05 September 2006

Pacific Commons Wetlands

On my way to the Coliseum over the weekend I stopped off at Pacific Commons to see if anything has happened at the site. No surprises there. Earthmoving equipment was in the same place as before. The Auto Mall is filling in nicely with a new Lexus dealership almost completed at the south end. A Claim Jumper location opened while I was away. And cows are grazing on the meadows that intermingle with the marsh.

What? Cows in Fremont? (queue the old Berkeley Farms ad)

The CHP building whose sign is visible in the top left corner is the one you pass on the left when heading south on 880. It is across the freeway from Pacific Commons.

Cows make for pretty effective growth control. You'll see them frequently on hillsides on both sides of the bay acting as a natural fire retardant. Decades ago, the irrepressible Charles O. Finley had goats manicure the grass at KC Muni. As part of the Pacific Commons wetlands preservation and restoration project, maintenance has to be kept up on some of the grassy areas of the tidal marsh. Enter a non-native species to take care of the growth. The cows seem to like hanging out closer to the freeway. This is probably due to taller grasses the further inland one goes.

In the comments thread of another post, James asked about the wetlands area and whether it would be developed to any degree. To that end I refer you to the following links from Wetland Tracker:
The map contains the development map and historical detail, including mentions of the old Sky Sailing Airport and an abandoned drive-in theater. A 390-acre preserve has been created, and a 49-acre park is planned. That park is near the location of a planned Amtrak/ACE station.

Here's a map of the project site, divided into the development parcel and the preserve.

The yellow area is considered the development area. Any other white area has already been developed. The gray area is the preserve. The green area is a bit of a question mark. Informal calculation of the yellow area has it sized at around 120-130 acres, while the green area (if included) adds 35 more. I'll need to verify this with the city and county. The green area has been cleared out and flattened, so at least it looks like it's waiting for something to be built on it.

I intentionally left "existing landfill" in the cropped map. FYI, it has not smelled any time I have gone into the Pacific Commons area. That's at least a couple dozen times over the past year.

If the green area is truly part of the development area, it's where I think the ballpark should go. Here's why:
  • 35 acres is sufficient for the immediate ballpark village area, which would include the stadium, museum, hotel, and premium/priority parking.
  • The parcel would as a buffer between the residential area and the preserve.
  • The area is the closest usable point to the planned Amtrak/ACE station, slightly under a mile away.
  • Depending on the types of buildings erected, a view to the outfield could have a mini-city of towers framed by Mission Peak and the surrounding hills.
  • Traffic can be routed along Cushing Parkway, which would help prevent fans from invading the parking lots of the big box stores. Traffic from the north could run through the Auto Mall (dealers will love the traffic), and traffic from the south would reach the area directly from Cushing.
By planning in this manner, residential buildings could be placed in the northeastern corner (the yellow area that juts out to the left). There's room there for 1000-2000 units based on typical densities. That would leave almost 100 acres remaining for other commercial development and parking. Want to build a Santana Row/Bay Street type of development between the ballpark and the residential area? No problem. Does Cisco want to build a set of signature towers in the outfield? Sure thing. Even with the negotiations that will most certainly have to commence with the change in development plans, there are ways to mitigate impacts that benefit the public, the wetlands, and the developers.

Which gets me to the last topic tonight. James also asked about trails or beautification that would occur at the existing wetlands, which would be beautiful except for the landfills and salt ponds that currently take up much of the area. As you may already know, many of the salt ponds are being reclaimed as part of the SFO runway extension deal. Cargill sold much of their salt ponds to the government, which in turn is starting the transformation of salt ponds back into wetlands. The Alviso portion of the project abuts the southern tip of the Pacific Commons area. As the project moves forward, one of the goals is to complete the Bay Trail, the network of trails and paths that will ring the bay.

Currently there are a number of disjointed and often difficult-to-access trails of varying shape. The double-orange line shows an unimproved trail. The gray dotted lines show planned trails. Red lines are existing trails or bike paths. Station Island, which is also known by the name Drawbridge, once had inhabitants and a thriving frontier town economy, but with the changes made by the creation of the salt ponds, eventually started to sink into the bay. Now it's no longer safe to walk on the islands (believe me, I know this firsthand) even though Amtrak/ACE/Union Pacific trains run through it on an elevated track everyday. The first step is to replenish the wetlands. Afterwards, we can talk trails. While there may be a park buffer between the developed area and the wetlands, it'll be a thin sliver compared to the thousands of acres of wetlands.
I'm a bit afraid that the picture of cattle at the top will cause people to deride Fremont as a cowtown, a la Sacramento. Is that better or worse than being called a bedroom community?