"It's unacceptable:" Asbestos discovery leads to indefinite halt of Oakland mall construction – KTVU San Francisco


A hulking, half-demolished, now-defunct Chase Bank now sits at the corner of a prominent corner in Oakland’s Rockridge neighborhood. And it will continue to sit there indefinitely. 


That’s because the developer of Shops at the Ridge at the corner of Broadway and Pleasant Valley, in one of the city’s most affluent neighborhoods, found asbestos in the concrete of the building in April and had to stop all construction, according to the developer and the city. Demolition on the building started five months prior to the discovery, the city said, in November 2016. Asbestos, which was a well loved building material first used in the 1950s, is perilous only when inhaled over a long period of time.


And despite resident concerns over the fibers being potentially released, according to the city, the contractor learned the asbestos before it got into the air. Bay Area Air Quality Management District officials were looking into the matter for KTVU, but did not respond by Monday morning with an answer. 


In an email on Sunday to KTVU, TRC Retail’s director of property management said that the asbestos is “specifically contained in the roof deck and no airborne hazards exist.” 


But the discovery of the asbestos was just the tipping point for the construction stoppage.


The developer, TRC, doesn’t have any scheduled timetable to resume demolition or complete the retail project that was supposed to anchor the edge of the affluent neighborhood instead of looking like a construction war zone, according to its property manager and the city.


“I’m frustrated,” said Stuart Flashman, the chair of the Rockridge Community Plotting Council who has been working on this project as an involved citizen for a decade. “It’s like you were promised a five-course meal and instead just got drinks and the appetizers.”


Neighbor Pamela Farmer place it more bluntly: “I reckon it’s hideous. I’d like it to come down. I hear it has asbestos and I have asthma. That makes me a small nervous. It looks like Baghdad. It looks really terrible. It looks like the seed of urban blight.”


TRC property manager Shannon Naraghi told KTVU that the cost of the asbestos removal is hugely expensive and that her company is now rethinking its original plans to end the second phase of the retail project at The Ridge, mostly because the retail industry is faltering throughout the country. Forbes recently wrote a piece called “Retail is Dead,” and cited the downsizing or closing of Macy’s, Sears, CVS stores and more, all because of online shopping.


In fact, Safeway, the original developer of the project before TRC took over,  started closing stores all over the country in 2015.


“The temperature of retail has changed,” she noted. “People are more cautious now.”


The first part of The Ridge is done: A gleaming new Safeway and Chase Bank stand along a row of palm trees on the Pleasant Valley Avenue side of the road. Smaller shops and restaurants also dot the updated strip mall. The second part of the project – the part that fronts Broadway – remains unfinished, and by all accounts – an eyesore. A crane has knocked down parts of the building, leaving gaping holes. Graffiti marks the wooden boards outside it. Nearby neighbor Pamela Weimer has been quite vocal about her displeasure of both the possible health concerns and unsightliness of the building, firing off several emails to get more information from the city.


Oakland deputy plotting and building director Darin Ranelletti said leaving the project site this way is not OK.


“It’s unacceptable to leave an unfinished building like that,” he said.


Ranelletti said he has been in discussions with a vice president at TRC and that while no decisions have been made, he’s hoping to get an update this week.  


Ranelletti said Oakland officials want to add high-density apartments  to the retail-only plot, but that the landowners – Alvin Chan of Texas – has expressly denied any addition of housing to the project through the developer.


While retail might be suffering across the country, Ranelletti said that this retail site is the only major construction project of its kind that has stalled in Oakland.


Chan could not be reached for comment.  He does not have a phone number listed with the city; only a PO Box.


Ranelletti said he realizes that asbestos removal is quite pricey, but that the city might have to use its “limited enforcement tools,” such as code violations for blight, if the project languishes for too much longer.

KTVU’s Cristina Rendon contributed to this report.

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