Watergate Residents Gearing up for Fight over Contentious ‘Trader Vic’s’ Housing Project

3 mins read

Representatives from Berkeley-based Trachtenberg Architects hosted a neighborhood meeting on Monday to review plans for a proposed multi-family housing project on the property currently occupied by Trader Vic’s.

The proposed development is tightly sandwiched between Anchor Drive and the shoreline and closely abuts the western edge of the Watergate condominiums.

The meeting, moderated by Trachtenbergarch Principal Isaiah Stackhouse, presented plans that include two four-story structures consisting 54 units (8 affordable) and 57 parking spaces. Unit mix includes 19% 3-bedroom, 35% 2-bedroom and 35% one-bedroom to conform to the city’s family-friendly unit guidelines. Like almost all of Emeryville’s housing pipeline, the project is slated for rental apartments.

If this meeting is any indication, the developers are in for quite a battle as Watergate residents turned out in force to air their grievances on the drawbacks of the project.

The End of Historic Trader Vic’s Confirmed

The project, if approved as planned, does not include any ground floor commercial space which would likely mean the end of Trader Vic’s at the site. The loss of TVs would be an especially big cultural loss for the city as the location is an extension of the original that opened in North Oakland in 1937.

Trader Vic’s management recently addressed the rumors of their departure by noting they’ve extended their lease by three years and were hoping to remain open as long as possible.

After viewing the plans, one by one, neighbors raised questions about the project expressing concerns over a variety of issues including the loss of their panoramic views, liquefaction, impact to the local wildlife, the loss of a local institution like Trader Vic’s and, of course, parking.

“This is going to cause substantial economic damage to the people who are living on Anchor Drive,” noted the first commenter. “The moment you announced this project, the value of my home dropped [$100,000].” The speaker teased filing a class-action lawsuit on behalf of the other residents along Anchor Drive.

“I wonder about the impact on the wildlife,” noted another commenter referring to the disruption the construction the project would create on the nearby Shorebird Park and Eastshore State Park and their thriving waterbird populations.

“Hearing the fact that this is going to be a rental property is a slap in the face.”

“I was trying to be with you,” noted a commenter who identified herself as a public school teacher who was looking to make an investment in Emeryville and transition from being a renter to owning a home in the city. “Hearing the fact that this is going to be a rental property is a slap in the face.”

Another commenter pointed out the challenge the project would face gaining approval from BCDC (San Francisco Bay Conservation and Development Commission).

The chat in the meeting was also active throughout the meeting with many questions raised about the project.

In the end, not a single speaker expressed support for the project with many challenging wether it would bring any benefit to the city at all. The diverse group of speakers included women, immigrants and People of Color.

What tools residents have to thwart the project is unclear as the project apparently complies with the city’s zoning regulations according to the architectural team. CEQA – The California Environmental Quality Act – has been used in the past by neighbors to challenge the environmental feasibility of new developments (also used by labor groups to ensure they are not cut out). The state has passed a flurry of new laws in recent years to thwart local controls and favor housing creation.

Stackhouse routinely leaned into the narrative of the state’s much-talked-about “housing crisis” and the cumulative benefit this project and other housing projects would bring. The 54 units would be less than 3% of the 1815 units the city is required to build by RHNA over the next decade.

In addition to the eight affordable rental units, an extension of the public boardwalk that would replace the Trader Vic’s structure were outlined as the primary community benefits the project would bring.

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Local Politicians have signaled strong favoritism for approving housing in the city as it builds clout among their peers and “pro-housing” advocacy groups like CalYIMBY and their local affiliates.

At the direction of appointed Emeryville Mayor John Bauters and his political allies, the city is aggressively pursuing a “prohousing designation” with the state that would provide resources and help fast track more development.

Bauters has also framed himself as an “environmentalist” by introducing measures such as “Bird safe” building regulations to mitigate impact on the local bird population.

Watergate and its 1,249 units were once the center of political power in the city. This sway is a distant memory though and they’ve failed to elect a single candidate in recent elections (Candidates Louise Engel in 2016, Charlotte Danielsson-Chang in 2021’s Special Election and Sukhdeep Kaur/Eugene Tssui last year).

The Emeryville Planning Commission will host its first study session for the project on Thursday, Jan. 26th at 6:30 p.m. (the agenda and staff report have not yet been posted).

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Rob Arias

is a third generation Californian and East Bay native who lived in Emeryville from 2003 to 2021. Rob founded The E'ville Eye in 2011 after being robbed at gunpoint and lamenting the lack of local news coverage. Rob's "day job" is as a creative professional.


  1. OUCH! The architect ignored the most prominent view, towards SF. No communal space. Dated look. For a moment there, thought it was the second phase of Powell Street Plaza. Pretty typical of a schlock architect. But this planning commission will eat this sh*t up.

  2. Per the architect, in exchange for building luxury rentals with views targeted to
    be rented to downsizing empty nesters who can afford them, the project gives NO consideration whatsoever to the permanent damage lengthy pile driving would inflict on the aging 50 year old “cheater” construction and landfill created by the original builder and the city’s haste to use that landfill some attest was never properly vetted and settled before the original construction began. Probably the most ludicrous SOLE benefit presented to the community by the architect was a continuation of the boardwalk. This would be in exchange for destabilizing 2000 current residents, both renters and owners.

    Meanwhile, only A short DISTANCE away emeryville recently gave itself a big pat on the back for shoring up Point Emery. NOBODY LIVES ON POINT EMERY BUT IT MIGHT be the perfect spit of coastal land to HOUSE THOSE 54 UNITS TO A TEE.

  3. Seems like straightforward NIMBYism. If the builder wants to build housing, go for it. It’s not like they proposed a skyscraper. If a bunch of people think it will ruin their view, tough luck. Why should my neighbor get to tell me what I can build on my land? The whining about structural issues sounds bogus let the experts sort that out

  4. Surfside, FL demonstrated how many factors including pile driving for new construction can destabilize existing contiguous buildings and lead to loss of life – and also property. One view is that a family of long term investors wants to maximize its profits by building rental apartments on a small piece of land one street away from a street that is already badly sinking and that this new construction might be unsafe for the construction and infrastructure that already exists. Would expediting such new construction make this project safer? Rather than NIMBY or YIMBY, it’s about safety. This project is understandably concerning and alarming.

  5. I am guessing this was an opening gambit. At some point, they might offer to make it a one building structure allowing some, but not all, to get views. Or they might lower it one level to eliminate opposition from 4th floor Anchor Drive owners. Then they will probably be forced to offer $$ compensation to buy off more opposition. It will depend on how it “pencils out” as they say in developer land. Then it becomes a matter of view, habitat, noise, traffic vs money.

    • if I owned this property in a family trust, getting older and seeing an opportunity for windfall profits could be appealing – though if it endangered 2000 other people and created problems and danger for them, my multimillion dollar windfall might evaporate in Surfside type damages or I’d have to make the project so “safe” for the neighbors, it would cease to be an option. . . I wonder how much more property insurance might be with a year’s worth of pile driving?

  6. The first Watergate resident speaker said it all: If this 9 Anchor Drive project goes forward, the developer will be socked with a class action lawsuit on their hands! There are many people here at Watergate, on Anchor Drive and Admiral Drive, who can attest to the fact that their property values will plunge by nearly 30% or more!

    Their views will be forever destroyed! The quietude of their lives will never be the same! They will face transient renters and Watergate’s facilities will be highly affected if not abused. In addition, the architect representative mentioned nothing about the daily pollution this project will produce by its heating, ventilation, and air-conditioning systems. It will create 6.265 tonnes of CO2 toxic pollution into the Emeryville air every day! That is equivalent to 497 cars driving a day! (This was calculated accordiung to standard mechanical engineering methods.)

    The project does not encourage home ownership. Emeryville’s General Plan calls for an increase in ownership, WITH LESS EMPHASIS ON RENTERS. Emeryville’s General Plan also calls for more parks. Mayor John Bauters, in his earlier online statement,eradicated this parks goal by the people of Emeryville. He said it will no longer be addressed.

    The architect representing R and S Developers of 9 Anchor Drive, stated that the apartment design, “Is all contextual”. If that’s so then where in the design is the evidence of natural disaster design?

    Tsunami design?
    Natural habit impact
    Community play and gathering area
    Areas for people to gather?
    Climate Change design? None existed on the plans.

    There is no indication of anything that relates to Watergate or Emery Cove. Just as the current City Council has turned its backs on the city’s General Plan, resident’s safety, and climate change, the desires of the city’s residents, and the fact that the City Council is supposed to be the voice of the residents of Emeryville; we are now faced with a current city council that is alienated from the desires of Emeryville residents.

    What does this indicate to us about the “leadership” and “representation” that we are assumed to have? The city council is supposed to be a faithful voice of the people, including Watergate. It is anything but, now, and this 9 Anchor Drive project sadly represents the lack of understanding of the needs and concerns of Watergate residents who represent 30% of the entire city of Emeryville!

    And let’s not forget that two of the recent Watergate residents who vied for a seat on city council were voted down with only 16% of the entire city voting! A functioning city will have at least 40 percent of registered voters if they were not apathetic towards leadership. With City Council “leadership” as it stands now, is it any wonder that Emeryville residents are apathetic and disinterested?

    The first speaker’s statement of a class action lawsuit is a brilliant idea. I estimate that 40 to 60 Watergate residents will gladly participate–all of Anchor Drive and some of Admiral Drive. It’s obvious now that the city council is in no frame of mind to help its citizens.

    • So the developer shouldn’t be allowed to build because their neighbor’s view and property value might take a hit?

  7. Hello everyone, Councilmember Priforce here. I just want everyone to know that I am reading your comments. I can not say anything about projects that go before the city council as it would disqualify me from being able to provide comments and vote (recusal). Your feedback, your letters, and outreach are always valuable and important. Please keep ’em coming.

    • Dear Councilmember Priforce:

      Two questions:

      1. I understand the use of He/Him pronouns but I don’t understand “Unceded Ohlone Lands”? Are you the land? Or are you the “Occupier of Unceded Ohlone Lands”? Interestingly, “Unceded” isn’t a word but I think I understand your position.

      2. I just googled your name because I was curious about the pronoun above and the first thing that popped up was your tweet at 8:17 AM this morning regarding the Monterey Park mass shooting. You added #StopAsianHate
      I heard about this tragedy on the radio at 8:30 AM and the media said it was undetermined to be a hate crime. I just saw the Sheriff’s department tweet at 11:21 AM (3 hours after your tweet) that the shooter is Asian himself. I’m wondering why you chose to associate a tragedy with a narrative? I’m sensing your theme is victimhood. Since the majority of African American’s are shot by other African Americans (including police) do you automatically assume they are hate crimes also?

  8. I hope the owners at Watergate who will not be impacted financially remain informed and
    active in any pursuit to keep our community
    cohesive so we may all enjoy the views and our special spot.

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