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July 23, 2012 Meeting to present proposed changes to the Vallejo Waterfront Plan


By Hatfield McCoy

Back in the mid 1990s, the City of Vallejo decided they wanted to revitalize Vallejo’s waterfront. The Waterfront had fallen victim to unsuccessful redevelopment in the 1960s and the other city sprawl that drew businesses away from downtown. The 60s Redevelopment was a huge undertaking to address blight on lower Georgia Street and along the waterfront. You can see from old Vallejo pictures what used to be the “before”: 12 city blocks, street after street of Victorians, an Andrew Carnegie Library, a Julia Morgan designed Women’s Club: some real gems, all torn down to make way for the JFK Library Building, City Hall, Marina Vista, Marina Towers, etc.


There were also state plans to make Mare Island Way into an elevated freeway connecting I-80 to 37. That’s why City Hall and the JFK Library building (actually not very functional building, just ask anyone about the restrooms) face east instead of facing west towards Vallejo’s beautiful waterfront.

In April of 1997, the City awarded exclusive rights to negotiate a Waterfront Masterplan to the DeSilva Group. DeSilva then teamed up with Callahan Properties to create Callahan DeSilva LLC. In December, 2011, DeSilva & Callahan Properties quietly parted ways, transferring all the rights and responsibilities of the Waterfront Disposition and Development Agreement to Callahan Property Company, LLC.

Up until recently, the Waterfront Plan was to generate millions of “tax increment”. Tax Increment is the crux of Redevelopment: A Redevelopment Agency is legally allowed to use the increase in property tax resulting from their projects to fund infrastructure and other City costs related to the redevelopment. With some exceptions: 20% of that tax increment must be earmarked for low income housing and some portion to the state for schools. It’s my understanding that all the low-income housing developments surrounding the downtown were a result of the 1960s redevelopment. Redevelopment Agencies were dissolved last year by Governor Brown, but it’s not clear to me how much the loss of redevelopment tax increment has affected or necessitated the proposed changes to the Waterfront Plan.

And now more than 15 years after the first agreement was signed, and after multiple iterations of the plan, these new changes were presented to the public on Monday evening.

The waterfront plan at one point proposed a large office building at the corner of Georgia/Mare Island Way, a shape of a submarine, to honor Vallejo’s history of building nuclear subs on Mare Island. This was replaced with ground floor commercial retail with offices/condos above.

In 2003, before Waterfront plans were approved, the City of Vallejo rushed the State Farm building proposal through in likely what may have not been by the book. The State Farm building took away a city park (one that was carved from state lands) from the community, and cut off easy access to residents on Florida, Kentucky and other adjacent streets who used to walk through the park to the library.

The New Waterfront Plan

The purported reason for this change is to make the City of Vallejo eligible for a Request for Proposals (RFP) to build office space. One of the purported requirements of this RFP is that the location of the potential land for an office building is located near a ferry system and a North Bay location is preferable. There is no RFP now; it’s expected to be published late September/early October. Joe Callahan, principal for Callahan Property, received a tip from a commercial broker that this RFP is coming down the pike. Callahan, and Ursula Luna Reygosa, Vallejo’s Economic Development Director, indicated that Oakland’s Jack London Square may be one of our main competitors.

Several people in the audience asked who the Office Space project proponent is; the City indicated that currently, that information is confidential.

In order to accommodate the anonymous proponent and large office space, various components of the Waterfront Plan are to be moved around, for an office at the corner of Mare Island Way and Maine Street. Currently, that area—referred to as “Parcel L-1”—is planned for high-density residential (condos) and commercial retail on the ground floor. The height of the office building is to stay the same as the current plan. Unfortunately, the drawings presented for the office seemed to have used State Farm as a model – blank slate-like walls in beige/brown with no articulation. Luna-Reygosa did indicated that the Design Review Board (DRB) will approve any final designs…but it’s disconcerting that the image presented was so uninspiring. It gives the impression that someone is trying to lower expectations. Or maybe they figure why bother, since the whole thing has to go through the DRB. But pretty pictures always make the public more amenable…

They also propose turning “Civic Center Drive” (a new street connecting Capital Street to Georgia Street) into a Cul De Sac at “Independence Green” (a park along the north side of Georgia Street (i.e. the street dead ends at the park/Georgia St.) for traffic flow and pedestrian safety. Independence Park (the scrubby park across from Mariners Landing condos) is to be used temporarily for parking while the Waterfront Plan pieces are moved around like chess pieces – the Post Office is not ready to move and their lease extends for another 8 years. The area for the paseo between the bus transfer station/parking garage/waterfront that now has 50 parking spaces, to be increased to 200.

Another proposed change—which doesn’t seem to need a rush, since no one indicated there’s some other opportunity we need to prepare for—is to turn all the Waterfront High Density Residential (condos) into approximately 425 apartments, now all to be built on Parcel J (currently a parking lot across from the Ferry Building). The change is to attract developers and financing that is no longer available for Condos because currently the bottom has dropped out of that market. The City and Callahan describe these units as “luxury”; they’d be marketed to Bay Area “yuppies” who want these types of apartments but would relocate to Vallejo where they could afford the rent and have easy access to San Francisco via the ferry. And the apartments could convert to condos in 5-7 years.

Given that the downtown and waterfront are already surrounded by low-income apartment complexes—Marina Vista (“201 Maine”), Marina Towers, Marina Heights, Ascension Arms, Casa De Vallejo—concerns were expressed by some audience members that there would eventually be pressure to make these new apartments low-income as well. There may be no market for condos, but it’s not clear if there’s a market for luxury apartments that Yuppies may want on Vallejo’s waterfront either. These concerns were met with “naysayer” statements from others. One audience member, ironically in the same sentence, described wanting to attract people with disposable income, and yet described some who are already live here (those not born & raised in Vallejo) as the “naysayers.”

The devil is in the details and the City of Vallejo must negotiate a development that is a win-win. We can look all around the downtown and waterfront and see the disastrous effects of the 1960s redevelopment that the city has yet to recover. The downtown plan is stalled, with the City and Triad locked in a lawsuit that no one seems to want to back away from, and which puts a kibosh on downtown development, scaring other developers away that may have interest. Not wanting the City to make the same mistakes all over again is not “nay-saying.”

Next steps: This amendment goes in front of the Planning Commission on August 6; there will be a second community meeting on August (date to post later); it will go in front of the City Council for approval on August 28; in front of the Redevelopment Oversight Committee on August 30.