Yesterday, after hearing from nine advocates who opposed the surface parking lot and two business owners that supported it, the Community and Economic Development (CED) Committee voted 3-0 (with Ignacio De La Fuente absent) to approve the surface parking lot in Uptown. The meeting was a bit maddening, but our efforts were not a failure, and there will still be at least two more opportunities to amend this project.
Before jumping into the frustrating comments from the committee members and business owners, I want to thank everyone who emailed them about the surface parking lot. Your emails were mentioned several times during the meeting. And I want to especially thank those who spoke so eloquently at the meeting – we came together as a community, and it was inspiring to see the blogoaksphere speak out with a unified voice. So thanks.
Unfortunately, we were no match for the Uptown business interests. They wanted a parking lot, and that’s what they got (for now). During the hearing, Melissa Fitzgerald from the Oakland Ice Center and Greg Perloff from Another Planet Entertainment (which operates the Fox), spoke out in support of the lot. Normally I can respectfully disagree with opponents on issues, but their arguments were absurd!
Fitzgerald claimed that on nights that the Fox had shows, admission at the Ice Center was way down because people couldn’t find street parking. She made the argument that if people didn’t find a spot immediately, they’d just leave. You know, because there are tons of other places in the East Bay to go ice skating that have ample parking. Really, this argument makes little sense – there are tons of lots in the area and it’s the Ice Center’s job to educate its patrons about parking and transit options.
Perloff made even less sense. He complained that the Fox’s patrons were having a hard time finding parking and that the Fox feared that for new patrons, “if you blow it the first time, you blow it forever.” When pressed by Larry Reid though, Perloff joyfully stated that attendance is “better than we’ve ever imagined” and that 80-90% of the shows have sold out. So yeah, clearly people are so fed up with parking that they’ll never come back to the Fox. And yet neither Perloff nor the committee members seemed to realize how absurd his argument was.
The statements by Fitzgeral and Perloff were not the most maddening of the afternoon because we expected as much from them. After all, the only reason they want this lot is for employee parking (with 120 spaces at most, those are the only people this lot will serve) so they’re going to say what they need to to get it approved. The statements made by the committee members, who are supposed to be looking out for all Oaklanders and not just business owners, were what made me so frustrated.
Jane Brunner spoke first, proposing a “compromise” that is really no compromise at all. She started talking about how the farmers market at the Claremont DMV parking lot is so great (and I agree because I go there nearly every Sunday) and how we should replicate that in Uptown. Brunner said she supports the lot but would vote for it only if they reserved a day for a market. “That’s a solution,” she said. Um, really? That is not a solution. First, that only covers up the blight of the parking lot for a partial day per week and only mitigates the traffic impacts during those few hours. Second, the area is already saturated with farmers markets – Friday in Old Oakland, Saturday at Lake Merritt, and Sunday in Jack London Square. A farmers market in Uptown right now would either fail or significantly hurt the other markets in the area. Further, as Brunner admitted, it took two years for the Temescal farmers market to really catch on and become a vibrant market. Great, so by the time this Uptown market becomes popular, it will have to be shut down or moved so Forest City can build condos.
Pat Kernighan followed. She said that she had given this a lot of thought and had read the blogs, comments, and emails that claimed this was a step backwards. But she hadn’t seen any viable use that would be better than a parking lot. Wow. This comment made me want to explode. What Kernighan was suggesting is that it is our (bloggers and blog readers) responsibility to come up with detailed proposals for alternatives for this lot! Yet she didn’t seem to be concerned that the committee had directed Redevelopment Agency (RDA) staff to come up with alternative proposals and they came back with nothing. Yeah, you read that correctly. Paid staff comes up with no alternatives, so it’s up to us to develop alternatives. If one of us had come up with a business plan for a mini-golf course (which she mentioned) or a sculpture garden, then maybe we’d be having a different discussion. I cannot tell you how ridiculous I think this expectation is, though I suspect that it was just an excuse to vote for the lot and that even if we had developed detailed proposals, they would have been shot down.
OK, done with that rant and on to the positive aspects of the meeting. Even though the CED committee unanimously voted to approve the parking lot, our emails and comments had an incredible effect on their thinking and discussions about Uptown parking and transit. All three committee members had questions about keeping the surrounding lots open later, creating better signage for parking lots and BART, and providing more lighting. So they’ve directed staff to look into this and hopefully will make some improvements to wayfinding in Uptown. This in itself is a huge win because the big problem on Fox show nights is not lack of parking but cars circling in attempts to find parking because out of towners don’t know where to look.
And there’s more good news – we still have at least two more chances to amend this project. The full City Council will be hearing this item, likely next Tuesday. And after that, the parking lot needs to get a conditional use permit from the planning commission. I’ll be sure to post the meeting information here and will ask you to send just a few more emails (you can resend the ones you’ve already written) and to appear just a couple more times. This fight is not over, and advocate are not willing to concede defeat. Thanks again to everyone who’s helped so far, and please look out for future alerts.
Check out Future Oakland for another take on the hearing and the structural causes of the committee’s decision.