Editorial: With or without arena, railyard needs city's focus and attention

Published: Sunday, Mar. 4, 2012 - 12:00 am | Page 6E
Last Modified: Sunday, Mar. 4, 2012 - 11:55 am

Even as a proposed arena grabs all the attention in the downtown Sacramento railyard, let's not forget the two anchors – and the rest of this prime urban site.

The first anchor gives the railyard its character: the seven 19th-century Central Shops buildings – the oldest industrial complex west of the Mississippi River.

The second anchor is the transportation hub where light-rail trains, Amtrak, Capitol Corridor commuter trains and buses converge.

The key to unlocking these anchor sites and the rest of the 244 acres is backbone infrastructure.

We need roads and bridges and pedestrian tunnels to get to the Central Shops before developers can begin creating a public marketplace, Railroad Technology Museum, and other cultural and entertainment venues. The projects are happening, as are water distribution main lines.

We need to get track relocation done, to just south of the Central Shops, so work can begin in the Old Depot district closest to downtown. That is under way.

The big issue on this site has been toxic contamination from the industrial days: cleaning solvents, petroleum hydrocarbons, vinyl chloride, arsenic, lead and more. Union Pacific is the named "responsible party." The good news is that soil remediation is complete on 200 acres of the site and the rest is almost done.

With the foreclosure that transferred the railyard from Thomas Enterprises to Inland American Real Estate Trust, the cleanup insurance policy is transferring to Union Pacific and work is continuing on schedule.

But a key issue has not been settled: Who will be responsible for protecting buildings from "vapor intrusion" – migration of toxic compounds into the air from underlying contaminated groundwater and soil – which might require fans to pull air from the soil below buildings?

The state Department of Toxic Substances Control says reuse of the Central Shops buildings will require vapor intrusion protection measures. That will likely be true for other buildings on the site.

No one wants to take property without a clear path on who will be responsible for these protection measures. The vapor is coming from the ground, so Union Pacific should take responsibility. Getting certainty on that is essential for development of the railyard.

As the city and its partners pin down details on the proposed arena, let's keep focused on the anchors of the railyard site. Before it could jump-start development near what had been a blighted waterfront area, San Francisco was smart to focus on the Ferry Building and surrounding piers to create a marketplace and entertainment draw where people could imagine themselves visiting – and living.

The Central Shops and the transportation hub remain the keys to this site.

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