John Gatewood: Oakland is a Rust Belt City and what the Zoning Update can do about it

28 Oct

This guest post was written by John Gatewood, one of the co-founders of ULTRA (Urbanists for a Livable Temescal Rockridge Area), which supports higher density mixed-use development along the major transit corridors of north Oakland. John works in the Graphic Arts Industry and is a resident of Temescal.

Oakland is a rust belt city that just happens to be on the west coast. In some respects we have more in common with Detroit than we do with San Francisco. For example, our city is about 20% larger than San Francisco, so on a fundamental level we have greater infrastructure needs than SF – more miles of streets to maintain, greater amounts of parks and public spaces to maintain, greater fire and police protection needs, greater lengths of sewer and water service infrastructure to maintain, etc. Yet we have slightly less than half the population of SF and nowhere near the commercial and retail tax base that SF has. Furthermore, like Detroit, our industrial base has faded away over the decades. And according to the US Census Bureau American Community Survey estimates, our population today has dropped about 7% from what it was in the 2000 census. It is unsustainable how we have let Oakland develop over the last few decades.

As some of you know the city has finally started the Zoning Update for the commercial and residential areas of Oakland. This process should have started in 1998 when the city adopted its latest General Plan but, for a number of reasons, it did not. This lack of agreement between the General Plan and the Zoning is what has led to so many conflicts over new developments in Oakland. Our existing zoning is patchwork created over decades to respond to immediate concerns rather than long-term goals. The 1998 General Plan spells out where the city wants to focus growth in Oakland. To their credit the writers of the 1998 General Plan focused this “growth and change” on the major transit corridors in Oakland.

The Zoning Update is our opportunity to bring zoning, the details of what can be built where, in alignment with the vision of the General Plan. Updating the zoning to allow for the higher density envisioned in the General Plan will be one step in turning Oakland away from the path Detroit is on. Our city is at the heart of the East Bay. We already have the public transit infrastructure to support more residents using it. We were once a denser, more walkable city. We now need to update our land-use rules so that we can build higher density housing on our transit corridors to respond to how we live today so that we can rekindle the walkability and vibrancy we had 60 years ago.

Please come to the next zoning update community meetings scheduled for –

Saturday, November 7, 2009
10 am – noon
Peralta Elementary School
460 63rd St.

OR –

Thursday, November 12, 2009
6:00 – 8:00 p.m.
Fruitvale-San Antonio Senior Center
3301 E. 12 St., Suite 2001 (Meeting room is on the 2nd floor)

Find out more about the zoning update process at the City’s website.


2 Responses to “John Gatewood: Oakland is a Rust Belt City and what the Zoning Update can do about it”

  1. V Smoothe October 29, 2009 at 11:42 am #

    It is not correct to say that Oakland’s population has dropped since 2000. The ACS is a demographic sample, not a population estimate, as the disclaimer at the top of every ACS fact sheet clearly states.

    The official 2008 US Census population estimate for Oakland is 404,155, up from 399,484 in 2000.

    The California State Department of Finance, which more closely tracks year-to-year population changes, currently estimates Oakland’s population at something like 425,000.

  2. Mike d'Ocla October 29, 2009 at 1:57 pm #

    Excellent points John. Thanks for pointing them out. I will attend a zoning meeting. My concern is that zoning for higher density needs to have traffic calming requirements to make certain that the higher density allows for improved liveability in the denser areas. More density without i improved streetscapes will make Oakland less liveable than it is now.

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