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Capstone's Jared Asch and Jim Wunderman Discuss the East Bay's Biggest Growth Hurdles

From episode: Jim Wunderman - Bay Area Council - EPISODE 12

From your host Jared Asch.

What do you see as the biggest challenge for continued growth in the East Bay? Sounds like transit is one, economic development. But what do you see as some of the challenges ahead and maybe some of the solutions, some that could come from Sacramento or D .C., even?

This blog post was written by AI from a transcript of the podcast and contains errors.

Jim Wunderman - I think the East Bay grew up kind of fast. Some people feel impacted by local traffic and things like that. There's a lot of newbies in East Bay. They just are. They're used to the place being the way it is and they don't need any more of it. And so they're reluctant. I think there needs to be a movement that the elected officials can get behind and get excited about and that their leadership can drive the growth and the improvements and the new what's to come rather than them being dragged to vote against investments and improvements because people with a similarly colored T-shirt all get up at the council meeting and scream, no way. That's where I think the opportunity is to come together. Let's just agree that a lot of what's in the East Bay was built at a time that was a different time. So now we need to rethink some of these areas. The way we did them just really isn't consistent with what we need now. We need something different. I look at it as I drive about. I see a lot of aging kind of strip mall centers and I see a lot of stores that are out and I have a feeling nobody's coming in and we probably need to repurpose a lot of that and do it thoughtfully. That could provide a lot of housing. It could provide entertainment. It could provide new lifestyle opportunities. These places tend to be in the central part of cities. They're often very well located.

From our host - Jared Asch I was talking to two different mayors who said one of the biggest problems that they're having with some of those shopping centers you're talking about that are nearly dead is that it was owned by Grandpa in the 1960s or something, and now it could be 10 or 30 entities, family members that have a share in it. What they have found is they have one anchor store and one or two other stores that come and go, they're still making cash flow on those because property taxes haven't changed much and things haven't changed. So if you have an anchor that's giving you cash flow, even if each family, if you have 20 or 30 families, is still making two grand a month, but maybe they're also getting losses from the vacancies that is equal to $20,000 or $30,000 off their W2 taxes. It's a win for those people. When developers have come in and tried to buy that out, they can't even get 20 percent of the families to come to a meeting because they're just happy with the status quo, whereas even if those families developed it themselves, you've got to bring everything up to code. You've got to invest in it. There's been this laissez-faire approach and people could probably name half a dozen in Concord, one or two in Pleasant Hill. I'm sure we can go throughout the whole Bay Area and name them. But that's a big problem. I don't know if you have thoughts on that.

Wunderman's response. Well, momentum is important. Once you start seeing something, when I started, I've been in this job for 20 years. When I came, we were talking about my predecessor, a woman named Sunny McPeak, who was a Contra Costa Supervisor and had this job for a bunch of years and then went on to become Arnold Schwarzenegger's Secretary for Business, Transportation, and Housing at the time. She was very well-known in planning circles and was very influential. She was all about transit-oriented development. I think she might have invented the term, but there were not a lot of examples of it around at that time. It had a lot of resistance to it because you're going into a suburban area where it's all single-family private homes and say, we're not going to do that over here because there's transit here. So we want to densify that area. So she was able to accomplish that at the Contra Costa Center, Pleasant Hill, Bart Station. Then we had at least one that was under construction. It was happening. Then a couple of others. And then before you knew it, they were popping up all over the place because there was momentum.

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