The city of Berkeley wants the community’s views on what to do with the old Pacific Steel Casting site.
The 84-year old plant, at 1333 Second St., closed in October, a victim of changing market forces. Now the owner of the property, a bankruptcy estate, is looking to sell what has been newly named Gilman Gateway. It includes ten separate parcels with numerous buildings spread out over 7.46 acres.
As the property covers such a vast part of West Berkeley, the owners want to make sure that future uses for the land meet the desires of the city and its residents, according to City Councilwoman Linda Maio.
“If the city can suggest what it is interested in, it will be easier to sell,” she said.
The City Council will vote Nov. 13 on whether to support a “visioning process” for the land, much like the one Berkeley and BART held in October on developing housing at the North Berkeley BART station. If the council approves the idea, the visioning process will start in January or February, said Maio. The council would then review ideas, suggestions and concerns and send recommendations to the planning commission, which could then weigh in on land-use regulations for the site. The goal is to reach a decision by June, she said.
“The site offers a tremendous opportunity to breathe new life into the area,” according to a memo Maio and Mayor Jesse Arreguín sent to the council. “The pending re-configuration of the I-80 Interchange at Gilman, which Berkeley championed and jump-started, has already engendered keen interest in the area’s future,” it stated.
Time is of the essence, according to Maio. There have already been break-ins into the aging plant, and vandals have stolen items, she said. As the plant is so old, it is hard to secure completely with fencing, according to the memo.
The property sits in the “M” or manufacturing district. Berkeley officials are not considering rezoning the land to include housing, said Maio. But the property could include light manufacturing, research and development, cannabis grow houses, artistic uses “particularly those that require space where noise could occur,” among other uses.
“Auto sales has [sic] been mentioned more than once as possible along the freeway frontage and the current site is in the Auto Overlay Zone,” Maio and Arreguín wrote in the memo.
Pacific Steel Casting shut down last month, but the factory’s owner, Speyside Equity, did not own the land. Speyside purchased the foundry in 2014 when the Genger and Delsol families filed for bankruptcy. A confluence of events, including the 2008 economic downturn, an immigration audit in 2011 that led to the layoff of 200 highly skilled workers and a costly $5.4 million class-action labor lawsuit filed by employees, led to the bankruptcy.
Pacific Steel Casting could not pay the labor judgment, so the workers who filed the suit secured their judgment by acquiring an interest in the land and buildings. Another group of employees, represented by the trustees of their pension and health plans, also secured a deed of trust against the almost eight acres in West Berkeley as collateral, according to court documents. The creditors’ claims are largely unpaid. That could change were the property sold.