25 July 2007

The stuff not in the paper

Chris DeBenedetti's Argus article is first out of the gate, followed by Barry Witt's Merc piece. Of course, there are only so many inches in the papers, so I'm here to fill in the blanks (TV links: KTVU-2, KGO-7). (Update 5:34 p.m.: The archived webcast is now online.)

The A's and the city packed a lot of content into an hour, yet they're merely skimming the surface. What wasn't covered in any real depth? Here's a list:
  • Transportation, other than acknowledgment of the previously planned train station and shuttles.
  • School site options (admittedly the least analyzed issue)
  • Affordable housing (except that the city-developer guidelines dictate that affordable housing should have no distinction by location - i.e. segregation)
  • Infrastructure and public services planning
  • Retailer possibilities for the ballpark village
  • The 40-acre parcel which may hold additional parking, the train station, a school, or other infrastructure
What did they touch on? Quite a bit, actually:
  • Parking: 10-11,000 spaces around the ballpark. More on that later.
  • Residential planning: This looks to be a contentious issue, as it's likely we'll have the bottom-line oriented developer pitted against the city's progressive, New Urbanist leanings. Councilwoman Anu Natarajan took the biggest swipe at the plan, suggesting that the planning team should've gotten the city involved earlier. She said that the superblock-type residential development in the 115-acre townhouse area had very little variety in terms of densities. She even disclosed that a few years ago she worked for SF-based planning and design behemoth EDAW, who is working for the A's on this project.
  • Phasing: Unlike the 5-6 year projections in the economic impact report, it looks like housing will be more gradually built. At a pace of 300 units per year, it's expected to take 7-10 years to complete the entire residential portion.
  • Mixed use outside the village: Both Natarajan and Vice-Mayor Bob Wieckowski had previously suggested that the A's have a little more flexibility in the plan to keep some amount of commercial space, specifically office space. There appears to be a unified stance to keep the townhouse section from looking like a typical suburban subdivision.
  • Outreach: Valley bigshot Jim Cunneen is heading this effort, which I've been told is going to get moving quickly.
  • The ballpark: I hope to get cross-section graphic that Keith Wolff used during the presentation, because it actually appears more aggressive than the original simulation. Should they follow through the ballpark would most certainly take on Fenway-like intimacy.
  • Minisuites: They would be located 15 rows from the field, with four 6-person suites sharing a common, large lounge area. Cute design that's sure to cause some suite envy elsewhere in pro sports.
  • Environmental: Community Development Director Jill Keimach brought up the guidelines in use by the city and the developer. Out of that came the point that much of the wetlands just beyond the project area are still in transition and need protection. Buffers and other measures must be taken to ensure the development is compatible with the recently restored wetlands.
  • All those consultants: So it's a team consisting of 360 Architects, Gensler (Andy Cohen was co-presenting with Keith Wolff), EDAW, and Cisco. There might have been others but I missed their names. This isn't some mom-and-pop operation.
And so the dialogue begins in earnest. The council made it clear on more than one occasion that they're not going to rubber stamp this project. Councilman Steve Cho even went so far as to suggest a ballot measure which would "put it to rest," though it could be argued that a vote would just as easily rescue him and his colleagues from having to take a major stand on the project. None of the other pols spoke in favor of a vote, BTW. Cho felt that such a measure would pass. I doubt that sentiment gave Lew Wolff a warm fuzzy. He and Mayor Wasserman were separately interviewed following the session and downplayed the need for a vote. Wasserman said that it was difficult enough to educate five council members, let alone 200,000 citizens. Before you say that Wasserman is dismissing the will of the people, note that the environmental impact report will probably be 1,000 pages long and won't read anything like the latest Harry Potter book. If every Fremont voter wants to read the entire EIR (as I will) and all supporting documentation, it'll be available when the comment period opens. Somehow I doubt that more than a few hundred people will read the whole thing.

Onto parking. The 10-11,000 figure falls in line with tally I posted last Saturday. Natarajan said that she has "no concerns about parking at all." The interim parking plan (west of Cushing Pkwy on future residential land) definitely has legs. Discussion went from "how to get enough parking" to "What can we do to make it useful, beautiful and environmentally friendly?"

This was the first of many public sessions. Format may change a bit to allow for more dialogue exchange, or that may simply take care of itself as the discussions become more narrowly focused. The schedule moving forward:
  • Preliminary view - 7/24
  • Council input on plan - September
  • Business terms - Fall '07
  • Financial analysis - On-going
  • Input from agencies - On-going (Caltrans in a couple of weeks)
  • Community outreach - On-going
Notice that the submission of the dev plan isn't listed there. It's really a chicken-and-egg problem. The A's want to submit a plan that has the best chance of passing with as few modifications as possible. Yet they can't until they have more in-depth discussions with the city. That isn't to say that the proposal will be locked when it's submitted, but when it comes time to present the proposal and all alternatives under consideration, those options need to be clear.

The Wolffs appear to be aware of these issues and others that haven't been mentioned much (such as the rights of nearby Pacific Commons retailers to have their parking lots left intact) and the city's insistence on thoroughness means that yes, the right questions are being asked. And then some.