The Expanding City – 1960s to 1980s

1966 General PlanA New General Plan
By the 1960s, industries in older inner cities such as Emeryville, with increasingly outdated facilities, were beginning to move away to outlying areas where land was plentiful and cheap. Concerned about the town’s aging physical plant and declining population, the city fathers embarked on an ambitious planning exercise. In 1962 they established a City Planning Commission, and in 1963 they hired planning consultants Ruth + Krushkhov to develop a general plan for the town.

Although California law had authorized cities to prepare master plans as early as 1927, and had made them mandatory in 1937, Emeryville had never really had much of a plan until 1966. In that year, following 3 years of study, the City Council adopted a General Plan, which called for filling in 400 acres of the “Tidelands,” the shallow portion of the bay west of the shoreline. This was to be accomplished by extending Powell and 64th Streets about a mile into the bay where they would meet, and filling the land between and around them.

This “Tideland area” would have waterways, lagoons, and parks surrounding new office, commercial, and high density residential development. A new civic center was to front on a small lagoon at the west end of the peninsula in a residential neighborhood. The proposed “Shoreline Freeway” was to bisect this new peninsula with an interchange at Powell Street. The entire area of old Emeryville east of the I-80 freeway was designated for continued industrial use except for commercial uses along San Pablo Avenue, and low density residential use in the Doyle Street and Triangle neighborhoods. The proposed “Ashby Freeway” would serve Emeryville on the north, and railroad overpasses would be built at Park Avenue, Powell Street, and 65th Street.

Goals & Implementation Phases
Among the goals of the 1966 General Plan were to “provide for the orderly development and renewal of commercial and industrial activities maintaining the town as a regional employment center and providing a broad tax base,” “develop a residential community of great beauty and amenity establishing Emeryville as a desirable place to live,” “consider the desirability of upgrading the existing residential area and establishing new residential communities,” and “to provide for the development of the waterfront district in a manner that transforms the town and is compatible with a comprehensive Bay Development Plan. The development of the marsh and Tidelands and all land use proposals must be the subject of careful study before any recommendations can be made.” The plan also laid out an Action Program and phasing for implementation.

Between 1965 and 1970, filling of the Tidelands would begin, and a residential clean-up and fix-up project would begin in the older residential neighborhoods; from 1970 to 1975, construction would begin in the Tidelands area, additional land would be filled, the Powell Street freeway interchange would be redesigned and reconstructed, and the older industrial areas would be rehabilitated; from 1975 to 1980, fill would begin for the Shoreline Freeway, fill and construction would continue in the Tidelands area, rehabilitation of industrial areas would continue, and the 65th Street railroad overpass would be built; and from 1980 to 1985 construction of the Shoreline Freeway, fill and construction in the Tidelands area, and industrial rehabilitation would all continue, and the town would work with Berkeley in a cooperative effort to build the Ashby Freeway.

The plan projected a population of 10,000 to 12,000 by 1985, up from about 2,700 in 1960. (This projection was optimistic to say the least. In reality, the population was 3,700 in 1980, and 5,700 in 1990; it is now projected to reach a little over 10,000 by 2010.)

HarborFilling of the Bay
While this plan may seem bold and fanciful in hindsight, it was a sign of the times, and part of an ongoing struggle about development in and around the bay. Arguably, the 1st filling of the bay by humans was the shellmounds created by the indigenous people at the mouth of Temescal Creek and all around the bay. The original shoreline ran just west of the railroad tracks, encompassing the shellmound area.

Construction of the Eastshore Highway in the 1930s resulted in extensive bay fill and moved the shoreline out to just west of the highway. In addition, the Paraffin Company had built a wharf area west of the highway near the foot of Powell Street where the Watergate office towers now stand. Because the east side of the bay was so shallow, it was necessary to build long wharfs to reach water deep enough for ocean-going ships to dock, such as the various railroad and interurban “moles” where ferries landed, and the long Berkeley pier.

Throughout the early 20th century, there had been many proposals for land fill and development along the East Bay shoreline. In 1913, just prior to World War I, the Army Corps of Engineers proposed developing a huge port city in the bay between Oakland and Richmond with a major harbor for the United States Pacific fleet, airport facilities, offices, stores, and housing. In the 1920s and 30s, the Santa Fe railroad had bought up much of the bay shore property in Albany, Berkeley and Emeryville, and proposed substantial waterfront development. The City of Berkeley's 1955 master plan proposed up to 2,500 acres of land fill extending 3 miles into the bay and doubling the size of the city. In 1959 the Army Corps of Engineers released a report that concluded that 70% of the bay was shallow enough to be filled.

BayorRiver.gifSave the Bay & BCDC
Concerned citizens feared that the once vast water body would soon be reduced to no more than a wide river. Three Berkeley women, Kay Kerr, Sylvia McLaughlin and Esther Gulick, founded “Save San Francisco Bay Association” in 1961 and successfully mobilized thousands of members to stop Berkeley’s plan to fill the bay. The name of the group soon changed to “Save the Bay,” and their resounding victory in Berkeley was repeated on bay fill projects around the region.

Largely because of the efforts of Save the Bay, the state legislature passed the McAteer-Petris Act, to become effective on September 17, 1965. The act suspended all fill in the bay unless permitted by the newly formed San Francisco Bay Conservation and Development Commission (BCDC). Initially, the commission was an interim planning agency; it was made permanent by the state legislature in 1969. BCDC was also charged with preparing comprehensive studies of the bay and developing a bay plan.

Emeryville's Peninsula
The timing of Emeryville’s 1966 general plan and the formation of BCDC were closely intertwined. On January 11, 1965, the City Council voted to adopt the portion of the master plan related to the development of the Tidelands. The Planning Commission voted to recommend adoption of the entire new general plan on August 11, 1965. Just a few days before the McAteer-Petris Act went into effect the Emeryville City Council approved the “Tidelands Reclamation Project”allowing fora mile-long peninsula west of the freeway for offices, residential and marina development. Filling activity began soon thereafter. BCDC sued Emeryville but lost.

On February 14, 1966, the City Council adopted the new General Plan, which showed the fill area that was then underway and additional filling of the Tidelands. The language of the plan noted that filling of the Tidelands should be “compatible with a comprehensive Bay Development Plan.” Perhaps the City Council hoped that the Bay Plan that BCDC was charged with developing would include this proposed fill that was part of the Emeryville General Plan. But it did not, and subsequent General Plans in 1974 and 1979 showed only the existing peninsula, nothing more. The dream of a new city in the bay had died, but not before almost half of it was already filled.

East Shore State Park
In 1987, in response to Santa Fe’s proposed development plans of their shoreline properties, and in support of plans to create an East Shore State Park, the voters of Emeryville passed Measure D, the “Shoreline Protection Measure.” This measure amended the zoning ordinance to prohibit any structures along the shore of the Emeryville Crescent (the bay that had been created to the south by construction of the peninsula) and the shoreline north of the peninsula. The state subsequently acquired the property and incorporated it into the state park.

Watergate.gifDevelopment of the Peninsula
In the late 1960s, Francis Pierce Lathrop, a Berkeley developer, purchased most of the new peninsula and built the “Powell Street Extension” from the freeway out to the end. In June 1969, the Planning Commission and City Council approved Lathrop’s master development plan for the area, which included several restaurants, the 1,249-unit low-rise Watergate apartments, a high-rise office tower, and the high-rise Holiday Inn (later Hilton Garden Inn) hotel.

Lathrop also built a new City Hall for Emeryville, on the south side of Powell Street about midway along the peninsula, which today serves as the Police Department headquarters. Just east of the freeway, Lathrop built a Denny’s restaurant and a 6-story office building.

Emeryville & BCDC Dispute
Two marinas, 1 private and 1 owned by the city, and a large public park were built at the end of the peninsula. This development was subject of another dispute between Emeryville and BCDC. In 1970, BCDC had given Emeryville permission to fill 7.8 acres north of the Tia Maria (now Hong Kong East Ocean) restaurant for marina development. In 1975, when the city asked to make minor modifications, it was discovered that 12.5 acres had been filled, 60% more than permitted. Rather than require the city to remove the excess fill, which would have cost more than a million dollars, BCDC fined Emeryville $250,000.

BCDC further stipulated that the money must be spent to make public improvements to provide easy pedestrian and bicycle access to the waterfront, including a bicycle path from the new City Hall to the freeway, safe and convenient pedestrian and bicycle access from the area east of the railroad to the peninsula, a public access boardwalk along the north side of the peninsula next to the Watergate condominiums, an all-weather path along the shoreline between Powell Street and Ashby Avenue, and improvement of the Ashby spit for fishing and public access.

Population & City Status
Between 1970 and 1980, Emeryville’s population grew from 2,681 to 3,714, a 38.5% increase, due almost entirely to the Watergate development. On March 15, 1971, in recognition of Emeryville’s new status as an up-and-coming urban center, the City Council passed an ordinance officially changing the name of the municipality from the “Town of Emeryville” to the “City of Emeryville” (although the town’s Board of Trustees had changed its name to City Council in 1928).

The Watergate Revolution
Construction of the Watergate apartments brought major changes in local government. By the mid-1970s, more than half the city’s registered votes lived at Watergate and 4 out of 5 City Council members resided there, including the City’s 1st female council member, Rena Rickles. Through a series of regular municipal elections and special recall elections, they managed to oust the former Mayor, Donald Neary, and his allies from the council. Neary was chagrined by these developments. "We worked like hell to get Watergate here; now it's a Frankenstein," he said.

Among the reforms enacted by the new council majority was the creation of a Redevelopment Agency in 1975 (with the council serving as the agency board), the adoption of the city’s 1st Redevelopment Plan in 1976, and the appointment of Emeryville’s 1st City Manager, Edward Wohlenberg, in 1976. (Previously, the autonomous department heads had reported directly to the Mayor and City Council.) The new City Manager almost immediately ran afoul of the powerful police chief, John B. Lacoste, son of former Mayor Al Lacoste. Wohlenberg was fired and the Office of the City Manager was abolished in 1977. But the Redevelopment Plan lasted and is still in effect today.

In 1987, the Shellmound Park Redevelopment Plan was adopted that covered territory excluded from the 1976 plan. With the adoption of the Shellmound Park plan, 95% of the city was in a redevelopment area; the only portion that was not was the city marina and the Watergate apartments.

PacificParkPlaza.gifDevelopment of the Bayfront
The next area of town that was ripe for development, and a major focus of the 1976 Redevelopment Plan, was the so-called “Bayfront” area between the railroad and the freeway. Much of the area north of Powell Street had been filled in the early 20th century for the Paraffin Paint (Pabco) plant. In 1972, Pabco closed its Emeryville plant and moved its operations to Antioch and elsewhere. Many of Pabco’s old buildings were torn down, but 3 warehouses in the center of the site were converted into the “Emeryville Public Market,” a farmer’s market style complex with small ethnic food stalls and a variety of shops.

The Redevelopment Plan called for “an orderly transition [of the Bayfront area] from its currently predominant transport and warehouse use to a modern commercial, research and development and residential center” with high- and low-density residential projects, office parks, hotels, and retail facilities. In 1980, the city prepared the “Bayfront Development Plan,” which called for high-rise residential, offices, hotels, and regional retail development in the area, and in 1983 the City Council amended the Redevelopment Plan to include this vision.

Pacific Union, a large San Francisco realty and development company, had acquired about 70% of the 140 acres in the Bayfront area, including most of the area north of Powell Street and some land to the south. Pacific Union built Pacific Park Plaza, the 30-story, 583-unit high-rise condominium tower next to the freeway, which was completed in 1984, and planned to build several more high-rises in the area. But in December 1983 a citizen referendum overturned the amended Redevelopment Plan and Pacific Union sold most of its property to another developer, David Martin. Martin proceeded to renovate the Public Market and built an office tower, the 10-screen Emery Bay Cinema, a 425-unit mid-rise apartment building north of 64th Street called Emery Bay Club and Apartments (later expanded by an additional 260 units), and the Powell Street Plaza shopping center on the south side of Powell Street next to the freeway.

Bay Village
On the east side of town, the 112-unit Emery Bay Village residential project was constructed in 1981 by the Redevelopment Agency on the former site of the Emeryville Speedway motorcycle track on 47th Street. The project was a unique self-contained neighborhood of townhouses in a lush tree-filled setting with winding private streets and verdant lawns, designed to complement the nearby older residential areas. It was intended to provide housing for low income residents of east Emeryville, with below market prices and low interest mortgages. However, the project was wracked by scandal when it was learned that the friends and families of several political operatives, including police chief Lacoste, had bought units at discount prices.

Bay frontPolitical Turmoil & Reform
Although the Watergate majority on the council had managed to oust the previous administration and instituted several reforms, they were not immune from controversy. In 1979, 2 of them were recalled for supporting the conversion of the Watergate apartments to condominiums. The council also continued to support the controversial Police Chief, John Lacoste, who functioned as a de facto City Manager, running his “administration” from a table at the Townhouse restaurant.

In November 1983, 3 new council members were elected who opposed Lacoste and the planned high-rise development in the Bayfront area, which he supported. They immediately fired Lacoste. Two months later, in January 1984, the council once again passed an ordinance creating the Office of the City Manager, and this time it stuck. The following June they hired Joseph Tanner as City Manager, and in September the voters completed the dismantling of the Lacoste political machine by recalling his 2 remaining supporters from the City Council. Tanner served as city manager for almost 3 years until May 1987, when he left to become City Manager of Pleasant Hill.

City Council Changes
The 1987 municipal election marked a watershed in Emeryville politics. Nine candidates, including former police chief John Lacoste and the incumbent Mayor Dottie Heintz, were vying for 3 council seats. The candidates were divided over the future growth and development of the city. Three of them had formed a slate called the “All Emeryville Alliance:" Watergate resident Nora Davis, east Emeryville resident and nightclub owner Ken Bukowski, and artist cooperative resident and attorney Greg Harper. They won a decisive victory, with more than twice as many votes as the former Police Chief and the incumbent Mayor.

Although some had characterized the alliance as being anti-development, that was not really the case, as changes over the next 2 decades were to demonstrate. They advocated for good government and for developers to pay more toward community benefits and addressing the impacts of their projects. One of the new council’s 1st actions was to hire a city manager to replace Tanner. In December 1987, just a month after the election, they hired former Oakland Deputy City Manager John Flores. Together, the alliance and the new city manager ushered in an era of stability, open government, and fiscal responsibility that stood in sharp contrast to the shady dealings of the past, and that continues to the present day.