Zoning, TOD & art planning decisions at Oakland CED meeting tomorrow

21 Feb

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.

Commercial & Residential Zoning Amendments

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!

International Boulevard Transit-Oriented Development

Internatonal TOD Map

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.

Art Installation – 19th and Telegraph Avenue

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: jbrunner@oaklandnet.com, pkernighan@oaklandnet.com, nnadel@oaklandnet.com, idelafuente@oaklandnet.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.

9 Responses to “Zoning, TOD & art planning decisions at Oakland CED meeting tomorrow”

  1. len raphael February 21, 2011 at 9:18 pm #

    B, you’re preference for living in an area less dense than a fully populated DTO is shared by many people.

    They didn’t and don’t move to North Oakland, Temescal, Lower Rockridge from SF because they really wanted to live in DTO or near Lake Merritt. (true, many of them wanted to live in Berkeley but it was too expensive).

    Nor did they want to live in suburbia ultra low density. When you walk around temescal (and don’t have to worry about getting mugged the way you in higher density DTO or Lake Merritt) look behind many of the single family homes and you will see another SFR or duplex on the same lot. Not exactly what Max called “suburban” living.

    Nominal 45 height limits when fully built out, including not very hard to get state mandated density bonuses plus a variance or two will easily result in a density approaching much of SF popular vibrant areas.

    I call it the “kill the golden goose” real estate syndrome. The residents and developers of the first few taller buildings in a lower density neighborhood enjoy the best of higher density adjacent to lower density. Then as normal turnover, growth, and an earthquake you get
    the transformation into solid blocks of somewhat scaled down Uptowns or the building on Bway and Grand.

    The future buildings along Bway and Tele are not going to be like the ones in Paris that line broad streets there, with beautiful detailing and zillions of trees in front of them. if one could zone for those I’d feel differently about the result of merely boostering high density.

    -len raphael

    • Noah February 23, 2011 at 10:43 am #

      Len: get some sleep and then head down to the Uptown for a nice dinner and a show! You can take the 51.

  2. John Gatewood February 22, 2011 at 11:45 pm #

    You got your wish today, Len, at CED committee meeting. It be nice of just once, you had actual real data to back up your assertions. But you don’t and you won’t because the data doesn’t support it. Look at SF. Did all the development of “iive-work in SOMA and Potrero Hill “kill the golden goose” in the last decade and a half? No. Set aside for a moment whether or not these projects in the mid to late nineties in SF were a proper use of “Live-work” but all the bad outcomes predicted for those neighborhoods didn’t happen. Yes, those neighborhoods did change, yes, the demographics did change but the neighborhoods weren’t destroyed. In fact they’ve improved tremendously. I’ve watched them improve because I’ve worked in these neighborhoods for the last 16 years. Not all change is bad. And it would have been better to allow for more change right here in our neighborhood instead of preserving the status quo.

    • Noah February 23, 2011 at 10:46 am #


      Thanks for all of your hard work on this issue. Yesterday was not the end of this process. Maybe we should join Len for dinner and a show at the Uptown.

  3. Citypink February 23, 2011 at 7:21 am #

    There’s a lot to say about yesterday’s Council committee meeting–I hope V blogs about it. Her comments above are very cogent. Living Downtown is a particular experience that some people want, but other people want urban amenities without the 24/7 grit of Downtown living. I’ll limit myself to two things:

    *The direction of the changes that the Councilmembers made yesterday was negative, they reduced the possibility for various places to grow and change into urban densities. After all, we wouldn’t a terrible urban neighborhood like Nob Hill, would we? But overall, the positive thrust of the rezoning survives along many stretches of transit corridors in Oakland. The question is whether, once the housing market recovers, the areas where development is allowed will actually attract it.

    *There is a remarkable generational divide around zoning and densification. Almost all the people who spoke in favor of greater heights and densities seemed to be under 35. Almost all the people who spoke against them appeared to be over 50. There were exceptions to this, but there was a definite pattern.

    Why? Some would selfishness on the part of older homeowners. I wouldn’t discount that factor, but I think other things are at work. I think there’s a real cultural shift at work. The older people mostly see evil density and cars “overwhelming” their neighborhoods. The younger people don’t necessarily see a half million dollar house as a plausible option for them, and in any case want to live a more urban, less car-oriented lifestyle. There have been various articles about young people being less eager to rush out to drive and buy cars, I think we were seeing some of the same phenomenon.

  4. Noah February 23, 2011 at 10:43 am #


    Your observation of the generational gap is very poignant. I am optimistic that when we revisit zoning in 10 years the process will play out differently. Of course there are outliers such as Joyce Roy (the elder stateswoman of good urban planning), but most are like Len or George: confused, and fearful. Mix that with property ownership and you get NIMBY.

    I think the NIMBY position is totally reasonable though. We all act in our own self-interest, so I can’t blame the NIMBYs for trying to protect there little slice of the pie. Younger generations are also looking out for their self-interest. No one can fault them for trying to create their own smaller slice of the pie.

    I’m not sure if these people have children or grandchildren or not? If they do they would be aware that there kids probably won’t be able to afford to live in the neighborhood were they grew up. Or maybe that’s it…they don’t want them to live in the neighborhood?

    • Noah February 23, 2011 at 10:47 am #

      Oh yeah…did you notice that the wealthier parts of North Oakland were overrepresented at the meeting?

  5. len raphael March 1, 2011 at 12:13 am #

    Confused and fearful. Whatever.

    As for evaluating position to go slow on densifying temescal based on the age of the people who show, that’s just silly.

    Lots of young people moved here are opposed to 60 foot plus tod corridors. They just couldn’t get the time off work to show up at a midday city meeting. That left the self employed middle aged, me to take their place.

    Brunner said it perfectly: you don’t ram urban planning down peoples throats. It’s a process that will occur over time and the general plan will probably change too.

    • Noah March 1, 2011 at 1:04 pm #

      Len: still staying up late stirring the debate!

      “you don’t ram urban planning down peoples throats.”

      Totally agreed: When do you think the City was going to notify all the property owners along Broadway that there property rights were being restricted? After the vote?

      As you may or may not be aware. None of the property owners along Broadway have been officially notified of the dramatic change to their property rights during this entire process. Also, the city website’s list of affected parcel does not include a single parcel along Broadway. Regardless of anyone’s individual position, I think everyone can agree that property owners should be properly notified and encouraged to participate in the planning process before their property rights are altered.

      See you this evening. Should we get some drinks afterwards?

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