The use of 711 Harrison Street as an emergency shelter was established in 1971 and it has a permitted capacity of 100 people. As an emergency shelter, people may stay for up to 120 days; however, in response to special needs, it is not unusual for people to stay longer. The shelter generally houses 75 people.
The project is located in West Berkeley, on a lot adjacent to the railroad tracks. Immediately adjacent to 711 Harrison Street, uses include City of Berkeley soccer fields and a skateboard park. The City's Solid Waste Transfer Station is located west of the property, on the other side of the railroad tracks. On the south side of Harrison Street, there is a building contractor, a lab glass company, Wilderness Press, and a Pacific Bell Corporation Yard.
The property is zoned MU-LI (Mixed Use - Light Industrial). While the zoning regulations state: "Existing shelter shall not be considered a non-conforming use and may add floor area with a Use Permit (Public Hearing)", the proposal is to both add floor area and to change the use to a different type of homeless facility.
The current proposal includes ten shared housing units providing transitional housing, a manager's unit, and a licensed childcare facility for residents' children. The project, which adds approximately 20,000 square feet of development to the site and increases the maximum occupancy to 132 persons, is described in more detail below:
• Sankofa House: New construction of transitional housing -- four shared housing units for five families each.
• Picante House: Relocation of the historic building (new first floor, with existing structure added as a second floor) for one transitional housing unit, one manager's unit, and a laundry.
• Village Center: New construction of childcare and support services on the first floor and five shared housing units (transitional housing) on the second floor.
• Harrison House: Expansion of the existing shelter to provide more dormitory space, a new art/culture room, an office, and a store.
The change of use from what is currently a shorter-term emergency shelter to transitional housing with a childcare center is an important factor in weighing the environmental issues described below.
An EIR is needed to provide information about potential environmental impacts to the Zoning Adjustments Board before a decision can be made on the requested Use Permits. The draft Initial Study, which provides information about potential environmental impacts, is attached.
There were two responses to the Request for Proposals circulated by the City. Baseline Environmental Consulting was selected as the most qualified contractor. A draft and final EIR will be prepared, focused primarily on air quality and hazardous materials. Approval of the contract is recommended.
There are significant environmental concerns about developing transitional housing in this industrial area. Public perception about appropriateness of such development is as important as the factual issues. Many of the area problems such as railroad and freeway noise, chemical spill, fire, and explosion hazard impacts from nearby facilities, industrial traffic, and flooding can be addressed. Air quality and hazardous materials, however, are more complex and would need to be analyzed in an EIR; these two issues are briefly summarized below. There also are City liability concerns if the project is approved despite recognition of potential health and air quality problems. Staff and the applicant will explore all avenues to resolve environmental and health issues.
Air Quality - The air quality at the site does not meet state air quality standards and, even with mitigations, the impact on residents will probably be considered significant'. If the project is approved, the Zoning Adjustments Board and City Council would have to acknowledge that approval was granted despite significant adverse impacts. In light of environmental justice issues, staff wants the Council to be aware of these issues as early in the process as possible.
The concern is focused on the presence of small particulate matter in the air, which has been demonstrated to have adverse health effects. The acute effects on the human respiratory tract are primarily due to irritation triggering asthma attacks and causing an increase in respiratory symptoms of all kinds. The applicant has indicated that residents could be screened to place people with respiratory problems at another project. Air particulates have also been shown to adversely impact the elderly in terms of excessive stress on the heart resulting in increased mortality.
The City's transfer station contributes to particulate levels in the area. An engineering study to determine what can be done to improve transfer station operations is in The City's transfer station contributes to particulate levels in the area. An engineering study to determine what can be done to improve transfer station operations is in progress. When it is complete and the cost of mitigations, which could be significant, are identified, it is possible that capital improvements could resolve air quality issues. The City is committed to making improvements to the transfer station to address these issues. However, because City financial commitment to such improvements are unlikely to be on the same time line as the EIR, the impact would remain significant in the environmental analysis.
A qualitative health risk review of the impact of air with high particulates on soccer field users and also homeless shelter residents is in progress, with results expected late in February. This health risk review will provide a context for potential health impacts, but it will be of limited use because it is not quantitative, does not contain epidemiological data, and there are not approved methodologies for such a study.
Hazardous Materials - There has been a recent change in circumstances with the continued presence of Chromium 6 (Cr6) under Harrison Street and the skateboard park; therefore, more testing is needed to determine whether there are problems on the property. Although exposure to Cr6 at the homeless shelter is not possible from the groundwater under the facility, its existence at the site remains a concern and public relations issue.
There also are two abandoned underground storage tanks (USTs), which previously contained petroleum fuels, below the existing shelter. Removal of the USTs is the City's responsibility and staff is investigating costs. The USTs will need to be removed even if the project does not go forward.
A notice that an EIR was being prepared was mailed to approximately 80 neighbors and agencies in December 2002. The City of Albany and L A Wood responded with the attached letters, which reflect environmental concerns.
When the EIR is complete, it will be forwarded to all interested commissions. On June 24, 2002, the Solid Waste Management Commission received a presentation on the project from BOSS, and it has been on their agenda since that time. On January 27, 2003, they became aware that the project would be on the Council agenda and they requested that their recommendation --for the project not to proceed because it would be incompatible with solid waste management services and programs that are critical to the City's health and welfare -- be forwarded to the CC.