Development Threats on Jefferson Ridge
In 2021, the City of Benicia received two development proposals for Jefferson Ridge (District C)—the heart of the National Register-listed Benicia Arsenal Historic District.
One proposal would build 149 housing units and 2,000 square feet of commercial/retail space on Officers’ Row, including the assembly area between the Commanding Officer’s Quarters and the Lieutenant’s Quarters. A total of 13 three- and four-story structures would cover the ridge, blocking the defining water views from the historic Officers’ Row buildings and hiding these buildings from public view. The other proposal, for a site farther northwest on Jefferson Ridge, at 1451 Park Road near the Duplex Officers’ Quarters, would build 14 apartments in 2 two-story buildings incompatible with the scale and style of the historic single-family homes immediately west on Jefferson Street.
These projects would reserve 10% of these housing units as affordable housing—fewer than 20 units total for both projects—to qualify for fast-track approval under a new state law, California Senate Bill 35 (SB 35).
State Law and the Loss of Local Control
SB 35 requires that, as long as projects like these meet certain pre-determined standards, city staff must approve them, with no public review before the Planning Commission or City Council. No environmental review is allowed, and public comments that interfere with the approval are not permitted. The intent of these state requirements is to make housing permitting faster and more predictable.
SB 35 and other recent state laws take away almost all local control of these types of housing projects. Cities have only very limited ability to review and suggest changes to these projects. City staff’s review must be based on objective standards that do not allow for any subjective judgments or discretion.
Impacts on the Historic District
The grounds and views surrounding the four landmark structures on Officers' Row are character-defining features of Jefferson Ridge (District C). More than 150 years ago, the U.S. Army planned Officers’ Row to entice enlistees to make the army a career and provide their families with high-quality housing and a scenic environment. Developing eight acres of these grounds with 160 apartments in 15 separate buildings would destroy the authenticity of this historic landscape, and District C may no longer meet the criteria for listing in the National Register.
The clock is ticking. Help us preserve this historic treasure as a park for all to enjoy!
The City of Benicia zoning map legend
Development Opportunities in Benicia
State and Regional Housing Mandates
Like the rest of the Bay Area, Benicia is facing a shortage of housing, especially affordable housing. According to the latest Regional Housing Needs Allocation by the Association of Bay Area Governments (ABAG), Benicia must provide for 806 new housing units—about 40% of them affordable to very low- and low-income households—between 2023 and 2031. New state laws also increase the pressure on cities like Benicia to produce more housing.
Creative Planning to Meet Local Goals
These state and regional mandates are daunting and leave little room for local control. Creative planning will be needed to help Benicia meet its housing goals and also preserve the historic character that makes it such a special town.
The city can accommodate new housing on other sites that don’t threaten historic landmarks. The City of Benicia owns six acres of vacant land on London Circle that is zoned for multi-family housing and can accommodate 113 units. The City has initiated the Eastern Gateway Study, which is considering the establishment of a new mixed-use zone district to allow multi-family housing on 13.5 acres of the neighborhood centered on the intersection of Military East and East Fifth Street. Applying the City’s highest-density zoning would accommodate 284 housing units. The study is proposing high densities in this area.
The City of Benicia will soon update the Housing Element of its General Plan—a chance for a citywide look at possibilities for new housing development. The City is also updating its Parks, Trails & Open Space Master Plan which will plan for the new parks that new housing will need.
With innovative planning and a citywide vision for the future, Benicia can meet its housing needs without destroying precious resources like the National Register-listed Benicia Arsenal Historic District. Benicia can plan creatively to achieve housing goals and remain the city it wants to be, while still complying with regional and state mandates.
New housing will need access to parks. A park on Jefferson Ridge at Officers’ Row will not only preserve a National Register-listed historic district, but also provide much-needed parkland in an area that is inappropriate for housing. Help us encourage the City of Benicia to promote new housing that is close to services and that doesn’t threaten historic landmarks or eliminate important sites for new parks.
Valero’s refinery dock just east of the Clocktower
Valero refinery oil pipelines adjoining the historic district
Valero’s refinery dock just east of the Clocktower
Environmental Justice Issues
Environmental Justice and Environmental Hazards
New development, especially housing, in the Benicia Arsenal Historic District raises
important concerns about environmental justice, the principle that all residents, regardless of income, are entitled to a safe place to live, free of hazards and with equal access to parks and other amenities.
Jefferson Ridge—the heart of the historic district—is located within a former military installation where the army stored, tested, and maintained weapons for over 100 years. It adjoins the Port of Benicia, the Valero refinery port terminal facilities and operations, petroleum pipelines, and other industrial uses. These businesses are important to Benicia’s economic stability, but they involve activities that can be hazardous for residents. Siting housing here would subject residents to noise, light, vibration, hazardous materials, truck traffic, and air pollution that are part of industrial activity. Past uses of land in the lower Arsenal area within the historic district have left behind soil contamination and other hazards that are potentially dangerous. Adding housing to this area would make the area less viable for industry and create a liability for
the City of Benicia.
Access to Parkland
Access to parkland is another important environmental justice consideration. Even today, according to the city’s Park, Trails & Open Space Master Plan, the east side of Benicia doesn’t have enough parkland. Plans for more housing in the Eastern Gateway area and elsewhere on the east side will only increase the need for parks. The city cannot meet recreation and environmental justice goals without providing more parkland in this part of town.
Housing Impacts on Public Health and Safety
New state housing laws give cities the ability to deny housing projects that would have a specific, adverse impact on public health or safety. Given the location of Jefferson Ridge in a former military base and in a working port and industrial area, the City of Benicia should determine whether new housing developments proposed for Jefferson Ridge would have a specific, adverse impact on public health or safety.
A thorough investigation is needed to assess potential hazards left in the Arsenal by prior military uses, and a plan is needed for the appropriate level of cleanup. It is easier to clean up the Arsenal for a park than for housing.
A park on Jefferson Ridge will not only preserve a National Register-listed historic district, but also provide much-needed parkland in an area that is inappropriate for new housing.
Help us make Benicia Arsenal Park a reality! Tell the City to investigate the public health and safety issues in the Arsenal area that make it inappropriate for housing and better suited for parkland.
The “daisy walk” at Officers’ Row, early 1900s
The historic grounds of the Commanding Officer’s Quarters
A gathering at Officers’ Row
The pool and grounds of the Commanding Officer’s Quarters
An early view of Officers’ Row
An 1853 view of the Benicia Arsenal site
Heritage Tourism Opportunities
Benicia’s Heritage Tourism Goals
A park on Jefferson Ridge would boost the City of Benicia’s heritage tourism goals. A historical park at the Arsenal would also carry out a vision proposed by the State of California during the Arsenal’s closure in 1964.
In 2008, the City’s Strategic Tourism Marketing Plan identified the Benicia Arsenal as a key historic asset for increasing tourism. The Benicia Parks, Trails & Open Space Master Plan already recommends acquiring additional land around the Clocktower and Commanding Officer’s Quarters for an expanded park, which has the potential to accommodate an events center and other visitor-serving uses.
Benicia Arsenal Park: A Magnet for Heritage Tourism
A park on Jefferson Ridge would protect the open spaces of Officers’ Row and enhance this defining feature of the Arsenal Historic District. Landmark structures could accommodate a visitors’ center for people exploring Benicia, the Mare Island Historic District, and other places in the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta National Heritage Area, designated by the National Park Service in 2019 as the first National Heritage Area in California. A restored assembly area between the Commanding Officer’s Quarters and the Lieutenant’s Quarters, where an 80-foot-tall flag could once again fly over Jefferson Ridge, would provide a gathering place for public events.
Linkages could be developed to the adjacent Districts A, B, and D of the Arsenal Historic District, which include the City-owned Benicia Museum complex, Powder Magazine, and artist studios. A historic park would be a catalyst for further investment in the Arsenal Historic District.
Help us promote Benicia’s heritage tourism economy and make Benicia Arsenal Park a reality!