Tag Archives: downtown Oakland

Daniel Schulman – What Matters a Taco Bell

18 Dec

This guest blog post was written by Daniel Schulman, who first moved to Oakland in 1984. Following a multi-year break for graduate school and career, he returned to the city in 2001 where he has lived since. During that time, Dan has worked to improve Oakland’s livability while maintaining its unique character. He is a founding member of Oakland Urban Paths, a voting member of the Bicycle and Pedestrian Advisory Committee, and currently serves on the Landmarks Preservation Advisory Board.

Before jumping into Dan’s blog post, I wanted to mention that on Thursday I will be sworn in to the BART Board of Directors. I invite you to join me at the swearing in at 9 am and the celebration from 6 pm – 9 pm, both in downtown Oakland. You can find all the details and RSVP on my campaign website or on Facebook. – Rebecca


The third item on the agenda for the December 19 Planning Commission is for the demolition and re-build of the Taco Bell on Telegraph at West Grand. This item was originally scheduled for October, but it was pulled due to unanticipated community objection. Originally, the applicant wanted to rebuild at the same location, but staff convinced them to move to the corner so as to minimize the “auto-orientation of the building” and “give the restaurant a greater street presence.”

While staffs’ goal of increasing the urban-feel of this highly visible intersection is laudable, their solution left a lot to be desired. In order to accommodate the drive-thru facility, a corner location would have required stacking the cars parallel to the West Grand sidewalk. While myself and others had a number of objections, the poor pedestrian experience afforded by being sandwiched by cars was our primary concern. In December of 2010, a group of activist successfully raised over $1,400 to appeal the Planning Commission’s decision on the rebuild of the Telegraph McDonald’s for precisely this reason. Continue reading

Celebrate Plaid Friday – support local, independent Oakland businesses

24 Nov

Things have been pretty heated in Oakland for the last month. Many Oaklanders who have worked together in the past (some for many years) are now debating each other about Occupy Oakland. Some Oaklanders love it, others hate it, and others love the idea but have been turned off by recent actions. I’ve seen and been part of many heated debates online and in person about the effects of Occupy Oakland on our city.

Last week, I got into a particularly heated debate with a close friend of mine on Twitter that quickly devolved since there’s very little room for nuance or explanation in 140 characters. I left the conversation feeling very angry (and I’m sure he did too). Later that day I picked up the phone and called him, and I’m so glad I did. It turned out that though we had been talking past each other on Twitter, we actually agreed on quite a bit and respected each other’s perspectives.

I hope others are doing the same – having real conversations with each other about Occupy Oakland and what it means. We need to remember that after this phase of Occupy Oakland is finished, just like after elections when we might disagree, we all have to work together again. The problems in our city are not going away, and we can address them so much more effectively if we work together.

So on this Thanksgiving, I hope Oaklanders will come together and support each other. One easy way to do that is to shop locally on this Plaid Friday and this weekend. Continue reading

Oakland General Strike: Support local, independent businesses

2 Nov

Before heading to downtown for the general strike, I wanted to put up this quick blog post urging folks to support the small businesses downtown – both those that are closed today and those that are open. Some businesses downtown have been hurting for the past couple of weeks, either because of the occupation or because of the heavy police presence in Frank Ogawa Plaza last week. Sadly, a few businesses have had their windows broken by protesters.

Some are urging folks to buy nothing today. I don’t support that message. Instead, I urge you to buy locally and to spend money at the downtown businesses that have been most effected by Occupy Oakland and the police response. Continue reading

Another magical night in downtown Oakland

6 Jul

Two and a half years ago, right after the Fox Theater had finally opened and on an Art Murmur night, I experienced a magical night in downtown Oakland. Here’s what I wrote about it in February, 2009:

…There was always something that bothered me about downtown Oakland – most people just didn’t seem to get how great the DTO is. I’d practically have to beg friends to meet me downtown for a drink after work. And forget dinner downtown – even many of my friends who work in the DTO never stuck around past dark.

Slowly, I’ve noticed a change in attitudes towards downtown, but on Friday night, the DTO finally felt like it was reaching its potential.

There were people everywhere! From 14th Street all the way down past the Art Murmur on 23rd, there were thousands of people on the street and inside art galleries, music venues, bars, and restaurants. People on foot, people on bike, and people in cars. At many points, I witnessed gridlock on the streets, something I’ve never seen downtown at night….

As the Art Murmur dwindled down, many headed to the Uptown to catch a free night of music. Though it wasn’t overly crowded, there was always a wait to get a drink, and the energy was high. I sat for a while near the front door and watched the rain fall, illuminated by a lamppost on the sidewalk outside. I sat back and smiled and I think a few tears welled up in my eyes. This was downtown as I always saw it – vibrant, fun, and sometimes unpredictable – but now this was the downtown so many others were experiencing, and I knew they would return.

Since then, I’ve seen downtown crowded and just as vibrant many times at night, particularly on special occasions, like Uptown Unveiled. But I’ve yet to have those same feelings again. I’ve yet to recreate that distinct realization that downtown has reached another night-time milestone or cleared another hurdle to reaching its full potential.

That changed on Friday night. Continue reading

Broadway shuttle offers environmental, economic & community benefits at no cost to the General Fund

14 Dec

Tomorrow’s committee meetings are going to be packed with some exciting, forward thinking transportation projects, including an update on BRT and another discussion of the citywide parking study at the Public Works Committee. But the transit item I’m most excited to will be heard before the Community & Economic Development Committee (CED) – a free shuttle on Broadway from Uptown to Jack London Square.

Sound too good to be true, considering the dire situation our city budget is in?

Well, it’s not, because the shuttle won’t use any money from the General Fund. In fact, most of the funds covering the project come from a grant and private funding sources. As the Oakbook explains:

A $1 million grant from the Bay Area Air Quality Management District combined with $200,000 from Jack London Square Partners and $160,000 from downtown area redevelopment funds will pay for most of the shuttle’s first two years of operation.

This is not the first time a free shuttle linked Jack London Square to other parts of downtown. Between 1996 and 2001, a free, lunchtime service between Embarcadero and Grand Avenue ferried 1,000 passengers a day before a lack of private funding forced it to shut down…

I didn’t live in Oakland when that shuttle was still running, but I’ve heard that people loved it, even though it was limited to lunchtime hours. The proposed shuttled has funding to run from 7am-7pm, Monday-Friday at 10-15 minute intervals. I know, I know – that’s not ideal and won’t help much with dinner and weekend dining and entertainment, but keep in mind that this is just the start of the project. There is great interest in ultimately expanding the hours to evenings and weekends if the shuttle is successful, and city staff will be reviewing the shuttle after three months, six months, and one year to see what changes should be made.

But even without evening and weekend service, the shuttle will hugely improve the connectivity of downtown Oakland’s various neighborhoods. A problem that I’ve written about before is that downtown Oakland has lots of vibrant neighborhoods, but they’re not entirely contiguous and they’re spread out so it’s difficult to get between them quickly. What this means is that downtown workers (and some residents) either spend most of their time in their particular downtown neighborhood, or they drive around downtown, which is not desirable, in terms of efficiency, environmental pollution, and community connectedness.

I worked on Webster and 14th for four and a half years, and in that time I rarely strayed from the City Center and Chinatown areas to get lunch, simply because I didn’t have enough time to get to the other downtown neighborhoods. Had this shuttle existed, I would have explored Old Oakland, Uptown, and even Jack London Square, and I probably wouldn’t be the only Oaklander who has never eaten at Ratto’s.

You might be wondering why I didn’t just take the bus to get around for lunch. The first reason is the cost. Two dollars is a reasonable fare to pay to get to work but to pay $2.25 round-trip to get to a lunch that costs $10 doesn’t usually make sense. Even when I had a monthly bus pass, I didn’t use the bus all that much to get around downtown because of reliability. The 72 would have gotten me to Jack London Square and I could make this work using NextBus, but when I finished lunch, I could have gotten lucky and caught a bus right away or could have waited for 20 minutes until the next bus arrived.

The free Broadway shuttle will break through both of these barriers and will be more reliable because its route is short and riders can board quickly from the front and rear doors. Beyond this, many people who don’t ride the bus because they’re uncomfortable with it will likely ride the shuttle, which will be advertised to businesses and employees and will be branded differently than AC Transit.

The staff report estimates that the daily ridership of the shuttle will be 2,045, and I think that’s doable between commutes from home or BART, lunch trips, rides to happy hours, and random errands.

Why am I so sure this can be successful? Because it worked in LA, and much like I feel about BRT, if LA drivers can be lured out of their cars to use particular public transit lines, than so can Oaklanders. LA’s downtown shuttle, the DASH, has been wildly successful. It started out in the late 80s with one line and has been expanded to six lines that criss-cross through downtown and run at 5-20 minute intervals. The fare is $.25 and in 2006, the daily ridership of the lines ranged from 351 riders (the most infrequent line) to 7,520 riders (the 5 minute headway line).

Downtown LA of course is denser and geographically larger than Oakland so we’ll never have that kind of ridership, but downtown LA and Oakland have a lot in common otherwise. Both areas were near-abandoned, except for government offices, until redevelopment efforts brought new businesses and residents to the area. Both have new, thriving arts and entertainment scenes. And both are served by multiple types of transit that connect to the DASH and will connect to the Broadway shuttle.

As businesses in downtown Oakland grow and Oakland attempts to attract new businesses to the area, the shuttle will be a huge benefit. If marketed correctly, the shuttle should be able to meet its ridership goals quickly. For a cost of zero to Oakland’s General Fund, the shuttle will help Oakland meet its environmental and economic goals, while also making downtown Oakland feel more connected. The CED Committee should approve this project and the City should move swiftly to implement it.

To see the committee discussion, tune into KTOP at 2pm or follow the meeting on Twitter #oakmtg.

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.

Small acts of kindness in Oakland

13 Aug

Yesterday evening was beautiful. I walked out of my office and down 14th Street, admiring soft sunlight bathing the Tribune building and enjoying the warm breeze. As I approached Broadway, a woman pointed towards Franklin and asked me if that was the way to 12th Street. I reoriented her and helped her find her destination, and she thanked me.

I turned the corner to walk to the 1/1R stop and immediately noticed a man at the 72 bus shelter shouting. Though I tried, I could not make out any of his words and had no idea what he was shouting about. I waited for the bus and mostly tuned out his shouting, letting my mind instead focus on the traffic moving by, which was a mix of cars, buses, pedestrians, and bicyclists – exactly as it should be.

The 1 pulled up, and since I didn’t want to get on, I stepped back. As the bus was about to pull away,  a man came sprinting down the sidewalk shouting and pleading for the bus driver to wait. Already in motion, the bus driver stopped the bus and opened the doors. The man seemed very grateful.

A couple minutes later, the 1R pulled up, and I walked towards it. An elderly lady with a cart was slowly making her way off the bus. The man who had been incoherently shouting just a few moments earlier asked her quietly if she needed help. She accepted with a smile, and he picked her cart up and put it on the sidewalk for her.

With all the negative news we hear about Oakland every day and with all the complaining from residents and merchants, it’s sometimes easy to forget that there are a lot of kind people in Oakland, willing to lend a hand. Even if it’s something as simple as giving directions, stopping the bus, or helping someone off the bus, those small acts of kindness to strangers are part of what makes Oakland such a wonderful city.

Rediscovering Downtown Oakland: Ethiopian Restaurants

12 Aug

When most people think of Ethiopian in Oakland, they think of North Oakland, or more specifically, Telegraph Avenue. But downtown Oakland is now home to two Ethiopian restaurants that I recommend checking out.

Shashamane Bar and Grill – Broadway between 25th & 26th

Shashamane is not just the place where Mix It Up East Bay is held every month – it’s also an excellent Ethiopian restaurant. If you just want a drink and a snack, Shashamane is the place to go after work. During their 5-7 happy hour, beer is $2.50. Have a couple of those, get an order of sambusas for $5, and you can get out of there for $10, feeling very satisfied. If you’ve never had sambusas, I highly recommend them. They’re similar to samosas, except that they’re filled with lentils or beef. Shashamane also has a full Ethiopian menu – I’ve only tried a few of the dishes, but they’ve all been delicious and the portions are generous. Though I’ve never made it there on a weekend, they have djs or live music on weekend evenings.

Damera Restaurant – Franklin between 14th & 15th

Damera is brand new, opening just over a month ago. Sadly, Dazz Thai, which I really liked, closed down just a few months after opening and after the space sat vacant for several months, Damera opened. I’ve only been there once, in the evening, but I enjoyed my meal. The place was basically empty and the service was a bit slow, but the food was very tasty. I ordered the vegetarian platter and had too much food to possibly finish. Though the service wasn’t as quick as it could have been, our server was very nice, and hopefully the service will improve over time. If anybody else has been here, I’d love to hear about your experience.

You might have noticed that it’s been a long time since I’ve done a rediscovering downtown Oakland post, and that’s partly because I feel like I’ve run out of categories to write about. So if you have any requests for topics to be covered, please share them in the comments below.

Rediscovering Downtown Oakland: Sweet Treats

20 May

With California and Oakland facing daunting budget crises, sometimes it’s necessary to step back and just enjoy life. And sometimes that’s as easy as heading downtown to grab a sweet treat.

Ice Cream at the Sweet Booth – 9th between Franklin and Webster

Last month, during the crazy heat wave, I complained on Facebook that there was nowhere to get ice cream in downtown Oakland. Within minutes, several people corrected me, telling me I had to check out the Sweet Booth in Chinatown. So the next afternoon, V Smoothe and I went down there. It’s kind of a whole in the wall, but they have a a varied selection of flavors and apparently make incredible smoothies with real fruit. I got a coconut scoop and V and I sat on a bench, enjoying our ice cream and talking about the budget (yes, we are dorks in real life too). Once the heat starts to kick in again, check this place out.

Vegan Donuts at Awaken Cafe – 14th between Broadway and Franklin

Sometimes in the afternoon, I’m dragging so I walk over to Awaken and grab a chai, and if I’m in the mood for something sweet, a vegan donut. If you’re skeptical, get over it – they’re delicious! And they’re made here in Oakland by People’s Donuts. Every flavor I’ve tasted has been great so grab whatever they have when you stop by. They are a little pricey, but they’re well worth it every once in a while.

Shakes at Rico’s Diner – 15th at Franklin

So I know I’ve covered Rico’s twice already, but there was no way I could leave Rico’s out of this category. They have the most incredible shakes, and in so many different flavors. They have all the usual flavors – chocolate, vanilla, strawberry. But my absolute favorite is the peach shake. It’s so refreshing on a warm afternoon.

Asian Pastries at Wonder Food Bakery – Webster between 9th and 10th

I’m not sure when it happened, but one day I was attempting to walk into Cam Huong and accidentally walked into the bakery next door. And I’m so glad I did because it’s become one of my favorite spots to grab a pastry. From the sesame balls, to the egg custard tarts, to their delicious cakes, everything I’ve had there has been tasty and very reasonably priced. So next time you stop into Cam Huong for a sandwich, head next door for something sweet.