The Builder's Project Proposal
Trammell Crow has spent decades building a national reputation as a developer of industrial parks, office towers and shopping centers. In recent years they expanded to building logistics centers, another fancy term for distribution centers. Newer projects include The Oaks Logistics Center in Livermore, CA and the I-215 Logistics Center in Moreno Valley, CA, which became an Amazon Fulfillment Center in 2014.
Trammell Crow's San Francisco office began working with City of Morgan Hill almost one year prior to completing the land purchase on Cochrane Road in January 2019. We don’t have records of meetings that occurred before the purchase, but we imagine that city leaders were enamored with the developer’s promises of new jobs and increased tax revenue from their proposed development.
After competing with another developer for the same land, Trammell Crow paid $31 million for this 61-acre property. Only 19 days after purchase was complete, Trammell Crow filed a project application with the city, along with architectural renderings of plans for land use. The builder also requested an amendment to Morgan Hill’s General Plan, along with rezoning to a total of 57 acres of commercial/industrial (CI) use, to fully implement their plan.
Filed with the city as Morgan Hill Technology Park, this project name was misleading from the start. Living in Silicon Valley, we are very familiar with the concept of a tech campus. Merriam-Webster, the standard for dictionaries, provides an accurate definition:
Technology Park: an area where companies have offices and laboratories and do work involving science and technology
Trammell Crow's architectural plans do not resemble a technology park. Instead, it appears they are using this name as a creative marketing term to cover up a massive distribution center, similar to what they constructed in other parts of California and around the country. It might possibly be one of the largest in Northern California.
Apparently, the developer already had a good idea the project would be well received by our city leaders even before the land was purchased. The Statement of Project Justification, part of the application submitted right after the land was acquired, affirms this "We are very thankful for the support and enthusiasm to date."
The Statement of Project Justification further states,
"It is our intent to construct this project in a single phase and to start construction immediately upon receipt of necessary approvals. We believe market demand is substantial for this product and this location." This product? Start Construction Immediately? These are interesting details for a project proposal the builder and city insist is "only conceptual".
At the May Community Meeting, we asked Trammell Crow if this was intended for an Amazon Fulfillment Center, to which they responded, "there has been preliminary communication with potential tenants, nothing is concrete. Companies like to see construction in process. It gives them a time frame, and it gives them confidence that a development is moving forward.”
In July 2019, Trammell Crow was the featured speaker at the Morgan Hill Chamber of Commerce Economic Development meeting and provided an in-depth presentation of their proposal for the Morgan Hill Technology Park Project. Architectural drawings they submitted to the city represent exactly what they intend to build in Morgan Hill if rezoning is approved, up to 55-foot high buildings with 192 loading docks and 300 big rig trailer parking spaces!
The Livermore Project
Interestingly, we’ve learned that Trammell Crow played a similar bait-and-switch game in Livermore, telling the public their proposal for development was “intended to provide an environment exclusively for, and conducive to, the development of modern professional and administrative facilities, offices, research institutions, and manufacturing operations”. Sounds a lot like our technology park!
When Trammell Crow brought the project before the Livermore Planning Commission for approval, however, the wording had changed: “The purpose of this Planned Development is to provide an environment for, and conducive to, the development and production of modern, professional, and administrative facilities, research institutions, manufacturing operations, and related uses, including distribution facilities, all of a non-nuisance type.”
"Research Institutions" had morphed into "Distribution Facilities" with a few keystrokes and no public opposition. Of course, we all know how quiet these "non-nuisance" distribution facilities are! Trammell Crow also had to get a Conditional Use Permit to increase the allowed building height to 55 feet – the magic number we know all too well, based on the Morgan Hill project proposal.
Are these modern distribution centers now cut and paste developments for Trammell Crow?
The location of the Livermore development has major differences, however, compared to the Morgan Hill project. The Oaks Logistics Center in Livermore is in very close proximity to a regional airport, water treatment plant, and other industrial buildings. It is also accessed just off busy Highway 84, a wide 6-lane divided road within short distance of the I-580 interchange.
Closest neighbors to this center live in Livermore's Summerset area, across from Highway 84, also called Isabel Avenue. These homes are at least 800 feet from the nearest truck bay doors. On the other hand, residents in Morgan Hill's Westmont Senior Living Community would be much closer, only about 300 feet from loading docks. Complaints from Livermore residents about excessive noise are described like this: “when those doors get opened, sounds like giant trash dumpsters slamming into the ground”.
Builder Hires PR Firm and Begins Holding Private Meetings with Select Morgan Hill Citizens
Residents were outraged to find out in September that private meetings are being planned with only select citizens. Apparently Trammell Crow has hired public relations firm, Pipkin-Marsh Advisors (PMA), with Gary Marsh, Principal and “master storyteller”, to sway public opinion on this project.
The PMA website claims they will “develop an effective and INCLUSIVE outreach strategy designed to both inform and engage the community”. But at the same time, it asserts that “PMA provides community engagement and outreach services designed to produce favorable outcomes by influencing key constituents and community members.”
Hence the reason for these private meetings; PMA’s key strategy is to target the “movers and shakers” of Morgan Hill in the hopes they will influence others in the community and ultimately the developer can build whatever they want, regardless of the impact on our community.
PMA’s website further states, “We have consulted on several controversial and challenging projects in established neighborhoods... we use our people and communications skills to understand adversarial points of view, establish common ground and move people from neutral to favorable positions on proposed developments. We present the facts in the most favorable light with a goal of achieving a smooth approval process and project completion.”
Why Can't the Developer Give us a Better Solution for Morgan Hill?
Trammell Crow is aiming for maximum return on their $31 million property investment. Site designs on record with the City of Morgan Hill show nothing more than a distribution center. In recent meetings, however, Trammell Crow representatives have started talking about "advanced manufacturing", yet they have not provided new site plans to validate their claims. Unless it’s a boat, plane, or bus manufacturer, building specifications for advanced manufacturing are usually in the 32-35 ft height range. A much taller building, with extra "decorative" dock doors, would make climate control cost prohibitive for manufacturers.
We know that Trammell Crow has resources available to do another market analysis and find a better alternative for this land use than a distribution center - or the fancy name they use "logistics center". And while we do appreciate their creativity in designing buildings with butterfly art, possibly as a tribute to the Monarch butterflies that often follow the Hwy 101 corridor during annual migration, we'd like that butterfly art to grace office buildings, not distribution warehouses visited by thousands of big rig trucks each day. We want these buildings to be full of human workers, not robots, who take lunch at nearby eateries and run errands at local retail stores. We hope these workers choose to buy homes in Morgan Hill to reduce their commute times and to raise their families here in a healthy and family-friendly environment. We believe this solution is the perfect example of responsible growth for our City of Morgan Hill.