Looks like downtown’s inventory of abandoned half-built buildings is about to be cut in half, with news in the Trib of construction restarting on City Walk.
The Trib’s story is weirdly optimistic, with lines like:
The framework of the building was largely completed when the work halted. City officials said they were dismayed at the halt in construction.
So…the framing on this building, I have gotten the very clear impression from a number of different people that there’s some kind of problem with it and will have to be removed and rebuilt for the third time. The staff report (PDF) for a Council discussion of the project last winter seems to concur:
Project construction was delayed several times due to problems with framing sub-contractors. The initial framers performed substandard work and had labor problems which required them to be replaced. Work had to be removed and rebuilt again. A third framing sub-contractor was later hired. Olson eventually wrote the general contractor a default letter regarding various construction defects and other problems on the site. Rather than correct the defects, the contractor vacated the site.
Anyway, at that December meeting, the Council amended their DDA with Olson Co. (I wrote about it for the Oakbook) to extend their completion deadline, which, under the original agreement, had been the end of 2007. The Council agreed to an extension for the project, giving them a new completion deadline of June 30, 2009 and conditioning that they restart construction by January 31, 2008.
As anyone who walks by 14th and Jefferson can tell you, construction obviously did not restart by that date. In fact, in today’s Trib story, we learn that Olson is hoping to resume construction by November!
Look…the City is in a really difficult position here. Olson has totally failed to meet their deadlines, which means we are entitled to penalize them. Of course, doing so will only compound their troubles and might make it even less likely that the damn thing ever gets finished, and of course, nobody wants that. The nightmare scenario (which could happen, though almost definitely won’t) would be the City itself getting stuck owning a partially built project with construction flaws. Nobody wants that. So the temptation to be accommodating and just give Olson whatever they need is understandable.
But it’s also not fair to everyone else. I’m, well, pretty pro-development for the most part, and most of the arguments I hear from anti-growth types give me a huge headache and make me roll my eyes. But when they complain that they don’t trust the developers will keep this promise or that promise or that whatever condition of approval will actually be met…well, I see where they’re coming from. It’s pretty hard to argue against that when the City just lets a developer violate their DDA and stick the community with a big hunk of blight for a year (or in the case of 14th and Jackson, let properties sit shrink-wrapped for years). I’m sorry that Olson had that long legal battle with their contractor and I understand times are tough for the building industry, but we can’t let our sympathy get in the way of good government, and we shouldn’t forget that times also got tough for the small businesses that had to live next to the abandoned construction site – until they closed!
At last night’s Planning Commission meeting, all these people from the neighborhood around the new Kaiser Hospital were like, completely freaking out over the idea that one of the three new buildings might not get built at the same time as the others. When the Commissioners asked why we couldn’t just require them to build everything at once, the response was that we have no way to enforce such a condition. They should figure out a way to enforce things, whether that involves writing penalties into the approval (That’s just an example off the top of my head, I don’t actually know if you’re allowed to do that, but I’m sure that there must be something) or what, because letting developers get away with not keeping promises only gives more fuel to the complaints of anti-development activists.
In this case, we have a DDA that gives us very clear power to extract penalties from Olson for failing to meet deadlines, and the City should absolutely do so, even if it causes more headaches on this particular project. It would suck to have City Walk sitting around abandoned even longer, and it would suck even more if the City ended up having to take it away and tear the damn thing down and start looking all over again for a developer (one hopes it things would not get to that point), but it would also establish a precedent that we do not consider it acceptable to violate the terms we set. And in the long run, that would be better for everyone in Oakland.