Prepared by Peter Rosen, Michael Kusiak, Scott San Filippo and Castro Valley Matters
March 11, 2014
Castro Valley Town Square Overview
At the February 4, 2014 Castro Valley Municipal Advisory Council (MAC) meeting, the MAC passed a motion requesting that the Castro Valley Town Square proponents gather more data about a proposed town square/plaza at the Daughtrey’s Building site. This document contains that research.
At the Successor Agency Oversight Board Meeting on February 26, the Board unanimously voted to support a revision to the Long Range Property Management Plan (LRPMP) so that a public use can be considered for the site.
The Castro Valley Town Square team spent the past few weeks canvassing local businesses, engaging residents about the project, talking to urban planners, getting feedback and advice from local and county officials and staff, and reaching out to those responsible for similar projects in Livermore, Lafayette, Windsor, Hayward, and Noe Valley. We’ve also talked to several parks officials as well as landscape architects and contractors.
We propose an alternative plan for the Daughtrey’s Building site that 1) razes the building, 2) remediates the environmental concerns, and 3) creates a vibrant community gathering place.
We believe that MAC support is essential for the success of reclaiming one of Castro Valley’s most visible and prominent spaces for public use.
We invite the MAC to join the community and support this alternative public use of the site and advise the Board of Supervisors and Oversight Board to do everything in their power to make a town square a reality for Castro Valley.
- Great Size. The site footprint provides 15,000 square feet to construct a plaza. There is already a parking plan for the surrounding area in the back and to the side, and the surrounding buildings would give the plaza a natural enclosure that would make the plaza inviting and comfortable, according to urban planners we talked to.
- Reasonable Cost. A bottoms-up detailed estimate for a build-out of a basic town square was created in conjunction with landscape architects, local landscape contractors, and urban planners, as well as reviews of comparable town square sites throughout the Bay Area. Our estimated construction cost for a sample town square, based on the design elements discussed in this document, is less than $650,000.
- Overwhelming Business Support for Change. We canvassed nearly every one of the businesses surrounding the site, and we found that they overwhelmingly supported tearing down the current eyesore building. They preferred replacing the current building either with a town square that frees up critical parking spaces in the Downtown core or a new retail building. When asked specifically whether they would support a town square, 18 of 20 businesses canvassed near the Daughtrey site said yes.
- Ideal Location. We spoke to urban planners who have designed similar plazas in the Bay Area. They agree a plaza would transform the downtown area as it did in their towns, and “we could not ask for a better location” than the Daughtrey site.
- Wide Resident Support. We engaged with over 1,000 Castro Valley residents through one-on-one interaction at the Saturday Farmer’s Market, through social media, blogs, letters to the editor, and collecting petition signatures. Again, we found wide support for removing the building.
- Safety. In engaging our neighbors and fellow Castro Valley residents about the town square, folks were rightfully concerned about how the space would be used, particularly how it might attract transient populations. Urban planners we spoke to said that there would constantly be “eyes on the plaza” and the street access would make it easy to patrol and monitor, making it extremely unlikely to become a place for homeless or vandals to gather. Sociologist William H. Whyte extensively researched how people gather in public spaces and observed that “the best way to handle the problem of undesirables is to make a place attractive to everyone else.”
What is a town square?
Town squares are open public spaces that have been incorporated into communities throughout history. Alternative names include plaza, civic center, and town green. Basic features of a town square include a large open space; a central location in the community and an identifying feature such as a fountain, gazebo, or public art.
Town squares become iconic gathering spaces in a community and “usually become the hub of the community, with numerous groups taking advantage of the open space to hold events… Visitors often enjoy visiting the town square as well, to get a taste for the community.” (source)
Communities throughout the world incorporate town squares into their basic design as a fundamental planning tool. We are being given the opportunity to reimagine downtown Castro Valley.
The Right Place, The Right Time – A Unique, Urgent Opportunity
Since 2000, Alameda County sought the purchase and redevelopment of the semi-abandoned Daughtrey’s building. Redevelopment efforts have always been focused on private uses, not public ones, unlike similar blighted properties purchased by redevelopment in the unincorporated areas of Alameda County.
Right after the purchase of the building for $2.7 million in 2011, California’s redevelopment agencies were dissolved, further frustrating efforts to pass the building on to a private party for redevelopment. The most recent appraisal put a value of $950,000 on the site.
The building has several problems. There are known asbestos issues in the structure. The basement is prone to flooding, needs pumps, and is where contaminated water collects.
The Community Development Agency has been negotiating an agreement that is “92% complete” with developer David Greensfelder. The agreement could not be executed until the fate of the site is resolved in the redevelopment dissolution process. Greensfelder does not plan to take down the building or remediate the water contamination issues in the basement.
According to a staff report provided to the Alameda County Successor Agency Oversight Board on May 1st, 2012:
“the cost of the water quality monitoring and testing is approximately $32,000 per year. When purchasing the property, the Agency received a $320,000 discount from the seller to account for the capitalized cost of the ongoing monitoring and testing. Future buyers of the property expect a similar discount off the building’s market valuation.”
In essence, the public would be subsidizing the maintenance of a substandard basement with limited commercial appeal. What type of business would take the risk to rent the space? Does the type of business that would rent this basement really enhance the vitality of our downtown? And why are public funds being used to maintain space that detracts from the overall goal of enhancing our central business district?It is, therefore, reasonable to expect a further reduction in the price of the site from $950,000 to $630,000 so that a private party can maintain the pump and filter system.
As the Daughtrey’s site is currently under government control, there is a compelling public policy choice to mitigate the environmental problems at the site and seize the opportunity to create a town square. Why not use the presumed $320,000 subsidy to leverage the additional state and federal fund sources that could help cover the costs of remediation at the site?Once the property is transferred to a private party, the opportunity to mitigate the environmental problems at the site is lost. A subsidy will help the developer maintain pumps and filters, but what happens in 10, 20, or 30 years? These are long-term costs that, over time, will serve as a drag to profitability at the site, and put the public at risk should the system not be maintained.
On February 26, 2014, the Successor Agency Oversight Board unanimously voted to support a revision to the Long Range Property Management Plan (LRPMP) so that a public use can be considered for the site.
This means that Alameda County can continue working with the private developer who proposes a remodel without a permanent remediation of the site’s environmental concerns, while an alternative plan is developed that 1) razes the building, 2) remediates the environmental concerns, and 3) creates a vibrant community gathering place.
A Walkable Downtown: An Investment in Castro Valley’s Future
If you plan cities for cars and traffic, you get cars and traffic. If you plan for people and places, you get people and places
– Fred Kent, President, Project for Public Spaces
While known for its strong sense of community, Castro Valley lacks the amenities that make it feel like the small town that many believe and want it to be. As we look to our town’s future and seek to overcome the consequences of the lack of planning in our past, we have an opportunity now to transform the heart of community in a way that will give Castro Valley a stronger sense of place and an anchor for economic development in our downtown core.
We spoke with several commercial developers and urban planners about successful downtowns and they informed us about the changing demographics of suburban retail centers and what makes a successful retail location. A single large retail location is no longer the best way to draw customers to a downtown. Most thriving downtowns have a robust entertainment element, or something that draws the public to the location. The shared parking and downtown town square could be that draw.
One of the commercial agents made an astute observation about the effect that the parking would have on the entire community when he said, “The plaza and parking would be excellent for the community. Not only would this create value in the downtown area, but this would create value in the entire residential community. People will want to live here if we create a downtown space.” This same agent had commented that he is moving residential homeowners from Castro Valley to Pleasanton and San Ramon because they have great open spaces and hold community events. People crave a downtown identity and it has value.
Parking spaces are a tangible asset. This is why there are formulas that designate how many spaces are needed according to the size of the building. In Alameda County, this number depends upon the use assigned to it, but it is at least 4 spaces per 1,000 feet. If the building is removed, 60 parking spaces will no longer be assigned for use by the Daughtrey’s building and can be used for the downtown customers.
There is also a formula to assign the value of these parking spaces. The cost to create each space if it were in a parking garage is the typical benchmark, but these costs can vary widely. These fees can range from $2,000 to $67,000, but the median is more than $9,000 per space. Using these numbers, these 60 parking spaces have a value of $540,000 to downtown Castro Valley.
A town square is an investment in the future of our community and the anchor that the downtown desperately needs. The Winter Lights Festival and parade attracted crowds to the downtown area, and this led to a huge increase in sales for our downtown businesses. Holding regular events at the town square will further increase revenue to local businesses – more than another retail shop or non-local restaurant would at the Daughtrey location. That fact alone makes a strong business case for the town square. Add to it the large number of current retail vacancies, and the fact that the Daughtrey building has not been able to attract or keep a decent tenant in decades, and you have an extremely compelling reason to transform the site into a public town square.
A walkable downtown attracts people, makes them linger, and connects them in ways we could never plan for. Having a destination or a waypoint such as the town square makes Castro Valley more walkable and bikeable, and brings more people to local businesses with consistency and frequency.
Lois Fisher, a Santa Rosa-based urban planner who has worked to develop town squares and more walkable communities, said of the Daughtrey’s site: “You could not wish for a better place to build a town square – you have businesses all around it, it’s a main intersection, and there is already a parking plan.”
The “T”-intersection where Santa Maria and Castro Valley Boulevard meet, serves as a natural and historical center of our community. With a town square to the south, the section of Santa Maria from the Post Office to the Boulevard becomes a natural conduit for pedestrian traffic. In turn this could provide a boost of pedestrian traffic along this corridor and attract new retail and dining establishments.
The town square can be Castro Valley’s hub, where we gather and experience the small town charm of our community in real life. Imagine a grandstand to watch the yearly Rodeo and Homecoming parades, an expanded light festival and tree lighting during the holidays, a place where we gather to celebrate, and a place where we can gather to remember. The site is directly across from the main shopping village of Castro Valley and is in view of the outdoor seating of a breakfast cafe (Big Apple Bagels) and a Starbucks. People will park at the town square and stroll across to the Village to shop. The location is even within walking distance of BART. The plaza helps us take a giant step toward making downtown Castro Valley more walkable.
Creating a town square now leverages the $9 million invested in the Streetscape project, and provides a destination, resting place, and waypoint for pedestrian traffic. The timing could not be better, nor could the location.
Completing the Vision
Developing a town square specifically for Castro Valley is not a new idea. In fact, it is mentioned many times in planning documents and in visions for the community. Not only is the town square proposal consistent with previously articulated goals for the development of Castro Valley, it also is a natural next step after investing millions of dollars on the Streetscape project.
Chapter 2 of the Castro Valley General Plan includes the concept of a “Walkable Town Center,” and states:
Create a central pedestrian-friendly shopping and restaurant area on a few blocks along Castro Valley Boulevard and key side streets, including Castro Village Shopping Center. Over time add and relocate buildings, sidewalks, and parking so that the area has a pedestrian environment. Add a plaza and features that create a public gathering place that can be identified as the heart of the community. If at all possible, create a place for a new post office as part of this area.
The Castro Valley General plan also acknowledges the parking concerns of the downtown:
The Downtown Land Uses and Sub-areas; Action 4.7-4 Core Pedestrian Retail.
Renovate and add new public and private facilities to create an integrated, attractive, pedestrian-oriented retail area which serves as the heart of Castro Valley.
Within this sub-area:
- Amend the CBD Specific Plan to rezone Subarea 7 to Core Pedestrian Retail (CBD-5);
- Create a Village Green;
- Add new retail space;
- Limit professional and real estate offices and title companies in ground floor spaces;
- Consolidate parking behind structures; and
- Build a new parking structure.
In Section 5.3, the Downtown and Commercial Revitalization the goals and objectives for the Central Business District are to create:
- a downtown where people want to go and spend time;
- an environment that will support economic vitality;
- a pedestrian friendly main street atmosphere.
Creating a town plaza also meets items 6, 7, and 8 of the Eden Area Livability Initiative Principles:
(6) Each community should have one or more focal points that combine commercial, civic, cultural and recreational uses.
(7) The community should contain an ample supply of specialized open space in the form of squares, greens and parks whose frequent use is encouraged through placement and design.
(8) Public spaces should be designed to encourage the attention and presence of people of all ages and interests.
(Note that, while Castro Valley has many large parks nearby, there are very few, if any, “specialized open spaces” like those described in the EALI Principles).
The ballot selection that received the highest number of votes in the November 2013 EALI Charette was: “Provide educational opportunities in the school system and surrounding community about agriculture, (farming, ranching, and equestrian) while seeking park and open space opportunities in the urban built out environment.” Among the specific projects listed is: “Develop large central plazas in the downtown areas as focal points for the community such as the properties at Daughtrey’s, Mission & Mattox, and the San Lorenzo Village.”
We can see that the proposed town square fits in well with stated plans for Castro Valley.
Uses of a Town Square
The town square will become a focal point for the community. The Daughtrey’s Building location has historically been the town center for Castro Valley, and this plaza reinforces that. It will become a meeting place and destination for residents and non-residents, a place from which they can start their errands for the day, or rest at the end of a day full of shopping. It’s a place to bring your lunch or coffee from local restaurants, or to look upon the beautiful plaza from one of the surrounding restaurants next to or across from it.
Lafayette has a space almost half the size of the site, and the city has held events such as “Taste of Lafayette,” the local farmer’s market, and summer concerts. They regularly have 8-10 booths and 250-300 people there at a given time. Our capacity and group numbers could be significantly higher due to the additional space of the paseo and parking lot.
Here are just some of the possible uses for the Castro Valley town square:
- Gathering place
- Focal point of town
- Local fairs
- Farmer’s Market
- Community events
- Crafts fairs
- Outdoor markets
- Local ranch and farm markets and showcases
- Local food and wine showcase
- Pilates, yoga classes
- Holiday events
- Outdoor movie nights
- Parade viewing
- Kids recreation
- “Suburban Trail” from BART/CV Library/CV Boulevard/Town Square
- High school/Youth events
- Local hospital health events
- Water fountain
- Seating areas
- Art, sculptures
- Landscape & lighting
- Small building for meetings
- Kids play area
- Landscaping – trees, plants, flowers
- Community bulletin board
- Pedestrian paths, flow
- Free WiFi
Broadly, there are three cost areas to discuss in order to determine the overall project costs for a town square:
The Redevelopment Agency paid more than $2.7 million for the Daughtrey’s site in 2011. The most recent estimate valued the property at $950,000.
The Successor Agency has conceded that the sale price to a private developer would need to be reduced in order to account for $320,000 in water pump and filtration costs. In addition, there are several requirements that are being placed upon the developer that may reduce the sale price even further. It is conservative to expect a maximum sale price to the current proposed developer of no more than $630,000. If Senate Bill 1129 becomes law, then the cost for site acquisition may be further reduced to $1.
Therefore, estimated site acquisition for the Daughtrey’s site would be from $1 to $630,000, nowhere near the $2.7 million paid in 2011.
Based upon the two demolition estimates that were prepared for Alameda County redevelopment Agency, the demolition and toxic mitigation are expected to cost almost $600,000.
We performed an exhaustive review of possible costs for the town square, despite the short time frame. Based on our planned uses and initial designs, we estimated both “bottom-up” and “top-down” costs for the site.
- We created a bottom-up estimate in conjunction with landscape architects, landscape contractors, park experts, and urban planners.
- We talked to urban planners who had designed other Bay Area town plazas and parks, and also reached out to the Planning Commissions of Lafayette and Livermore to get the costs for their town plazas.
- We reached out to the head of the team of residents who have successfully lobbied for a town square to be built in Noe Valley in San Francisco to understand how they came up with the budget for the build-out of the their plaza.
Based on our outreach and analysis of other projects we estimate costs of building the town square at $616,780 (See Specific Site Costs).
- Cost of “buying” the building: $1 – $630,000
- Demolition and toxic mitigation: $600,000
- Construction: $616,780
The total estimated costs for the total project are from $1,216,780 – $1,846,780.
These total costs are significantly more reasonable than the $4.3 million price tag that has often been quoted.
It should be noted, the current belief by the successor agency is that the properties purchased by the former redevelopment agency will need to be purchased again to “make the taxing entities whole”. The most recent estimates valued the Daughtrey’s property at $950,000, and the Wilbeam property at $180,000. If the existing development with David Greensfelder proceeds, the county will need to make up the difference between what he pays (assumed to be less than $600,000) and this total ($1,130,000); this means that the county will need to pay at least $530,000 additional to the taxing entities.
Based upon the two demolition estimates that were prepared for Alameda County redevelopment Agency, the demolition and toxic mitigation are expected to cost almost $600,000. If the property is designated for public use, the oversight board should not need to require that the taxing entities be compensated for them and this would save the need to purchase the Daughtrey’s site and the adjacent site on Wilbeam a second time. This will realize a net savings of at least $530,000, which should be applied to raze the Daughtrey’s building.
Implementation & Funding Strategy
We propose that the transfer of the Daughtrey’s Building site to Alameda County through the redevelopment dissolution process for the purposes of a public reuse, the remediation of the environmental issues at the site, and the development of a town square at the site.
We need multi-agency support and coordination to realize our new town square.
Initially we would need work with the Successor Agency and Alameda County to transfer the property. The revised LRPMP will permit this transfer.
If it becomes law, Senate Bill 1129, a bill that is being co-authored by our State Senate Majority Leader Ellen Corbett, may greatly reduce the cost of transferring the Daughtrey’s Building site for a public use:
From the Legislative Counsel’s Digest:
Existing law requires a city, county, or city and county that wishes to retain any properties or other assets for future redevelopment activities, funded from its own funds and under its own auspices, to reach a compensation agreement with the other taxing entities to provide payments to them in proportion to their shares of the base property tax for the value of the property retained, as specified. This bill would specify that these provisions do not apply to the disposition of properties pursuant to a long-range property management plan.
Notwithstanding this legislation, in light of the problems with the building site, the County may be able to take control of the building at a much lower cost than the estimated $950,000 current value. The Redevelopment Agency paid over $2.7 million in 2011. The County would not have to pay $2.7 million for the site again.
We have looked at the Noe Valley Town Square project as best practice in developing community and agency support for our town square. The San Francisco Recreation and Parks Department recently authorized a $500,000 application from the Land & Water Conservation Fund, a matching grant program that
is intended to create and maintain a nationwide legacy of high quality recreation areas and facilities and to stimulate non-federal investments in the protection and maintenance of recreation resources across the United States.
The Land & Water Conservation Fund could be a substantial source of funds for the site build-out.
Additionally, the National Endowment for Humanities “Our Town” program recently funded a grant to assist in community engagement in the development of public space for a town square in Arlington, Virginia – we would look to this as a potential funding source.
As the Hayward Area Recreation and Parks District (HARD) specializes in creating and maintaining public spaces, we believe it would serve as the most suitable public agency to build out the site. We will be seeking HARD’s advice and support as this project develops.
We would ask Alameda County to work with HARD to determine the best strategy for obtaining previously mentioned environmental remediation funds to determine which agency would manage the demolition and remediation of the site. The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) provides grant and loan programs that could help in covering the cost of the site clean-up.
Castro Valley Matters is committed to serve as an advocate to solicit donations from individuals and businesses for the build-out, similar to the strategy pursued in Noe Valley, where over 80% of pledges totaling $517,000 resulted in donations for that project. We would also seek in-kind donations for professional services to support the development of the project, such as architectural drawings and grant development.
Additionally, we would encourage the public agency that takes the lead on this project to create a citizen’s advisory committee and hold public workshops to develop the design details for the square.
Click the image to view the slide show
“The suburbs that are doing the best are the ones that have public gathering places, that have a heart and soul.”
– Ed McMahon, Urban Land Institute, Sunset Magazine February 2014
The citizens of Castro Valley invite the MAC’s conceptual support for the creation of a town square at the former Daughtrey’s site. We further request the MAC’s active involvement in identifying public agencies and sources of funding that would help in the creation of a town square.
As a place for public events, fairs, family outings, and chance meetings, a town square will spur economic and cultural growth more than a rehabilitated Daughtrey’s building would. Leveraging the initial steps in place-making from the Castro Valley Boulevard streetscape project, a town square will provide a renewed sense of pride in our town and be a step toward attracting new businesses and restaurants.
The opportunity to redevelop a critical piece of real estate into a vibrant public space in a crucial commercial and social juncture of Castro Valley will likely not happen again. We urge the MAC and Alameda County to take advantage of this opportunity and join the citizens and businesses of Castro Valley to get this town square created.