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ACTION: Make your voice heard regarding latest project plans

INTRODUCTION

The El Cerrito Plaza Bart’s selected development team shared their updated vision for transforming surface parking lots into housing and public spaces in July 2022.  We encourage you to view the latest plans here.

The development team also has a survey online where you can give feedback for each page in their plan documents.  The survey can be found here, and we hope you fill it out!

Besides filling out the survey, you can also give your feedback at an upcoming City of El Cerrito joint meeting between the Planning Commission and Design Review Board on September 7.

Plaza for the People has been advocating for the El Cerrito Plaza BART station to become a vibrant center with mixed-income housing, commerce, and public spaces that enhance the existing neighborhood and furthers the Plaza’s potential to serve as a community-gathering hub for all.  We’ve previously shared our site design ideas and inspiration, as well as our thoughts regarding station access and parking.

Overall, we are excited by the plans shared thus far by the development team.  The plans as designed would create a significant number of new homes in a tremendously walkable and transit-rich location, with many of the homes being below market rate.  The site plans include a plaza area, cafe, and a beautiful new library for El Cerrito.  The site plans also include elements intending to improve station access by all modes of transportation.

While the plans are a great start, we have some suggestions for the development team that we feel could further enhance the site.  We hope you find our summaries and suggestions helpful as you provide feedback and comments to the development team.

HOUSING

Plaza for the People believes in housing for all, with market rate and affordable housing, units of all sizes for singles, families, and households of all types.

On page B1-1, the development team has stated there will be 750-800 homes on the site.  This is a significant amount of housing units delivered steps from BART, which we find very exciting.

47% of the proposed homes will be below market rate, which is a higher proportion than required by state legislation and significantly higher than the City’s inclusionary housing requirements.  While the exact mix isn’t known yet, 35% will likely have “lower income” rents with a range of roughly $700 – $1,450 for a 1-bedroom and $900 – $1,850 for a 2-bedroom.  Another 12% will have “moderate income” or “middle income” rents with a range of roughly $2,100 – $2,600 for a 1-bedroom and $2,500 – $3,150 for a 2-bedroom.

Much of El Cerrito’s housing was built decades ago.  This project will represent one of the largest increases in affordable housing in El Cerrito’s history, which is a great accomplishment.  The below chart is from a city presentation regarding El Cerrito’s housing element process.

While most funding programs favor cost-effective, 100% affordable buildings that make possible much deeper affordability than including affordable units in a market-rate building, the development team has taken care to situate market rate buildings next to below market rate and to build both in each phase of the project.  We hope that the building exteriors are similar as well.

The proposed building heights of 5-7 stories make good use of the BART station and are similar to some of the nearby new San Pablo Ave developments.  Still unknown is the mix of housing types (studios, 1BR, 2BR, 3BR, etc.). It’s also unknown if the market-rate homes will be rentals or if any will be sold as condos.

COMMUNITY GATHERING HUB

Plaza for the People believes in a vibrant destination where the broader community can gather and enjoy.  We envision pedestrian-friendly spaces where people can explore, congregate, relax, shop, dine, and play.

In the latest development plan document, sections B2-2, B2-3, and B5-1 highlight open space, plazas, and ground floor site plans.  The community hub is centered around Fairmount Avenue.

While the plans indeed are exciting and would transform the current space, we have some suggestions for the development team:

The plans currently only feature a small cafe along with the library for public amenities along Fairmount Ave. Moreover, the cafe and library are not adjacent.  The plans also contain multiple residential lobbies and amenities along Fairmount, which would not be accessible to the public.  We would like to see additional restaurants / bars / other commercial spaces along Fairmount, with residential amenities moved off of Fairmount.  If space for parking in the building is reduced, and/or if the building is widened, that should free up space to relocate the residential amenities elsewhere in the building and off of Fairmount Ave.

The city should continue to ask El Cerrito Plaza shopping center businesses to reopen their doors on the Fairmount side of the buildings.

We believe the new library may be more ideally located at the corner of Fairmount and Liberty.  The Fairmount and Liberty location, which has more street frontage, may be more conducive to quickly dropping off and picking up books (or people).  In the currently proposed location, the library is somewhat tucked away from streets and would be close to busy bike / pedestrian activity.

Consider integrating a tot lot into the design, though it should be separated from Ohlone Greenway bike traffic.

STATION ACCESS / TRANSPORTATION

Plaza for the People believes that the station should be accessible to all, encouraging walking, biking, and public transportation.  The development plan documents discuss station access in sections B3-1 and B3-2.

We believe that less resident automobile parking is possible.  This location supports a lifestyle without car ownership. With car-share and a designated ride-share pickup zone, people can access cars when they need them.

Our specific thoughts on car parking / car infrastructure are as follows:

With a parking management program that manages street and existing parking lot spots,  we can reduce onsite BART parking to just ADA and staff.

The City of El Cerrito should develop a detailed parking management plan that demonstrates how and where people can still park nearby if they want to.  The current documents only show a small shaded map.  Nearby residents should also understand how the residential parking permit program will work.  Importantly, the documents indicate that residents in the new buildings will not have on-street residential parking permits, and therefore will not be competing with existing neighborhood residents or BART commuters for street parking.

In the developer documents, the Fairmount Ave curb uses in section B3-2 did not appear to match the road diagrams in section B3-1.  Specifically, the road diagrams suggest there will be parallel parking along the Fairmount, Liberty, Central, and Richmond St perimeter, but the curb use diagram suggests mainly passenger and commercial loading areas.  We hope the development team can better articulate their curb use plan.

The loading zones can be further clarified.  Which garage or service areas will allow for loading / deliveries?

Any parking that exists should provide spaces for micro-mobility, motorcycles, scooters, and other smaller vehicles.

We appreciate the complete streets vision for the area, including the protected bike lanes proposed on Central Ave.  That said, we have the following additional suggestions regarding bicycle / pedestrian infrastructure:

What connections can be made with the Plaza shopping center? Can access to the Plaza entrance be improved for people walking from the BART station or biking from north of the station?

Can Liberty St bike infrastructure be enhanced, to connect the Central Ave bike lanes to the Plaza shopping and Fairmount plaza area?

As the centerpiece for El Cerrito’s new downtown, the Fairmount Ave street design needs to be reconsidered.
The proposed 16.5 foot travel lane eastbound (sheet B3-1) is very wide.  This exceeds any lane widths that even Caltrans prefers for highways.  The National Association of City Transportation Officials (NACTO) street design guide states “Travel lane widths of 10 feet generally provide adequate safety in urban settings while discouraging speeding. Cities may choose to use 11-foot lanes on designated truck and bus routes.”

In addition, the proposed plan removes the median, which along with the wide lane might increase average speeds on the street.

Slimming down the traffic lanes offers an opportunity to keep the Fairmount street median and add a bike lane eastbound.  If this lane continues to the Ohlone Greenway, cyclists can make an easy right turn to head south.

One possibility for a reconfigured Fairmount Ave is in this diagram.  If an additional bike lane can also be added westbound, all the better.
Site plans should show bike parking locations throughout the site, and not just one parking area.  Secure bicycle parking should also be available in any residential vehicle parking garages.

The area encompassed by Fairmount Ave, Richmond St, Ohlone Greenway, and BART station will have many walkers, bikers, and motorists intersecting.  Everyone entering this area should be encouraged to slow down and be attentive to others traveling by other means.  While we’ll leave the specific implementation to the design and engineering team, we would imagine a solution could include elements such as signage, speed tables, bollards, and/or lane markings.

For additional thoughts and concise survey talking points, please see what has been suggested from the El Cerrito Strollers and Rollers community group at this link.

NEXT STEPS:  What you can do

Fill out the survey from the development team no later than September 10.

Mark your calendar to attend the Design Review Board / Planning Commission Meeting on the evening of September 7.  Then add your voice to the discussion during public comment.

Share this blog post with your friends and neighbors and encourage them to make their voice heard!

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