Tag Archives: parking lot

Living in the O’s Fourth Birthday

8 Jun cropped-bike-vw

Four years is a long time.

Four years marks some significant milestones in my life. I went to UC Berkeley for four years. My wife (then girlfriend) and I lived in our last apartment for just over four years. And as of today I’ve been blogging for four years.

During all of these four-year time periods, much has happened and I’ve grown so much. My years at Berkeley were marked by my evolution into an activist, my years in our last apartment by my growing love for my then girlfriend and my growing love for Oakland, but these four years blogging are a bit more difficult for me to define succinctly.

So I thought I’d mark them here with the blogoaksphere successes that stand out for me. These victories could not have been won without the help of multiple bloggers and blog readers. There are many more blogoaksphere successes, I’m sure, but these are the successes that mark my four years of blogging at Living in the O: Continue reading

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

21 Feb Internatonal TOD Map

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. Continue reading

Another chance to stop the spread of surface parking lot blight

14 Feb

If you visited A Better Oakland today, well, I hope you weren’t in the middle of eating, or thinking loving Valentine’s Day thoughts, or enjoying the sound of rain because if so, her photo blog on downtown surface parking lot blight probably made you lose your appetite or happy feelings. Now that you’ve been warned, take a look at the post because though disgusting, her photos are important to the policy decision the Planning Commission will make on Wednesday night about temporary conditional use permits (TCUPs) for surface parking lots.

Oh, and if you’re in the middle of a delicious meal or a romantic moment, stop reading this and come back later because I’m going to share some of V Smoothe’s frightening photos she took this weekend of surface parking lots. Like this one: Continue reading

Staff report on temporary conditional use permits ignores concerns of Planning Commission

19 Jan

Update: The Planning Commission hearing on temporary conditional use permits for surface parking lots has been delayed to February 2nd so please put that on your calendar. If you go tonight, you can still speak on the issue, but there will be no hearing on it.

If you’re on Twitter, you probably saw via @vsmoothe that staff took forever to get the staff report up on the temporary conditional use permits (TCUPs) for surface parking lots that is going before the Planning Commission tonight. Emails were sent, calls were made, but still the staff reports weren’t posted, even though by law they’re required to be available 72 hours in advance of the meeting. Finally, 25 hours before the meeting, the report was posted.

Since it took so long, you might have guessed that staff would have written a report that answered all the questions brought up by planning commissioners and the public, considering how skeptical many of the commissioners were when this came up in October. Well, if you guessed that, you would be wrong.

I read a fair amount of staff reports, and am used to sometimes disagreeing with the recommendations in these reports. Like with the Oakland Airport Connector, I vehemently disagreed with most of the BART, MTC and Port Commission staff reports. But with those OAC reports, I could tell that staff had spent much time and energy on them. They had woven complex tales, which though based on fantasy, half-truths, and misleading information, at least attempted to answer concerns that had been raised.

This “new” TCUP report doesn’t even bother to do that. It’s largely the same as the report issued by staff in October, except that it goes to lengths to explain that this would be an 18 month trial program. That might sound like a big change at first, but it’s really not when you consider that the TCUPs issued for the surface parking lots would be for four years. This means that even if this “trial” program was not deemed successful and was not continued, we would be stuck with surface parking lots downtown for anywhere from four to five and a half years from the beginning of the trial.

Yes, five and a half years from now, when hopefully the economy will have recovered and gas will cost who knows how much more than today, we’ll still be stuck with parking lots from a “trial” 18 month program. I don’t know about you, but that doesn’t sound like much of a trial to me.

Even worse, staff barely touches on the concerns planning commissioners brought up at the October hearing. Probably a dozen different questions were asked of staff by the commissioners, yet the report only lists four and explains that the rest of the questions or concerns had already been raised previously by the zoning update committee (ZUC) months before. Except that if the commissioners were asking these same things again, maybe it was because they felt like their concerns hadn’t been addressed in the previous staff reports. Oh well, I guess we’ll probably never get responses to those issues.

As for four of the issues raised that staff did bother to address, they gave basically the same answer for two of them. Unfortunately, it’s not possible to cut and paste from the report and with so little lead time before the meeting, I can’t copy the text verbatim, but you can read the brief answers on page 9 of the report. In short, planning commissioners asked that options be narrowed and that the program have an end date. Staff responds to both talking about the 18 month trial period, which is apparently their solution to all problems.

A commissioner had also asked if a similar approach had worked in San Francisco. Staff’s answer – San Francisco hasn’t started the program yet. So the one city where they found something similar can’t be looked to for any answers.

Another commissioner asked to exclude surface parking lots from TCUPs. Staff’s response – “Staff has retained surface parking in the proposal as this is the primary interest expressed  by interested parties for the TCUP process.” My translation of staff’s answer – the only thing we’ll ever issue TCUPs for is surface parking because all the other examples we bring up in this report (a clothing store using a neighboring lot to sell clothes and legal survices provided out of a shipping container) are totally preposterous.

I wish I had time to dig deeper into this report, but as I’m using my work break to finish this up, I have no time left. Maybe if the report had been issued days ago, as it should have, I could share more of this terrible, thrown together report. A Better Oakland also has a blog up on this report, so go there for more cringe worthy details.

And please email the Planning Commission (contact info below) and/or speak tonight. The meeting starts at 6pm at Oakland City Hall, Hearing Room 1. It’s hard to say when the item will come up so your best bet is to arrive close to 6pm.

Planning Commission Contact Info:

Time to stop downtown surface parking lots… again

17 Jan

Update: The Planning Commission hearing on temporary conditional use permits for surface parking lots has been delayed to February 2nd so please put that on your calendar. If you go tonight, you can still speak on the issue, but there will be no hearing on it.

There are a couple of urban planning nightmares in Oakland that, no matter how hard advocates try to squash them and no matter how little sense they make, keep popping back up somehow. It’s like they have nine lives. One of them is the Oakland Airport Connector, which is back before BART and the Port Comission, and I’ll get to that later this week. The other is surface parking lots downtown.

Even though the downtown zoning code that was passed in 2009 prohibits surface parking, and even though the blogoaksphere and advocates fought hard and won to stop a surface parking lot in Uptown and instead build a temporary public arts space, surface parking is back before the planning commission. Actually, it’s was before the Planning Commission this past summer and fall, but I was caught up in elections and didn’t have a chance to write about it then. They’ll be considering surface parking again this Wednesday, so there’s still time to act.

V Smoothe did a thorough job covering the issues in these two October blog posts, and I encourage you to read them for the full story, but the short version is that the Planning Commission is considering temporary conditional use permits (TCUPs) for surface parking lots since they don’t confirm with downtown zoning. V Smoothe asked what the point is of zoning if we’re just going to go around it with these TCUPs, and I agree. The downtown zoning process was long, involved tons of public comment and planning commission discussion, and it was done less than two years ago with most of the current planning commissioners involved in the entire process! If surface parking lots downtown were so necessary, why did they prohibit them?

They prohibited them for good reason – surface parking lots detract from the urban fabric of downtown Oakland. Their multiple curb cuts endanger pedestrians and bicyclists, and particularly at night they attract crime and litter. Do we really want more of this downtown?

Those photos are from today’s A Better Oakland post on TCUPs and surface parking. V Smoothe took them at a recently reopened parking lot on 1333 Harrison Street. You might ask, how did a new parking lot open without TCUPs passed and with downtown zoning that prohibits surface parking? Simple – the lot owner applied for and received a variance.

People apply for and are granted variances all the time when their land uses don’t conform with zoning. Recently, the Planning Commission granted a variance to the Feelmore adult store. It needed one because it is less than 500 feet from a school and less than 1,000 feet from a residential zone, which zoning does not allow.

So right now, land owners can apply for a variance to build and operate surface parking lots downtown and the Planning Commission has granted a variance and will be considering yet another variance on a surface parking lot on Wednesday night.

If you’re confused by now, I don’t blame you. You might be thinking – why do we need TCUPs if land owners can just apply for variances and open their surface parking lots anyway? We don’t.

As Dan Schulman commented:

What has most recently become apparent to me that I did not realize at first, is that staff is just asking for a big transfer of power from the Planning Commission to themselves. As the report notes, most of the uses are already conditionally permitted, so what they are asking for is to change the process of applicants going in front of the Planning Commission seeking a variance to a closed-door one of applicants going to staff for approval. Without the Planning Commission involved, ordinary citizens won’t have the ability to know what’s going on and to comment on it.

Yeah. All TCUPs are is a power grab for staff and a way to make it much easier for land owners to circumvent downtown zoning.

So like I mentioned, the Planning Commission considered TCUPs in October and V Smoothe, Dan Schulman and Naomi Schiff spoke against them. I unfortunately arrived just after public comment so couldn’t speak, but I was so grateful that the three of them had spoken. I don’t have video and it was several months ago, but I recall that most of the commissioners were very skeptical of the proposal. They grilled staff pretty hard and ultimately found out that not one other locality in the country is using TCUPs in this way.

Several of the commissioners were open to hearing more, so they asked staff a bunch of questions and asked them to come back in January with those answers. And that’s what will happen this Wednesday night.

Even though policy and reason are on our side, it’s possible that the Planning Commission could wash away the pedestrian gains earned in downtown zoning by approving TCUPs for surface parking lots. Please, if you care about the pedestrian experience and livelihood of downtown Oakland, email the Planning Commission (contact info below) and/or come speak on Wednesday night. The meeting starts at 6pm at Oakland City Hall, Hearing Room 1. It’s hard to say when the item will come up so your best bet is to arrive close to 6pm.

If you send an email or speak, please remember to be polite and to explain why we don’t need more surface parking lots in downtown Oakland. Feel free to use any language from this blog post that you find helpful.

I hope to see you on Wednesday!

Planning Commission Contact Info:

We did it! The Uptown sculpture garden will soon be a reality

7 Oct

Longtime readers of this blog (or just about any Oakland blog) will remember that a year and a half ago a bunch of activists, including many bloggers and blog readers, joined together to prevent Oakland’s Redevelopment Agency from building a parking lot in Uptown Oakland next to the Fox Theater.

Don’t remember that? Well that’s ok because I recently wrote about it in a 500 word essay for an application to a program I’m applying to be in (excuse the focus on me – it was the nature of this essay assignment):

In March 2009, an issue came before the Oakland City Council that inspired me to organize Oakland residents and community leaders to work together to make change. The City had leased a large parcel in Uptown Oakland to a developer and most of it had been turned into apartments and a park. Part of the parcel that had been slated to become a condominium complex sat empty because the housing market had tanked and the developer asked the City for a two year continuance on its permit. As a condition of the continuance, the Redevelopment Agency asked the developer to contribute funding to build a temporary parking lot to fill the space.

I opposed this proposal because the parking lot was proposed for the heart of Uptown, an area of Oakland that had recently become vibrant after being nearly empty for decades. Part of what made this area so vibrant was its walkability, and adding another parking lot with dangerous curb cuts would have endangered that.

Together with three other Oakland residents – a motley crew of smart growth advocates and historic preservationists – I attended a committee meeting to speak against the parking lot and urged the committee members to consider other uses that would be more pedestrian and eco friendly.

The committee members listened and directed redevelopment staff to return with alternative proposals. We knew that staff were pushing hard for this parking lot and were unlikely to return with serious alternatives so I wrote a blog post about the situation and asked for readers to chime in with their ideas for the empty lot.

In nearly 50 blog comments, Oaklanders shared their ideas for the lot, including a solar panel array, community garden, soccer field, mini-golf course and large scale Burning Man art. I and other Oakland bloggers posted action alerts urging Oaklanders to email committee members and to attend the next committee meeting. Dozens of people sent emails and nine of us testified at the meeting (in the middle of a workday).

Staff stated at the meeting that there was no alternative to the parking lot, and the committee members listened. They unanimously approved the parking lot and put the item on the agenda for the next Council meeting (just one week away).

I and a few other bloggers wrote action alerts. A resident inspired by our blog posts wrote an op-ed in the Oakland Tribune. I and a colleague urged councilmembers to consider using the lot to display large-scale Burning Man sculptures. My colleague talked to the Oakland Arts Department and I contacted a Burning Man artist to discuss logistics and to ask him to come to the Council meeting.

More than a dozen Oaklanders turned out to speak – several of whom had never spoken at a Council meeting before. Councilmember Ignacio De La Fuente carried our proposal and the Council voted unanimously to direct staff to pursue it and not to build the parking lot. City staff fought this directive for months so the sculpture garden was never built. However, the parking lot was also never built and the fence around the lot is now used to display beautiful murals by local artists.

Well as of yesterday, the end of the story has changed.

The City of Oakland has secured a $200,000 grant from the National Endowment for the Arts to make our dreams come true! From the NEA website, the Cultural Arts Division:

plans the creation of the Uptown Arts District Park, a historic and re-emerging arts and entertainment district. Development of the park will transform an unused vacant lot into an outdoor cultural space for at least four years. The park will include rotating temporary exhibitions of public sculpture, newly commissioned public art projects, and an amphitheater for events by arts and community organizations. The park will complement the Fox Oakland Theater, the Oakland School for the Arts, and new restaurants and nightclubs, all within two blocks of the proposed park site. The division is partnering with Black Rock Arts Foundation to exhibit works of public art, many by Oakland artists. The park is expected to become the core of the downtown arts scene.

So yeah, we’re getting art, and not just a lot with art that is fenced off, but a gathering space too!

I could not be more excited about this. Many of us worked for months to make this happen, and I’m so proud of what we accomplished. Instead of a parking lot with dangerous curb cuts that blights this vibrant neighborhood, we’re getting a huge space filled with art that will attract even more people to the arts center of Oakland.

Thanks to everyone who helped make this happen – especially to dto510, Naomi Schiff, and Joyce Roy, who joined me at that first committee meeting when few thought we had a chance at winning. And thanks to the City’s Cultural Arts staff for pursuing this grant.

I look forward to the day when instead of looking at that empty lot, we’ll be standing in the middle of something like this:

OK, well, that minus the dust and with buildings instead of mountains in the background, but you get the picture. See you on the playa… I mean in Uptown.

Previous posts on the Uptown surface parking lot saga:

The Blogoaksphere in 2009: The Biggest Stories

2 Jan

You’re probably wondering what happened to the three-part series I promised about the blogoaksphere in 2009. Well, I was initially hoping to get this post up on the 31st, but it turned out to be a much bigger project than I had realized. There were hundreds of blog posts to pour through and many of the big stories of 2009 were heavy and filled with emotion. I pushed on and finally finished the post yesterday evening, but when I hit publish, I received an error message and my many hours of work over several days disappeared. I have no idea how this happened because WordPress automatically saves drafts as you write, and I’ve never lost more than 10 minutes of work in the past.

Unfortunately, there’s no way I’m going to be able to recreate that post. It took an immense amount of energy and time to write, and I just am not up to doing all that research and writing again.

But I’m not looking for sympathy here; I’m looking for help. Something that happened this past year, which I had not seen as much in previous years, is that big stories emerged in the blogoaksphere. In some cases, a couple bloggers would pick up the story and then many more would join in (like the Uptown parking lot fight), and in others, everyone jumped in at once (like the shooting of four Oakland police officers). What amazed me is how many different perspectives were shared on issues and how much these perspectives filled in the gaps of reporting in the mainstream media.

Here is the list of what I thought were the biggest blogoaksphere stories of 2009.

  • Riots in response to the killing of Oscar Grant (January)
  • The Oakland Airport Connector boondoggle (February-December)
  • Tragic shooting of four Oakland police officers (March)
  • Stopping the Uptown parking lot (March-May)
  • The abrupt closure of the Parkway (March, ongoing)
  • The parking rebellion & its aftermath (June, ongoing)
  • New restaurants opening & thriving throughout Oakland (Yearlong)

Since I’m not going to be able to fill in the dozens of links and excerpts that I originally compiled, I’m asking you for some help. You’re a blog reader and probably remember some posts written about these stories. Post links, excerpts, or just thoughts on these stories (or other stories) in the comments below. If you’re a blogger, feel free to post links to your own blog posts about these stories.

I’ll get this started by posting an excerpt to one of my favorite blog posts of the year, “Thoughts on a fractured city” at City Homestead, which reflected on the killing of Oscar Grants and the riots that ensued in downtown Oakland:

The shooting and its aftermath disturb me deeply on so many levels. There are countless layers to it: fear in its many forms, anger, prejudices and quick judgments, weighty decisions with life-altering consequences. We may never know exactly what was going through that officer’s mind in those early morning hours. Although the many videos make it clear to me that there was no need to fire, those of us watching on YouTube have the benefit of hindsight. We’re not standing inside that scene, weighing our options, uncertain. That’s not to say the officer is any less accountable for his actions, as we each live our lives by the decisions we make in the instant. It’s only to say that we may never know what emotions ran through his mind as he made that choice or in the moments afterwards.

I never expected what followed, though. The protests and vigils made sense, of course: BART’s leadership was remiss in their initial response to this tragedy, I think, and in the months to come, the agency will probably dissect these days one by one, trying to determine what might have been done differently. And given that the shooting happened in Oakland and BART’s headquarters are here, it was only logical that gatherings should be here as well. But the riots stunned me. How can the destruction of our neighborhoods possibly further the cause in any way? What’s worse is that the riots do not even seem to have been wholly Oakland-grown—many of the media reports and images profile young people from San Francisco and Berkeley and places farther afield attacking OPD cruisers, torching dumpsters, smashing windows. “I feel like Oakland should make some noise,” one protester from San Francisco told a reporter. “This is how we need to fight back.” And of the Oaklander whose small business had just had its windows smashed: “She should be glad she just lost her business and not her life.” This is the way to fight back? Is the killing of a young black male truly avenged by the destruction of black-owned businesses—and in someone else’s city, no less?

She continues, reflecting on all the positive things that Oakland has to offer and ending by explaining why we continue to live here:

To the world: we are not trapped here in this city; we have chosen to be here. We are here not because it is the only place we can afford living, but because it is the only place we can imagine living. I believe in this city, in its vast potential and its vibrant communities—and I love it, with all its imperfections. As a community, we will work through the anger and the violence, unearthing the very roots of it. Then, together, we will rebuild trust across the city and create from the fragments a single unified community. There’s a long road ahead, but I have faith that it is one that the people of this city will travel together.

It is Oakland, after all.

Exactly. So please join in below and share some of your favorite posts of the year on these big stories, be they inspiring, funny, informative, or simply enjoyable. It would be a huge New Years gift to me and would help me forgive WordPress for eating all of my work.