East Palo Alto's 15-year quest to build critical infrastructure along Bay Road reached a milestone on Wednesday, when the city received a $4.4 million federal grant it hopes will bring large developments to the Ravenswood Redevelopment Area.
The grant from the U.S. Department of Commerce's Economic Development Administration completes the $15.2 million in funding needed to upgrade an important access route between University Avenue and Cooley Landing. Bay Road is the gateway to the planned Ravenswood Business District, a 130-acre area of prime commercial real estate adjacent to San Francisco Bay. The district is anticipated to create at least 10,900 new jobs, catalyze $1.7 billion in private investment and bring millions of dollars in tax revenue into the city.
Currently, this section of Bay Road has no stormwater infrastructure and no drains, city and federal leaders said during a Wednesday morning news conference outside the Ravenswood Family Health Center.
East Palo Alto Mayor Lisa Gauthier said the grant will help propel long-awaited projects such as the proposed 2020 Bay Road office-complex development at the former site of the Romic Environmental Technologies plant that processed hazardous industrial materials and turned the property into one of the most hazardous sites in the city.
"This is going to be so important to East Palo Alto," she said, also noting that the city's south side has been devastated previously by floods.
Bay Road, part of which is unpaved, has been heavily damaged by decades of industrial use. The stormwater project will add drains, new paving, streetlights, bike lanes and trees for shade. In addition, it will give the public access to city amenities such as Cooley Landing and the currently under-construction EPACenter Arts facility at the corner of Bay and Pulgas Avenue, she added.
The stormwater project is "shovel ready" and work should begin in late November and wrap up by spring 2021, she said.
U.S. Reps. Anna Eshoo, D-Palo Alto, and Jackie Speier, D-San Francisco/San Mateo, were instrumental in securing funding for the project, Gauthier noted. Speier noted that Eshoo was responsible for getting funds earmarked for the city over the years to make the stormwater project possible.
"This project should be called Project Perseverance," Eshoo said.
The Palo Alto congresswoman noted that flooding can be responsible for "the wreckage of a community," pointing to rising sea levels and Hurricane Dorian’s devastating impact on the Bahamas and potential to flood the southeast U.S. coast.
Most people can't afford flood insurance, especially in lower-income communities such as East Palo Alto, but the stormwater project will make it possible for many homes and businesses to be removed from federal flood designation so they won't need the insurance, Eshoo said.
Speier said that East Palo Alto is a city that has made many strides.
"EPA is rising," Speier said. "This rebuilt road will eliminate flooding and link the new cultural arts center and soon-to-be built offices with a beautiful new park by the bay. East Palo Alto is where opportunity thrives."
Leonard Smith, regional director at the Economic Development Administration, said the $4.4 million grant will be matched by $1.1 million in local funds. This funding goes to a designated Opportunity Zone, created by President Donald Trump's Tax Cuts and Jobs Act of 2017, to spur economic development by giving tax incentives to investors in economically distressed communities nationwide.
The funding builds on a $17 million grant the city received in June from the California Office of Emergency Services for a levee system along the San Francisco Bay to protect 1,500 buildings from flooding, City Manager Jaime Fontes said.