Fruitvale: Transit and Community

More than just a BART station.

metro or subway station may seem one-dimensional, a jumping-off point from one place to another. But some stations are destinations, drawing in visitors on the basis of their own merits. They may be architectural gems, like Grand Central Terminal in New York City or shopping meccas like Shinjuku in Tokyo. A few go beyond attaining this status and have become communities unto themselves.

Fruitvale Station is one such place. It’s a thriving transportation hub that also possesses the elements of a long-standing community.

I commute to the city from Fruitvale Station every day, witnessing this tangible sense of community up close. My daily journey here began in January 2009, just a few weeks after Oscar Grant was shot and killed by a BART police officer in the early hours of New Year’s Day. The tenth anniversary of the tragedy happened on January 1 of this year, marking a milestone that has largely defined the identity of the station.

Fruitvale ingests passengers not only from its namesake neighborhood but also from other areas of Oakland and adjacent towns — as evidenced by the busy AC Transit buses and the jam-packed parking. The ongoing stream of humanity begins in the early morning with commuters and school kids and continues until the last train departs for Warm Springs at 1:00 a.m.

The first clue that more is afoot than simply moving people is the Fruitvale Village sign that stands next to the station entrance. Fruitvale Village was developed in the early 2000s by the Unity Council, a nonprofit Oakland group, and became an early model of transit-oriented development.

The development is home to housing and multiple community organizations, including institutions that are hallmarks of any civic community: a health clinic, a public library branch and a school. It also features shops and restaurants, most of them locally owned, like neighborhood Mexican food fixture Obelisco (formerly the Taco Grill). In 2017, Reem’s, an Arab bakery, opened to much acclaim. Owner Reem Assil has been recognized by the James Beard Foundation and major food publications. Equally notable, Assil has made social justice a core value of her business by hiring local workers and providing a living wage.

Read more at The Bold Italic

Oakland requires landlords to retrofit ‘soft-story’ buildings

Landlords have six years to retrofit the buildings, which are prone to substantial earthquake damage.

To prevent hundreds of multi-story, wood-frame apartment buildings from collapsing as they did in the 1989 Loma Prieta earthquake, Oakland is requiring seismic upgrades of all those at risk in the next big shaker.

There are 1,479 such “soft-story” apartment buildings in the city constructed before 1991 — when the building code changed — that stand two to seven stories tall and contain five or more apartments, according to a 2008 analysis by the city and the Association of Bay Area Governments.Those buildings are supported by slim columns with either garages or storefronts underneath, and contain a total of 24,273 apartments.

With fears of the “big one” occurring any day now along the Hayward fault — which runs along northeast Oakland and south along Interstate 580 — the City Council unanimously passed an ordinance Dec. 14 making the seismic retrofitting of soft-story buildings with more than five units mandatory, giving landlords four to six years to get their buildings up to code.

“A major earthquake along the Hayward fault is not a matter of if, it is a matter of when,” Mayor Libby Schaaf said in a statement released a week before the meeting. “As a city, we have a responsibility to put measures in place that will prevent injury and loss of life, and reduce displacement and recovery time in the aftermath of a major quake. This ordinance does all of those while also ensuring that we’re not placing an undue financial burden on property owners and tenants in our community.”

San Francisco passed a similar ordinance that went into effect in 2017; Berkeley and Fremont also require soft-story buildings to be seismically retrofitted. The Hayward council is scheduled to consider a similar measure in February.

In 2009, Oakland required soft-story building owners to gauge the potential earthquake damage that could occur. In the city’s 2015-2023 General Plan, officials called for the creation of a seismic safety retrofit program that would encourage retrofits through financial and procedural incentives.

Councilmember Dan Kalb — who introduced the ordinance — said city staff had been researching the risks of soft-story buildings and working toward the legislation for about four years. Though some California cities have required the buildings be retrofitted, others have not yet addressed the issue.

Seismic retrofits fall under the Oakland rent board’s definition of capital improvements, and thus up to 70 percent of the cost of may be passed on to the tenants. This ordinance requires that pass-through costs to tenants be dispersed over 25 years to prevent substantial rent hikes.

 

Read more on East Bay Times

 

 

Oakland may require landlords to retrofit seismically unsafe apartments

Oakland may soon require hundreds of old apartments to be seismically retrofitted in an effort to prevent a mass collapse of buildings in the next big earthquake.

The retrofit rules would apply to soft-story residential buildings: multiunit, wood-frame structures with weak first stories built before 1991. An apartment with garage parking in the ground floor or street-level retail could fall into the targeted category.

Such buildings are prone to collapse during earthquakes, when the combined weight of shaken upper levels becomes too much for the vulnerable first story, as Loma Prieta proved in 1989 and Northridge in 1994.

“You look at photos of (San Francisco’s) Marina District after ’89 — quite a few buildings looked like three stories when they used to be four,” said Thor Matteson, a structural engineer of the Bay Area firm Quake Bracing.

Oakland is believed to have more than 24,000 housing units in 1,400 to 2,800 soft-story buildings, defined as those with at least five units and two to seven stories, according to city estimates. The first step of the ordinance proposed by City Councilman Dan Kalb and Mayor Libby Schaaf involves finding out which buildings must be retrofitted and which are exempt, such as those that have already completed the work.

Building types would be divided into three tiers, and each category would be on a different timetable. Owners would have four to six years to complete the retrofit work.

Read more on the San Francisco Chronicle

Oakland’s building boom is giving rise to robos, virtual reality and other construction tech

With the building boom in full swing in Oakland, many contractors are using different technologies from productivity software to robots to improve productivity, efficiencies, and job-site safety.

Contractors that are ahead of the game are using drone technology, 3D modeling and building information modeling, virtual reality, print camera technology and mobile-friendly software, such as PlanGrid, which digitizes building plans and makes them accessible on any device. The startup was just bought by AutoDesk for $875M.

Nationwide, contractors are turning to these technologies to create better efficiency, supplement the workforce during a skilled-worker shortage and reduce mistakes and project costs.

Construction technology is still new to many contractors in Oakland, and it hasn’t yet been fully implemented. Because of this, some contractors are still running up against a lot of rework due to poor communication, PlanGrid Western Region Customer Advocate Ross Wagner said.

“Business out here hasn’t had the growth that San Francisco has had … but overall there certainly are people who are ahead of the curve in Oakland,” Wagner said. “The growth curve is just a little bit later.”

He said technology is allowing contractors to work together and increase productivity without having to go back and forth to the trailer to get information needed at the job site.

 

 

Read more on Bisnow Oakland

 

 

New effort to push more housing near transit stations by setting state rules

A state bill to allow dense housing near transit stops, alleviating long commutes and coaxing people out of cars, never made it out of committee last session. But backers think the mood has shifted enough in the housing debate to try again.

“I think the political climate is changing,” said state Sen. Scott Wiener, D-San Francisco. He’s the lead sponsor of the More HOMES Act — HOMES stands for Housing, Opportunity, Mobility, Equity and Stability.

“In talking to my colleagues, there’s more support than there was earlier,” Wiener said.

The new iteration, SB50, prevents cities from restricting density within a half mile of a major job center or transit hub, such as a BART or Caltrain station. It raises height limits to 45 feet, about four stories, within a half-mile of the station, and 55 feet or five stories within a quarter mile. It also eliminates minimum parking requirements for new developments, a move that the Board of Supervisors is contemplating for San Francisco.

Those provisions are less dramatic than what Wiener proposed in SB827, his first attempt at statewide zoning reform. It would have barred cities from rejecting four- to eight-story apartment or condo buildings near transit nodes.

Wiener’s first measure laid bare an ideological divide in a state struggling with soaring rents, jammed freeways and a paucity of housing. The crisis has pushed people farther from jobs, forcing them into wildfire zones or soul-grinding commutes, Wiener said. But it has also ignited fears that new development will push out existing residents — or drastically change the landscape. And many opponents bristle at the idea of Sacramento interfering with local governments’ ability to shape their own neighborhoods.

“The issue seems to be that Scott Wiener and his bills are so often looking to undermine local control,” said Susan Kirsch, founder of Livable California, a San Francisco organization that advocates for local urban planning and moderate growth. It opposed SB827.

Political leaders in San Francisco and Berkeley fumed at the building heights in SB827, saying it would allow luxury high-rises to sprout up, unchecked, in quaint residential neighborhoods. San Francisco’s Board of Supervisors passed a resolution against the bill after an emotional hearing in which residents compared it to a “hydrogen bomb” and an “undemocratic power grab.” Some detractors worried that their neighborhoods would be remade to look like Manhattan or Miami Beach.

To other critics, the original bill felt like an unfinished draft. It didn’t do enough to protect tenants from displacement or require affordable housing.

“It felt like it was a big proposal, it was a bold proposal, and there were a lot of details that had not been sufficiently worked out,” said Anya Lawler, a policy advocate for the Western Center on Law and Poverty. The center opposed SB827 but has not taken a position on the new bill.

Yet in the last few months, the tenor of the debate has changed. London Breed was elected mayor of San Francisco on an ardent pro-housing platform — she’s among the politicians tentatively supporting Wiener’s revised legislation. In September, the Legislature passed a law empowering BART to fill station parking lots with homes. And Wiener is seeking an ally in Gov.-elect Gavin Newsom, who emphasized the link between housing and transportation in a post-election speech.

 

 

Read more on SFGate

 

 

 

As housing pressures increase in the Bay Area, multifamily developers focus on Contra Costa County

With several multifamily developments rising up around the Bay Area, many developers have started to turn their attention to Contra Costa County.

With rents and housing prices rising around the Bay Area, parts of Contra Costa are becoming more affordable comparatively and ideal places for millennials and other generations to raise families.

Developers are hoping to capture this shifting demographic as demand for housing shifts to the outer areas of the Bay Area. Walnut Creek and Concord have specifically benefited lately from new investment.

“We always wanted to be in Walnut Creek,” Bay Rock Multifamily CEO Stuart Gruendl said during Bisnow’s Future of Contra Costa County event in early November. “The government here in Walnut Creek is somewhat pro-development.”

The city has two active specific plans, and Bay Rock is a stakeholder in the North Downtown Specific Plan. The developer owns a large parcel and has plans to build 52 units, Gruendl said.

Unlike other Bay Area markets, there aren’t thousands of units teed up in Walnut Creek, Gruendl said. The costs are rising in the Tri-Valley and are becoming cost-prohibitive. A no-growth movement is growing in Pleasanton so there will be a natural cap on growth in that area, which bodes well for Walnut Creek, he said.

Bay Rock is focusing on projects in Walnut Creek, Berkeley and Oakland. “We find tremendous value in this market,” The Address Co. CEO and founding partner Eric Chevalier said. “There’s an affordability factor as well. People are getting priced out of the South Bay and the market. … They are migrating in this direction.”

The Address Co. builds both for-sale and rental properties. The company is working on a multifamily project called Riviera in Walnut Creek and has three other projects in the city. It also is working on entitling a project in Richmond, a city which the company is bullish on, Chevalier said.

 

Read more on Bisnow Oakland

 

 

Contra Costa County setting itself up to be next Bay Area hub if only the jobs will follow

Several large-scale projects in Contra Costa County could transform the suburban county into a thriving employment center with live-work-play dynamics.

The region’s biggest challenge will be actually getting to that point. Many investors and developers think the county is well on its way.

“What is wonderful about Contra Costa County is that it is unmatched quality of life if you can afford to live here in terms of work, play, live opportunity,” East Bay Leadership Council President and CEO Kristin Connelly said during Bisnow’s recent Future of Contra Costa event. “I’m a huge champion of the East Bay. We are poised to be the center of the mega-region in Northern California because of our assets.”

While more development is occurring in Contra Costa County, many cities are struggling to be attractive to employers, and many residents are still commuting elsewhere for their jobs. The East Bay Leadership Council found that 78% of Contra Costa workers commute to Western Alameda County, San Francisco or San Jose, Connelly said.

Cities like Walnut Creek and Concord are having to build more housing to meet the needs of current and new residents.

“When you’re seeing the South Bay having a 10:1 job-to-housing ratio, we’re the ones in the East Bay and the suburbs having to pick up the slack because of that,” City of Walnut Creek Mayor Justin Wedel said.

Cities are working to create better balances that can be attractive for employers seeking a live-work-play dynamic.

 

 

Read more on Bisnow Oakland

 

 

More move to modular construction to mitigate costs, but it’s not the solution for every project.

In an effort to shorten construction timelines to cut down on costs and find creative ways around the shortage of skilled labor, multifamily developers have embraced the possibilities of modular construction.

But as with any new technology, there are still a lot of pitfalls and issues to work out before it becomes a solution for everyone — and it is not a solution for every project.

The move to modular is being driven by a combination of desperation and fear of the future, Panoramic Interests owner Patrick Kennedy said last week at Bisnow’s Multifamily Annual Conference NorCal in San Francisco.

“Conventional methods seem untenable in many circumstances,” he said.

Ultimately, construction costs will just get higher and more developers across markets will look at modular to address costs and the labor shortage.

 

 

Read more on Bisnow SF

 

 

 

‘Monster in the Mission’ housing proposal back in new form, but with same old opposition

The developer behind a long-stalled mixed-use apartment complex above the 16th Street BART Station in the Mission District has a new plan, but so far it is being met with the same staunch opposition as previous iterations.

Maximus Real Estate Partners, which owns the 57,000-square-foot site at the southeast corner of 16th and Mission streets, has filed a revised design that calls for two 10-story market-rate buildings — one on Mission Street and one on 16th Street — totaling 285 units, as well as 46 affordable units arranged in a row of five-story townhomes along Capp Street.

The affordable units would be given to the city, and the rents spun off from that building, roughly $1.15 million a year, could be used to help subsidize rents in other nearby buildings in the rapidly gentrifying area.

The revised project, designed by Skidmore, Owings & Merrill, also scales back some aspects of the project, which critics have long dubbed the “Monster in the Mission.”

The 163-unit mid-rise on Mission Street would be moved back 15 feet to expand the usable space on the BART plaza by 40 percent. The three buildings would each have a district architectural style — one green tile, one red brick and one wood — to break up the massing and better fit into the character of surrounding buildings, project architect Leo Chow said.

 

 

Read more on SFGate

 

 

Bay Area blazes hit multifamily buildings

A late-night fire destroyed an under-development East Bay multifamily complex Monday night, hours after the San Francisco Fire Department got a fire in a downtown high-rise under control.

A West Oakland fire, which was first reported around 2 a.m. at West Grand Avenue and Filbert Street, burned six buildings under construction on the site — two that were near completion and four in early stages of construction, the San Francisco Chronicle reports. The project developer is City Ventures, which was planning 126 condos on the site.

Nearby residents were evacuated and power was cut off as a precautionary measure.

Another fire at a building on a construction site on the 3600 block of Peralta Street in the early morning hours was quickly extinguished, the Chronicle reports. The fire department is looking into the cause, which was deemed suspicious.

Monday evening, a 25-story building at 405 Davis Court in San Francisco’s Financial District caught fire, burning on the 12th through 16th floors.

No one was injured in the fire, which was first reported shortly after 5 p.m., according to the San Francisco Fire Department. While there were no injuries, multiple people had to be rescued. The cause of the fire is being investigated.

The fire burned for about 45 minutes.

 

 

Read more on Bisnow SF