REMINDER: 9/7 Public Meeting, Project Feedback Survey

The City of El Cerrito is hosting a joint meeting of the Planning Commission and Design Review Board on September 7 at 7:30pm, with the Plaza TOD being the sole agenda item. Please attend and make your voice heard during public comment.

Zoom link: Click Here

Meeting packet: Click Here

Our detailed thoughts and feedback regarding the latest plans released by the development team: Click Here

Additionally, you can submit feedback regarding the project via the survey that is currently live. Please fill that out before September 10 at this link.

Thank you for participating!

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. The meeting is virtual (zoom link here), and the meeting packet is linked here.

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:

  1. 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.
  2. The city should continue to ask El Cerrito Plaza shopping center businesses to reopen their doors on the Fairmount side of the buildings.
  3. 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.
  4. 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:

  1. With a parking management program that manages street and existing parking lot spots,  we can reduce onsite BART parking to just ADA and staff.
  2. 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.
  3. 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.
  4. The loading zones can be further clarified.  Which garage or service areas will allow for loading / deliveries?
  5. 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:

  1. 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?
  2. Can Liberty St bike infrastructure be enhanced, to connect the Central Ave bike lanes to the Plaza shopping and Fairmount plaza area?
  3. 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.
  1. Site plans should show increased secure bicycle parking locations throughout the site.  The bicycle parking currently showed appears to be inadequate, especially in the library area. Secure bicycle parking should also be available in any residential vehicle parking garages.
  2. The area encompassed by Fairmount Ave, Richmond St, Ohlone Greenway, Central Ave, and the BART station will have many walkers, cyclists, 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

  1. Fill out the survey from the development team at this link no later than September 10.
  2. 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. See the meeting packet at this link.
  3. Share this blog post with your friends and neighbors and encourage them to make their voice heard!

Action: In person open house 7/20 4-6:30pm @ Plaza BART

BART recently announced that an open house will be taking place at the Plaza BART station in between Central Ave and the north turnstiles. The event is scheduled for Wednesday, July 20, between 4:00 – 6:30pm. According to BART, the development team will be presenting their latest design concepts for the site. Additionally, staff will be on hand to discuss station access strategies.

If you will be coming or going from the station at this time, please check it out! If you live locally and can stop by, please do so and provide your feedback and ideas.

If you are seeking talking points / ideas to suggest, please see some of our past content:

Our original site design ideas and inspiration

Our feedback regarding the initial 2021 site plan shown by the development team

How we feel BART and El Cerrito should minimize the need for replacement parking

Our talking points regarding replacement parking for the October 2021 BART board meeting

Our petition regarding all of the above (please sign if you haven’t yet)

30 Second Action: Sign our petition

Please sign our petition and spread the word!

Below is why this action is important:

We have a once in a generation opportunity to transform the El Cerrito Plaza BART station into a vibrant gathering hub with mixed-income housing, shops, restaurants, and public spaces. A thoughtful plan will enhance and serve the existing neighborhood residents as well as the broader community, which relies on BART and surrounding amenities and services. To accomplish this, BART and the City of El Cerrito need to take an “all of the above” strategy to station access so that the need for driving and parking is minimized.

We have created a petition to the BART Board and the El Cerrito City Council asking them to take action to ensure we address our climate and housing emergencies. While the petition text spells out all of the actions we are asking of the Board and City Council, one key point is our belief that any need for BART rider parking should be handled by the City managing parking on surrounding streets, and not by building parking on BART property. This goes hand in hand with BART and the City making it as safe and convenient as possible to access BART via walking, biking / rolling, and public transportation.

With the actions we are proposing, residents of the transit oriented development will be less likely to own cars, BART riders will be more likely to access the station without driving, and surrounding streets will have sufficient parking available for local residents as well as the BART riders whose personal circumstances necessitate that they drive and park.

We hope you will sign the petition and spread the word!

Action Opportunity: Corridor Access Study

BART recently publicized some new public input opportunities related to the Berkeley – El Cerrito corridor access study project. There are some Zoom office hours, as well as a new survey in an “online open house”.

Plaza for the People is still trying to assess what has been proposed, as the online open house website doesn’t list many tangible specifics as it relates to the El Cerrito Plaza station. In the meantime, we encourage everyone to review the materials for yourselves and participate in some upcoming public input opportunities:

Wednesday April 27, 5-6pm: Zoom office hours, topic is “Parking management around El Cerrito Plaza station”. https://us06web.zoom.us/j/7888271878

Wednesday May 4 and Thursday May 5, 5-6pm: Zoom office hours, topic is “General access strategies for all stations”.

Wednesday May 4 Zoom: https://us06web.zoom.us/j/83622839977

Thursday May 5 Zoom: https://us06web.zoom.us/j/84125179648

Public online open house and survey: https://bartberkeleyelcerritocap.participate.online/

Additional resources referenced in the online open house:

Complete list of strategies

Strategies already underway

We hope to learn more details regarding the list of strategies under consideration. From initial review, we are concerned by the lack of protected bike lanes being proposed. We hope the corridor access study continues to leave no stone unturned in pursuing an “all of the above” strategy.

Previous thoughts on station access can be found here:

BART Board hits a home run with latest vote for no minimum replacement parking at Plaza TOD

On October 28, the BART board met, and the El Cerrito Plaza Transit Oriented development was on the agenda. This time, the boare was to vote whether or not to adopt the goals and objectives for the station, including defining a range in the number of replacement parking spaces that should be included onsite.

The video of this agenda item can be viewed here, with this agenda item happening at the 2 hour 30 minute mark of the meeting.

(As an aside, it is particularly difficult for members of the public to participate in BART board meetings, as they occur during weekdays, and your agenda item of interest might come up when you have to do school drop offs / pick ups or be at work, etc.)

During their presentation, staff recommended a replacement parking range of 100 to 250 spaces. What was a surprise to many of us in the Plaza for the People community was the minimum of 100 spaces. For us, if BART can enable its riders to access the station without any replacement parking, that would better enable our vision for this Plaza station area to fulfill its potential as El Cerrito’s downtown and community destination.

Staff justified the 100 minimum spaces by recent data indicating 13% of current drive and park riders would need to continue driving and parking due to mobility challenges.

Of note is that the 13% figure is much higher than the 2019 survey which said only 3% of drivers needed to park due to mobility challenges.

BART Board Vice-President Rebecca Saltzman made a motion to lower the minimum to 60 spaces, with Director Janice Li offering an additional amendment to not set any minimum, and only set a maximum of 250 spaces. In a victory for the potential of this transit oriented development, the amended motion passed unanimously!

Now things shift to BART staff and the City of El Cerrito. They must work together to ensure that we are doing everything we can to get BART riders to the station without needing to drive. This means we need a clear commitment from the City of El Cerrito to create a managed parking program for the thousands of spaces that surround the station. We also need to see protected bike lanes on Central Avenue and/or Fairmount St, both for those coming from west of San Pablo Ave, as well as for those coming from the hills to the east. And we need to look at all options for bus/shuttle, for scooter/e-bike rentals, autonomous vehicles, and everything in between. These options need to move from the theoretical to a reality, so that when BART needs to decide on the final replacement parking number, the board can feel confident with having no replacement parking onsite, aside from ADA and BART maintenance / staff needs. If there truly is $40 million available for access improvements, let’s see those dollars to go eliminate the need for any replacement parking at all.

What can members of the community do?

  • Send an email thanking the BART board members for their votes to not set any parking minimum:
    • BoardofDirectors@bart.gov
    • Rebecca.Saltzman@bart.gov
    • Janice.Li@bart.gov
  • Speak out at the upcoming El Cerrito City Council meeting on November 2 during the opening public comment time, asking the city to start working with BART right now to design the managed parking program, and to put in protected bike lanes in the east-west direction to improve access to BART.

ACTION: BART Board Meeting 10/28, 9am start

The BART board will be meeting this Thursday 10/28, starting at 9am. The BART El Cerrito Plaza TOD will be on the agenda. More specifically, the board will be deciding on the what range of BART passenger replacement parking spaces will be built on the BART property. Staff has recommended a range of 100-250 spaces.

We hope as many people as possible will call into the meeting and speak out in favor of as low of a parking minimum as possible, ideally even lower than 100. Some talking points you can use include:

  • We wish for the El Cerrito 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.
  • The City of El Cerrito already has thousands of on-street parking spaces within walking distance of hte station, and the city has expressed its desire to pursue an on-street managed parking program. BART should work cooperatively with the city to help establish that program.
  • 150 parking spaces would cost 12 million dollars to build, benefitting about 150 daily riders. That same 12 million dollars could go towards bike, pedestrian, and other multimodal access enhancements, benefitting thousands of daily riders.
  • Therefore, we wish for BART to set the minimum parking space count at 0, aside from ADA passengers.

Zoom link for the meeting:

https://zoom.us/j/86931965608

Presentation for this agenda item:

You are also encouraged to email the BART board directly at BoardOfDirectors@bart.gov, as well as board.meeting@bart.gov with subject line “Public Comments Agenda #7A”

For more of our thoughts on this issue with additional detail and talking points, please see our prior post here:

ACTION: 10/12 6-8pm Community Meeting Focused on Station Access and Parking Strategies

BART is hosting a community meeting on October 12 from 6-8pm via Zoom. Registration is required in advance by clicking this link. We encourage everyone to register and attend the meeting to learn about BART’s plans and make your voice heard.

According to BART, the meeting will start with a presentation covering:

  • The proposed maximum number of BART rider parking spaces in the development 
  • An initial menu of strategies for riders getting to and from BART without parking 
  • Other potential options for BART rider parking  

Questions and comments will follow the presentation.

We believe that in order for the station area to maximize its potential and benefits to the community, we need to minimize the need for BART property to be taken up by vehicle parking spaces.

We hope to see an “all of the above” approach proposed to help BART riders access the station conveniently and safely without needing to drive and park. And for those who absolutely must drive, we hope to see BART refer to the City of El Cerrito’s commitiment to pursue an on-street managed parking program on the streets that surround the station. We believe that taking the “all of the above” approach to station access, combined with managed on-street parking, should lead to a need for 0 replacement parking spaces on BART property, aside from handicapped and station agent spaces.

For more detailed solutions regarding station access, please see our prior post on the topic. If any of our solutions resonate with you, please make your voice heard at this upcoming community meeting.

2 ACTIONS: City Council Meeting August 17, Corridor Access Study Open House

At the August 17 city council meeting, agenda item #5A features a study session regarding TOD access strategies, including the possibility of the city creating an on-street parking management program.

We strongly support the city creating a parking management program, as it will provide a station access option for BART commuters who must drive, while preserving parking options for local residents.

Zoom link for the meeting:

https://zoom.us/j/97341195745?pwd=QVIxSkhSQTgweCtEVmg0aGxrT3BjZz09

Use the “raise hand” feature to comment live during the meeting. Alternatively, you can email cityclerk@ci.el-cerrito.ca.us with subject “Public Comments – Agenda #5A”. Be sure to send any emails prior to 4PM on Tuesday 8/17.

Meeting packet is found here:

Additionally, please be sure to make your voice heard during the final days of the virtual open house for BART’s corridor station access study. The website closes on August 20!

https://bartberkeleyelcerritocap.participate.online/

More of our thoughts on station access can be found at: https://plazaforthepeople.org/2021/07/02/tell-bart-and-the-city-of-el-cerrito-take-action-to-minimize-the-need-for-replacement-parking/

ACTION: Participation Opportunities for the Corridor Station Access Project

The Berkeley El Cerrito Corridor Access Project (“BECCAP”) is underway, and numerous opportunities for public participation are either available now or coming up. We believe that enhancing station access is a critical step to enable BART to minimize replacement parking and allow the site design to maximize the benefits to the community.

Please check out and participate in the following opportunities:

Additionally, there is an “online open house” website that is live and available for the public to participate anytime through August 20. This website has a lot of information about the project, plus an opportunity to fill in a survey as well as make suggestions on a map!

https://bartberkeleyelcerritocap.participate.online/

For more details regarding these outreach opportunities, please visit https://www.bart.gov/about/planning/station-access/berkeley-elcerrito-corridor-plan/outreach

For more of our thoughts regarding station access, please visit https://plazaforthepeople.org/2021/07/02/tell-bart-and-the-city-of-el-cerrito-take-action-to-minimize-the-need-for-replacement-parking/