El Cerrito City Council candidates in their own words: El Cerrito Plaza TOD

In this November’s election, El Cerrito has 3 candidates running for 2 seats on the City Council. Plaza for the People sent 6 questions to the candidates, and they all took the time to respond. We appreciate the time they spent on their thoughtful responses.

This election season, it turns out many differerent community groups and advocacy organizations have been asking questions regarding housing, transportation, and sustainability. The Sustainable Transportation Candidate Questionaire was developed by a dozen Bay Area advocacy groups and sent to candidates across the region. Local organizations such as El Cerrito Strollers and Rollers also asked questions of our local candidates. Contra Costa Television also hosted a candidate forum which you can view here. The whole forum is worth watching, but the El Cerrito Plaza BART TOD project is discussed starting at 12:10 in the video.

Please share this information with any interested El Cerrito voters.

Click a candidate’s name below to jump to their responses to our questions.

  1. Carolyn Wysinger
  2. Gabriel Quinto
  3. Vanessa Warheit

Carolyn Wysinger

http://www.carolynwysinger.com/

See her responses to the Sustainable Transportation Candidate Questionaire here. Below are her answers to our questions:

  1. What are your goals for the El Cerrito Plaza BART station transit oriented development?  How would you use your role on the City Council to achieve those goals?
    I support transit-oriented mixed-use development where ground-floor commercial space is likely to be rented, or residential or live-work units in areas where this is less likely. The ideal pattern of projects along these transit corridors and in transit nodes should be between four and seven stories (for the base project, not including density bonus), stepping back to a more neighborhood-scaled height and massing toward the rear of the parcel.
  2. What would you propose to improve public safety for people walking/biking to and from the station, not just at the station, but also along the Ohlone Greenway and on nearby streets?
    My ideal vision would be removing a lane of parking on one or both sides of San Pablo, wherever feasible, and to upgrade the 72R bus rapid network from mere signal prioritization to full-on Bus Rapid Transit (particularly on those stretches of San Pablo that are most heavily impacted during rush hour), and to replace the lost lane of parking with a fully protected bike lane (this could be either a one way lane on both sides of San Pablo or a two-way lane on one side of the street, as is the case on Bancroft). San Pablo Avenue improvements are heavily dependent on buy-in from Caltrans and MTC (which is in the process of releasing a strategic plan for region-wide San Pablo Ave. upgrades). In my opinion, this process has been going too slowly and on occasion (as in the case of real-time signage on I-80 directing traffic to San Pablo Ave) actually going in the wrong direction. If elected, I will start addressing this issue on Day 1, and build a coalition of fellow elected officials who represent jurisdictions that include San Pablo Ave. I also hope to supplement these efforts with periodically evaluating if the El Cerrito San Pablo Avenue Specific Plan updated in 2021 is leading to desired outcomes and ensures that we have a consistent pattern of development and spot zoning is minimized or eliminated.
  3. What would you do to ensure the City completes and implements a parking management plan to replace some of the patron parking that will be lost as the TOD development is built?
    Understanding that parking is very important to community members who travel into our city for work, I would instruct staff to research efforts by Cities across our state such as Huntington Park which have implemented successful TMP’s in partnership with their development departments. This will ensure that there is some parking still available for community members. This is also an opportunity to leverage the partnership between our two BART stations to make sure all parking needs are filled.
  4. Proposals for inclusion of a library at the BART station require the City to identify and secure funding.  What financing sources would you have the City pursue?  Do you support a bond measure to build a new library there?
    I support El Cerrito pursuing a bond ballot initiative to fund this project. I do understand that bond rates have increased AND El Cerrito would need to have its bond rating updated, and will work hard towards that end on the Council. For inspiration we can look to cities like Berkeley and Oakland who have somewhat analogous affordable housing and infrastructure measures on the ballot. Financing through bonding is among the most equitable ways forward in pursuing a vital development like this project, which, when completed, will benefit the El Cerrito community for years to come.
  5. What kinds of transit and other transportation improvements would you support for better access to/from the El Cerrito Plaza BART station?  How should these improvements be funded?
    I support 21st century, out of the box approaches to transportation demand management on this highly congested corridor. I intend to work with stakeholder organizations like the Sierra Club and Bike East Bay about opportunities to achieve a real multimodal transportation system on this major transit corridor, which would align itself with a Sustainable Communities Strategy.
  6. Updates to the San Pablo Avenue Specific Plan have been in the works for a few years and the Draft Supplemental EIR was published this summer.  Do you feel prepared to review and vote on the Plan? What information would you consider in your vote?
    I am currently reviewing the 409 page plan. As I am studying important items I am looking for are tied to the quality of life for our current community members as well as the ongoing development. Items of particular importance to me in rendering my decision include:

    – air quality
    – emissions report
    – cultural and historical resources
    – socio-economic and health environment

    As I study the plan, I am also looking at recent efforts in neighboring jurisdictions such as Albany and Berkeley to revise their respective San Pablo Corridor plans, to ensure that alignment takes place. Should I be elected to the Council, I will be ready to continue to take public input and vote on the Draft Supplemental EIR as it comes up.

Gabriel Quinto

https://www.quintoforelcerrito.com/

See his responses to the Sustainable Transportation Candidate Questionaire here. Below are his answers to our questions:

  1. What are your goals for the El Cerrito Plaza BART station transit oriented development?  How would you use your role on the City Council to achieve those goals?
    I’ve been very supportive of transit-oriented development throughout my two terms on the El Cerrito City Council. I will continue to support housing and mixed-use development to lower the amount of cars coming into our city, protect our environment and provide affordable housing to our neighbors at our El Cerrito BART stations. We have two stations and should utilize this access as much as possible.
  2. What would you propose to improve public safety for people walking/biking to and from the station, not just at the station, but also along the Ohlone Greenway and on nearby streets?
    Pedestrian and cyclist safety is a priority of mine. Our residents need to feel safe when they are on our roads. I’m committed to any and all safety measures that will mitigate traffic accidents, including additional signage, increased bike parking around the station and strengthening the use of buses to get to and from the station.
  3. What would you do to ensure the City completes and implements a parking management plan to replace some of the patron parking that will be lost as the TOD development is built?
    Many of El Cerrito’s neighbors still drive vehicles, and as elected officials, we need to be mindful of that. While I strongly support the development at the El Cerrito BART station, I am also committed to ensuring that patrons who want to park their cars at the station won’t impact the neighborhoods around the stations. I am open to exploring a parking management plan to mitigate that, as well as increase public transit and alternative modes of transportation around the stations to mitigate the need for parking itself.
  4. Proposals for inclusion of a library at the BART station require the City to identify and secure funding.  What financing sources would you have the City pursue?  Do you support a bond measure to build a new library there?
    El Cerrito passed a transfer tax (Measure V) to help fund the library at the station, but we need more funding to ensure that we build the library. I have very strong connections to regional and statewide leaders who can help identify funding to build the library. Our community deserves a 21st century library and I continue to be supportive of and all efforts to fund it.
  5. What kinds of transit and other transportation improvements would you support for better access to/from the El Cerrito Plaza BART station?  How should these improvements be funded?
    My strong connections to regional and statewide leaders as well as local transit agencies will help create a more streamlined process for getting buses and alternate modes of transit around our El Cerrito stations. Having coordinated efforts will ensure that bus services provide alternate routes to and from the stations as well as increased bike parking and walkable sidewalks. While this seems ambitious, I’m committed to seeing this through to fruition.
  6. Updates to the San Pablo Avenue Specific Plan have been in the works for a few years and the Draft Supplemental EIR was published this summer.  Do you feel prepared to review and vote on the Plan? What information would you consider in your vote?
    The San Pablo Avenue Specific Plan is in conjunction with other municipalities and will only work if our cities are coordinating and cooperating together to make this a reality. I’m prepared to review this and caucus with fellow councilmembers and Mayors to get their input before making a final decision.

Vanessa Warheit

https://www.vanessaforelcerrito.com/

See her responses to the Sustainable Transportation Candidate Questionaire here. Below are her answers to our questions:

  1. What are your goals for the El Cerrito Plaza BART station transit oriented development?  How would you use your role on the City Council to achieve those goals?
    My overall goal for the Plaza BART development is to ensure it is built in a climate-friendly manner and to maximize its actual public benefit to the residents of El Cerrito. I have talked with many residents who are confused about what is happening with this project, and this concerns me, because the project’s ultimate success will depend on support and input from the community. As a City Councilmember I will encourage more public engagement in the planning process. I will do my best to ensure that the project adheres to LEED standards and includes at least 50% affordable/low-income housing, and that it offers these spaces first to local renters who will be at risk of displacement once this project is built and their rents start to go up. I will also advocate for including a public library, and numerous other public services – including a staffed bike station, coffee shop, tool lending library, public garden, art space, and skate park – and I am open to other ideas from community members for how to best serve them. I will also work to ensure that the street design surrounding the development adheres to “8-to-80” design principles (ensuring everyone aged 8 to 80 years old can safely navigate the street), and that any new parking is pre-wired for EV charging.
  2. What would you propose to improve public safety for people walking/biking to and from the station, not just at the station, but also along the Ohlone Greenway and on nearby streets?
    I would look at re-striping the greenway to better accommodate the different needs and speeds of pedestrians and bicycles/scooters (particularly electrified micro-transport). I would like to see separated bike/scoot lanes for all main thoroughfares in El Cerrito (including Richmond, Fairmount, and Central Ave.). I will support bulb-outs and other traffic calming measures to improve pedestrian safety.  I will work to plant more trees (which helps to slow traffic, on top of many other benefits), and to explore curbless street design (which, counter-intuitively, helps to slow traffic and improve pedestrian safety). I will also work with the county and neighboring cities to build permanent housing and provide mental health and substance abuse services for our unhoused neighbors.
  3. What would you do to ensure the City completes and implements a parking management plan to replace some of the patron parking that will be lost as the TOD development is built?
    I will work with city management to ensure that the new transportation planner is experienced in traffic and parking management, and skilled at engaging with the public. I will work with BART and City management to ensure a robust public engagement process, in order to develop a parking management plan that works for ALL El Cerrito residents, including those who live nearby, and those who live in the hills and currently drive to BART. I will help local neighborhoods to keep the existing parking restrictions they have fought for. I will work with BART and local transportation equity groups like TransForm to ensure that the new development includes electric carshare for its residents, and EV Ready charging infrastructure in all new parking facilities. I believe that we need to transform our built environment to be less car-dependent, and also to transform our residents’ behavior – and I know from personal and professional experience that people need to feel a sense of agency, that they are being heard, and that there is ‘something in it’ for them before they are willing to change. I will work to create affordable, accessible, reliable, and sustainable alternatives to driving, to help solve our ‘last mile’ problem, so that BART’s ultra-low parking ratio doesn’t just result in more car congestion and instead makes it easier for everyone in El Cerrito to get around without a car.
  4. Proposals for inclusion of a library at the BART station require the City to identify and secure funding.  What financing sources would you have the City pursue?  Do you support a bond measure to build a new library there?
    I come from a long line of librarians, and fully appreciate the value and many community benefits that a 21st century library would bring to our community. And, I am very concerned about our city’s current fiscal crisis, and what effect our current BBB- bond rating will have on our ability to finance a new library. I believe the first step is to create and make public an audited financial cost/benefit assessment of the cost to build the library at Plaza, as compared with building it in another location in El Cerrito. The original library bond measure failed because El Cerrito voters didn’t have confidence in what the bond would be paying for – or an adequate understanding of how much a new library might even cost. If, as seems likely, building at the Plaza location proves to be significantly cheaper than at other locations, I am in favor of a bond measure, assuming that we can raise our bond rating and that the cost of doing it soon at BART, at a higher rate of interest, is still less expensive than doing it later somewhere else. In any event, it will be essential for the public to understand what they are voting on, and this assessment needs to be done ASAP to meet the time window of the BART development.
  5. What kinds of transit and other transportation improvements would you support for better access to/from the El Cerrito Plaza BART station?  How should these improvements be funded?
    El Cerrito suffers from a ‘last mile’ problem, and I support the following measures to address it:
    – Expanding the Richmond Moves pilot program into El Cerrito
    – EV reach codes to ensure all new construction and significant retrofits include EV infrastructure
    – EV carshare
    – Publicly available micro-transit, including bikes, e-bikes, and e-scooters.
    I believe we should take advantage of the many state and federal grants currently and soon to be available – especially funding from the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law. The National EV Infrastructure formula program, for example, includes $5B in funding, the vast majority of which is for communities located within a mile of an interstate. El Cerrito qualifies and should be applying for these funds now via the CA Department of Transportation. I believe that a public-private partnership might be appropriate for launching new initiatives like micro-transit, but in the longer term, I believe these should be publicly-owned and run, possibly under the umbrella of WCCTAC.
  6. Updates to the San Pablo Avenue Specific Plan have been in the works for a few years and the Draft Supplemental EIR was published this summer.  Do you feel prepared to review and vote on the Plan? What information would you consider in your vote? 
    First and foremost, I would ensure a robust public engagement process and listen to the voiced concerns of the community. I have already scanned through the 2014 San Pablo Avenue Specific Plan, and I look forward to reading the (406 page!) Draft Supplemental EIR and Plan Update. In reviewing the Draft SEIR, I will consider the listed potential impacts, and the likelihood that they would be properly mitigated. In reviewing the Updated Plan, I will ensure that it continues to support the “complete streets” community vision articulated in the 2014 San Pablo Avenue Specific Plan: a vibrant, walkable, sustainable, and transit-oriented boulevard that respects surrounding neighborhoods and creates a virtuous cycle of local economic activity and investment. I will also look to see if existing zoning and parking requirements preclude new development on existing parking lots.

    I believe that greening El Cerrito requires transforming San Pablo Avenue from a 20th century auto-based highway corridor into a 21st century civic boulevard. Specifically, that means implementing:
    – widened sidewalks to encourage pedestrian activity and enhanced place-making for local businesses;
    – protected bikeways to improve safety and encourage a transportation modal shift from automobiles to health- and environment-enhancing cycling; 
    – mid-block crossings on large blocks to improve pedestrian flow; 
    – Bus Rapid Transit with a dedicated lane, to encourage a transportation shift from automobiles to walking and public transit (by expediting transit travel times and frequency); 
    – public art to increase civic pride and improve local place-making; 
    – urban agriculture to increase local food security, strengthen biodiversity, and provide opportunities for community collaboration and engagement; 
    – stormwater planters and bioswales to improve groundwater recharging, stormwater filtration and greening of the public space; 
    – more street trees to improve air quality, slow traffic, and lower heat island effects; and
    – small, flexible, and affordable commercial spaces to support more small, locally-owned businesses – improving both economic vitality and civic pride.

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