bust industry,” he lamented. “Some projects go well and are profitable and others go horribly and you lose a boatload of money. If you come out at the end and you’re ahead, it’s a good thing. You have to really enjoy building buildings.”
Despite this recent experience, Holliday didn’t completely close the book on another Emeryville project. “I think we’re opportunistic. If we saw something in Emeryville, we probably would.”
Holliday did not have an update on any prospective tenants for the retail space. He noted that a more formal opening event at the project would occur in the next month or two.