Category Archives: Benicia

Menacing threat to Vallejo (and Benicia): Greenland’s rapidly shrinking ‘zombie ice’

Brendan Riley’s Solano Chronicles: Vallejo’s shoreline threatened by zombie ice

Flooding around the old Times-Herald and News-Chronicle building in 1967 on what’s now Curtola Parkway could occur again there and elsewhere in Vallejo without safeguards against predicted sea rise. (Vallejo Naval and Historical Museum files)

Vallejo Times-Herald, Sept 11, 2022

Efforts to extend the shorelines of Vallejo and now-closed Mare Island Naval Shipyard, just across the Napa River, transformed bay and river waters into thousands of acres of low-lying land. But those efforts that spanned more than a century are threatened by “zombie ice” and other effects of global warming.

A new study, published Aug. 29 in the journal Nature Climate Change, describes part of Greenland’s rapidly shrinking ice sheet as zombie ice because it’s doomed to melt. The study says that by 2100 the melting ice sheet, no longer being replenished by glaciers getting less snow, will raise global sea levels a minimum of 10 inches and possibly as much as 2 ½ feet.

The sea rise from the Greenland ice sheet would be in addition to other Arctic and Antarctic ice melting due to global warming. Other documents, including a National Academy of Sciences report and a current State Sea-Level Rise Action Plan, warn that ice melt from all sources could cause two or more feet of sea rise on the West Coast as early as 2050 and five to six feet of rise by 2100.

Vallejo was part of a 2018 sea-rise study by a group called Resilient by Design. The study included an interactive risk-zone map on the Internet at that shows the impact of rising levels. That easy-to-use link is available to anyone interested in seeing how our area would be impacted by varying amounts of sea rise.

The Resilient by Design link indicates that a foot of sea rise, without new levees, seawalls or other barriers, would flood a large strip of Vallejo’s Riverfront Park, along Wilson Avenue north of Tennessee Street. On Mare Island, part of its southwest tip would be underwater. Flooding also would occur on marshy land to the north, adjacent to State Route 37 and Dutchman Slough; and on SR37 near Black Point, several miles west of Vallejo.

Without protective barriers, a five-foot rise in the tideline would cause temporary or permanent flooding on most of SR37 (Sears Point Road) between Vallejo and Novato to the west. Much of the Mare Island fill land would be affected, including parts of Nimitz Avenue in the shipyard’s historic core.

In Vallejo, a long stretch of Mare Island Way and part of Curtola Parkway could flood. That would affect the municipal marina, Vallejo Yacht Club, a former State Farm Insurance building proposed as a new Police Department, the Ferry Building, Independence Park and the city boat launch area. Many locations to the south also could flood, including the city’s sewage treatment plant, Kiewit Pacific and the old Sperry Mill site.

Those projected flood zones would affect most, if not all, of the Vallejo and Mare Island shorelines that were expanded starting in the 1850s. Old navigation charts show the Navy, which opened its first West Coast shipyard in 1854, quickly filled in a strip of marshland along the river and constructed a seawall or quay where ships could tie up.

Expansion of Mare Island continued for decades, resulting in the shipyard increasing from less than 1,000 acres to its estimated 5,600 acres today. The new land was formed all the way around the island mainly by dredged mud from Mare Island Strait, the renamed stretch of the Napa River between the island and Vallejo, and by fill that was imported or obtained by digging into original higher ground on the island. Some of the new land is designated as marsh or tideland, but at least half of the new acreage has streets and roads and was used for all types of Navy shipyard activity.

On the Vallejo side, expansion into the Mare Island Strait added nearly 500 acres along the waterfront. The projects included one in the early 1900s that filled in a wide section of river that once separated Vallejo from South Vallejo.

The new land was formed by establishing a barrier that ran straight from the city boat ramp area almost to Lemon Street in South Vallejo. Mud dredged from the river on the west side of the barrier, or bulwark, was then pumped into what once had been navigable water and tideland on the other side.

The dredge-and-fill process that began on a large scale in 1913 took several years, creating more land and more direct road links between the two communities. Present-day Sonoma Boulevard between Curtola Parkway and Lemon Street would not exist without this project. The same goes for the sewage plant, Kiewit and many other businesses.

Without all the fill, you could anchor a boat at the present-day location of Anchor Self Storage on Sonoma Boulevard. The river reached what’s now Curtola Parkway on the north, and spread as far east as Fifth Street, where it turned into a marshy connection to Lake Dalwigk. On the south side, the railroad tracks that cross Fifth Street near Solano Avenue once ran along the water’s edge to the old Sperry Mill area.

More acreage was added to Vallejo’s shoreline in the 1940s near the Mare Island causeway, and in the 1960s as part of a massive redevelopment project that resulted in Vallejo’s entire Lower Georgia Street business district being bulldozed. Many longtime Vallejoans can remember walking out on a pier over tideland to board ferries that ran to Mare Island. That tideland is now the seawall area where people can park cars, take a ferryboat to San Francisco, have a drink or dine out, or go for a stroll.

Before redevelopment, the original Vallejo Yacht Club building stood in the same location as the current building – but on pilings over tideland. Much of the fill dirt for this waterfront extension came from Vallejo’s historic York Street Hill – the site of California’s Capitol in 1852 and 1853. The hill was scraped flat and trucked to the nearby riverfront.

In addition to the shoreline work, nearly 500 acres of usable land were formed by levees and fill in a marshy area where Larwin Plaza, now Vallejo Plaza, was built in 1960, along Sonoma Boulevard on the north side of Vallejo. White Slough, which flows into the Napa River, is on the edge of this shopping center. Traces of the marsh once extended nearly to Tennessee Street, several blocks to the south.

Brendan Riley — Vallejo and other Solano County communities are treasure troves of early-day California history. My Solano Chronicles column, running every other Sunday, highlights various aspects of that history. If you have local stories or photos to share, message me on Facebook.

President Lincoln’s Historic Benicia Arsenal in Peril – Former Mayor Elizabeth Patterson

[Excellent background here on why oppose current plans for new construction in Benicia’s historic Arsenal District.  To sign a petition in support of a lawsuit to stop the plan, see “Help Us Appeal the City’s Approval of these projects!” on  For additional background and photos, see “YES! Benicia Arsenal Park“.   Earlier stories on BenIndy see below– R.S.]

New efforts to save our National Treasure


Benicia, California

August 3, 2022

One woman is responsible for listing most of the historic structures in the Historic Arsenal of Benicia. Ms. Wold, a graduate of University of California at Berkeley (UCB), recognized that the city leaders in 1965 were focused on surviving the Army’s closure of the Arsenal and loss of jobs and business.  Therefore Ms. Wold filled out the forms – around 90 – and got the historic structures listed. State Parks and Recreation was interested in establishing a State Park for the mostly early portion of barracks, garrison, officer quarters, infirmary and enclave of Civil War Era buildings. President Lincoln commissioned the garrison and barracks – about 120 acres – to ensure Union presence to prevent Confederate efforts to make California a slave state. Think about that.

But the city leaders showed little interest in the history and even did a land swap that put many historic structures at risk. Witness the demolition of the 1860s Foundry and Pacific Mail Steamship company office building just three years ago. While Mayor I used my office as a bully pulpit for saving or at least respecting these structures as the last tangible evidence of the first industrial site in California. It was a struggle. At least the city was able to negotiate a settlement price with Amports that will help preserve other historic structures. But none on the list are the first industrial buildings.  Gone. Part of the settlement was to develop a “demolition by neglect ordinance” – an ordinance to prevent intentional or neglect and then seek a demolition permit to tear down. I don’t have the exact numbers but we are talking about more than 20 or so historic structures demolished by this strategy.

The city brushed off the State’s proposal for a State Park and embarked on permitting industrial and commercial development with no master plan, limited infrastructure improvement and legacy problems of pollution that range from monitoring to major cleanup or mitigation – in 2003 dollars about $50 million that ultimately was reimbursed to the developers by the Army. Yep. The United States Army left stuff that could be catastrophic. Some areas can never be safe and that is why we have a few open spaces with trails and not homes.

In the early 2000s there was a “McMansion”* proposal of 16 large, expensive homes for the Historic District C – between the Commanding Officers’ Quarters and Jefferson Mansion and the open space and parade grounds. The city council certified a report that declared there was no environmental impact and approved the project. No impact to the President Lincoln commissioned Arsenal. No impact to the historic parade ground and oak trees planted like sentinel soldiers to guard the Civil War enclave.  A large and passionate group organized, sued the city for failure to asses the impacts and also gathered signatures for a referendum on the city council approval. The applicant and city settled with us and we put the money toward beginning restoration of the Commanding Officers’ Quarters where Arts Benicia is now. 

The Secretary of the Interior and the State Office of Historic Preservation have written in the past that too many new structures will impact the historic integrity of the district. It may be removed from the National Register.  President Lincoln’s commissioned Arsenal – removed from the National listing because the city leaders acquiesce to misguided state legislation that the city interprets in a manner that favors the applicants.

Here are the links to the appeals filed by Benicia Arsenal Park Task Force and Benicia Arsenal Defense.

*In suburban communities, McMansion is a pejorative term for a large “mass-produced” dwelling marketed to the upper middle class.

P.S The first link is one appeal and the second link is the other appeal – just can’t make a link work for two documents. I hope you read them. They are short.

See earlier on BenIndy:

Housing in Benicia – Former Mayor Elizabeth Patterson

[Editor: Benicia’s housing needs, California regulatory requirements and regulations, and potential locations for new housing in Benicia are now being debated among residents and at our Planning Commission and City Council.  The issues are complex and opinion is divided among friends and colleagues. See also perspective by current Benicia Mayor Steve Young. – R.S.]

The Mayor and Council can do better than this


Benicia, California

July 25, 2022

The Mayor and Council can do better than this. “This” is the draft Housing Element.

Their sworn duty is to make decisions based on public health safety and welfare. They are to uphold the laws of the city including the general plan.

The draft housing element is part of the state mandated seven elements plus optional elements of the general plan. One optional element of the general plan is economic development. The highest and best use of the historic districts is to foster and support economic activities such as historic museums, parks and commercial uses. The draft housing element proposes to have multifamily housing in historic districts on the National Register – that is a big deal. The reason Jefferson Ridge (Park Road and Jefferson Street) is on this prestigious list is because it is the only presidio commissioned by President Lincoln to establish a union Army presence in California to prevent the pro slavery counties and confederates from pushing California into a slave holding state. That too is a big deal. The only one in California. The only one by President Lincoln. The only one in the West that is intact and complete. The only one.

On its own this treasure should be protected, championed, and developed for visitors to marvel at this one-of-a-kind Civil War Era enclave protecting California from becoming a slave state.

But there is more. Not only is this site of such rare qualities it is also smack dab in the vicinity (less than a thousand feet) of oil pipelines and a full port of shipping fossil fuel oil and products. These things can blow up. They also catch on fire. We just had one. A prudent Mayor and council would NOT put people – mothers, fathers, children – to live so close to such places. How will they shelter in place? How will they evacuate? How will they have less polluted air than is currently in that area? How will children not venture into these wonderfully complex and dangerous places for the excitement of risk?

And then there is the doctrine “when in a hole, stop digging”. The city can’t maintain the roads, sidewalks, trees, water lines, parks without more revenue. This council wants us to vote on another general sales tax to help pay for these things. The use of the historic districts that are far from walkable distance and little to zero services will require all that new and improved infrastructure to be maintained. But property taxes only go up 2% a year versus the cost of everything else which is at least 3% and right now at 9%. Don’t keep digging.

And we all agree that we need affordable housing – although the proposed Arsenal projects are only providing 10% of all the units– a shamefully low percentage. And the reason that housing is not affordable in most communities is the cost of land. And the cost of land is driven by investors who want the low capital gains tax at 14% to make their profits. The cost of land is disconnected from the marketplace. The only market for land is with the investors and developers. Wages have not kept pace with the inflationary value of investor-owned land. You can’t solve problems if you don’t focus on the root of the problem.

Nonetheless the state in service to the land investors and the good intention of others is mandating that California cities and counties provide for more new development. It seems regardless of the other state mandates to reduce greenhouse gases, reduce vehicle miles traveled and achieve clean air and save 20% on water use – just “build baby build”.

Can we meet the state mandate to provide opportunities for housing based on the state’s standards – Regional Housing Needs Assessment? Yes. The city staff and consultants have identified more than enough without residential in the Arsenal historic district. The Mayor and council can have their good intentions for housing AND protect the Arsenal. Will they? Tune in or show up this Tuesday the 26th at 6:00 PM at city hall. Share your thoughts and recommendations.

Attached is a comment letter for the July 26, 2022 City Council/Planning Commission joint study session on the Public Review Draft Housing Element. Please forward it to City Council members and Planning Commissioners. Continue reading Housing in Benicia – Former Mayor Elizabeth Patterson

Housing in Benicia – Mayor Steve Young

[Editor: Benicia’s housing needs, California regulatory requirements and regulations, and potential locations for new housing in Benicia are now being debated among residents and at our Planning Commission and City Council.  The issues are complex and opinion is divided among friends and colleagues.  See also perspective by former Benicia Mayor Elizabeth Patterson.  – R.S.]

Mayor Young addresses housing issues

July 24, 2022

Steve Young, Benicia Mayor

I am writing this in response to the article printed in the Herald on July 20, [and here on the BenIndy, “Let’s Have an East-Side City park in the Historic Benicia Arsenal !“] as well as the many letters the Council has received relative to the possibility of rezoning a portion of two open space sites in Southampton for housing.

I first want to acknowledge the passion and intensity of the concerns expressed by a number of people about the City’s effort to complete the Housing Element in compliance with State law.  An engaged citizenry is crucial to the Council’s ability to make the best decisions while fulfilling our legal obligations.

On the Jefferson Ridge and Park Rd. projects, I think it is misleading at best to say that the City staff will “allow” the development of Jefferson Ridge or the apartments on Park Rd. under “ministerial discretion”. The City is not “planning to develop” these housing projects. The headline is also misleading (“Benicia moving to build apartment complexes”). Some fact checking is in order.

SB 35 specifically says that the City cannot exercise ANY discretion in this matter, as long as the project meets minimum affordability requirements (10%) and the city’s adopted Objective Design Standards. The project was initially rejected staff for not meeting those requirements, but  adjustments have been made and a decision on compliance with the design standards is  expected shortly.

This is not a project I would support in this location if I had the option to do so.  But the fact we cannot make any discretionary decisions means that there will be no hearings at the Planning Commission or City Council and no EIR. That is what the law requires, and we intend to follow the law – even in this case where we disagree openly with it.

SB35 is not a good law, and was opposed by me and the League of California Cities. The Legislature, however, believed that cities were one of the chief reasons that housing was not getting built in California. And there is some validity to that belief.

In suburban communities all over California, there have been only a relative handful of multi-family projects approved for a variety of reasons.  This has led directly to a variety of ill effects: increasing homelessness, longer commutes, increasing greenhouse gases, the inability of children to continue living in towns they grew up in, and few housing options for lower paid workers and seniors on fixed incomes.

I made a special trip to SF several months ago to meet with the author of SB 35, Sen. Scott Wiener, to argue that the Legislature ought to amend the law to exempt historic districts, like the Arsenal, from the blanket allowance of housing without local discretion. He waved off my objections dismissively and, despite my career in the field of affordable housing development, classified me as just another small town Mayor who has led the opposition to housing. Continue reading Housing in Benicia – Mayor Steve Young