Location Union City, CA
Size 299,944 ft²
Program Affordable housing, community gardens, meeting areas, classrooms
At just less than 18 square miles, Union City, California, is quite small as far as cities go, but it packs a powerful punch. Several years ago the City of Union City began laying the groundwork for its Climate Action Plan, which required participation from every corner of the community to implement land use, transportation, building energy, waste, water, and green infrastructure with the goal of reducing citywide emissions by 2020. “Alameda County has been very aggressive in terms of sustainability,” says city manager Larry Cheeves. “We’re not just looking to be leaders in this region, but on a national level. It’s important to make the most of the resources you have.”
As far back as the 1990s, the city discussed the development of the Pacific States Steel Corporation plant site and the acquisition of the former site of the Pacific Gas and Electric Company (PG&E), located on the East Side of Union City’s BART station. Together, both plots of land cover more than 100 acres, and in 2000, Union City facilitated a joint planning effort with nine public agencies for a massive, game-changing project that would make use of this vacant, underutilized, polluted land. The Union City BART Station would be at the center of it all.
Architect David Baker + Partners Architects
Client Mid-Pen Housing
General Contractor Barry Swenson Builder
Landscape Architect Fletcher Studio
Lighting Designer Horton Lees Brogden
Structural Engineers Tipping Mar + Associates, FBA Structural Engineers
Mechanical Engineer Timmons Design Engineers
Civil Engineer Mark Thomas & Company
Muralist Mona Caron
In 2007, Union City broke ground on the Union City Station District, a master-planned, transit-orientated neighborhood that has been in the making for more than 20 years. Joan Malloy, Union City’s director of economic and community development, says that during the district’s initial planning phases, the main goals were using the land wisely and focusing on transportation, but the next logical step was focusing on green building. The project has affordable housing of different types, including the city’s first LEED Platinum housing complex: Station Center Family Housing, developed by Mid-Pen Housing Coalition and designed by David Baker + Partners Architects. The 105-acre plan also includes commercial space, new streets, walkways, bike paths, a pedestrian plaza and playground, and a remodeled, more energy-efficient BART station complete with an 800-foot-long bus shelter roofed with photovoltaic panels that will generate the electricity needed to provide the station’s lighting.
Cheeves says that the greenest aspect of the project is the simple fact that it will get more people out of their cars and walking and using public transportation. Moving forward, the station itself will also undergo major changes. Currently, there are no connections to other regional trains at the Union City BART Station, but in the next several years, the station will become a regional intermodal rail station, serving BART trains, Capitol Corridor intercity trains, and the Caltrains commuter rail service.
Phase one of the project was completed in November 2010, and it made the area more walkable for pedestrian traffic. According to Union City redevelopment manager Mark Evanoff, much of the first phase required removing physical barriers. “Previously, if you wanted to walk to the BART station, it would have been a mile-long walk,” he says. “Now, the same walk is about a fourth of a mile.”
Certification LEED for Homes (Mid-Rise) Platinum
Site Located near 14 basic services, preserved wetlands, wildlife habitat, public parks, unique/prime soils
Materials 90% of construction waste diverted, 45% of cement replaced by slag or fly ash, wood-framed walls built off-site
Air Quality Low- or no-VOC materials, carpets certified CRI Green Label Plus
Water Bay Friendly Certified landscaping, advanced irrigation control, on-site rainwater capture and treatment
Energy Added insulation, solar hot-water panels, high-efficiency, gas-powered boiler, sensors on outdoor lighting, sunshades
Despite the countless benefits of the project, members of the city are facing an uphill battle to complete phase two of this walkable, mixed-use development. Difficulties often arise when dealing with any bureaucracy, yet the challenges faced by Evanoff, Cheeves, and Malloy seem especially demanding given the circumstances.
“Only in the State of California can you have the money, resources, and planning in place, yet have a project get stalled,” Evanoff says. “The state chose to cut redevelopment, and it’s had a huge impact on sustainability and transportation projects.” The Union City Station District has had the support of the local city council and mayor from day one, and though completing the enormous project on its scheduled deadline will be challenging, the director of economic and community development, the city manager, and the redevelopment manager don’t plan on giving up without a fight.
Readying the land for the Union City Station District cost the city $83 million in redevelopment funds, but it has generated $375 million in private investment. And if the completion of phase one has proven anything, it’s that phase two of the transit village will be worth the wait.
What once was contaminated land is now LEED Platinum-certified low-income housing that offers community gardens, a pool, children’s playgrounds, a community center, and 9,000 square feet of ground-floor retail space. And when complete, the Intermodal BART station will have the potential to take thousands of cars off the road each year.
“All of this is possible because of our city council and mayor,” Malloy says. “We’re only as effective as our community allows us to be. We do believe that projects such as the Union City Station District are the wave of the future, and we hope our success inspires other cities to pursue similar projects.”