Oakland delays housing project near West Oakland BART station, cites environmental concerns

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The Oakland City Council voted unanimously to delay a housing project near the West Oakland BART station despite a state review of the council’s decision last year to delay the project.

The council’s decision comes nearly six months after it originally asked city staff to do more environmental testing at the project site last September. City staff said it needed two to three months to investigate more environmental impacts at the project site.

If during this analysis, city staff determine that a separate environmental review is required, this process could take up to a year.

Council member Carroll Fife, who represents the area where the project is proposed, said the direction council gave staff in September is not yet complete. She said she wanted housing, but it had to be done with “due diligence” so that “we protect the residents of my neighborhood” from environmental harm.

The Michaels Organization has proposed a 222-unit development on a vacant Fifth Street parcel across from the West Oakland BART.

At stake is an eight-story residential building of much-needed housing that would be located at 1396 Fifth St. The 222 units would contribute to the 26,000 new homes Oakland must plan for by 2031, as required by the state.

As the city now prepares to plan for these new units, staff have identified priority areas throughout Oakland – including transit villages such as BART.

The proposed development at the West Oakland BART station is currently being monitored by the California Department of Housing and Community Development.

Jason Overman, a spokesman for the developer, said over the past six months that the Michaels organization has been doing more environmental scanning as part of a good faith effort to show the board it’s serious about the idea of ​​working with them and innovating. But they say the threat of another delay has left them perplexed.

“The project sponsor feels stuck in purgatory here, where no one knows exactly what to do next because the callers have armed CEQA to confuse everyone,” Overman said. “This project has been put in the twilight zone, and it’s quickly becoming a quagmire.”

California’s Environmental Quality Act, or CEQA, requires environmental review of development projects and their impacts. The law has been used by anti-development groups for decades.

In this particular case, The Michaels Organizations alleged that the group appealing their project had offered to drop their case if the developer agreed to bid only to union contractors.

The project has already been unanimously approved by the city’s planning commission. But East Bay Residents for Responsible Development, a coalition of four local unions who have challenged other housing in the area, appealed the planning commission’s decision and argued that the town had no not analyzed for site-specific hazardous waste. The band did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

At Tuesday’s meeting, Kelilah Federman, a lawyer representing the caller, said the developer’s own environmental analysis shows the site is still contaminated and urged council to uphold the call.

Several speakers during public comments identified themselves as members of East Bay Residents for Responsible Development and said the developer’s analysis validates their concerns. One member said they support housing, but ‘it should be done right and not at the expense of local people’.

Scott Cooper, with the developer, said they will be required to work with the county to ensure appropriate cleanup measures are taken at the site before starting. The Alameda County Department of Environmental Health reviews the development plan before construction can begin.

Most of the speakers during the public comments came out in favor of the project.

“It’s important to us to develop as much housing as possible,” said Oakland resident George Spies.

In September, council voted to request an additional environmental review of the housing project’s impacts on the site and surrounding neighborhood.

The council’s decision prompted the California Department of Housing and Community Development to investigate the council’s vote.

It is not uncommon for groups like East Bay Residents for Responsible Development to block or kill housing projects – using environmental concerns as a reason to do so. Further analysis of an environmental report can take up to two years.

Corey Smith, deputy director of the Housing Action Coalition, a San Francisco nonprofit, said his group is watching to see what the council decides. In October, the Housing Action Coalition threatened to sue Oakland over the delay in the project.

“All options are the table for us,” Smith said Monday. “Housing delayed is housing denied. Every day that passes is another day that our accessibility and mobility crisis worsens.

Sarah Ravani (her) is a staff writer for the San Francisco Chronicle. Email: [email protected]: @SarRavani

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