Questions, concerns and opinions regarding a proposal to essentially double the size of Brisbane continue swirling at a torrid pace as a decision regarding the transformative Baylands development rapidly approaches.
The Brisbane City Council hosted Thursday, July 12, a final discussion on the offer to add millions of square feet of homes and workspace to the Bayfront region abutting Highway 101.
The public hearing set the stage for a subsequent meeting Thursday, July 19, when councilmembers are slated to approve floating a ballot initiative in the fall election seeking approval of policy package laying groundwork for construction.
Yet with a variety of lingering concerns regarding the proposed general plan amendment, environmental review documents and other regulations, some residents are skeptical about the pending initiative’s potential success.
“I don’t think it will pass. I really don’t,” said resident Michelle Salmon, according to video of the meeting. “I hope it doesn’t at this point. Because it’s greedy.”
The plan to which she refers is an offer by Universal Paragon Corporation to build 6.5 million square feet of commercial space, 500,000 square feet for a hotel and between 1,800 and 2,200 residential units to be included in the northwestern corner of the 684-acre area along the Bayshore.
But Salmon and fellow project critics shared fears the developer has not offered sufficient guarantees that the toxic soil spread throughout the former landfill would be entirely remediated. They also raised concerns that the builder may want to push the housing beyond the boundaries currently proposed in a northwestern corner of the development area.
While many oppose project, some community members such as Bill Dettmer believe it may be necessary. For his part, Dettmer suggested the project could improve the quality of life for those facing the crunch of the local affordability crisis.
“This whole process is scary. It’s going to double our town. But it’s more scary to be a renter or a commuter. It’s a nightmare out there,” he said.
Ultimately it will likely be one side of the issue sealing the development’s face, as councilmembers agreed voters should have the final say in whether the project moves ahead.
Under such an effort, councilmembers can agree at the upcoming meeting to call an election allowing voters to approve building the largest mixed-use project on the Peninsula.
As voters prepare to formally weigh the proposal, they should keep in mind the political pressure applied seeking some residential development at the site, said former mayor Lori Liu.
“Do we want to have control over this development? Or do we want the state to take control and basically give carte blanche to the developer? That is the real question,” she said.
Such a perspective echoes previous concerns from officials warning voters that approving a moderate amount of housing at the site may be their only chance at maintaining local control.
Should voters deny the development proposal officials believe it is likely that state lawmakers will pass legislation deferring to the developer’s vision for the site in an attempt to help solve the Bay Area’s housing crisis.
State Sen. Jerry Hill, D- San Mateo, crafted draft legislation previously working toward such an end and some believe he would introduce it again if voters blocked the housing.
Housing questions are not the only sort lingering over the proposal, as Councilwoman Terry O’Connell suggested she was uncomfortable with a recent proposal to increase the amount of commercial space in the project.
Officials added 2.5 million square feet of commercial space to the proposal, in an effort to hike the amount of revenue generated at the site and offset the threat that the project is a strain on city resources.
O’Connell though said she did not support the leap to 6.5 million square feet of commercial space, and said she may favor leaving some of the site available for alternative uses.
“I have very real concerns about the size of the commercial, “ she said.
Councilman Cliff Lentz countered with an argument that the commercial component was essential to maintain the city’s economic stability.
“It’s going to be difficult and the margins are going to be really thin and there’s just no way I will put our city at financial risk,” said Lentz, while supporting the larger commercial proposal.
Recognizing the variety of closely-held opinions on the matter, Liu detailed the need for all sides to come together and ultimately make a decision in the best interest of the larger community.
“I know compromise is really hard, but that is what is really necessary here,” she said. “We have to have a responsible compromise to preserve what is best for Brisbane.”
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