Critical Reflections on the Brisbane City Council's 2018 General Plan (GPA) For the Baylands
Updated: Sep 15, 2018
Summary of What Follows: This essay covers a lot of complex territory. It tracks the evolution of my thinking as I thought about the materials and arguments provided by the Brisbane City Council in support of their Baylands General Plan Amendment. The Council is seeking its approval on the November 6th ballot. After doing my homework, I came to the conclusion that those who believe in maintaining Brisbane's integrity as a community need to vote No. We can do better! The specific topics covered in this essay are recent history, housing, contamination, water supply, sea-level rise, traffic, High Speed Rail and the Renewable Energy Alternative, school situation, Recology, other land uses, and what happens if voters reject the Amendment.
1. Council actions:
A. On June 7, 2018 after many months of closed session deliberations with staff and consultants as well as reported negotiations with Senator Jerry Hill and the developer (UPC), the Brisbane City Council unveiled its General Plan Amendment (GPA).
B. On June 21, 2018 the Council discussed the summary (over 200 pages) of the extensive environmental analysis that they were required to approve before placing the GPA on the November 6th ballot. The environmental summary was based on the Baylands Final Environmental Impact Report (FEIR), a several thousand-page document.
C. On July 19, 2018 the Council approved the FEIR, the Mitigation and Monitoring Program, the Statement of Overriding Considerations, the content of the GPA, and the language for the November ballot. Brisbane voters will have the option to approve or disapprove Measure JJ, the Baylands General Plan Amendment.
Essentially the Amendment demonstrates that the Council has surrendered in the political war waged by the developer, Universal Paragon Corporation (UPC). Part of the war strategy was generating threats from the State Legislature to impose UPC's plan on Brisbane (see my earlier article on Brisbane411 "UPC's Political War on Brisbane and the strange role of Senator Hill"). The driving force of the Legislature has been their single-minded obsession with solving the housing crisis by imposing State mandates on local governments. They unfairly and incorrectly blame cities for causing the crisis. Their one size-fits-all solution has been to require that local governments allow developers to build dense multi-family, transit-oriented housing. Studies of previous legislation with this objective have demonstrated that it doesn't achieve one of its most important desired goals, getting people out of their cars. Most people living in transit-oriented housing still own and drive vehicles. However, that evidence of failure doesn't deter the Legislature. They also incorrectly believe that building more housing will in and of itself solve the affordable-housing problem.
Senator Jerry Hill, who represents Brisbane, seems to have accepted this policy panacea. He was the lead author of an August, 2017 draft bill that would have imposed the developer's plan on Brisbane. He and his colleagues were evidently convinced by false information published in the San Francisco Chronicle and self-serving arguments from UPC lobbyists that Brisbanites were "nothing but a bunch of NIMBYs." Therefore, local democracy had to be swept aside. The fact that the legislators knew virtually nothing about the local circumstances in Brisbane (see below) did not deter them from seeking to impose their ill-considered solution (click here to read the draft bill).
When the Brisbane Council subcommittee met with Senator Hill, he made it clear that he and his colleagues were not interested in hearing about toxic contamination in the Baylands and certainly not community concerns. All they wanted was an agreement to build housing. After extensive conversations Senator Hill told the subcommittee that if the City approved 1,800-2,200 units in the Baylands, he would do his best to prevent the introduction of the draft bill targeting Brisbane. This was a verbal, informal agreement with one Senator who is serving his last term in the Legislature. The other authors of the anti-Brisbane bill (Senator Wiener and Assembly members Berman, Chiu, Mullin, and Ting) will probably still be around. No involvement by them in the Hill agreement was reported.
The City Council felt that they had to accept Senator Hill's offer, even though 4 of the 5 Council members in their election campaigns had committed to oppose housing on the Baylands, primarily for safety reasons. Despite their doubts about the efficacy of the remediation process, they believe that the best they could do was to require the highest level of residential remediation. That means that residences can be built at ground level. That's at least better than the UPC Schlage Lock development immediately north in San Francisco. There the Department of Toxic Substances Control (DTSC), because of the lower level of remediation, requires all residential building to be at least one floor above ground level. Furthermore, the Council evidently figured that 1,800-2,200 dwelling units were better than the 4,434 units which the developer had proposed and which the draft legislation would have imposed. After all, the Hill-agreement "only doubles" Brisbane's population rather than tripling it.
Just to be clear about my position on this topic: I have never been an adamant opponent to housing on the Baylands. I have always said that the people should decide. I have expressed concerns about the total amount of new housing in relationship to the amount of housing in existing Brisbane and also about the importance of the highest level of safety protection. That was true when I was a member of the Council that was responsible for the 1994 General Plan and again when I was elected to the Council in 2011. The 1994 General Plan was based on a comprehensive citizen survey, and the majority of citizens did not believe that housing in the toxic Baylands was a good idea. Therefore, the General Plan prohibits housing in the Baylands. Environmentalists were pleased by that provision, but they believed that the Plan allowed too much commercial development in the Baylands. Therefore, they immediately challenged the General Plan in a referendum. The voters agreed with the Council. The 1994 General Plan is still in place. Because the Plan was approved by the voters, one could argue that the Council had no choice about putting the currently proposed General Plan Amendment on the ballot.
The housing amount stipulated in the GPA is ambiguous. The Amendment says:
"A range of 1800-2200 dwelling units (the upper range of which shall not exceed all units permitted under the State density bonus or other law providing for affordable housing) . . . shall be permitted."
The language implies the belief that the City can control these numbers. That is not true. The State Legislature can mandate whatever they want. For instance, the provisions in Senator Wiener's SB 828, that has already passed the Legislature, makes that reality very clear. The Bill directs "regional councils of governments" in the process that they must follow in assigning housing allocations to cities and counties. The Association of Bay Area Governments (ABAG) is the regional council in the San Francisco Bay Area. The following quote demonstrates the disregard for local control in the language of SB 828:
"The council of governments may not limit its consideration of suitable housing sites or land suitable for urban development to existing zoning ordinances and land use restrictions of a locality, but shall consider the potential for increased residential development under alternative zoning ordinances and land use restrictions" (p. 14 & 17, California Legislative Information, SB 828, August 24, 2018).
Thus ABAG is explicitly instructed to ignore any local land use restrictions. Presumably that would include General Plans. The bill's language also makes it clear that no "voter-approved measure" can override this directive (p. 18). That, of course, would include Measure JJ.
Furthermore, does the phrase "other law" apply to Brisbane's own ordinances? Brisbane has its own inclusionary housing ordinance that requires every housing development exceeding 6 dwelling units to include 15% affordable units. Affordability is determined by income, a reasonable percentage of which, usually one-third, is dedicated to monthly housing costs. The 2018 San Mateo County income figures below are from the State Department of Housing and Community Development.
Brisbane Inclusionary Housing
Units for sale or Units for rent
10% mod. an. income 10% low an. income
5% low an. income 5% very low income $117,400 $73,300
To many people even these income-levels may seem unattainable on a sustained basis. Besides if 40% of the population can't come up with $400 for an emergency, how can they afford a 20% down payment or a long-term rental commitment? Affordability itself is an ambiguous concept. Generally speaking, housing builders will not voluntarily build affordable housing because they cannot recover the costs of land, planning, materials, and labor from what they are allowed to charge. Dedicating a part of their housing development to below-costs sales or rentals tends to drive the minimum necessary sales or rental costs of the other units higher. If the market doesn't allow for that, they stop building housing. That's what happened in the Great Recession of 2008-10. Local governments should not be held responsible for the ups and downs in the overall economy and the related ups and downs in the private production of housing. Brisbane's housing affordability requirements are relatively modest because there is not much point in approving housing land uses if, for financial reasons, private builders will not take advantage of the opportunities.
The inclusionary provision in the Brisbane ordinance does not add to the total number of units that the developer is allowed to build, but the density bonus provision does. For building additional affordable units, the Ordinance allows for up to 35% more units in each development. If a developer wanted to take advantage of the affordability bonus, the law allows for 1800 to be increased to 2,430 and 2,200 to be increased to 2,970. Now whether any developer is prepared to provide the percentage of affordable units required to get the density bonus is another question. But the possibility does add further ambiguity to the actual number of units that could be allowed.
Furthermore, the reasoning in the Baylands resolutions passed by the Council contains a glaring contradiction on the jobs/housing issue. The Statement of Overriding Considerations (Resolution 2018-62) states,
"Brisbane will be a regional leader by making an unprecedented contribution to addressing the Bay Area's severe housing shortage (p. 7)."
On the other hand, the EIR Resolution (2018-61) points out that at build-out the GPA will add 4 to 5,000 more residents while generating 17,000 jobs from the 7 million square feet of non-residential commercial development (p. 128). The Council's own document projects at least 12,000 more jobs than residents. However, the jobs/housing relationship is usually calculated by comparing the number of jobs to the number of dwelling units. In the Baylands that would be 2,200 to 17,000 or a difference of 14,800. In other words, the GPA supports 7.73 new jobs for each new dwelling unit. From a community viability perspective, the problem is not the amount of housing, but the amount of commercial development that the GPA allows. Unfortunately, establishing an imbalance of this magnitude provides ammunition for those enamored of the jobs/housing balance argument. These single-minded housing advocates would insist that thousands more housing units need to be built. That would be the end of Brisbane!
The language of SB 828 reinforces the self-destructive consequences of the jobs/housing imbalance in the Council's GPA. The law requires the local council of governments (ABAG) to include in its methodology of assigning housing allocations "each member jurisdiction's existing and projected jobs and housing relationship (p. 16)."
The GPA's striking imbalance in jobs and housing provides ABAG a rationale for dramatically increasing Brisbane's housing allocation, its so-called "RHNA obligations" (Regional Housing Needs Assessment). Even though the Council's intent is to place a reasonable maximum on Brisbane's housing and population growth, their GPA's commercial development allowance undermines that effort.
Consequently, it seems to me that the Council's ill-considered treatment of the housing issue alone provides a voter who cares about the future viability of Brisbane, a solid reason to vote No.
Contamination: The Baylands Environmental Impact Report recognizes that there is serious contamination throughout the landfills that constitute most of the Baylands. In fact, there are three Superfund Sites recorded in the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency's Superfund list: the Brisbane rail yard, San Francisco's garbage dump, and the site of the former Stauffer Chemical plant on Industrial Way (click here to read about these Superfund Sites). Those sites made the list because they contain hazardous wastes that are considered risks to human health. The three sites are no longer on the active Superfund list because in the 1980s there were no development plans for human habitation that would put people at risk. When Tuntex (now UPC) purchased the land in 1989 from Southern Pacific, it accepted full responsibility for remediating the contamination. Buyers are usually reluctant to accept responsibility for remediation from the original landowner because of the unknown costs involved. One could infer that a sophisticated international land developer, such as Tuntex, accepted this known financial burden as a means to get a lower purchase price. Therefore, the upcoming cost of remediation that has yet to occur was already incorporated in the land purchase price. The argument that UPC has constantly been making that they need lots of development in order to afford the "cleanup" may make sense to their accountants, but the City has no obligation to help them out of a bad business decision.
The Overriding Considerations Statement in the Council's Resolution 2018-62 claims that the effective remediation plans will make the Baylands "a safe location within which development could occur" (p. 7). There are three major regulatory agencies involved:
1. California Department of Toxic Substances Control (DTSC),
2. Regional Water Quality Control Board (RWQCB), and the
3. San Mateo County Environmental Health Department.
This Department is responsible for overseeing the Title 27 landfill (garbage dump) closure.
The outstanding issue, of course, is whether the remediation plans will work over time as promised. Clearly not all remediation plans fulfill their objectives, the recent and on-going disaster in San Francisco's Hunters Point development being a case in point. The private firm hired by the Navy and approved by the EPA has been accused of falsifying cleanup records. The evidence of malfeasance in this radioactive site is so pervasive that the entire site will probably have to be retested, including areas where people are already living. (Read "Working in a Wasteland," San Francisco Chronicle, July 29, 2018, pp. 1&12-14)
Hundreds of truckloads of questionably clean soils were shipped off to soil accepting sites from Hunter's Point. It's probable that some of it ended up in the Brisbane soils processing facility, especially before testing of incoming soil by the owner-operator was instituted in 2009. But the dumping of toxic radioactive materials in Brisbane from the Hunter's Point shipyards could have started even earlier. All of San Francisco's trash was dumped in the unregulated landfill in the Brisbane Baylands from the 1920s until 1967. After all, the Hunter's Point shipyard was the main "cleanup" destination for ships that were involved in the Pacific nuclear testing of the 1940s and 50s.
The Council hopes that strict rules and their third-party consultant will assure that the City obtains the highest quality and reliable remediation result. However, the State regulatory agencies have the final say, and their mandate is to "make a site safe for development." The professionals at the lower levels of the regulatory bureaucracies take their safety responsibilities seriously, but ultimately, how much emphasis is put on safety and how much on development is more a political than a scientific decision. California is not immune to the type of narrow-minded business priorities that are blatantly visible in the Trump administration's Environmental Protection Agency.
One of the factors determining whether remediation plans will work over time is the ground turbulence caused by earthquakes. Earthquakes generate shaking, ground movement and liquefaction. Liquefaction turns seemingly stable soil into mush and could have devastating effects on the infrastructure, buildings and the "impermeable cap" intended to prevent exposure to contaminants left in place.
The environmental narrative in the Certification document (Resolution 2018-61) has some inconsistencies on this issue. The US Geological Service believes that the likelihood of liquefaction in the unregulated rail yard fill is "relatively high" (p. 55). Not surprisingly, the developer's consultant disagrees. Another discrepancy occurs in the EIR text when it agrees that the Loma Prieta earthquake caused damage in Brisbane and San Francisco even though the epicenter was more than 50 miles away; but then the post-major earthquake investigation listed as a mitigation measure only needs to happen if a major earthquake occurs within 30 miles. Furthermore, the Certification document concludes that just following the California Building Code will ensure that earthquake "impacts would be reduced to less-than-significant" (p. 56).
Again it becomes a matter of whether one believes in the protective efficacy of the Building Code, the Remediation Plan and the Landfill Closure Plan. The owners of the units in San Francisco's sinking and leaning Millennium Tower would probably advise that some profound skepticism is appropriate.
The Overriding Considerations Statement optimistically proclaims, "The Baylands General Plan Amendment will lead to provision of needed water supplies for the Baylands and City of Brisbane" (p. 7).
Yet on the other hand, the EIR text acknowledges that Brisbane currently does not have sufficient water supply for any Baylands development. In an effort to overcome this serious deficiency, the City has negotiated a "term sheet" or draft agreement with the Oakdale Irrigation District (OID) that could provide the required water supply. However, Oakdale does not have a direct water connection to Brisbane. The water must go though the Modesto Irrigation District (MID) system and then the San Francisco water system before it reaches Brisbane. So far Modesto has expressed its opposition to the transfer.
The San Francisco Public Utility Commission (SFPUC) has also not given its approval. Because the transfer will probably have some erosive impact on the Tuolumne River ecosystem, environmental groups have raised objections. Furthermore, the State Water Resources Control Board has a policy under consideration that would significantly reduce the amount of water that water districts can extract from Sierra snow melt rivers. That includes the Tuolumne River (SFPUC) and the Stanislaus River (OID) ("State plans to restrict S.F. water in Sierra," San Francisco Chronicle, August 19, 2018, pp. 1&17). Not only is the State Water Board concerned about insufficient water flowing through the Sacramento-San Joaquin River system, but also about the reduction in snowfall from climate change. Why approve a massive development for which the availability of water is highly questionable?
A potentially crippling aspect of the approach to obtaining the new water supply is this limiting provision in the environmental mitigation program:
"Any Water Supply and Conveyance Agreement(s) needed to provide adequate water supply to the Baylands shall contain provisions stating that the delivery of water to Brisbane shall not be permitted to impair the ability of agencies participating in the agreement(s) to deliver water to their existing customers" (p. 104).
In other words, if either Oakdale, Modesto or San Francisco have a problem delivering water to their customers, the flow to Brisbane can be cut off. Why in the world would any City or land developer enter into such an agreement? The EIR narrative then strangely concludes,
"As a result, the Baylands GPA would not have a substantial adverse effect in relation to water supply, and impacts would be reduced to less than significant" (p.105).
A more realistic conclusion is that the Baylands has no reliable water supply.
Sea-level Rise and flooding:
Storm and tidal flooding are considered together with sea-level rise in the EIR text. Flood zone maps are prepared by FEMA (Federal Emergency Management Agency). However, FEMA does not incorporate sea-level rise in its maps while California EIRs are required to discuss its potential impacts and proposed mitigations. The latest FEMA map recognizes that the northwest area of the Baylands, where housing is proposed, is subject to a 100-year flood. Therefore, because it is a part of the drainage basin that flows out Visitacion Creek to the Bay, it would also be affected by sea-level rise. Because the Baylands was filled with no engineered containment dikes, sea-level rise could also aggravate leaching of toxics and soil instability.
The EIR does recognize that these serious problems exist and that they need to be mitigated. Soil surcharging (adding substantially to the current ground level) will be necessary in the western, former rail yard area as a protection from flooding as well as leaching of underground contaminants. The question is whether the mitigation is sufficient. FEMA believes that placing building access one foot above the projected 100-foot flood level is sufficient. However, when one includes uncertain sea-level rise in the calculations, the adequate level of surcharging becomes problematic. The EIR text only references out-of-date projections from the California Climate Action Team and the San Francisco Bay Conservation and Development Commission (BCDC).
In the meantime sea-level rise is accelerating much faster than earlier models projected. James Hansen and other climate scientists in a 2015 article argued that previous models did not sufficiently take into account feedback processes that accelerate the melting of ice sheets. Hansen himself stated that 5 to 9 meters (16.4-29.5 ft.) of sea-level rise is conceivable within 100 to 200 years. Most scientists, including Hansen, will not make predictions because these are complex and unprecedented occurrences. Nevertheless, it's a lot easier and cheaper to add sufficient soil surcharge now, than it is to make modifications after buildings and infrastructure are in place. The environmental narrative suggests that site-specific development only take into account projections for "flood levels expected by mid-century" (p. B.82). That date seems insufficient. Not only will near-term structures last longer than that, many may not even be built by then. Sierra Point, for instance, is still being built even though it was approved in the 1970s.
The EIR narrative admits that because of existing and projected development in the San Francisco/northern San Mateo region all major adjacent intersections and freeway segments will experience less than acceptable levels of service. Therefore, gridlock is to be expected at commute times. Some mitigation measures are suggested, but because many of them require actions by jurisdictions other than Brisbane, the impacts are judged as "significant and unavoidable." For instance, CalTrans has no plans to widen the Bayshore Freeway. Street travel at commute times in Brisbane will be impossible. It is already happening in South San Francisco's Cove at Oyster Point, and they are still building.
One wonders, why are we doing this to ourselves? Why is the City Council proposing to add 17,000 more jobs and associated traffic in the Baylands? For the major 4 scenarios studied in the EIR, traffic models project 37,000 to 80,000 additional trips per day, dependent on particular land uses (4N-78 Table 4). Retail projects, for instance, generate more trips than research and development facilities. It's noteworthy that all the current and approved development projects in San Francisco, Daly City and South San Francisco will bring Brisbane's major intersections to unacceptable levels of service before even one new building is constructed on the Baylands. Aren't there better alternatives for the common good? Of course, there are.
High Speed Rail and the Renewable Energy Alternative:
Yes, there are reasonable alternatives. A high-speed rail yard is one possibility. Unfortunately, the EIR text doesn't address this possibility, calling it "premature and speculative" (p. 156) even though officials from the organization have repeatedly expressed their intent to locate their maintenance yard in Brisbane. High Speed Rail representatives have distributed maps of the potential locations of their approximately 100-acre facility that is currently being studied in their EIR. Since High Speed Rail has the power of eminent domain, they can legally locate in Brisbane regardless of what Brisbane says. At least Brisbane's EIR and GPA could have addressed whether Brisbane prefers the potential yard to be located on the west or east sides of the Caltrain right-of-way. Furthermore, High-Speed Rail officials have stated that they are open to coordinating their project with a solar farm.
Even though the 100-acre solar farm was the special feature of the Renewable Energy Alternative that the original EIR considered the "environmentally superior alternative," it goes virtually undiscussed in all 180 pages of the EIR Certification document. It only comes up when the EIR narrative gives the reason for it being rejected by the Council. The low-intensity development in the Renewable Energy Alternative is considered below the expectations of the current "marketplace." In other words, it would not make enough money for the developer (UPC). Astonishingly, the EIR narrative then concludes,
" The Renewable Energy Alternative would not meet any of the City's environmental protection and enhancement, social equity, or economic objectives for the Baylands" (p. 161).
In effect, the Council is saying that their objectives are the same as UPC's financial objectives. It's particularly ironic that the City disregards a utility-scale solar farm that has been deemed technically and economically feasible by the National Renewable Energy Lab while the Legislature has just passed, and the Governor has signed, SB 100, a bill that commits the State to obtaining 100 percent of its electricity from renewable sources by 2045 ("Climate change goals go to Brown," San Francisco Chronicle, August 30, 2018, p. A1).
Furthermore, it should be noted that the Brisbane Planning Commission after one and a half years of hearings and deliberations made a unanimous recommendation to the Council that closely approximated the Renewable Energy Alternative. They believed that it was most consistent with the objectives of the existing 1994 General Plan, including a policy commitment to sustainability. Under political pressure the Council has not only rejected the Commission's recommendation, but also fired all the remaining Commissioners who were part of the decision.
The Bayshore Elementary School District was separated from what is now the Brisbane School District in 1938. Therefore, the Bayshore District's boundaries were established way before Brisbane was incorporated in 1961. Those boundaries happen to include most of the Baylands. The Baylands were Southern Pacific property when they were annexed to Brisbane in 1962, but the school boundaries were never changed. There has been past discussion about merging the two elementary school districts, but Bayshore has resisted, believing that the two communities are too different. Now, with the prospect of massive development, new tax dollars and more students, there is even less interest on the part of Bayshore in a merger with Brisbane. Whether they will be able to build a school in the Baylands is problematic because the conditions of the Baylands do not meet State safety criteria. Those conditions include the soil characteristics mentioned above as well as the Kinder Morgan Tank Farm.
Any potential high school would come under the jurisdiction of the Jefferson Union High School District. Despite the expressed interests of Brisbane residents, the District Board has shown no interest in developing a new high school in Brisbane. The Board argues that there is and will be insufficient student population. The Board also referred to the highly problematic safety conditions of the Baylands. That's why it is puzzling that UPC has agreed to pay for yet another study of the issues of elementary district merger and potential high school. It's unlikely that another study will change the dim prospects for a merger or a high school. Some have suspected that it is simply a campaign tactic on the part of UPC.
Not all of the Baylands is owned by UPC. Some of the northeast area is owned by Recology, the San Francisco-based scavenger company. One of the four major scenarios studied in the Environmental Impact Report includes an expansion of Recology's operations in Brisbane. This prospect is manifest in the General Plan Amendment's expansion of the Heavy Commercial land use designation in the northeast area of the Baylands. The Recology area is immediately adjacent to the eastern side of the Bayshore Caltrain station, as a drive on Tunnel Avenue makes evident. Thanks to a business license fee passed by Brisbane voters, Recology is one of the major contributors to Brisbane's General Fund.
Recology's expansion plans and location have led to some conflicting interests and bad blood between UPC and Recology.
Originally, Recology had planned a major state-of-the-art sustainable facility in Brisbane. However, the Recology manager who was committed to that project passed away, and his replacements have been rethinking the nature of the expansion. Building on unregulated filled land (their past garbage dumping) is expensive, and the location conflicts with the State mantra of housing adjacent to transit hubs (Bayshore Caltrain station). It's always been my hope that UPC and Recology could have a rational business discussion whereby some land trading could take place. Of course, a big sticking point would be who pays what for the expense of the landfill closure. To the best of my knowledge, the Council has not pursued this land use option.
Other land uses:
On August 31, 2018, the San Francisco Chronicle had a front-page story about Recology's plans to phase out of its Seventh Street San Francisco location and move truck parking to its "Visitacion Valley location," which is really Brisbane, but the story interestingly does not mention that. Recology's business plan is to turn their Seventh street location into housing and commercial development. Another interesting dimension of this story is that Recology's Seventh Street site is adjacent to Caltrain's maintenance yard and Fourth and Townsend station. San Francisco Supervisors would like to turn the Caltrain yard into development comparable to the Recology plan and move the yard "south." The article doesn't mention it, but in previous statements "south" is Brisbane. The possibility of moving the Caltrain yard to Brisbane has not been seriously considered by the Council and staff in their rush to satisfy the immediate demands of UPC and the misguided Legislature.
Other less building-intensive land use options have also been proposed. Rather than a concert facility, the entertainment variant could encompass soccer schools, golf driving ranges, railway museum, water sports, etc. When Mr. Chen Yu-hao, the Taiwanese developer who is the financial power behind Tuntex/UPC, came to Brisbane in the early 90s, he mentioned to me that he envisaged a "Disneyland North" on the Baylands. Much has transpired since then, but if we could figure out a way of getting people to the Baylands that didn't involve vehicles on clogged roadways and reliably protecting customers from the underlying contamination, who knows? (tongue-in-check remark of course)
The rail yards, Recology facilities, and solar farm would not require a high and more expensive level of remediation. The number of jobs created and traffic trips generated will be much less than conventional commercial development. They all make essential public, environmental, and economic contributions. Besides, the current boom in commercial development that is gripping South San Francisco and southeastern San Francisco will probably saturate the market for several decades. In the foreseeable future other non-residential land uses make more sense.
What happens if voters reject the Amendment?
It is only possible to make educated guesses to this important question. At the July 19, 2018 Council meeting the City's Sacramento consultant (attorney Tom McMorrow) attempted to give an answer. He said that a bill that specifically targeted Brisbane is unlikely. However, as long as the housing crisis is high on the Legislature's "need to fix" list, bills taking away local control and imposing developer's housing proposals will be high on the agenda. Bills like SB 828 will be pursued and others will be introduced. But any election result in Brisbane will have little effect on these statewide efforts. Those housing bills will be forthcoming whether Brisbane votes yes or no.
Probably the more important reaction is that of the developer. If the developer sees the vote as a reasonable effort to fix some of the flaws in the GPA before it becomes law, the Council, citizens and staff can go back to work and come up with a better product. Litigation is unlikely because the vote on the GPA will not have turned down any developer right that is subject to litigation. UPC could restart its political war, but that would not be rational if it looked as if a reasonable way forward existed.
There is nothing permanent that can happen on the site until remediation is completed, and that will undoubtedly take several years at minimum. Some of the existing legislation does respect the necessity of remediation of toxic land before housing is pursued. For instance, SB 35, one of the housing mandate bills, does not take effect until the Department of Toxic and Substances Control declares a site safe for residential occupation. Even SB 828 (thanks to an amendment) recognizes that the councils of governments may consider additional factors in their housing allocations as long as they make a finding that they are "necessary to address significant health and safety conditions" (p. 24).
After public hearings in June and July 2018 the Brisbane City Council did modify their original GPA proposal by approximately doubling the area for housing, thus making it potentially less dense, and also by removing the mixed-use land use designation for the entire Baylands that would have made the City even more vulnerable to housing mandates from the State. But many other concerns raised by citizens such as those discussed above were ignored. On November 6th voters will have to decide whether to ask the Council to rethink its proposal in light of the issues raised above or to accept the informal legislative mandate that comes close to giving UPC what it wants, not what is best for a future viable Brisbane community. I think we can do better. I plan to vote No.
Written by Former Mayor Ray Miller on September 14, 2018
Thanks to all those caring Brisbanites who commented on earlier drafts. The essay has been improved in response to their helpful insights. On the other hand, the final outcome is my handiwork, and I accept responsibility for it.