Emeryville Today – 1990s to 2000s

During the 1990s and the 1st decade of the 21st century, the transformation of Emeryville from an old industrial town to a modern mixed use urban center has been virtually completed through a number of development projects and community enhancements. Collectively, these projects have added several thousand housing units and over a million square feet of commercial space to the city. For further information about many of these projects, visit the Economic Development and Housing Department's project webpage. AmtrakEmery Station

Following the 1989 Loma Prieta earthquake, Amtrak needed a new train station to replace the old 16th and Wood Street station in West Oakland that had been irreparably damaged. While Oakland scrambled to plan a new station at Jack London Square, Emeryville quietly built a station near Powell Street and opened it for service.

The station was built on a portion of the site of the former Chevron asphalt plant. Wareham Development, a large Emeryville property owner and developer, purchased the Westinghouse property and built the train station. Today Emeryville's Amtrak station serves over a half million passengers a year, making it the 5th busiest station in California and 1 of the busiest in the nation. Currently 46 daily trains stop there, including the long-distance California Zephyr (Chicago-Emeryville) and Coast Starlight (Seattle-Los Angeles), and the Capitol Corridor (Sacramento-San Jose) and San Joaquin (Bakersfield-Oakland) commuter trains.

Buildings Near the Amtrak
During the 1990s and early 2000s, Wareham built a commercial and residential complex around the new Amtrak station, aptly named "Emery Station" (although it is over a half mile north of the original Emery station at the foot of Park Avenue). This includes the 100-unit Terraces residential building next to the railroad, and the Emery Station I and Emery Station North office / laboratory buildings across the street, completed in 1999-2003. More recently, the Emery Station East office / laboratory building on Hollis Street was completed in 2007. These buildings house a number of cutting-edge biotech laboratories, including Ernest Gallo Research Institute, BioNovo, Inc., Amyris Biotechnologies, the Joint BioEnergy Institute (JBEI), and Bayer HealthCare Pharmaceutical, among others.

The California Institute for Regenerative Medicine,
the stem cell research institution established in 2005 following the passage of Proposition 71, was initially housed in Emery Station I until it moved to its permanent home in San Francisco. (When he heard that Emeryville had beaten Los Angeles as 1 of the finalists for the permanent home, the mayor of Los Angeles reportedly blurted "Emeryville? Where the hell is Emeryville?") A 4th laboratory / office building, to be called Emery Station Greenway, is currently being planned for a site across Hollis Street from Emery Station East.

East Bay Bridge
Meanwhile, on the south side of town, the Santa Fe railroad was deciding what to do with its large abandoned railroad yard along Yerba Buena Avenue west of San Pablo. Santa Fe Pacific Realty, the railroad's real estate and development arm (later renamed Catellus), at 1st proposed a large business park. Dubbed "Yerba Buena Business Park," this 1990 proposal would have included 1.9 million square feet of office space in 14 buildings up to 12 stories tall, 135,000 square feet of retail, 3 public parks totaling 6 acres, 12 acres of "office campus open space," and several parking structures. The plan included no residential development, but it did have retail uses, including a supermarket, along San Pablo Avenue.

A few years later, Catellus reassessed the financial feasibility of such a proposal and scrapped it in favor of a new plan for a "big box" regional shopping center with acres of surface parking lots. This plan also included retail and a supermarket along San Pablo, and this time there was residential development proposed along 40th Street, which was to be extended westward from its terminus at Adeline Street. Dubbed "East Bay Bridge," this shopping center required the approval of both Oakland and Emeryville, since it straddled the city boundary.

A special "Joint Planning Agency" (JPA) was created consisting of Planning Commissioners and City Council members from both cities. The ordinance creating the JPA was challenged and subjected to a referendum of the voters who approved it in November 1992. The JPA approved the project in February 1993, and it was constructed soon thereafter. Current major tenants of the center include Pak ‘n Save grocery, Home Depot, Sports Authority, Babies "R" Us, and Michael's Art Supplies. The second, residential, phase of the project, the 220-unit Bridgecourt Apartments, was built along 40th Street in 1997-98.

Chiron / Novartis
Chiron Corporation, a research and development firm specializing in biopharmaceuticals, vaccines and blood testing, was founded in Emeryville in 1981, and in 1985 they moved into the old Shell Oil research building on Horton Street that had been acquired by Wareham and renovated. In 1991, Chiron acquired Cetus, 1 of the 1st biotechnology research companies, which was founded in Berkeley in 1971, but conducted most of its operations in Emeryville. Chiron had ambitious plans for a large life sciences campus, and in 1995 the City Council approved a "Planned Unit Development" (PUD) for the area bounded by Hollis Street, 45th Street, Stanford Avenue, and the railroad (part of the site of the old racetrack and the planned industrial park that followed it).

This master plan called for construction of 14 new buildings, including 7 laboratory buildings, 3 office towers, structured parking, and support facilities, over a 30-year period. To date, 1 laboratory building ("Building 4" at Hollis and 53rd Street), 1 parking structure, a central utility plant, and a park have been built under the PUD. A number of previously existing buildings on the site, including the old Shell building, and in the surrounding vicinity, continue to be used. In 2006, Chiron was acquired by the multinational Swiss pharmaceutical firm Novartis, and the Cetus portion of the operation was spun off to Bayer AG, the giant German pharmaceutical firm with labs in nearby West Berkeley. Today, Novartis and Bayer share the Emeryville campus, with each firm using different buildings and facilities.

In the early 1990s, Kaiser Permanente was planning to replace its aging Oakland hospital complex at Broadway and MacArthur Boulevard with a new facility, and made a deal with the Emeryville Redevelopment Agency to relocate to the old Del Monte cannery site on Park Avenue between San Pablo Avenue and Hollis Street. An Environmental Impact Report was prepared, property was acquired and cleared, and businesses and residents were relocated. The project was approved in 1994, but soon after Kaiser changed its mind and decided to retain and expand its Oakland facility instead.

Meanwhile, Pixar Animation Studios, whose 1st big movie hit was Toy Story in 1995, was outgrowing its Point Richmond facilities and was looking for a new home. They arranged with the Redevelopment Agency to acquire most of the Kaiser hospital site along Park Avenue. In 1998, the City Council approved a master plan for the Pixar campus that included 2 new buildings in a park-like setting with a soccer field, amphitheater, jogging path, and Olympic-sized swimming pool. The 1st building was completed in 2000. By 2004, Pixar had several more hit movies including A Bug's Life, Toy Story 2, Monsters Inc., and Finding Nemo, and was feeling the need for more space.

The city approved a revised master plan that called for a total of 4 buildings and a parking structure. This approval was challenged and subjected to a referendum of the voters, who overwhelmingly approved it in November 2004. Walt Disney Studios acquired Pixar in 2006, and decided to keep the operation in Emeryville under the existing master plan. In early 2009, the City Council approved plans for the 2nd building, which is currently under construction and should be completed by 2011.

Meanwhile, the eastern portion of the Kaiser site, fronting on San Pablo Avenue, was split off for the mixed use "Promenade" project, which included a Long's Drug Store and other neighborhood serving retail along San Pablo, and 100-townhouse units along a new extension of Emery Street between Park Avenue and 45th Street. The plans for this project were approved in 1999, and construction of the drug store and retail shops was completed in 2002-2003.

However, the developers, Castle Group, were unable to obtain funding for the townhouse portion of the project and in October 2002 the City Council approved the sale of this portion of the site to Pixar, who incorporated it into their 2004 master plan revisions. A linear park and bicycle path will be built by Pixar along the western edge of the Promenade site, between Park Avenue and 45th Street, as part of their 2nd building project.

South Bayfront
The North Bayfront area and Powell Street Plaza had been redeveloped in the 1980s, but most of the Bayfront area south of Powell Street remained in heavy industrial uses. The old Judson Iron Works plant (now owned by Birmingham Steel and called Barbary Coast Steel), which had been located across the tracks from the end of Park Avenue for over 100 years, closed in 1991 when operations were moved to Seattle.

Meanwhile, in conjunction with construction of the East Bay Bridge center and future plans for development of the South Bayfront, the city extended Shellmound Street to the south and 40th Street to the west, and built a curving bridge over the railroad tracks connecting the 2, thereby greatly improving access to both the Bayfront and East Bay Bridge areas. (Ironically, due to the skewed location of the city boundary, this bridge is entirely in Oakland although the streets that it connects to at either end are in Emeryville. By arrangement with Oakland, the City of Emeryville built and maintains this bridge.)

In April 1997, the Redevelopment Agency prepared the South Bayfront Design Guidelines, which called for redevelopment of the entire area between Shellmound Street and the railroad tracks as a mixed use regional retail and residential complex, and a hotel and shops south of Powell Street Plaza on the west side of Shellmound. The agency began acquiring property and embarked on a multimillion dollar clean-up of the highly toxic soil and groundwater left behind by a century of heavy industrial use.

On the west side of Shellmound Street, the Redevelopment Agency sold the site south of Powell Street Plaza to Orient and Western for construction of a 296-room hotel. Originally planned to be a Hilton, it later became Courtyard by Marriott. The hotel, surrounded by surface parking and not including the small street-facing commercial buildings envisioned in the South Bayfront Design Guidelines, was approved in 1997 and opened for business in late 2000. The small triangular parcel south of the hotel and Temescal Creek was approved for an office building, but this was never built. Later the Redevelopment Agency negotiated with McKevitt Volvo for a multistory new car dealership, but this too did not transpire. Today, this small parcel sits vacant awaiting future plans.

In October of 1997, the Swedish home furnishing giant IKEA bought the old Judson Steel property and made plans for their 1st northern California store. Since the property straddled the Oakland-Emeryville border, both cities had to approve it, which occurred in 1998, and the store opened in April 2000. It was more successful than anyone had imagined, and generated far more traffic than anticipated, due largely to the easy access provided by the 40th-Shellmound extensions. This led IKEA to construct a parking garage south of the store in 2001. The traffic situation eased significantly after IKEA opened stores in East Palo Alto and West Sacramento, although traffic still backs up when IKEA has a sale.

Bay StreetBay Street
To the north of IKEA, the Redevelopment Agency had assembled property for the "South Bayfront Mixed Use Project" and issued a request for proposals for prospective developers. Madison Marquette was selected by the agency to develop the project. In 1999, the city approved a Planned Unit Development for a retail and residential project called "Bay Street" with 325,000 square feet of stores, a 16-screen movie theater, 379 residential units, and a 221-room hotel.

The retail portion was completed and opened for business in November 2002. Major tenants include Barnes and Noble, Old Navy, Banana Republic, Williams Sonoma, Talbot's, Victoria's Secret, Apple Computers, the Gap, a number of restaurants, and the AMC Theater. Subsequently, MacFarlane Partners built the residential units on top of the completed retail stores. This was complicated because the stores had to stay open during construction, and the residential units were designed by a different architect and built by a different developer than the retail buildings that they sat on. The 95-condominium units were completed in late 2006 with the 284 rental units following in early 2007.

These were the 1st residential units that ever existed west of the railroad and south of Powell Street, creating a new neighborhood for the city. More recently, in 2008-09, a free-standing West Elm furniture store was constructed next to Barnes and Noble. The planned hotel was never constructed, and will likely be included in the future "Site B" expansion of the Bay Street project to the north.

Warehouse LoftsOther Developments
During the 1990s and 2000s a number of other former industrial properties throughout the city were redeveloped as commercial and residential projects. Several of these included adaptive reuse of existing buildings, while others involved demolition and new construction. On the peninsula, the 4th and final office tower of the Watergate complex was completed.

In the North Bayfront area, projects included the 200-room Woodfin Hotel, the 224-unit Avenue 64 apartments, the 22-unit Christie Avenue Commons in a former Pabco Paint Company building, and an office tower at the Marketplace. In the North Hollis area, east of the railroad and north of Powell Street, there were many projects including the:
  • Emery Tech office complex in the renovated Grove Valve industrial building
  • 331-unit Courtyards at 65th Street apartment building on the old Ryerson Steel factory site
  • Hollis Business Center in the renovated Breuners Furniture building
  • 50-unit Oliver Lofts residential project in the former Oliver Tire and Rubber building
  • 54-unit Liquid Sugar townhouses
  • 92-unit City Limits townhouses on the Oakland border (31 units in Emeryville)
  • 72-unit Artisan Walk townhouses on the Oakland border (6 units in Emeryville)
  • 145-unit Glashaus lofts and townhomes
  • 20-unit Dollar Lofts live-work project
  • 71-unit Elevation 22 townhouses
South of Powell Street, projects included the 19-unit Doyle Street condominiums in an old industrial building, and renovation of a number of old industrial buildings for laboratory and office use. Projects in the Park Avenue District included conversion of the old Emeryville Warehouse building into 141 residential lofts and commercial space, the adjacent 20-unit Blue Star Corner townhouse project, the 54-unit 1401 Park Avenue apartment building, and the 129-unit Age Song assisted living project. Along San Pablo and Adeline Streets, projects included the:
  • 50-unit Emery Villa senior housing project
  • 56-unit Remar Bakery Lofts in a former bakery building on the Oakland border that is listed on the National Register of Historic Places (41 units in Emeryville)
  • 79-unit Vue 46 project in the old Flecto stain factory building on the Oakland border (45 units in Emeryville)
  • 55-unit Green City Lofts condominiums on the Oakland border (31 units in Emeryville)
  • 125-unit Andante project at 40th and San Pablo
  • 22-unit Key Route Lofts project
  • 67-unit Avalon senior housing project
  • 59-unit Oak Walk project including rehabilitation of 5 older houses
  • 36-unit Adeline Place project
DoyleHollis.gifGreenway & Parks
As an old industrial city, Emeryville had no parks during its early history. The 1st park in the city was the tiny "61st Street Mini Park" on Doyle Street between 61st and 62nd Streets, which was built in 1976. This was soon followed by the large marina park on the peninsula. In recent years, a number of small parks have been added throughout the city, including:
  • Temescal Creek Park in the Triangle neighborhood
  • Stanford Avenue Park
  • Christie Avenue Park
  • Point Emery
  • Shorebird Park
  • Davenport Mini-Park on the bay
Most recently, Novartis has completed the private Hollis Green park at 53rd and Hollis Streets, which is open to the public. Doyle Hollis Park, between 61st and 62nd Streets, is under construction and will be completed in 2009. In addition, the Emeryville Greenway, a linear park and bicycle-pedestrian path following old railroad lines, is planned to traverse the city from north to south. It is mostly completed north of Powell Street and has become a popular strolling and gathering place. Eventually it will extend south to Park Avenue.

The Arts
Art is an important aspect of civic life in Emeryville. Starting in the 1970s, as large companies moved away, artists began to seek out former industrial space in the city for studios and living space. With the help of the Redevelopment Agency, a group of artists purchased 2 former industrial buildings at 45th and Horton Streets and started the 45th Street Artists Cooperative, a limited equity coop where a number of artists live and work.

In 1987, some of these artists founded the Celebration of the Arts, an annual art show for Emeryville residents and workers, which is sponsored by the city and a number of local businesses. The 23rd annual show will be held in 2009. For further information on the Celebration of the Arts, visit their website.

In 1990, the city passed an ordinance requiring new developments to include public art and/or to contribute to the city's Public Art Fund. Under the direction of the City Council-appointed Public Art Committee, this program has funded a number of public art installations throughout the city. For further information, visit the city's Art in Public Places Program webpage.

Emeryville has always had its own school district, which is fiercely independent of those in nearby Oakland and Berkeley. The tiny Emery Unified School District has 2 schools with a total enrollment of about 800 students in grades kindergarten through 12. Anna Yates Elementary School, on 41st Street, accommodates grades K-6, while grades 7-12 are at Emery Secondary School (formerly Emery High School) on San Pablo Avenue at 47th Street.

State Control
The district was plunged into crisis in 2000 when the state took it over and the superintendent, J.L. Handy, was forced to resign after running the district into debt and charging personal expenses on the district's credit card. Handy had been hired by the School Board in 1993 after he was forced out of the superintendent's job in the southern California City of Compton, where he had run up a $5 million deficit, prompting a state takeover there. Outraged by these events, a coalition of concerned Emeryville citizens called "Save Our Schools" forced a recall election that ousted 3 of the 5 school board members in August 2001; the other 2 board members had previously resigned.

The new board, now in an advisory role to Henry Der, the state-appointed administrator of the school district, promptly began to develop a plan to pay back the state's $1.3 million loan and get the district back in the black. The property owners of Emeryville came to the rescue by approving a $1.4 million parcel tax for the district in June 2003 (despite the fact that most Emeryville property owners do not have children in the local schools). The Emeryville Redevelopment Agency also stepped in to help, funding a $1.5 million, 40-year lease of several school district facilities. To improve the quality of the schools, the district, the city, and the Bay Area Coalition for Equitable Schools signed a Memorandum of Understanding to create a Math, Science, and Technology Initiative, and the city and school district jointly formed the Education and Youth Services Advisory Committee (EYSAC).

Local Control
In April 2004, Emery Unified was returned to local control and hired a charismatic new superintendent, Tony Smith. Under his and the new School Board's leadership, finances improved, student test scores went up, and morale was high. In October 2005, state school superintendent Jack O'Connell visited the district and praised its remarkable success story, calling it a model to be replicated. In June 2007, property owners overwhelmingly approved another parcel tax to fund the schools.

In September 2007, Smith left Emery Unified for a job in the San Francisco school district, and his assistant, Stephen Wesley, was subsequently appointed superintendent. In a sad footnote, Wesley resigned in September 2008 when it was discovered that the popular and effective school administrator had falsified his resume. The school board appointed veteran school administrator John Sugiyama, retired superintendent of schools in Dublin, as interim superintendent.

Visit the School Board website for biographies of the 5 current board members, and the Superintendent's page for a message from the current superintendent. For further information on the Emery Unified School District, visit their webpage.

Civic CenterCity Government
The city staff soon outgrew the new City Hall building on the peninsula and moved their offices to the top floor of one of the Watergate office towers. The building became the Police Department headquarters, although the City Council and Planning Commission continued to meet there. In the 1990s the City Council determined that its staff should be housed in a city-owned building rather than leased office space, and a decision was made to build a new Civic Center east of the freeway and railroad, closer to the historic center of town. Several sites were considered, but ultimately it was decided to move back to Old Town Hall at Park Avenue and Hollis Street.

The city staff had long since outgrown that building, so a new city administration building was constructed adjacent and connected to Old Town Hall. Staff moved into the new Civic Center in December 2000, and the official ribbon-cutting was held in June 2001. The Council Chambers and offices of the City Manager, City Attorney, and City Clerk are in the beautifully renovated Old Town Hall; other city offices are in the new building.

A number of changes have occurred on the City Council since the watershed election of 1987, although 2 of the All Emeryville Alliance members continue to serve as council members. John Flores served as city manager for almost 19 years until his retirement in November 2006. The council appointed their Economic Development and Housing Director, Patrick O'Keeffe, to succeed him. Under the leadership of the City Council and City Manager, the principals of fiscal responsibility and open government introduced in 1987 continue to this day. For further information on the city's council-manager form of government, see the About Your City Government webpage.

For information on City Manager Patrick O'Keeffe, visit the City Manager's webpage; and for information on the current City Council, visit the Emeryville City Council webpage.