Tag Archives: planning commission

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

Safeway on College: Round 2 at the Planning Commission

3 Aug

I know I promised a long breakdown of the Safeway draft environmental impact report (DEIR) in my last post, but after reading the DEIR again and thinking about it some more, I realized I’d need more than one post to cover anything substantive. So this first post will cover a couple of the issues that were discussed at public comment at the July hearing and mitigations the DEIR offers to many of these issues. I’ll write a second post discussing project alternatives after tonight’s continuation of the DEIR hearing (at the last hearing, the Planning Commission ran out of time and continued the hearing).

The hearing a couple of weeks ago was quite interesting. There were so many people there that the hearing had to be moved from Hearing Room 1 to Council Chambers! When I arrived, I surveyed the room and feared that as at so many past Safeway meetings and hearings, the room was dominated by opponents. As the night went on though, the comments seemed to be fairly evenly split by opponents and proponents. Even with such a mix of project perspectives in the room, people were generally very civil and respectful throughout the comments. It was quite refreshing, especially thinking back to the first community meeting on this project that I attended back in 2008, when I was one of the few people who expressed any kind of support for the project and I got heckled while speaking! Continue reading

Safeway on College finally at Planning Commission tonight

20 Jul

UPDATE: Though some public comment was made on the Safeway DEIR at the 7/20 Planning Commission meeting, the item was continued until Wednesday, August 3rd. At that meeting, public comment will continue and the planning commissioners will provide their feedback on the DEIR.

After years of community meetings and plenty of delay, the College Avenue Safeway is finally going to the Planning Commission tonight (Wednesday, July 20th) for a hearing on its draft environmental impact report (DEIR). I had hoped to write a post about this last week well in advance of the hearing, but I got busy and then spent a long time reading the DEIR. So the long substantive post will have to come post-hearing, but I wanted to at least alert folks that the hearing is happening.

To refresh your memory, since it’s been more than a year and a half since I’ve blogged about this project, the proposal is to replace the hideous Safeway on College and Claremont that is surrounded by a sea of parking and a gas station. You know, this place: 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:

Thanks to your help, we’re appealing the pedestrian-unfriendly McDonald’s redesign

15 Dec

As you might have seen on my updates of the last post, we met our fundraising goal, raising $1407 to appeal the redesign of the McDonald’s on Telegraph and 45th. The incredible part to me was that we raised the vast majority of the funds in 26 hours! I was a bit concerned that it might be difficult to raise funds online after the successful crowdfunding efforts of The New Parkway and Awaken Cafe, but I think the success of all of these fundraising efforts show how invested Oaklanders are in our community and that we’re willing to financially invest as well.

Over the weekend, Max Allstadt and Josh Thorp drafted the appeal and did a very thorough job of it. Thanks to them and to John Gatewood, Christopher Waters, and many other ULTRA members for providing edits. Thanks also to John Gatewood for stepping up as the official appellant (and to the many co-appellants).

The appeal was filed on Monday. I encourage you to read the appeal in full, but if not, there are some highlights about why the redesign not only makes no sense but also does not comply with the General Plan and specifically the Land Use and Transportation Element (LUTE):

As stated in the General Plan Analysis of the Planning Commission Staff Report of December 1, 2010, the drive-through element of the current facility is acceptable only because it was established before the LUTE element of the General Plan was enacted. What is not addressed, however, is why it is acceptable that the property be redesigned to highlight this feature in particular—the new design insulates the entire property on all sides with drive-through lanes, making it impossible to enter on foot from either Telegraph Avenue or 45th Street without crossing one or more interior vehicle drives. It is not surprising that the proprietor would want to increase visibility and capacity of the drive-through element—at the December 1, 2010 meeting he estimated that drive-through traffic accounted for 70% of his business. What is surprising is that after meeting with select local groups including ULTRA (Urbanists for a Livable Temescal Rockridge Area) and in full light of current General Plan guidance, the Planning Commission has approved a new design that is actually more antagonistic to pedestrians, increases drive-through impacts on the neighborhood, and weakens the concentration and continuity of the shopping frontage. The appellants feel that this signifies a lack of discretion on the part of the Planning Commission on the most basic level.

Nicely said – not much to add there.

The appeal goes through several required findings by the Planning Commission and explains why their findings were inadequate. These are all worth reading, but I especially appreciate this one that focuses on how this decision will impact the future of the area:

Section 17.136.070 (B)-Regular Design Review Criteria, Nonresidential Facilities:

Required Finding

2. That the proposal will be of a quality and a character which harmonizes with, and serves to protect the value of, private and public investments in the area.

Adopted Planning Commission Finding of December 1, 2010

The remodeled project will enhance Temescal neighborhood’s appearance compared with to the status quo. The improvement will retain a restaurant business which draws customers to the Temescal retail area, providing an improvement in quality of materials, design and landscaping from the existing 1977 restaurant design.

Inadequacy of Planning Commission Finding

The character of the proposed design is inherently at odds with the goals of private and public investment in the area. Effectively, the design is a do-over of an existing use of the parcel which is in conflict with current LUTE element of the General Plan, which explicitly calls for pedestrian-oriented development in the area.

Telegraph Avenue is a “Growth and Change” corridor under the LUTE designation, but the proposed project does not offer significant growth. In fact the project presents a long-term liability for growth by allowing major investment in new construction of a design which is out of step with long-term goals for the neighborhood. There are long- term consequences for permitting this level of investment in a project which is profitable but underutilizes a 3/4 acre lot. Particularly, it can be expected that this low-density anti-pedestrian design will persist many decades into the future while the rest of the neighborhood grows around it in ways more consistent with the LUTE. In short, the project amounts to complete reconstruction of an anachronism.

Thanks so much to everyone who contributed by writing or editing the appeal or by contributing to the filing costs. The Council will hear the appeal sometime in the next couple of months and we’ll need your help again writing emails and speaking at the Council meeting. Until then, enjoy reading the appeal.