Tag Archives: ULTRA

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.

Christopher Waters: Oakland’s growing pains: preservation and progress

2 Feb

This guest post was written by Christopher Waters, a North Oakland resident and founder of the Nomad Café. He serves on numerous boards, commissions and community groups in Oakland, including the Broadway/Valdez Area Specific Plan stakeholder group.

As a member of Oakland’s Broadway/Valdez Area Specific Plan stakeholder group, I was on the list of recipients, on January 27, 2010, of an email from Naomi Schiff, representing the Oakland Heritage Alliance’s Preservation Committee, in which a letter from OHA was attached that rejected all three of the current proposed plan alternatives for the Broadway/Valdez Area.  Her email, and the letter, are reproduced below, followed by my response, which was also sent to the entire stakeholder group.  As the Broadway/Valdez Specific Plan is a public process with publicly-noticed meetings, this email exchange sent to the entire stakeholder group is now a matter of public record.

From: Naomi Schiff
Sent: Wednesday, January 27, 2010 4:40 PM
To: Broadway/Valdez Area Specific Plan Stakeholders Group
Subject: Re: Oakland Heritage Alliance: Broadway Valdez area specific plan

Dear Staff members, consultants, policymakers, stakeholders, and community members,

Oakland Heritage Alliance held a meeting of its Preservation Committee to discuss the most recent Broadway Valdez materials, and the discussion of potential development alternatives.

Attached is a letter reflecting our responses. Some of our members will also attend the public meeting on the 28th.

We look forward to further productive and creative discussion, and hope that our views will be given consideration as we move ahead.

Thank you so much,

Naomi Schiff representing OHA Preservation Committee


My response follows below.  Note that many of the supporting ideas and comments contained herein are those of my more learned colleague, Temescal resident and ULTRA founder John Gatewood.

First, we reject the canard that Existing Building = Green Building.  A building that sits empty for decades because it is ill-suited for any purpose other than its original one is not green. It is a waste of resources and a waste of valuable land at an in-fill site. Furthermore, many existing buildings are tremendously energy inefficient, with retrofits (if even possible) sometimes virtually no more cost-effective than new construction, and often even more bureaucratically cumbersome.  We strongly support adaptive re-use for individual in-fill projects, but the very nature and extent of the densification proposed for this multiple-parcel project severely inhibits realistic re-use opportunities.

As for the bureaucratic cost: does OHA support modifying our building codes to make it easier to re-use old structures without having to bring them up to modern code (safety code is a given, but what about electrical, plumbing and seismic)?  What are the incentives OHA envisions that will encourage re-use of these buildings while still achieving the primary goal of massively enhancing Oakland’s retail tax base? Saying it could be done is just talk. We would like to see a detailed action plan from OHA that will actually facilitate this.

Preservationist groups have a frustrating tendency to fail to state where the money is going to come from for their ideas. Everyone has ideas; the real question is: how are you going to pay for them — and how are you going to implement them?  Unfortunately the usual answer is: “Let’s make someone else pay!” — the City, the State, the Feds, the developers, the big businesses (the usual suspects).  And yes, those entities should pay: the city and state via redevelopment funds or grants, developers through mitigation fees, big businesses through taxes, etc. But before we can take such ideas seriously, we need to have it spelled out who pays and how they pay. Otherwise it’s just talk, and nothing more.

OHA’s proposed businesses sound very cute for a college town but will not generate anywhere near the retail tax base our city needs. We actually chuckled when we read that part of the OHA letter. We love bicycles, and we love bicycle repair shops, but the tax revenue from it ain’t gonna pay for 1 more beat cop.  OHA’s list of suggested possible businesses for this project is striking in its disconnection from economic reality.  The tax revenue generated by the enterprises they propose will be very, very small. Yes, there must be a mix of businesses, large and small, but strictly small start-ups like those OHA proposes will not generate very much revenue. Take the example of Fourth Street in Berkeley: those are small businesses or small outposts of large chain retail, but they are medium to high end (frou-frou, in official parlance) businesses. That’s why it works as destination retail and as a revenue source for Berkeley. IF OHA had discussed that model we could take it seriously — but they do not. What they propose sounds like something from the 1970’s.

Wearing her OHA hat, Naomi, at our last public meeting, held up the Oakland Whole Foods/Cox Cadillac remodel as a “victory” for historic preservation. However, it’s important to understand that this project was a “facadectomy,” in which a historic façade is preserved and a whole new building is essentially built behind it.  The Whole Foods (which, along with the Downtown Oakland YMCA, I frequent) is a welcome and important defining point for what will be the edge of this retail-dense area (especially in Valdez Alternative #3, my favored — and the highest-density — alternative, which uses 24th Street as the primary retail spine), but it is certainly not a “historic preservation” so much as a “historic reference.”  There will be many, many opportunities for such historic references within this development area — and we support such historic references (by the way, the design team does, too).  We certainly find the juxtaposition of truly new and truly historic bolder and more visually engaging than the more frequently-seen preservationist alternative: the juxtaposition of old and faux-old.  Thanks to the squeaky wheel of preservationists, developers often take the path of least resistance and what we get is another faux Tuscan Villa!  How exciting — not.

By the way: the design team has pointed out that there are many, many historic attributes that could not be preserved with a simple “façadectomy” — many of these are foyers, arches, and other unique design components that reside on the interiors of buildings with humdrum or otherwise historically insignificant exteriors.  The public would never notice the loss of most of these “internal” historic resources, if removed.  But again, with a large-scale redevelopment effort like this one, the best way to save those “internal” resources is for groups like OHA to work with the developers (if we ever reach the development stage) to identify creative ways to retain certain historic interior design elements and enhance their redevelopment goals at the same time.

The list of “failed” redevelopment projects in the appendix to the OHA letter completely ignores the major demographic changes Oakland has gone thru since the post-WWII era.  We cannot have a discussion about development — both past and future — without first looking at these changes.  Oakland is a Rust Belt city; the loss of Oakland’s industrial base and the well-paying blue collar jobs that base generated did and continues to do enormous damage to our city.

We need more people living and working in Oakland.  If we are ever to recover from being a Rust Belt city we need more residents, which, we hope, will generate more jobs. So we support the highest density proposals: Valdez Alternative #3, and North End Alternative 1 or 2 or some variation thereon. But if the City of Oakland succeeds in identifying a master developer for one or both areas, we would encourage the use of different architects for different parts of each portion of the project, in order to mix it up a little. The Bay Area is far too conservative architecturally and we need to get bold.

There is no reason dense development has to conflict with pedestrian/bike/transit orientation, design appeal, or a sense of comfort or safety.  But one thing is for certain: if we can’t attract large enough and dense enough retail in the first place, these later important tweaks and enhancements will be moot and therefore impossible.

I don’t have comment on specific historic structures at this point, with the exception of the long-defunct space-age diner (originally Biff’s and later JJ’s) at 26th and Broadway.  I don’t see Biff’s (which is a contributing structure, not a designated historic resource) as an important historic resource, and I see it as harking back to the golden age of the automobile.  The whole point is to transform “auto row” into a higher, better use.  Biff’s is a rather mediocre example of its style , and we feel there are other structures in the Bay Area that are much better examples of Googie architecture.  And again, it is an example of the type of auto-centric structure we are trying to get away from (low-rise building in back and big parking lot in front).

If you balk at the removal of any potentially historic stock, or if you have a vision of the Broadway/Valdez redevelopment as a “historic streetcar suburb” like Berkeley, then of course you will be dissatisfied with all of the proposed alternatives.  You first have to decide whether you support the broad concept of what is being proposed here:  dense comparison retail designed to stimulate Oakland’s desperately flagging retail tax base.  The market analysis shows that Oakland exports roughly $1 billion in potential retail sales to neighboring cities due to our lack of destination retail infrastructure.  This $1 billion may be unquantifiable, but suffice it to say it is massively lacking, and we have already established that OHA’s proposed list of businesses won’t come anywhere close to filling the void.  If you accept the basic premise that a large-scale shopping destination (with major retail anchors and an abundance of minor and other retail) is sorely needed, there are certain realities that come with that:

  • Broadway is the logical (and the only real viable) location (ref: the “Upper Broadway Strategy” Conley report), due to good freeway access; availability of transit service; proximity to a rejuvenated downtown/uptown; the availability of so many contiguous parcels of land due to the decline in automotive sales and repair uses; adjacency to Kaiser and Summit/Alta Bates campuses; and Broadway’s significance as Oakland’s “main street.”
  • Parking.  I am no parking advocate, but no major retail store will come to a place that doesn’t come close to meeting its parking demands.  These project proposals are already at the very lowest end of what major retail demands, but at this stage it is only a placeholder and, again, demand will have to be determined by a master developer in conjunction with the realities on the ground as they emerge over time.  The public will no doubt (rightly so) influence this process, just as we will need to influence the decision-making around availability of, and/or improvements to, transit infrastructure.  But if there is no tax base coming into Oakland, how will major transit infrastructure improvements be paid for (or how will bond measures, etc. be justified)?

Lastly: the OHA letter encourages light-industrial use of the “historic” auto row structures along Broadway.  We believe a vision for light industry along Broadway patently contradicts the intention of this plan.  Surely OHA doesn’t seriously believe that the adjacent neighborhoods in this retail area, once it is redeveloped, will want to see light industry right next door?

Common ground:

  • we share the notion that TDRs (Transferable Development Rights) could be a good way to achieve some of the preservationists’ goals while still achieving a higher-density neighborhood.  Using the Biff’s site (which I don’t advocate preserving) as a simple example:  it could arguably be zoned for 45 feet and 1 housing unit/450 square feet of lot area on the entire site; BUT, in exchange for preserving the Biff’s building, the height and density would be transferred from it to the parking lot in front, allowing development of a higher and denser project in front of it.
  • we agree that North End Alternative #3 offers a single-level, single-use big-box format retail that is inconsistent with a smart growth vision for Oakland.
  • we support establishing workforce housing options as part of the new stock.
  • we support connecting the retail district to 19th Street BART via shuttles, tram or dedicated bus service, until or unless the infrastructure exists for a new district-specific BART/light-rail stop.
  • we suggest exploring, with the individual developers, all the parking mitigation options like un-bundling parking from residential units, creation of bike parking infrastructure, etc.

I encourage citizens and stakeholders to take these contrasting points into consideration when reviewing the positions of the Oakland Heritage Alliance.

Safeway on College – The cost of doing nothing is not nothing

19 Nov

Last night’s Planning Commission hearing on the College Avenue Safeway went well overall. Sure, the neighbors showed up in force to try to stop the project or at least to greatly reduce the scale of the project. But it was just a scoping session so staff and commissioners repeatedly reminded them to stick to scoping issues and that the merits of the project would be discussed later.

As I listened to speaker after speaker talk about their grave concerns about an expanded Safeway, I realized that they seemed to believe that the cost of doing nothing is nothing – that if we leave Safeway the way it is, there would be no cost to the neighborhood, environment, or the economy. I’d like to borrow a concept that Robert at the California High Speed Rail blog came up with about HSR – the cost of doing nothing is not nothing. Robert argued that not building HSR would end up costing the state much more in the long run, with increased air and car traffic, needs to upgrade airports and highways, pollution, etc.

In the same vein, we need to ask the question: what is the cost of leaving the Safeway as it is now? John Gatewood from ULTRA came up with these questions, about the environmental impacts of leaving the store as is:

  • How efficient are the existing HVAC systems in the present store?
  • How efficient are the existing refrigeration and freezer units?
  • How efficient is the energy usage?
  • How efficient is the existing loading dock? Do trucks need to idle longer because of lack of space, etc?
  • How efficient is the existing parking lot configuration? Do drivers spend too much time looking for a space?
  • What is the “embodied energy” of the existing structure, the energy that went into producing the materials used in the existing structures?
  • What are the energy and carbon footprint coasts of demo’ing the existing structures and can these be recouped in the energy efficiencies and more environmentally sound new construction?

Beyond environmental impacts, the current store has real negative impacts on the neighborhood that effect quality of life and local business. In my comments to the Planning Commission last night, I told my story of being a pedestrian that frequently goes to that Safeway, as it’s a short walk from my home. Getting to the Safeway on foot is a nightmare – there are multiple opportunities to get hit by cars, and there are multiple times when both car driver’s and pedestrian’s views are obstructed. Part of the reason for this is that there are so many driveways – 9 in total on College and Claremont. Just the fact that the new Safeway will reduce the curb cuts from 9 to 4 will be a huge benefit to pedestrians, bicyclists, and to safety.

I’ve mentioned this before, but the current Safeway and its huge surface parking lot is a blight on the neighborhood that’s quite creepy at night. It is also entirely uninviting – unless I’m going to Safeway I avoid that side of the street entirely and often just go to a different part of Rockridge that’s more inviting to do my shopping.

The cost of doing nothing looks like this:

While doing something looks like this:

To me, the decision is obvious. I’m tired of this dangerous, ugly, and uninviting store being the center of the Alcatraz/College/Claremont shopping district. The cost of doing nothing is high, especially when we have the potential for a beautiful designed Safeway with hidden parking and more small, street level stories to keep the neighborhood dynamic.

If you’re interested in the details of the last night’s meeting, you can see coverage on Twitter #oakmtg. I just joined Twitter this week and will be using it primarily to cover Oakland meetings. You can find me @oaklandbecks.

Previous posts on College & Claremont Safeway:

John Gatewood: Safeway at College @ Claremont – Opportunity to Enhance an Urban Village

12 Nov

This guest post was written by John Gatewood, one of the co-founders of ULTRA (Urbanists for a Livable Temescal Rockridge Area), which supports higher density mixed-use development along the major transit corridors of north Oakland. John works in the Graphic Arts Industry and is a resident of Temescal.

Safeway is in the planning stages of replacing the existing store and gas station at College & Claremont with a new store. (Their plans can be found on their website.)

On Wednesday evening, November 18, this project will be before the Planning Commission. No decisions will be made at this time, as it is an Environmental Impact Report (EIR) scoping session to solicit comments from the community as to what should be studied in the EIR for this project.

The latest version of Safeway’s proposal is an improvement upon the previous iterations they have shown the community but it could still be better. ULTRA, Urbanists for a Livable Temescal Rockridge Area, agrees that the existing store and gas station must be replaced. These two relics from the auto-centric 1960’s have no place in the small-scale urban village that Rockridge has become.

But one of the project alternatives studied MUST include a housing component. We think it is an excellent location for senior housing. This site has very good transit access and it is in an aging community. Rockridge is built-out. There are very few locations where there is even the possibility of building higher density housing. This site is one of those rare locations. This project is an opportunity to do some strategic planning for the future of the neighborhood. We are sure that now and in the future there will be more and more residents who will want to remain in the neighborhood but no longer want the burden of maintaining a single family house. Senior housing at this site would address this coming need. Furthermore Safeway has already partnered with a housing developer at the Mission Bay development in San Francisco. They now have the experience of building a new Safeway with a housing component and they need to bring that experience to this site.

In Safeway’s latest proposal they have small storefronts on the first floor along College Avenue and the Safeway store above. We think the Safeway should be on the first floor BEHIND the small storefronts. This has multiple benefits – It reduces the bulk of the building because the lot slopes up more than a full story in the rear, meaning that the supermarket would be partially below-grade, greatly reducing the visual impact of the store. The storefronts lining College would echo the existing land use, that is, small storefronts close together creating a lively and dense retail experience. These storefronts need maximum flexibility as to their eventual use. Ideally they would be filled with independent businesses and that should remain the goal for these stores. But just because a project has ground floor retail doesn’t mean that there are businesses that can be successful in these spaces. A row of empty storefronts does nothing to help the community.

ULTRA Safeway Proposal 1st Floor

Putting Safeway behind the storefronts will make these spaces much more flexible. As part of the Conditional Use Permit (CUP) and on an interim basis only, each of these spaces could be used as retail spaces for Safeway’s various departments. Having their various specialty departments with their own entrances on College Avenue could serve as an inducement for customers to enter the main Safeway store. As part of the CUP and on an interim basis only, these storefronts could also be permitted to be used by neighborhood-serving community groups. Having the Safeway store on the first floor would also have the additional benefit of freeing up the second and possible third floor for housing. Housing would not encompass the entire roof space but only the periphery along the avenues, echoing the existing land use pattern along College Avenue. The larger portion of the rooftop could be a parking deck for the store.

ULTRA Safeway Proposal 2nd Floor

Instead of a garage entrance on College Avenue like in Safeway’s proposal, we think there should be a public plaza. The entrance to the first floor Safeway would be at the back of this plaza. What is missing and needed at this end of College Avenue is a civic space, a place for people to gather. This would address that need. We envision this space evolving into a place where small public events such as arts & crafts fairs could be held. This would be to the community’s benefit and it would redound to Safeway’s benefit too because the more attractive the public space outside the store, the more likely it is people will enter the store.

Please join ULTRA and others at the Planning Commission meeting next Wednesday to share your thoughts about the Safeway EIR scoping issues:

Planning Commission Meeting
Wednesday, November 18th at 6:00 pm
Oakland City Hall
1 Frank Ogawa Plaza, Hearing Room 1

You can also submit comments and/or questions in writing to:
Pete Vollman, Planner III,
City of Oakland, Community & Economic Development Agency
250 Frank H. Ogawa Plaza, Suite 2114
Reference Case Number ER09-0006 in all communication.
Comments must be received no later than 4PM on December 1, 2009.

Previous posts on College & Claremont Safeway:

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.

Previous posts on this project:

John Gatewood: Former opponents united in opposition to Safeway plan for Rockridge Center

14 Jul

This guest post was written by John Gatewood, one of the co-founders of ULTRA (Urbanists for a Livable Temescal Rockridge Area), which supports higher density mixed-use development along the major transit corridors of north Oakland. John works in the Graphic Arts Industry and is a resident of Temescal.

I hope all who oppose the construction of another suburban-style auto-centric strip mall in Oakland will come to the Planning Commission meeting on July 15 to voice their opposition to what Safeway has proposed at the site of the Rockridge Center Mall at Broadway and Pleasant Valley in north Oakland. This proposal is so offensive and so disrespectful of our city and our neighborhoods that it has managed to unite in opposition all the neighborhood groups who until now had been on opposite sides of the various development debates in north Oakland these past four years. And for those who have experienced how contentious these debates have been it is indeed a powerful statement that we all oppose this proposal.

A little background – In 1998 the City of Oakland, to its credit, adopted a visionary General Plan. The overarching goal was to steer new mixed-use development to the transit corridors in our city. Certain major transit corridors in Oakland also carry the designation “growth and change” because these are the transit corridors that the city thinks should be the location for higher density housing development in Oakland. The Broadway corridor is designated as “growth and change” from the 580 freeway underpass to College Avenue and the intersection of Broadway, Pleasant Valley and 51st Street has the further distinction of also being the center of a stretch of upper Broadway designated as a; “Target Area for Community and Economic Development.” It is also states that for this Target Area the city should; “conduct land-use study to determine the feasibility of higher density housing.” The city did just that in the Conley Report released in June 2008 that studied all of Oakland’s retail opportunities. This report singled out this intersection as one of only five “finalist nodes” in the entire city as; “an opportunity to redevelop the pattern of land use to one that is less auto-oriented, and supports creation of a pedestrian environment that serves the adjacent neighborhoods.” In the report, there are multiple alternatives presented as to how higher density mixed-use could be built on this site.

After all this quite clear direction from the city as to what its vision for this major transit node in Oakland is, imagine the community’s surprise and anger at being presented with a strip mall proposal that walls itself off from the neighborhoods!

The July 15 Planning Commission meeting is a “scoping” session for this project to help determine what the EIR will study. It is very important that the Planning Commission hear that the community does not want another strip mall in Oakland! Our hope is that the Planning Commission will instruct staff to study multiple alternatives to the proposal but that these alternatives must include housing. The city needs to use the EIR to encourage Safeway to help achieve the vision the city has for this junction where three neighborhoods meet. There is now an opportunity to build a project that could knit Temescal, Rockridge and Piedmont Avenue together instead of continuing to divide them and it is up to us to convince the Planning Commission to make this happen.

The Planning Commission meeting will be held on Wednesday, July 15th at 6:00 pm in Hearing Room 1, City Hall, 1 Frank Ogawa Plaza and the full agenda can be read here.

Quick Updates on Prop 8 Lawsuit & the Creekside Project

22 Nov

I’m thoroughly enjoying DC and Maryland (except for the biting cold wind), but I thought I’d take a moment for some exciting updates on the meetings I posted about last week.

On Tuesday, in a closed session, the Alameda County Board of Supervisors voted to join the lawsuit calling for the repeal of Proposition 8. Thanks so much to everyone who contacted the board or spoke at Tuesday’s meeting!

Then on Wednesday, the California Supreme Court announced they would review the case. Be_Devine has the details over at Calitics:

One early indicator of the way the Supreme Court sees the issues in any given case is to look at what questions it certifies for review.  Here, the Court certified three questions:

(1) Is Proposition 8 invalid because it constitutes a revision of, rather than an amendment to the California Constitution?

(2) Does Proposition 8 violate the separation of powers doctrine under the California Constitution?

(3) If Proposition 8 is not unconstitutional, what is its effect, if any, on the marriages of same-sex couples performed before the adoption of Proposition 8?

The Court allowed the Official Proponents of Proposition 8 to intervene in the litigation.  This means that they can file a Respondent’s Brief along with the Attorney General’s office.  The Court denied a similar request filed by the Campaign for California Families.

Some more good news is that the Planning Commission unanimously approved the Creekside project on Wednesday night. I heard that several neighborhood members spoke out in support of the project, while a few members of STAND spoke out against it. Via an email from an ULTRA member:

What was most rewarding was hearing each Planning Commissioner who spoke (Huntsman had no comments) echo what ULTRA has been saying for years –
General Plan = The Law
Higher Density = Economic vitality
Higher Density = Lower cost housing
Transit Oriented Development = Less need for parking

I look forward to seeing this project built and to getting rid of that empty parking lot.

I unfortunately have no update on Rebecca Kaplan’s victory party, though I do know that dto510 made a great mixtape for the party. If you attended, I’d love to know how the party went.

Time to get active & to celebrate!

16 Nov

Over the last week, I’ve felt a bit antsy. It’s a bit strange to go back to a life that doesn’t consist of working, phoning, sleeping, working, phoning, sleeping (oh, and lots of meetings in between). This week, there are several important meetings and events that would be filling my time, except that I’ll be heading to DC on Tuesday morning. I hope some of my readers can fill in for me and take some time to get active in Oakland politics and celebrate our victories.

1) Tuesday, November 18th: Call on Alameda County to Stand Up for Equal Rights

At yesterday’s rally, a speaker spoke about the lawsuit that advocacy groups have brought to the California Supreme Court in an attempt to overturn Proposition 8. Dozens of legislators have signed onto friend of the court briefs in support of the case, and several counties have joined them in support. But Alameda County has yet to show interest in supporting the case. The speaker said he had called the supervisors and was surprised at how tepid their responses were.

So on Tuesday, at the regular Alameda County Board of Supervisors meeting, advocates plan to speak out during the public comment period at the beginning of the meeting to urge the County to support the lawsuit. It’s something the supervisors can vote on and make happen very quickly and easily so there’s really no excuse for them not to act.

I really wish I could make it to this meeting. Please take some time from your day and head down there. I’ve spoken before the supervisors several times, and it’s not nearly as intimidating as speaking before the Oakland City Council. Plus, you’ll be joined by many other equal rights advocates making the same simple request.

Unfortunately, public comment happens at the end of the meeting so even though the meeting starts at 10:30am, you shouldn’t expect to speak until several hours later so bring a good book! Just make sure to fill out a speaker’s card right when you arrive.

Tuesday, November 18th at 10:30am

2) Wednesday, November 19th: Planning Commission Hearing on Creekside Project

Over a year ago, I wrote a blog post arguing that the North Oakland portion of Telegraph is ready to grow:

last night, as I walked down Telegraph from the bus stop, I realized just how odd the 1-2 story buildings looked. The disproportionality of the building heights to the size of the street is astounding.

Beyond aesthetics, Temescal’s businesses are rapidly growing, and Telegraph has become a major transit corridor, thanks to the new rapid bus line. This is only going to increase, once Bus Rapid Transit (BRT) is developed. If Oakland wants to become a more environmentally sustainable city, it makes so much sense to build dense housing in neighborhoods with established services and transit.

The arguments I wrote then are even more compelling today, as business booms in Temescal and we’re even closer to making BRT a reality. The Creekside project, which would be located on the lot of the closed Global Video and its huge parking lot, fits well into this vision for a denser, more lively North Oakland. The project is a mixed-use development with units for sale and for rent, coupled with retail on the ground floor. V Smoothe wrote a post about this project in January complete with renderings and maps, which I encourage you to check out if you’re interested in this project.

Since January, the project has been downsized from 120 to 102 units, mostly because of the opposition to the project by STAND, a group that would be happier if the the project was not built at all. STAND sent an email out today encouraging its membership to attending the planning commission meeting to speak out against this project. ULTRA, on the other hand, is encouraging its membership to attend the meeting to speak out in support of the project.

This project reminds me a lot of the Safeway rebuild. We have two options here – we can be left with this ugly building with a huge parking lot or we can look forward to a much needed project that improves the pedestrian experience and enlivens the neighborhood.

If you agree that Telegraph is ready to grow, please attend this meeting and voice your support for this important project.

Wednesday, November 19th at 6:00pm
Oakland City Hall
One Frank H. Ogawa Plaza
Hearing Room No. 1
Oakland, CA 94612
See the agenda here.

3) Thursday, November 20th: Celebrate Rebecca Kaplan’s Victory!

Rebecca’s hosting a party this Thursday to celebrate her huge electoral victory. This party should be tons of fun, and it’s a great opportunity to meet our City Council Member-elect if you haven’t had a chance to do so yet. Also, I’m guessing this will be the final event at the Democratic headquarters, which is such an incredible space. So head down there on Thursday night and give Rebecca a big hug for me!

Thursday, November 20th, 2008 from 5:30pm – 7:30pm
1915 Broadway (@19th street), Oakland
Suggested contribution, $50 (sliding scale).
To register or pay online, CLICK HERE

Flooding the Market with Oakland Pride

1 Oct

Yesterday, I walked down to “Rockridge Out and About,” a street fair that closed off about six blocks of College from Claremont to well past the BART station.

The event was great. It was a beautiful, sunny and breezy afternoon. All three music stages were loud and lively. Cars were stuck trying to circumvent the major thoroughfare while pedestrians roamed freely. There were yummy samples of eight different kinds of local oil, and several kinds of cheeses. I even got to meet someone from ULTRA (Urbanists for a Livable Rockridge and Temescal Area) and got to ask about upcoming meetings.

But what struck me most was the multitude of vendors selling clothing and accessories featuring some expression of Oakland pride. For a while I’ve been meaning to write about this phenomenon, and now seems like the perfect time. First, I have to admit that I kind of have a problem when it comes to Oakland goods. I barely wear t-shirts anymore, except on the weekends, but I can’t help myself when I see a clever new Oakland design. Just take a look at mine and my girlfriend’s collection:

Oakland Gear

OK… now that we’re past my one weakness when it comes to shopping (alright, I do also have a weakness for local organic food), let’s take a closer look at some of what’s on the market.

There’s of course Oaklandish, which to my knowledge was one of the first groups of artists that started promoting the Oakland image through clothing (and other means, like movies and communal activities). From their website…


OAKLANDISH is a stealth multi-form public art & media campaign designed to illuminate the unique culture and history existing here in The Town. Since our first projects in 2K the now ubiquitous roots image has come to represent the strange luster and oddball spirit that is East Bay life.

Strangely, the Oaklandish truck was no where to be found at the Rockridge street fair yesterday…

The next artist I discovered was the man behind the now infamous Oakland cranes shirt, who runs The Girl and Rhino. He’s got lots of non-Oakland designs too, and I heard via his girlfriend that they might be retiring the crane design soon because they’re getting a bit tired of it. As you can see by our collection, my girlfriend and I are fans.

The Girl and Rhino

(It helps that the artist shows up to the Temescal Farmer’s Market every Sunday and we often chat.) Oh yeah – he has a newish bag that’s not up on his site: i 8 Oakland. You’ll have to find him at the market to snag one of these…

Yesterday, I stumbled upon some artists that have more recently embraced Oakland. The first was 35TH & MAC, who’s tagline is “Town Grown Flavor,” and they had some incredible designs, including these, that me and my girlfriend snagged:

Town Grown Flavor

They also had a nice design of the Oakland Tribune building. Unfortunately, their online store is not up and running yet, but I’m guessing I’ll see them again soon…

Like Minded People Oakland Citysape




Next was Like Minded People, whose designs I’ve seen in Fabric8, a great store in SF that features clothing from several talented Bay Area artists. Believe it or not, I managed not to buy anything from them, but I was tempted by this shirt featuring an old school downtown cityscape:


I hella heart Oakland


You still with me? I hope so because there’s a couple more jewels of East Bay gear I want to share. I really couldn’t write this post with at least mentioning the “I hella ❤ Oakland” shirts. If you haven’t seen these, well, I think you might be living in a cave, but I’ve included a picture just in case. More recently, someone has spun off this idea and created the “I Hella Bike Oakland” (with a picture of a bike). They’re sold at the Tip Top Bike Shop in Temescal, but I have no idea who makes them.

Upper Playground

OK, and here’s my last one (I promise). I was thrilled to find out that Upper Playground recently opened their first East Bay store, in Berkeley on Telegraph. And to celebrate this opening, they’ve released a new East Bay line. I was even more excited to find that one of their designs featured the bus I ride daily, old school orange and green AC Transit style.

Woo! That was tiring. Now that I’ve exhausted myself and anyone who’s still reading, I do have a couple thoughts on this phenomenon of wearing Oakland pride. First off, I think it’s pretty clear by now that I think it’s a good thing. I absolutely love wearing my Oakland pride, especially when I’m in SF or other cities. There’s still a large segment of the population that thinks of Oakland as just another run down city with a lot of crime. I’m happy to showcase the talented artists who make this city a bit brighter.

Besides spreading the word about how great Oakland is, I think wearing and buying Oakland goods in general does something else important -it supports Oakland artists and entrepreneurs. It’s difficult to make it as an artist. That’s why I have a day job and write in my free time. These artists are truly talented, and if Oaklanders are going to support them, who is?

For the three readers that have made it this far, what are your thoughts on this flood of Oakland goods hitting the market? Does it raise any concerns for you? Do you fully embrace it? I’d love to hear your thoughts.