Explaining Construction in the Produce Market and Waterfront Warehouse Districts

It’s sort of a mess out there with major PG&E and other construction projects temporarily upending the neighborhoods.


Photo by Lance Yamamoto

Oakland’s Produce Market District ordinarily bustles mightily in the predawn hours and shuts down by noon. Likewise, the adjacent Waterfront Warehouse District typically is quiet and sleepy all day. But lately they are beehives of activity from dawn to dusk.

Detour signs block intersections. Construction workers in bright orange vests emblazoned with “B.A.T.S.” — for Bay Area Traffic Solutions — swarm around a giant gash in the ground that stretches from Harrison Street to Broadway along Third Street. A cacophony of machinery fills the air. Rows of empty parking spots with “No Parking — Tow Away Zone” signs frustrate patrons circling around the epicenter of the construction. Deep blue signs, sometimes hidden behind the detour signs, remind pedestrians and motorists that local businesses are still open for business. Welcome to the construction zone.

In April, Pacific Gas & Electric broke ground to replace underground gas pipelines in the produce and warehouse areas, as well as similar pipelines in the Jingletown/Fruitvale and Coliseum neighborhoods. For the produce and warehouse districts, the energy company is installing a pipeline that is more resistant to corrosion and seismic activity in a $139.6 million replacement project that also includes constructing an underground gas regulator to allow remote regulation from San Ramon. The project is on schedule to finish in December 2018. It coincides with ambitious housing and mixed-use development construction underway in the area that has construction crews and cranes busy daily.

The pipeline construction occurs along Third Street, Oak Street, and Embarcadero West and includes installation of a 24-inch diameter line in trenches of varying depths according to location and other underground utilities in the area. Part of a larger plan that has already replaced more than 200 miles of pipelines in Northern California, the project will also install Pipeline Inspection Gauges in the pipes. PIGs identify the precise location of any anomalies, such as corrosion or metal loss, so PG&E can send inspection crews to remedy the problems. The information can be shared with PG&E’s gas control center in San Ramon, which monitors its natural gas system across a 70,000-square-mile service area.

Tamar Sarkissian, an East Bay spokesperson for PG&E, said two pipelines that hold different pressured gases meet at the current regulator station at Market and First streets, where the pressure and volume levels are equalized in a third pipe that heads north and goes through Berkeley, Emeryville, Richmond, and San Pablo. A new, more modern underground regulator station will be installed at Second and Brush streets.

“The new regulator station will also allow us to have increased visibility and monitoring capabilities from our state-of-the-art gas control center,” she said. The new regulator station has remote-controlled valves for each of the three lines, which will allow PG&E to respond better to any arising public safety concerns.

To keep the neighborhood informed of PG&E’s progress and what to expect during construction, Evelyn Soto, a project manager for Craig Communications, has been making the rounds, meeting with local businesses owners, neighborhood residents, and area workers, explaining in person what people can expect during construction. PG&E also hosted several open houses in each neighborhood before the construction and distributes weekly updates about the project. 

One thing people may notice, for instance, is there may be a small release of natural gas at the construction sites during the gas venting, Sarkissian said, adding, “People will hear a loud, steady noise and notice the smell of gas.” People can report any problems they have with this venting; Sarkissian said PG&E had not received any complaints so far.

Residents and business owners may also notice vibrations from the construction, she said. A result of construction workers installing sheet piles to perform work by hand or weld pipe, these vibrations may last from a few minutes to an hour, Sarkissian said.

Because the construction has disrupted traffic and parking in the area and will be problematic for so long, PG&E has added blue signs along the road to direct customers into local businesses. Some businesses, such as neighborhood wine shop minimo and mailing center Jack London Mail, have erected their own sandwich boards advertising their services and that they are open during construction.

“Community outreach has been an essential part of this project,” Sarkissian said, explaining that construction hours have been delayed to accommodate the produce businesses that operate early in the morning.

“The construction has not been a problem for us,” said David Nunez, manager of Gold Bear Produce. 

Sean Maher, public information officer for the Oakland’s public works and transportation departments, said, however, the city has received several complaints from members of the Jack London Improvement District regarding the construction on Saturdays between Broadway and Franklin. After coordinating with the district and PG&E, the city allowed PG&E to add a second crew to its weekday operations to avoid Saturday construction.

One business, Oakland Grill, has experienced a dip in business when construction occurs from 7 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. Monday through Saturday, its busiest hours. General Manager Grace Seo said fewer customers were coming in initially, when the construction started, but as they grow used to it, “People are finding ways around it,” she said.

“We also can’t open the door because the construction is loud,” Seo said, “but then it gets hot inside.”

Affected residents, visitors, and business owners are maneuvering their way around all the construction hassle, but the neighborhood’s return to normal appeals to all.

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