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Join us for Jane’s Crawl this Saturday to celebrate the ideas of Jane Jacobs

3 May

Every year, in cities throughout the world, organizations host Jane’s Walks to honor the ideas of writer Jane Jacobs. The City of Oakland will be hosting a Jane’s Walk, as it usually does, but there’s also something a bit different going on this year. Walk Oakland Bike Oakland (WOBO) is hosting a Jane’s Crawl.

At the A Better Broadway event last month, Ruth Miller, Karen Smulevitz and I were all chatting. I had just been talking to Ron Bishop about a bicycle ride he was hosting and lamented to them that there were so many awesome events planned for bicyclists, but not so many for walking enthusiasts. I said we should have a walking pub crawl some time. And that sparked an excellent idea from Ruth Miller of WOBO – why not host a pub crawl to coincide with Jane’s Walk?

So this Saturday, we’re hosting the first Jane’s Crawl, where we’ll be walking from downtown to North Oakland, visiting some of the best bars along Telegraph to enjoy drinks, food, and discussions about Jane’s ideas. Continue reading

Come play in the streets at Oaklavia this Sunday

22 Jun

I mentioned Oaklavia in my events listing yesterday, but I thought it deserved a post of its own, since it’s shaping up to be a pretty incredible event.

You might have guessed by now that I love it when streets are closed down to cars for pretty much any reason. I love walking down the middle of Telegraph, Broadway, or any main thoroughfare during street fairs and other events. But during those events, there’s usually a lot of stuff in the street – music stages, vendors, tables, and more. And because they’re typically concentrated on a couple of blocks, they’re crowded, so it’s not easy to walk through quickly and it’s even harder to bike.

Oaklavia – a project of Walk Oakland Bike Oakland – will finally provide an opportunity for Oaklanders to just enjoy the street and the surroundings in Uptown, Downtown, and Old Oakland. You can stroll through slowly, chatting with people along the way and snapping photos of the gorgeous architecture along the route, or you can speed by on your bike, all the time not worrying about cars.

Even though Oaklavia is centered around enjoying and appreciating the bicyclist and pedestrian experience, there will be plenty of activities along the way as well. There will be dance and martial arts classes, music performances, art viewing, plenty of food, and of course bike safety and bike repair classes. You can find the full listing of activities and a detailed route map in this large PDF or in the pull out ad in the East Bay Express tomorrow.

So whatever your plans are this Sunday, take at least an hour between 10am-2pm to play in the streets at Oaklavia.

Just a few more days until the Car Free Challenge starts

28 May

I don’t know how this crept up on me so quickly, but TransForm’s Car Free Challenge starts next week! I was reminded of it because yesterday I opened my mailbox and saw a package from TransForm. I had forgotten that one of the perks of joining the challenge is this awesome shirt:

If you want one of these, the only way to get one is to join the Car Free Challenge. And when you do, please join the Blogoaksphere Team. I had hoped to have time over the past few weeks to do individual outreach to bloggers, but alas, my life’s been keeping me pretty damn busy so this post will have to suffice. So far there are just two of us on the team, and I know there are many more bloggers and blog readers who support TransForm and alternatives to driving. And it’s just a week long commitment to stop driving or to drive fewer miles – I know many of you can do it!

So don’t procrastinate any longer. Join the challenge, join the team, and look out for an awesome package from TransForm, which should be a nice respite from all the campaign mail you’ll be receiving next week.

February 8-14 Oakland Political & Community Events

7 Feb

Wednesday, February 10th – Walking Tour: New Era/New Politics

If you missed Saturday’s walking tour, not to worry because it’s being held again this week (and on February 27th). Stroll through downtown and discover the places where Oakland African American leaders have made their mark. Learn how Lionel Wilson, Delilah Beasley, Robert Maynard, the Dellums family, Josephine Baker, and others changed the Bay Area and California. This free tour begins at 10:00 a.m. in front of the African American Museum and Library at Oakland, 14th Street at Martin Luther King, Jr. Way. Visit Oakland’s walking tour site for more info.

Wednesday, February 10th – AC Transit Board Meeting (in person or via audio!)

As V Smoothe announced last month, starting this Wednesday, AC Transit will be audio-casting their Board meetings and standing committee meetings and will be posting archived audio of all meetings. I couldn’t be much more excited about this, as it means it will now be very convenient to keep up with AC Transit business. At this week’s meeting, the Board will be addressing the very important issue of what to do about service reductions if AC Transit is unable to transfer Congestion Mitigation and Air Quality funds from BRT to operations. They will also discuss a contract for on-board video surveillance and receive an update on BRT. This meeting will take place at 6pm in the 2nd floor board room, 1600 Franklin Street. You can read the agenda and see the relevant memos here and you can listen online here.

Thursday, February 11th – Mix It Up East Bay

Join us for a monthly happy hour bringing together young activists, organizers and leaders in the East Bay. ‘Tis STILL the Season for Giving! The holiday season is over but issues of hunger are still dire. Come hear (brief) presentations on eradicating hunger in the East Bay:

  • Betsy Edwards, Alameda County Food Bank
  • Lisa Sherrill, Food Bank of Contra Costa and Solano
  • Eric Manke, CA Association of Food Banks

Mix It Up East Bay is held every 2nd Thursday of the month from 6-9pm at Shashamane at 2507 Broadway. It’s accessible by 19th Street BART station or by AC Transit lines 1/1R, 51, 59.

Thursday, February 11th – Oakland Heritage Alliance Lecture: The New Deal and its Impact on the East Bay

As part of the monthly OHA lecture series, popular lecturer Gray Brechin will once again highlight the New Deal’s cultural and historical contributions to the East bay landscape. This lecture will be held at 7:30pm at Chapel of the Chimes, 4499 Piedmont Ave. in Oakland. Admission: $10 OHA members/$15 non-members. Find out more about this lecture series at OHA’s website.

Friday, February 12th – Estuary Art Attack

First Fridays are not the only day of the month to check out art galleries. Jingle Town and Alameda artists have joined together to start the Estuary Art Attack, a monthly event held on second Fridays to showcase the area’s galleries, restaurants, and bars. The Art Attack will be held from 6-9 pm throughout Jingle Town and Alameda. Check out their website for more details.

Saturday, February 13th – Inside Buffalo Screening

The African American Museum and Library at Oakland (AAMLO) will screen Inside Buffalo, an award winning feature film documentary about the Buffalo Soldiers of the 92nd Infantry Division, the all-African American segregated combat unit that fought with outstanding heroism in Italy during the Second World War. The screening will be followed by a Q&A with director Fred Kuwornu. Writer Tullio Bertini, author of Trapped in Tuscany: Liberated by the Buffalo Soldiers, and 92nd Infantry Division veteran Ivan Houston, author of Black Warriors: The Buffalo Soldiers of World War II, are also scheduled to appear and sign copies of their books. The screening will take place at 1:15pm at AAMLO, 659 14th St. Find out more at AAMLO’s website.

Sunday, February 14th – Valentine’s Day

Love it or hate it, there’s tons to do on Oakland on Valentine’s Day. If someone doesn’t beat met to it, I’ll post a round-up of events later this week. If someone does beat me, I’ll post the link to it here. So check back later in the week if you’re looking for something to do.

Replay 5/11/08: San Diego/Oakland Reflections: Sprawl, Transit & Walkability

5 Sep

I spent last weekend in San Diego, and as usual when I travel, I couldn’t help myself from comparing the city to Oakland. It’s been a couple years since I’ve visited San Diego, and I realized that though I’ve been there at least a dozen times, I’ve never spent even 24 hours there in one visit and I’ve never really gotten to know the city.

When remembering San Diego, I often thought of the one factor that’s true in the southern California cities I know better – sprawl. And this part I remembered correctly. San Diego is incredibly spread out, and it seemed difficult to get between most neighborhoods without a car. Oakland’s not the most compact city, but I feel like it’s fairly easy here to get from almost any neighborhood to the next, as long as you’re willing to hop on the bus or BART and maybe even transfer to another bus.

And just as I had remembered, it did seem as if pretty much everyone in San Diego had a car. Parking was sometimes difficult in popular neighborhoods – not San Francisco difficult, but certainly more competitive than most parts of Oakland.

But there were a couple things about San Diego that surprised me. Though much of the city was difficult (or at least very time consuming) to navigate by public transit, there is a trolley system that covers the downtown area and a few of the surrounding areas. So if you live in one of these areas, it does seem like you wouldn’t need to use a car very much. Considering that we’re having trouble even implementing bus rapid transit in Oakland, I’m a bit jealous that central San Diego is way ahead of us with rail.

Also, many San Diegans commute to Los Angeles, and unless they like sitting in traffic for 3 or 4 hours, many of them use the Metrolink train, much as some Oaklanders commute by Amtrak to Sacramento. So though there’s still tons of driving that’s symptomatic of southern California sprawl, I learned that there are alternatives to driving in San Diego that are fairly widely used.

Another thing that surprised me was the walkability of individual neighborhoods. Though it’s mostly inconvenient to walk between neighborhoods, there are several neighborhoods in San Diego where it’s possible to walk to just about everything (markets, shopping, parks or the beach, restaurants, bars, etc.). In fact, my friend’s apartment in Ocean Beach has the same walk score as my apartment in Oakland (88). On Sunday, we went to a friend’s house that is in between neighborhoods (near Hillcrest) and I was a bit shocked when we did not get back into the car and instead walked a few blocks to a restaurant (her house’s walk score is 89). It really seemed to me that it was just as easy to find a walkable neighborhood in San Diego as it is to find one in Oakland. This surprised me because I always had assumed that San Diego was much like LA in that respect, and though there are a few walkable neighborhoods in LA, it’s usually not so easy to find a walkable neighborhood that’s affordable to live in.

It was nice to clear up some of my misconceptions and to find out that San Diego isn’t quite as car-centric as I had assumed. But don’t worry, I’m not planning to move to San Diego anytime soon. I still think it’s a whole lot easier to be carless in Oakland than it is to be carless in San Diego.

Replay 4/12/08: Berkeley/Oakland Reflections: Downtown

4 Sep

I spent the day in downtown Berkeley today, and it really got me thinking about the hurdles downtown Oakland has to overcome before it becomes a more vibrant and contiguous neighborhood.

Though there’s plenty I don’t like about Berkeley, downtown Berkeley has transformed into a bustling area, filled with people and plenty to do. Today, I got my haircut, picked up a prescription, grabbed some raw food to eat in the park, perused herbs and plants at the farmers market and bought some kiwis on my way out, browsed through DVDs, tried to find my way around the new Cody’s, and finally snagged a cold, caffeinated drink. There were dozens of people on every block, walking, talking, sitting on benches, and there were two separate jazz bands entertaining the crowds.

Somehow, I’m guessing my day would not have been quite so lively or varied if I had been walking through downtown Oakland.

So on my way home, I tried to figure out what it is that downtown Berkeley has that the DTO doesn’t. And ultimately I realized that the DTO has no main artery. Sure, there are some vibrant sub-neighborhoods (Old Oakland, Chinatown) and ones that are on their way (SOBO, Uptown), but to me they all feel somewhat disconnected.

You might wonder, aren’t they all connected by Broadway? Well, sure, physically, Broadway runs through nearly all of the neighborhoods in the DTO and a good portion of AC Transit lines run down or cross Broadway at some point. Driving down Broadway is pretty simple, but people driving doesn’t make for a vibrant neighborhood (or good business). It’s easy to ride the bus or BART to the DTO, but riding the bus within the DTO from neighborhood to neighborhood rarely makes sense. Walking seems to be a great way to get around, but when I do this, I tend to walk from destination to destination, without lingering in between. I think a reason for this is that Broadway (and many other main streets in the DTO) lacks the critical mass of shopping, restaurants and services to entice one to linger, walking slowly down the street and deciding on a whim to stop in somewhere.

In stark comparison, downtown Berkeley is connected by the main arteries of Shattuck and University. Shattuck takes you all the way through downtown, up into the Gourmet Ghetto in north Berkeley and down to at Dwight Way into south Berkeley. Throughout this area it is filled with places to visit, and, naturally, tons of people. University is not filled in so densely, but it’s not too difficult to walk from UC Berkeley all the way to west Berkeley without getting bored.

Don’t get me wrong – I’m well aware of the parts of Broadway that are vibrant (just north of Jack London, the City Center, and hopefully soon, Uptown), but again, there’s no continuity. Besides that, even in those areas that have more businesses, many of these areas shut down on the weekends and in the evening. A couple weeks ago, after eating dinner at Ichiro in downtown, I tried to go to the Walgreens (at 8:30pm) and was frustrated to find out that it was closed. If even a large, chain store shuts down so early, how can the neighborhood remain vibrant (or even just safe to walk in) in the evening?

I do think that things are generally getting better in the DTO. The new condo and apartment buildings that are being built retail space included on the ground floor, plans are being made for further density in at least certain parts of the DTO (though this plan needs to be improved, and hopefully will), and the Fox Theater reopening in a year or two will hopefully serve as a complementary anchor to the expanding arts district.

I also realize that the DTO will never be the same as downtown Berkeley, nor would I want it to be. Downtown Berkeley is right next to UC Berkeley, so there’s a built in amount of foot traffic and tourism. Berkeley’s also much geographically smaller than Oakland so it’s downtown is more easily accessible to other neighborhoods.

Still, I do look forward to a time when I want to spend a day or evening wandering through the DTO and am able to do so without getting bored or feeling unsafe.

Replay 11/23/07: DC/Oakland Reflections: Urban Walking

3 Sep

So I know I promised to write a series about my Oakland and Los Angeles inspired reflections on urban space, but the truth is that I compare just about every city to Oakland and I almost constantly think about the intricacies of urban space. So I’m going to broaden this series to include urban reflections about other cities.

Last week, I went to DC to spend some time at the DC office of the organization I work for. I’ve always loved visiting our nation’s capitol, but I’m not sure I ever realized until this trip how walkable the city is. During my three days in the city, I easily walked 10 miles, at one time trekking 2 miles uphill to reach a bar.

I used to think Oakland was pretty walkable too, and I often walk a mile or two to reach a store or restaurant. DC has an advantage though that I fear Oakland will never have – it feels safe to walk around at night. And I don’t just mean on the main streets, but even on many of the neighborhood streets. In my neighborhood in North Oakland, I start walking much quicker as the sun sets and never walk more than a few blocks alone at night.

What’s interesting is that DC is certainly not a crime-free city. What makes walking around at night feel safe is that there are lots of other people walking around. I think some of this has to do with the fact that DC residents rarely drive around the city. So they walk too and from the Metro station or bus stop. And they often walk a few blocks to a main street to catch a cab.

Even at 10pm, I was never alone on a street in DC. Conversely, at that time in my neighborhood, I would always be walking alone if I chose to do so. And I’ve unfortunately heard too many stories of armed robberies happening after dark just a few blocks away from my apartment building, on the darkest, emptiest streets.

Some of my fears in Oakland in contrast to my general feeling of safety in DC might also have to do with the differing police presence. In DC, there are 65.3 police officers per 10,000 residents, vs. only 18.1 in Oakland! (Thanks to V Smoothe for sharing this figures.)

My only hope for a neighborhood in Oakland becoming this walkable after dark is Uptown (and maybe later other parts of Downtown). I think as it transforms and recenters life around public transit and walking, I might feel safe walking there at night. Otherwise, I think I’ll save my evening walks for my trips to DC.

Replay 10/18/07: Los Angeles/Oakland Reflections: Privatization of Urban Public Space

2 Sep

My trip to LA last week made me reflect a lot on the differences of urban planning and living in Los Angeles and Oakland. Part of my thoughts reflect on my experience growing up in LA, and other thoughts might be influenced by a book I’m in the middle of reading, City of Quartz: Excavating the Future in Los Angeles, by Mike Davis. So I thought I’d write a series of posts about my Oakland and Los Angeles inspired reflections on urban space.

Growing up in LA, my concepts of public space were limited to parks and beaches. The closest I ever got to an urban public center was an indoor mall in the San Fernando Valley.

One of the things that struck me and ultimately drew me to the East Bay was the amount of public space here and how effectively this space was used. I remember my first trip to Berkeley, which happened to be during the Telegraph holiday street fair. I was enthralled by the vendors lining the streets, the cars being held back, and the people crowding the pavement.

I soon learned that Telegraph wasn’t always such an expansive, car-free street, but it didn’t matter. There were other public spaces and events to enjoy: a jazz band playing near the downtown Berkeley BART stop, a rally at Sproul Plaza on the UC Berkeley campus, the San Francisco Mime Troup performing in Cedar-Rose park, a picnic in the Berkeley or Oakland rose gardens, or a stroll around Lake Merritt.

I’ve come to take this public space for granted, but I was jolted out of this complacency in LA last weekend. Unfortunately, the conference I was attending was at the Sheraton in Universal City. I could write several posts about the ridiculousness of Universal City being a separate city from Los Angeles, but I won’t. Suffice it to say that I think it’s even more useless and disruptive than Emeryville is to Oakland.

After days of hotel food and deliveries from Vegan Express, some of my friends and I decided we wanted to go out to eat but didn’t want to hop in a car. So our only option was hopping on the shuttle to City Walk. In my many years of Los Angeles living, I had managed never to step foot into City Walk, and I quickly learned that I hadn’t missed a thing.

As you walk “inside”, you are immediately surrounded by lights and sounds. There are stores and restaurants everywhere, everyone brighter and louder than the next. Music plays, but it changes as you enter into different “zones.” Water spurts from the ground in the most inelegant arches I’ve ever seen.

But wait – this isn’t Hollywood, or Times Square. There are no homeless people. There’s no litter on the ground. Cars don’t zoom buy and practically run you over as you cross the street. There’s no smell of urine in the air.

I guess the absence of these urban features must relieve the average City Walk goer, but it really freaked me out. Needless to say, after we ate our sushi, we got out of there as quickly as we could.

City Walk was clearly created for tourists, but not just for tourists from other countries and states. It’s aimed at pleasing suburban tourists. It’s aimed to make them feel like they’re having an urban Hollywood experience, without all the annoyances of a real city.

Yesterday, I walked through the Oakland City Center to get some soup, and I realized that the City Center is not nearly as bad as I had thought it was. It’s more open and less intrusive than a mall or City Walk. If that’s the worst Oakland can do with privatizing public space, I can live with that.

Mike Davis (and others) often write about Los Angeles as being the model city of the future, for better or worse, but I’m more hopeful than that. If he’s right though, I hope Oakland never follows LA in privatizing public space.

August 10-16 Oakland Political & Community Events

10 Aug

Monday, August 10th – East Bay Young Dems Confab & Endorsement Meeting

Join East Bay Young Dems to review the U.S. Congressional District 10 candidates’ questionnaire responses, engage in lively debate (we always do!), and vote to back one lucky political player with our club endorsement. A 60% threshold among voting, current dues-paying members is needed to earn EBYD’s endorsement. The following Democratic candidates are eligible for EBYD’s endorsement: Ms. Tiffany Attwood, Assemblymember Joan Buchanan, State Senator Mark DeSaulnier, Lt. Governor John Garamendi, Mr. Adriel Hampton, and Captain Anthony Woods. We’re coming full circle after our successful Summertime in the East Bay Mixer, where EBYDs got to mix and mingle with the candidates over a beer at The Grand Tavern. The meeting will be held from 6:30-8:30pm at Shashamane at 2507 Broadway. It’s accessible by 19th Street BART station or by AC Transit lines 1/1R, 51, 59. You can find more info about our endorsement process and candidate questionnaires at the EBYD website.

Tuesday, August 11th – EBMUD Water Supply Management Plan 2040 Update

East Bay Municipal Utility District (EBMUD) is planning for the future with an update to the Water Supply Management Plan for 2040.  The Board of Directors developed a “preferred portfolio” for meeting our water needs over the next 30 years.  The portfolio includes increased water conservation programs, recycled water projects, rationing during worst-case droughts, securing water transfers and groundwater storage, desalination, and expanding Pardee reservoir with a new dam. The Board of Directors Workshop on this plan will be held from 8:30am – 11am at 375 11th St., Oakland. For additional info, visit EBMUD’s website.

Thursday, August 13th – Mix It Up East Bay

Join us for a monthly happy hour bringing together young activists, organizers and leaders in the East Bay. The East Bay has many assets, and access to high quality, fresh, organic food is definitely high on the list! Come out and hear (brief) presentations on the range of work on food justice, food security, and local urban agriculture by:

  • Gail Myers, Farms to Grow
  • Jason Harvey, Oakland Food Connection
  • Susan Coss, Eat Real Festival

Mix It Up East Bay is held every 2nd Thursday of the month from 6-9pm at Shashamane at 2507 Broadway. It’s accessible by 19th Street BART station or by AC Transit lines 1/1R, 51, 59.

Friday, August 14th – Estuary Art Attack

First Fridays are not the only day of the month to check out art galleries. Jingle Town and Alameda artists have joined together to start the Estuary Art Attack, a monthly event held on second Fridays to showcase the area’s galleries, restaurants, and bars. The Art Attack will be held from 6-9 pm throughout Jingle Town and Alameda. Check out their website for more details.

Friday, August 14th – Dancing Under the Stars at Jack London Square

Due to the success of Dancing Under the Stars, Jack London Square will offer an additional four-event series of free outdoor dance classes on select Friday nights through the end of September. Singles and couples alike can practice their sizzling salsa moves, learn new Latin dances like the Cha Cha, or do the Hustle while listening to disco. Live bands will add a new level of entertainment to the program. Novices and experienced dancers are all welcome to spend the evening dancing outdoors on Oakland’s celebrated waterfront.  No reservation is required, and all ages are welcome. Dancing Under the Stars will begin at 7:30 PM for professional dance lessons and 8:30 PM for open dance  at the foot of Broadway. This Friday, they’ll be teaching Salsa.

Saturday-Sunday, August 15th-16th – Art & Soul Festival

Art & Soul, which has historicall been held on Labor Day weekend, has been moved to this weekend. Though I’m not too excited about the lineup, I love the thought of so much of downtown Oakland being closed to car traffic. Via the event’s Facebook page: “A new date, but the same great entertainment value condensed into two music-packed days with Jazz, Rock, Gospel, Latin, R&B, Smooth Jazz and Blues. Youngsters will love the kid-friendly carnival rides, interactive art projects, face painting and roaming costumed characters. Stroll through the Artisan Marketplace, sample exotic foods and tasty treats from a multicultural menu, watch exciting dance performances, and view and create art.” The festival will be held from noon-6pm on Saturday and Sunday. It costs $10 for adults, $5 for youth and seniors, and is free for children 12 and under. Entrances are at 14th Street & Broadway, 16th Street & San Pablo Avenue, and Promenade beside City Center West Garage. There will be free attended bike parking and it’s easy to get to by AC Transit or BART.

Saturday, August 15th – Walking The Key System’s C Line

The Oakland Heritage Alliance (OHA) holds regular walking tours, and this one sounded particularly interesting. Follow early day Key System commuters on their way to the Key ferries. Walk past the train yard, through the Key System 40th Street Cut, and over to the old Key System station and mural at Piedmont Avenue. Learn about the Key System’s plan to build a line though Piedmont and Oakland to San Jose. Tour ends on Piedmont Avenue, walk or bus back to BART. *Optional extension after lunch. A level walk.  The walk runs from 10 am–1:30 pm at the meeting point is at MacArthur BART Station underpass on 40th Street. Tour does not loop. OHA tours cost $10 for members or $15 for non-members. Meet 15 minutes before listed time for registration. Comfortable walking shoes and sunscreen are recommended. Bring water. In case of rain, the tour will be canceled. For more info and OHA’s full schedule of tours, visit their website.

Community & Planning Commission united in calling for urban, pedestrian friendly Safeway development

16 Jul

So I was planning to write about the Public Works Committee hearing on the Oakland Airport Connector today, but that’s going to have to wait until tomorrow because I’m fired up after last night’s Safeway EIR Scoping Session at the Planning Commission.

During the public comment section, I was sure I had entered an alternate universe where ULTRA, STAND and RCPC agree on almost everything. If it had been April 1st, I would have suspected it was an April Fools joke. Seriously, can anyone point out to any project ever that all of those groups have agreed on? Probably not. (For those not in the know, STAND and RCPC oppose most dense developments in North Oakland and ULTRA embraces urban density.)

Of course, the groups didn’t all say exactly the same things. RCPC members, for example, had to take the opportunity to take jabs at the College Safeway project, but overall, the groups and their members expressed a similar vision. Here are some of the ideas and concerns that were brought up:

  • Pedestrian/bike/transit access & safety: This was the number one theme of the night. Everyone agreed that the current layout and Safeway’s current plans are unappealing and dangerous for pedestrians and bicyclists. As for transit, Larry Meyers from ULTRA pointed out that the 51 bus stop on Broadway is 1/4 mile from the Safeway! To make this space more friendly for pedestrians, bicyclists, and transit riders, people suggested moving Safeway to the corner of Broadway and Pleasant Valley, moving most stores up to Pleasant Valley, hiding parking behind the stores, using parking structures instead of a surface lot, adding bike parking, mandating free transit passes for employees, having a free shuttle from BART, and extending streets and sidewalks so they go through the plaza.
  • Creating a connection between neighborhoods: Many speakers agreed that this plaza was partially responsible for a disconnect between Temescal, Piedmont, and Rockridge. Tom Dolan from ULTRA recommended extending the street network through the plaza, much like in Eric’s fantasy plans, to make the plaza feel like it was a part of these neighborhoods. He also recommended creating a civic space within the plaza, which he argued would bring more customers to Safeway. Others focused on architecture, expressing concerns that the current plan does not fit in with the architecture of any of the surrounding communities and explaining that Safeway has many relevant architectural styles to choose from.
  • Housing: I’m sure the commissioners expected ULTRA to call for housing to be added to this project, but having STAND and RCPC call for housing was very powerful. Everyone agreed that this is one of the best places for dense, urban housing and retail in all of North Oakland. Several speakers made connections between housing and the environment, arguing that people living in this new housing would walk to the retail below and therefore would not be contributing as much to greenhouse gas expansion. Others brought up the Conley Report, and how it recommends housing in this plaza.
  • Traffic flow: Several speakers were concerned about traffic flow, particularly around the Pleasant Valley and Broadway intersection. Ronnie Spitzer from RCPC said her son was hit by a car a couple months at that intersection and was concerned the increased traffic this project would bring would make it even more dangerous and congested. Stuart Flashman from RCPC recommended studying charging for parking, to discourage driving. A STAND member recommended studying parking usage at different times of day on different days of the week and also suggested “smart parking” – having an electronic sign that shows how many spaces available so cars don’t just drive around and around.
  • More community discussion needed: It seemed that nobody besides Safeway was happy with how their open houses went a few weeks ago. Speakers called for further meetings with the community to solicit input on the project. One speaker specifically called for Safeway to meet with residents of the senior housing complex across the street.

When the public comment ended, the commissioners spoke, first commending the speakers for sticking to talking about what the EIR should cover and not just complaining about the project. They all seemed extremely impressed by the community’s presentation and I wondered how it must have felt for them to have all of these groups who disagree on every development project finally come together on something. Annie Mudge said, “It’s remarkable that STAND and ULTRA agree on anything.”

The commissioners agreed with public sentiment about pedestrian, bike, and transit access, housing, tying the plaza to the community, and the need to create a more urban project. Several of them brought up SB 375 and the General Plan, and suggested that Safeway’s current plan might not comply with either of them. Oh, and practically all of them said that this Safeway is their primary supermarket and that they shop in this plaza often.

Sandra Galvez said that Safeway should keep in mind that this project will be here in 20-30 years, “not 20 years ago.” She thought the EIR should be very inclusive and broad because the project would “probably be drastically altered.”

Madeleine Zayas-Mart agreed that alternatives should “think big” and specifically recommended looking more closely at the Conley report. She argued that Safeway should make this more pedestrian friendly, which would attract more customers. She said she curently shops on College because it’s more pleasant to walk down, but that she would shop in this plaza more if it was more attractive to pedestrians.

Blake Hunstman said that this is a “jewel of a site” and an opportunity for mixed use alternatives. He didn’t understand the orientation of the site in Safeway’s current plans and thinks that they missed the opportunity to make Safeway and the other stores part of the community by bringing them to the street.

All of the above commissioners had strong concerns about the project but they all were a bit reserved in their comments. All of them until Michael Colbruno spoke, that is. He immediately said the current proposal feels like a “big mall” and that this is an opportunity for Safeway to “do the right thing.” He said he didn’t want to see Joyce Roy walk 1/4 mile for a quart of milk (in her comments she had said she has to walk through a sea of cars just for milk) and that he currently sees pedestrians walking in fear with their groceries. Colbruno argued that the pedestrian, bicyclist, transit user component should be key to Safeway’s project.

Colbruno continued, explaining that this development should look like Oakland (the crowd clapped), as Whole Foods has managed to do. He then said that the storefronts should face the streets directly (more clapping). Colbruno said that Safeway’s current plans were not a good corporate decision and that the project as is would fail for the corporation and the community.

As a model for what could be done with this development, Colbruno brought up the Target development in West Hollywood, which includes housing. He said this development produces a significant amount of West Hollywood’s sales tax (though that’s really not saying much since West Hollywood is tiny). He ended by saying that locally grown produce is very important to him, especially after seeing Food, Inc. and that he wondered if the EIR could study the effects of bringing produce from afar rather than from local sources. I care a lot about locally grown produce and buy nearly all my produce at the farmers market, but this request seemed a bit absurd.

After last night’s hearing, I imagine that Safeway and its representatives understand what the community and the Planning Commission wants to see, which is nothing short of scrapping the project and starting over. It was inspiring to see so many disparate groups come together for something more important, and it seemed to have worked. Now we’ll just have to wait and see what the EIR shows and what new plans Safeway comes back with.

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