Above Lake Chabot, at the site of the old Nike Missile Site, the East Bay regional Park District has proposed the “Chabot Campus Modernization Project.” The goal of this project is to upgrade the existing public safety, classroom, vehicle maintenance, and construction facilities that are currently on the site. The existing buildings are a mishmash of 1950’s Army facilities, donated classrooms from a closed school in Oakland, and a newer unit that houses EBRPD Fire and Aquatic staff. Most of these buildings are inadequate, outdated, and not ADA compliant. EBRPD has declared that this plan is the result of five years of determining what their facility needs are, and searching for the best location for them.
The community and the Castro Valley Municipal Advisory Council (MAC) expressed several concerns about the project at April and September MAC meetings, and at September, October, and November EBRPD Board Meetings, the project was discussed as well. Concerns expressed about the site included:
- Public access to the trails
- Impact on plants, wildlife and views
- Scale and location of the project
- Impact of increased staffing and vehicle traffic
- How the project relates to the Castro Valley General Plan as well as the EBRPD’s own mission statement.
- Several people questioned why EBRPD would build such a large complex along the top of one of the scenic ridge lines above Lake Chabot.
At the September MAC meeting, MAC Chair Marc Crawford called Lake Chabot the “jewel of Castro Valley” and said that he did not want to see an industrial park at this location. It was pointed out that the proposed Public Safety Headquarters building would be 44 feet high and 200 feet long and the Vehicle Maintenance Shop Building would be placed on top of the highest hill in the area and be 37 feet tall. As a result, the MAC recommended that the EBRPD move the Vehicle Maintenance Building “off the top of the hill” and scale back the impact of the other buildings.
The latest iteration of the project includes moving the Vehicle Maintenance Building to a lower location referred to as “the saddle,” but it remains on the Chabot ridge. At the December 10 EBRPD Executive Board meeting, I asked what was to happen to the existing buildings that are not in the way of the new ones. The total square footage of the existing structures is about 21,000 square feet. The latest plan includes almost 42,000 sq. feet of new space, and they could potentially have an additional 16,500 sq. ft. of the old “bunkers” left to use.
I specifically asked if the structures were to be demolished or removed, and the General manager, Robert Doyle, admitted that EBRPD had not determined what would happen to the existing structures, or if they would be re-purposed. Effectively tripling the usable space would lead one to believe that the staffing and use of the facility would increase in a similar manner, but this would not be allowed under their Mitigated Negative Declaration.
The scale and location of the project far exceeds the needs for the site if it is kept at current staffing sizes. Is staff from other locations going to be relocated to this site? The Negative Mitigated Declaration (NMD) that was filed by EBRPD stated that staffing was to be the same, and that the facilities would not increase the volume of services. If the site is expanded as proposed, and the maintenance and equipment shops are improved, it is assumed that these facilities will be used more frequently.
Either one of these scenarios would indicate that the scope has increased, so the project needs a full Environmental Impact Report (EIR) that would include the true traffic or noise increases. It is unusual for an applicant to complete their own NMD, but EBRPD is a Community Service District, and they are allowed to do so, in lieu of a full Environmental Impact Report. The Chair of the MAC pointed this out in his letter in response to the application.
A group of local citizen, calling themselves the“Guardians of Lake Chabot,” scrutinized the project and noticed that the plan presented to the public, the EBRPD Board of Directors, and local officials is not the same as the plan that has been filed with the planning department. This group, compared the topographic maps to the proposed development, measured the site, and created a series of three-dimensional topographic maps with scale buildings to better represent the project. The applicant chose to create “photorealistic” depictions of the project, but the buildings are not in the locations described, the locations chosen to illustrate the impact are insufficient, images do not include some crucial features, the trees and site features are not accurately depicted, and the true impact is downplayed as much as possible. The project needs story poles so that the true effect can be understood. This point was discussed at the various MAC and EBRPD meetings, and this was finally agreed to at the December 10 EBRPD Executive Board Meeting.
The project includes a large Emergency Operations Center (EOC) and during the presentation on December 10, the Project Manager and the General Manager both expressed the need for an EOC in Castro Valley. They stated that the General Plan specifies that the site include an EOC for the area. There is a Sheriff substation less than a mile away in one direction, and an Alameda County Fire Station that is less than .5 mile away in the other direction. Either of these would be a more appropriate location for an EOC, but Chapter 9, page 13 of the Castro Valley General Plan states:
Action 9. 2-5
Emergency Operations Center
Designate and, if necessary, upgrade one of the Alameda County Fire Stations in Castro Valley to serve as an Emergency Operations Center in the event of a major earthquake or fire.
If they need more than this, the County already has Mobile Command Centers that could be located at appropriate locations.
This site has some of the best views in the area, and the project proposes that a security gate and fence be installed surrounding the upper hillside, which will prevent to public from being able to appreciate and enjoy the views. In addition, the proposal would impair access to Ten Hills trail and eliminate the existing access to the fire trail and parking lot from the top of the hill. EBRPD has proposed an alternative trail skirting the outside perimeter of the facility that would connect with a newly proposed lower parking lot. This new trail may be an adequate pedestrian trail when the weather is dry, but existing straight trails with similar grade changes become hazards and rutted after rainfalls. There are hundreds of hikers, cyclists, pedestrians and visitors who visit the site everyday, and their needs and access need to be considered.
It is agreed that the EBRPD staff needs new facilities. In response to the community feedback and the suggestions from the MAC, the EBRPD adjusted the roofline of the Vehicle Maintenance Shop, (which reduced the height to 29 feet), has explored moving the Vehicle Maintenance Shop to an alternative location referred to as “the Saddle”, minimized the effect of windows on one side of the building, and has proposed creating a large “berm” to lesson the visual impact of these large buildings, but these adjustments are not enough. EBRPD is an asset to the community, but these facilities should be in an appropriate location. Instead of making new facilities at this location because the staff is there, it makes more sense to move the staff. It is a waste of public money to place these facilities at the peak of the “Jewel of Castro Valley”. The public safety, shop, and service yard all do not need to be here. They deserve to be in an industrial and more urban location. It has been stated before that there is a new facility in Dublin that could service the maintenance vehicles, and public safety police force could move to Dublin or the nearby San Leandro Substation. There are better options than this location and EBRPD should seek them out and not force these facilities at this location.
This project will go before the MAC in January, and I urge you to come to the meeting to hear and understand why so many people are concerned about tarnishing the “jewel of Castro Valley”.