A couple of weeks ago I wrote about the importance of Council committee meetings and explained what each of the committees do. I also mentioned that some committees are very powerful and their new membership could change the balance of power on important policy decisions. Tomorrow, Tuesday, February 22nd will be a good chance to see this in action at the Community and Economic Development (CED) committee meeting, as the committee discusses three important and exciting issues – one very controversial and two less so.
Height Limits on Telegraph, Broadway & San Pablo
Two weeks ago CED held a hearing on zoning but did not vote because there were concerns raised about the 60 foot height limits proposed for parts of Telegraph, Broadway and San Pablo. (You can see the zoning maps here but be warned that they’re confusing and a bit hard to read so take some time to look at them – don’t just glance or you’re likely to jump to the wrong conclusions.)
As I was preparing this blog post, I remembered one of the first blog posts I wrote, back in the summer of 2007 – Telegraph is Ready to Grow. Back then I barely understood zoning and was only starting to get hip to which groups were fighting for more growth (ULTRA) and which groups essentially wanted things to stay the same forever (STAND). But I still understood that a transit oriented corridor like Telegraph should have some taller buildings. For environmental and lifestyle reasons, it makes tons of sense to concentrate development near transit and services.
I could have easily written similar blog posts – “Broadway is Ready to Grow” and “San Pablo is Ready to Grow”. These three streets are all wide, have AC Transit trunk lines that run frequently and won’t be cut unless AC Transit disappears entirely, and have a growing amount of restaurants and retail. We need to be building up these corridors to meet our Association of Bay Area Governments (ABAG) housing requirements and to comply with SB 375.
Some people argued at the last CED hearing on zoning that we should just concentrate all tall buildings in downtown. Until we’ve fully developed downtown, they say, we should leave these other corridors short and similar to the heights they are today.
The problem with that argument is that many people who want to live near TOD amenities do not want to live downtown – people like me. I want to live near transit and in a somewhat dense neighborhood, but downtown is a bit too loud and too busy for me. I know many people (if not most) feel the same way. I love that depending which way I walk I can walk through quiet neighborhoods with a mix of single family housing, plenty of duplexes, and some apartment buildings or down Broadway, where more and more businesses are opening and I often run into people I know.
I went to a presentation a few weeks ago hosted by TransForm with planner Peter Calthorpe and his data showed that many people don’t want to live in hyper-urban areas like downtown. They also don’t want to live in the suburbs. The highest and most quickly growing demand is for compact, mixed use neighborhoods that have plenty of open space, single family homes, and quiet, but also have some tall buildings, plenty of retail, and transit. Broadway, San Pablo and Telegraph are the perfect places for these kinds of communities.
At the last meeting growth opponents outnumbered growth supporters so it’s important to attend or send emails in favor of smart growth. I’ll be there and I hope to see you there!
While some people are fighting growth on transit oriented corridors in North Oakland, the East Oakland community organizations and members that took part in the International TOD planning process seem to be embracing growth. I unfortunately didn’t make it to any of these planning meetings but heard a brief presentation about the plan at the Bicycle and Pedestrian Advisory Committee meeting last week. The plan is complex and one of the most holistic plans I’ve ever seen in Oakland. It takes on the usual issues, like focusing development near transit hubs, improving the physical appearance of the corridor, improving the pedestrian experience, and creating a comprehensive approach to parking. But it also aims to reduce crime, bring grocery stores to the neighborhoods, and create job opportunities.
The entire plan is very long and possibly too big to download, but there’s a good Powerpoint presentation available that touches on the main points of the plan. I’m guessing the passage of this plan will be mostly non-controversial since there seems to be wide-community support for it. However, funding the plan could be tricky, particularly if Jerry Brown is successful at dismantling redevelopment agencies. The plan includes I believe three different redevelopment areas, and was created with redevelopment funding in mind. The plan won’t be useless without redevelopment – it just will not be as fully implemented and its implementation will move more slowly.
You can read much more about the plan and planning process on CEDA’s website.
Remember that lot in between the Fox Theater and the Uptown apartments that the Redevelopment Agency wanted to turn into a parking lot but we fought to have it turned into a public arts space? Well, two years after we won that battle, the Public Arts department has a serious plan ready to develop the space by the end of this year. They received a $200,000 grant from the National Endowment for the Arts and have identified matching funds that were already dedicated to arts in the Central Business District.
Before going to the Planning Commission last Wednesday to finally defeat temporary conditional use permits (TCUPs) for surface parking lots (visit A Better Oakland for much more on that), I went to a special presentation on what’s planned for the lot, and it looks awesome! Sadly, the images in the staff report online are not so awesome so I’ve asked staff to send me some of the original images and once I have those I’ll write a full post about the plan.
For now though, I’ll say that for the relatively small amount of money the City is working with and the very short time line they have (the project must be constructed by December to receive the NEA grant), I’m pleased with the initial plan. Basically, they’re going to fence in about 2/3 of the lot with a much prettier, more durable fence than is there now and will surround the lot by art and pathways on three sides of the lot (South, East and West). The art and pathways will greatly enhance the pedestrian experience and will better connect the existing park with the rest of the neighborhood. There are also plans to hold events there a couple times month and to close off some of the surrounding blocks to car traffic during those events. The City is working closely with Black Rock Arts Foundation (yay!) on art for the space, and will be putting out a call for proposals.
All that’s needed for this project to move forward is for CED and the the Council to approve accepting the grant and allocating the existing matching funds (this is not a request for new funds – these funds are already dedicated for art). And this needs to happen ASAP to meet the NEA deadline so hopefully CED will approve this on Tuesday and send it quickly to Council.
Again, I’ll have much more on this very soon, including site maps and photos of some possible art (or art similar to the art the City will be looking for).
If you’d like to attend this meeting, it takes place Tuesday at 2pm in Hearing Room 1 in Oakland City Hall. You can also watch it on KTOP, either online or on TV. If you can’t make it but would like to weigh in on any of these issues, please email the committee members: firstname.lastname@example.org, email@example.com, firstname.lastname@example.org, email@example.com.
Councilmembers receive relatively few emails on committee items so an email now will make a much bigger impact than an email when the issues reach the full Council.