SPUR hosted a lunchtime forum today at its Oakland location to discuss the $1.5 billion Brooklyn Basin development. The panel, which was moderated by SPUR’s Oakland director Robert Ogilvie, included Mike Ghielmetti of Signature Development Group, Matt Franklin of MidPen Housing, and Patricia Kernighan, who represented District 2 of Oakland during the authorization phase of the “Oak to Ninth” (now called Brooklyn Basin) waterfront housing development.
“I was 12 when we started,” joked Ghielmetti about how long it takes to get such a large scale project going, to a chuckle from the audience. “The project is fifteen years in the making. It was originally port land, about 65 acres, largely divided from the city of Oakland.”
Indeed, that’s part of what makes the project so challenging. The Oakland waterfront, as the panelists bemoaned, is effectively chopped off from the rest of the city by the 880 freeway, the Union Pacific tracks, and BART’s tracks and yards. “It’s almost a half-mile from Oakland and the rest of civilization,” said Ghielmetti. “We wanted to reunite this area by creating a neighborhood and linkages.”
To do that, his development firm, the City of Oakland, and a variety of advocates set out to build some 3,000 new residences, with supporting services such as dry cleaners, coffee shops and, it is hoped, a grocery store. But first there was the challenge of cleaning up the soil, which, Ghielmetti said, was contaminated with pretty much everything short of plutonium. “What we inherited looked like this,” he said, pointing to a picture of concrete and debris that still dots much of this landscape. “It was highly contaminated…heavy metals, hydrocarbons…we’re still looking for Jimmy Hoffa out there.”