Staff report on temporary conditional use permits ignores concerns of Planning Commission

19 Jan

Update: The Planning Commission hearing on temporary conditional use permits for surface parking lots has been delayed to February 2nd so please put that on your calendar. If you go tonight, you can still speak on the issue, but there will be no hearing on it.

If you’re on Twitter, you probably saw via @vsmoothe that staff took forever to get the staff report up on the temporary conditional use permits (TCUPs) for surface parking lots that is going before the Planning Commission tonight. Emails were sent, calls were made, but still the staff reports weren’t posted, even though by law they’re required to be available 72 hours in advance of the meeting. Finally, 25 hours before the meeting, the report was posted.

Since it took so long, you might have guessed that staff would have written a report that answered all the questions brought up by planning commissioners and the public, considering how skeptical many of the commissioners were when this came up in October. Well, if you guessed that, you would be wrong.

I read a fair amount of staff reports, and am used to sometimes disagreeing with the recommendations in these reports. Like with the Oakland Airport Connector, I vehemently disagreed with most of the BART, MTC and Port Commission staff reports. But with those OAC reports, I could tell that staff had spent much time and energy on them. They had woven complex tales, which though based on fantasy, half-truths, and misleading information, at least attempted to answer concerns that had been raised.

This “new” TCUP report doesn’t even bother to do that. It’s largely the same as the report issued by staff in October, except that it goes to lengths to explain that this would be an 18 month trial program. That might sound like a big change at first, but it’s really not when you consider that the TCUPs issued for the surface parking lots would be for four years. This means that even if this “trial” program was not deemed successful and was not continued, we would be stuck with surface parking lots downtown for anywhere from four to five and a half years from the beginning of the trial.

Yes, five and a half years from now, when hopefully the economy will have recovered and gas will cost who knows how much more than today, we’ll still be stuck with parking lots from a “trial” 18 month program. I don’t know about you, but that doesn’t sound like much of a trial to me.

Even worse, staff barely touches on the concerns planning commissioners brought up at the October hearing. Probably a dozen different questions were asked of staff by the commissioners, yet the report only lists four and explains that the rest of the questions or concerns had already been raised previously by the zoning update committee (ZUC) months before. Except that if the commissioners were asking these same things again, maybe it was because they felt like their concerns hadn’t been addressed in the previous staff reports. Oh well, I guess we’ll probably never get responses to those issues.

As for four of the issues raised that staff did bother to address, they gave basically the same answer for two of them. Unfortunately, it’s not possible to cut and paste from the report and with so little lead time before the meeting, I can’t copy the text verbatim, but you can read the brief answers on page 9 of the report. In short, planning commissioners asked that options be narrowed and that the program have an end date. Staff responds to both talking about the 18 month trial period, which is apparently their solution to all problems.

A commissioner had also asked if a similar approach had worked in San Francisco. Staff’s answer – San Francisco hasn’t started the program yet. So the one city where they found something similar can’t be looked to for any answers.

Another commissioner asked to exclude surface parking lots from TCUPs. Staff’s response – “Staff has retained surface parking in the proposal as this is the primary interest expressed  by interested parties for the TCUP process.” My translation of staff’s answer – the only thing we’ll ever issue TCUPs for is surface parking because all the other examples we bring up in this report (a clothing store using a neighboring lot to sell clothes and legal survices provided out of a shipping container) are totally preposterous.

I wish I had time to dig deeper into this report, but as I’m using my work break to finish this up, I have no time left. Maybe if the report had been issued days ago, as it should have, I could share more of this terrible, thrown together report. A Better Oakland also has a blog up on this report, so go there for more cringe worthy details.

And please email the Planning Commission (contact info below) and/or speak tonight. The meeting starts at 6pm at Oakland City Hall, Hearing Room 1. It’s hard to say when the item will come up so your best bet is to arrive close to 6pm.

Planning Commission Contact Info:

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11 Responses to “Staff report on temporary conditional use permits ignores concerns of Planning Commission”

  1. Hometown grrl January 19, 2011 at 2:58 pm #

    Actually, the legal services are not as preposterous as it seems. Legal, tax and mobile healthcare are the types of services that you can provide on a temp basis from a shipping container.

    • Becks January 19, 2011 at 3:00 pm #

      Seriously though, would you want to go to a shipping container in a downtown lot for any of those services? It sounds creepy.

      • Hometown grrl January 19, 2011 at 6:27 pm #

        Shipping container may be the wrong terminology but it is basically the same type of box you find at a construction site for temporary offices.

        You might find these type of boxes at new home construction. When I first read shipping container, it seemed odd, but then I took a more expansive view as to what they were trying to do and it made more sense.

      • Hometown grrl January 19, 2011 at 6:35 pm #

        These crates are often used in poorer communities to bring vital services. The HIV testers use these containers for testing purposes. You may have seen the one on the Home Depot lot.

        • V Smoothe January 20, 2011 at 8:55 am #

          The reason you sometimes see social services in these types of containers is because they are portable, and can therefore be used to serve many different neighborhoods without the trouble of constantly setting up and moving an office. But that has nothing to do with TCUPs.

          The TCUPs are four year permits. There is absolutely no logical reason anyone would need to use a shipping container to provide services for four entire years. That’s almost as long as the standard commercial lease.

        • Hometown grrl January 20, 2011 at 11:46 am #

          I am not assuming a literal interpretation. I am thinking more in the lines that it may be there a couple days a month. I don’t spend a lot of time reading the code for every permissible usage. I just assumed that legal offices in a truck on a parking lot was not regularly permissible.

          And why a couple days a month – because these are the type of businesses that are not making money and would prefer that the space be donated. Donating space would be inconsistent with cost recovery interest.

        • V Smoothe January 20, 2011 at 3:21 pm #

          The kind of use you’re referring to is the sort of thing that would be covered by a special event permit, not a TCUP.

        • Hometown grrl January 20, 2011 at 5:19 pm #

          In that case, absent the sale of residential property in a new development, I have no idea why would want a storage container for extended period of time. I only anticipated temporary periodic uses – maybe a couple weekends, maybe a few months before school starts, or traveling worship service but never did I envision one container hanging out for years on end.

  2. V Smoothe January 19, 2011 at 3:13 pm #

    I have just been informed that this item will be delayed until February 2nd due to the noticing issue with the reports. So if you wanted to go, but couldn’t tonight, now you can plan ahead!

    • Hometown grrl January 19, 2011 at 6:36 pm #

      Now a date certain – February 16!

  3. Naomi Schiff January 19, 2011 at 9:11 pm #

    Becks, thank you for this post. Keep up the good work!

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