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.
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).