Forward Into the Past - the Myth of Industrial Economic Stimulus
The conjured up imagery of an industrial-fueled economic renaissance coming to South Vallejo is all smoke and mirrors. The story goes that if we just agree to forget the shared vision for a connected and accessible waterfront generated by our General Plan update process and instead approve a marine terminal and slag cement mill, Vallejo will rise like a phoenix from the ashes of financial ruin. The major use permit application to the City breathlessly describes the economic miracle that would unfold with this proposed development: “...the VMT Project has the ability to help catalyze additional industrial activities within the City of Vallejo and the surrounding region, and could represent a major step toward helping to revitalize this waterfront, boost the number of local jobs, stimulate public revenues, and re-brand the City as a multi-modal, industrial hub within the Bay Area."
But the Vallejo Marine Terminal project isn’t what it used to be. When the application went in to the City and when the environmental impact report was circulated for public review, the promised economic revival was expected to be catalyzed by an international shipping facility for bulk and break-bulk cargo. That all went out the window when the Bay Conservation and Development Commission broke the news that the site is not designated for a port use in the current Bay Plan. In the interest of limiting fill in the Bay and preserving public access, the BCDC forecasts the need for such facilities. They have determined that changes in technology have increased efficiencies at existing ports and dramatically reduced the need for new facilities.
The proposed industrial project site backed by South Vallejo neighborhoods
The VMT project description specifies returning the site to industrial use as one of its main objectives. The applicants want to convince us we should jump on a rickety wagon from the middle of the last century that has nearly rolled to a standstill. Heavy industry is not the path to a prosperous future - that road leads into a cul-de-sac. When the Bay Plan was first written, the designation for water-related industry suited the General Mills processing facility that occupied the location. The Orcem slag cement milling operation, originally pitched as a smaller part of the VMT project, is now the only project function remaining that would qualify to use the marine terminal on a permanent basis. The BCDC has been reevaluating the future need for these water-related industry sites as well.
You can hear the results of those forecasts in the the staff recommendations regarding recent amendments to the Bay Plan for sites at Collinsville, a short distance up the Sacramento River past Grizzly Island. “When the Commission originally adopted the Bay Plan in 1969, the Collinsville site was designated as a water-related industry priority use area because it appeared at the time that industrial production, including water-related industry, would continue to grow at a pace that would require substantial shoreline land for new facilities.” The Bay Plan reserved 2,600 acres at Collinsville for water-related industry, but the projected need has largely evaporated.
The Collinsville area where 2,400 acres designated for water-related industry was dropped from the Bay Plan in 2011. Hey, what's that white patch in the center?
In 2008 Solano County updated its General Plan, which changed land use designations in the area to marsh preserve, agriculture, and residential. To reconcile inconsistencies between the Commission's Bay Plan and the 2008 Solano County General Plan, the BCDC agreed in 2011 to drastically reduce the size of the designated industrial area down to 200 acres along the river, which remain undeveloped. In passing the amendment the Commission found: “there has been a significant change in the regional economy since the Collinsville water-related industrial site was initially designated in 1969. Increasingly, the region’s economy is based on financial services, technology, innovation and an information-based economy and has become less reliant on the manufacturing, heavy industry and the water-related industrial sectors. This transformation has reduced regional demand for waterfront locations for industrial uses."
The great industrial revival predicted to follow approval of the VMT project is a pipe dream. Vallejo should follow the example of Solano County and approve our own General Plan update scenario for the south Vallejo waterfront that has been shelved now for a year. There is no good legal reason why we should be waiting for this badly flawed project application process to play out. Our waterfront is a jewel that can be developed into a major economic asset within the framework of the new economic reality, but not if we start reintroducing pockets of polluting heavy industry. Let's all pull our heads out of our past and plan for the twenty-first century instead.
When we zoom in, that white patch in the green landscape looks an awful lot like those slag cement mills in Europe. This turns out to be a facility owned by DI Aggregate Management, who also run a load out facility on Mare Island for clean washed sand. At Collinsville they are milling some type of aggregate and using barge and truck transport. What looks like a milky stream running through the site are dust-covered roads leading out of the plant. This aggregate milling facility occupies an isolated location, which no longer describes the south Vallejo waterfront.