The first of three Virtual Town Hall meetings kicked off last week for the community to engage in discussion around The Innovation Center @ Brentwood.
During a demonstration led by ELS Architecture and Urban Design, Ryan Call, principle at ELS and director of urban design, walked through the project’s master plan, addressing its strengths and weaknesses. ELS is the consultant team with which the City of Brentwood has partnered to “envision a next generation business center” to attract jobs to the city. The city has already zoned about 400 acres along Highway 4, between Old Sand Creek Road and Lone Tree Way for the development. Currently, a collection of farms and retail development make up the site, and housing development is planned to border the edges of the project area.
While nearby shopping centers are a draw for potential employers, Call pointed out the importance of identifying the challenges of the project. Those challenges include the fact that Brentwood only takes up .5% of office supply in the East Bay; rent is 30% less than the average of all Contra Costa submarkets, presenting a financial challenge to developers when compared to the cost of construction; there are no new office or research and development projects in Brentwood, but the Tri-Valley and Oakland have increased their shares, making them highly competitive; the advanced industrial and research and development cluster are closer to the Silicon Valley; and the city’s existing employment base does not have a large office demand.
“Office environments are changing,” Call said. “And developers and landlords and cities are working really hard to not only maintain their current tenants but also attract tenants. They’re raising the bar. The way they raise the bar is to provide a more complete lifestyle for the worker and preferably, when possible, within walking distance to the office.”
He noted competitors like Bishop Ranch in San Ramon and the Hacienda Business Park — which is now building housing — are aggressive on this front. In the county, Concord is also planning for offices. Another disadvantage is that Brentwood is distant from airports when compared to other job hubs in the Bay Area. Some of The Innovation Center @ Brentwood’s natural characteristics also present constraints, such as the Mokelumne Creek water running through the slated acreage.
On the strengths, Call noted Brentwood’s unique agricultural heritage that’s still alive and well to this day offers a unique culture. Since 2010, the Brentwood workforce has grown three times faster than other Contra Costa County cities. It’s also a highly skilled workforce, with a high number of degrees in science, engineering and business-related fields.
“What this tells us is that people who live in Brentwood are working in the office centers elsewhere,” Call explained. “If we can convince those employers … that regional offices in Brentwood will increase productivity and save them money, there’s a chance we can get an office built.”
The site itself is ripe for development, Call said, noting this to be another advantage, especially given the new standards employers are considering with regard to health and ventilation.
“Brentwood wouldn’t have to fix an old building,” he said. “They could build to suit.”
Additional strengths are that the commute to Brentwood for those living outside the region will head against the main flow of traffic on both Vasco Road and Highway 4, and the project is also split by Highway 4, offering prime access.
Public comments were read aloud and addressed by Call and Terrance Grindall, Brentwood assistant city manager and interim director of community development. Resident comments ranged from questions on the details of the project to concerns about increased traffic, Brentwood’s inability to fill the spaces, the environmental impact, fire services, child care and schools. One speaker brought up the concept that the workforce has even moved away from utilizing physical office spaces in a rapidly-changing work environment.
Call addressed the factor of an evolving remote workforce. He noted the impromptu collaboration cultivated in an in-person environment is still desired by many companies.
“There are other industries that know in order for them to maintain a competitive edge over other innovators, that it’s about that collaboration in an interactive environment,” Call said.
Grindall noted the project master plan will need to take public safety into consideration in response to a question from Steve Young, a Brentwood mayoral candidate.
“We are working on improving Brentwood across the spectrum,” Grindall said, further noting the time to plan for safety is now.
Paul Lafollette, descendant of the Gianninis farming family and another Brentwood mayoral candidate, wanted to know what the city will do to protect the farmland situated in The Innovation Center. Grindall said frankly that since the center is within the urban limit line, the city isn’t trying to protect that farmland — it’s going to be developed. Rudy Rymer wanted to know if this area would become part of the BART extension. Call said e-BART is a possibility but at this time, it’s not a funded project.
William Noah, who had concerns about views of Mount Diablo, wanted to know if there would be a height limitation on buildings.
“Yes, there will be a height limit ... but it’s a moving target that will need to be analyzed,” Grindall said.
ELS has enlisted the services of BKF Engineers to address the infrastructure feasibility; Keyser Marston Associates to determine the potential economics and market demand; EMS for technical document review; Hoffman Strategy Group was enlisted as a developer consultant to help attract developers to the region; and graphic design company RSM Design is creating images and visual pitch package sto show employers why Brentwood is a great option for their next regional office.
The next two installments of the Virtual Town Hall are set for late November and late January. For more information, visit https://www.innovatebrentwood.site.