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December 17, 2008 > Union City Intermodal Station District - Local and Regional Project?

Union City Intermodal Station District - Local and Regional Project?

By Simon Wong

Union City's Economic & Community Development Department presented a status report on the Intermodal Station Project to the Planning Commission on November 20, 2008.

The City acknowledges pending implementation of State and regional environmental legislation. Senate Bill (SB) 375 requires City planning agencies to integrate land use and transportation to reduce Vehicle Miles Travelled (VMT). In doing so, SB 375 links land use with state-wide reductions of greenhouse gases contained in Assembly Bill (AB) 32.

Regionally, there is a need to mitigate the effects of anticipated population growth by combining high density construction with transit-oriented developments (TOD's) to encourage fewer and shorter road journeys and, thus, reduce carbon emissions.

Through its FOCUS Program, the Association of Bay Area Governments (ABAG) has partnered with the Metropolitan Transportation Commission (MTC) to establish Priority Development Areas (PDA's) and Priority Conservation Areas (PCA's) to satisfy statutory State requirements. The Intermodal Station District has PDA-designation and the hills to the east of Union City are a PCA.

Union City started the planning process for the Intermodal Station in 2001. The resultant Station District Plan, the project's local framework, was incorporated into the City's General Plan in 2002 and into the Redevelopment Plan through a community-based process.

The vision statement is "the creation of a mixed-use district with an emphasis on a town center/central business district with residential, commercial, office and research and development uses serving as an important regional employment center. This District will be designed to provide strong pedestrian connection, ground floor retail, open space, high density office, research and development, light industrial and high density residential uses."

Property taxes account for a substantial part of Union City's revenue. Consequently, the City is more reliant than others in Alameda County upon this source of income so it is important to maintain employment opportunities and increase other types of zoning, besides residential, to diversify revenue sources.

The Greater Station District consists of approximately 175 acres bounded by Decoto Road, Alvarado-Niles Road, Seventh Street and the boundary with the City of Fremont. The Station District is a core of fifty acres around Union City BART Station.

The Station District Plan recognizes the opportunity for a regional, inter-modal, transit hub - BART, AC Transit, Union City Transit, Dumbarton Rail (across the Bay to Menlo Park, Redwood City and connections to San Francisco and San Jose), Capitol Corridor (San Jose to Sacramento) and Altamont Commuter Express (ACE Rail, Stockton to San Jose) that runs close to Union City. The project will connect passenger rail with BART in Southern Alameda County.

What was previously underutilized land with abandoned commercial properties has been transformed since 2003. Avalon Bay is a private residential development that will provide 438 apartments next to BART. Eleventh Street is in situ. 119 single family homes have been completed. KB HOME has almost finished construction of 216 town homes. Parking has been reconfigured.

Following the City Council/Redevelopment Agency (RDA) Meeting of November 25, 2008, Barry Swenson Builder will construct what are designated as Blocks 2 and 3. Barry Swenson was to have developed Block 4, too, but re-negotiated its agreement with the RDA after reviewing its obligations in a difficult market. Mid-Peninsula Housing Coalition will develop Block 4 as mixed-use residential and commercial with 160 multi-family units of affordable housing and approximately 7,000 sq. ft.of commercial flex space. The parking standard will be reduced from 1.5 to 1.3 stalls per unit. ROMA Design Group will be responsible for the Station District's landscape and streetscape, pedestrian promenade, business condos and 10,000 sq.ft. Retail Pavilion and a public facility on Block 5. RJA will design the civil components and utilities.

Completion of site improvements is expected at the end of 2008. The station will be reconstructed in two phases to realize the project's goals. Phase 1 is on schedule for completion in 2010. Funding for Phase 2, upgrade of the east side of the BART station, is being sought.

Currently, the City is exploring how to improve access to the BART station from surrounding neighbourhoods and approximately sixty acres of land in the area, including the Shelton Site, so that the station is a ten minute walk away. Opening the station on the west side, shared parking, improving the bus facilities around the station and enhancing pedestrian and bicycle circulation will make transportation more accessible and obviate the need for a car.

A pedestrian pass-through will connect the station's east and west entrances at ground level. The railroad tracks next to BART will be raised to the same level as the BART trains to accommodate the pass-through that will enable passengers to transfer easily between rail and BART.

A two-acre, landscaped plaza, on the eastern side of the station, will contain public art, terraced seating and a fountain. A community facility, possibly a library or fine arts pavilion, is planned for the plaza.

The East-West Connector (formerly Highway 84) will traverse the southern part of the Station District and require BART and Union Pacific Railroad (UPRR) grade separations. During the past six years, the City's Redevelopment Agency (RDA) has spent about $50 million to acquire land, clean it, build infrastructure and preserve the right-of-way for the East-West Connector. The RDA has also actively funded planning and design studies, such as examining the rail connection between Hayward and Fremont and how Union City BART can accommodate passenger rail. A grade separation is also required at Decoto Road.

The California State Budget proposes taking away RDA funding of $1.5 million permanently but confirmation is awaited. Moreover, this might not be a one-time take-away as previously thought.

At the moment, Capital Corridor bypasses Union City along the UPRR Niles Sub-Division which freight trains also use. Transferring passenger trains to the Oakland Sub-Division would serve Union City and improve passenger rail performance given the absence of freight services, which often take priority over passenger services, on this line.

The City is also working closely with Oakland, San Leandro, Hayward, Alameda County and BART on the East Bay Greenway. This entails the acquisition of the UPRR Oakland Sub-Division from Oakland to Fremont. Doing so will preserve the rail right-of-way in the East Bay for future expansion of passenger services, high speed rail and a bike-and-pedestrian path.

The Dumbarton Rail Plan includes Union City. Six trains in the morning and six in the evening will depart for Redwood City from where three will run north and three would run south. Mayor Mark Green is Chair of the Dumbarton Rail Committee. A BART connection could also link ACE to Union City in the future.

As of October 2008, the Alameda County Transportation Improvement Authority (ACTIA) had committed $12.561 million of Measure B half cent transportation sales tax funding. Federal monies amount to $14.545 million. State sources have provided $7.673 million. Local funding totals $4.468 million. $5.414 million has been obtained from other sources.

"I think we are well ahead of the State's planning vision and don't anticipate a need to change our plans as a result of SB 375. We are well within legislative parameters. We decided to combine higher density with transit before it became regional policy. We were, and are, doing exactly what the State, ABAG and MTC now require for funding. Grant applications for projects with PDA-designation receive more consideration. Looking ahead, we need to keep going, keep producing plans and designs and obtain environmental clearance so that when funds become available we are ready to apply," stated Joan Malloy, Planning Manager.

"Union City Council has shown tremendous leadership. The Mayor is very active regionally and on transportation boards. The community, Barry Ferrier for one, has been tremendously supportive of the vision to create density around the Station District and around BART. These factors have enabled us to make progress," explained Ms. Malloy.

The Project has been immensely successful but not all TOD, such as the commercial TOD next to Fruitvale BART, has lived up to expectations.

"When thinking about commercial activity in the Intermodal Station District, Union City does not have a 360 degree catchment area unlike Hayward and Fremont. The undeveloped hillside area, east of Mission Blvd, does not provide 'draw' so we need to be very careful when we put in retail-commercial space, for example, in the Station District. This is why we have the concept of commercial-flex space. It may start as a live-work space and is designed to convert to retail-commercial as market conditions change. We need to recognize the limitations of our market. We do benefit from higher incomes in southern Alameda County; perhaps that's one reason why there was difficulty leasing retail space next to Fruitvale BART," responded Mark Leonard, Economic & Community Development Director.

"Something that is different about our TOD is that we have planned for jobs. We shall bring a day-time population into the area. Most other TOD's focus on residential which is predominantly a night time population. The design includes a civic facility which will also attract people to the area to frequent shops and restaurants," concluded Carmela Campbell, Senior Planner.

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