Monthly Archives: March 2008

Begging for money

This is exactly what’s wrong with Ron Dellums’s approach to governing Oakland. It explains why he’s eager to bankrupt our fund reserves and spend money we don’t have on whatever half-baked plan pops into his head.

Dellums is realistic about what lies ahead.

“We work diligently here, constantly, trying to deal with these issues. You get on a plane, you go to Washington, you beg for money. You go to foundations and you beg for money. You say ‘Give us the resources to help us do the job every day.’

I know I’ve complained about this before, but it continues to frustrate me to no end. If Oakland is ever going to improve, we have to figure out how to make things work with the resources we have. Yes, that’s difficult. But I believe it’s doable. Dellums isn’t even interested in trying. As long as our Mayor is operating from the basic assumption that Oakland is doomed without substantial amounts of charity, we’re never going to see any improvement, and we’re never going to see any effort from his office to use our limited resources wisely.

Hodge back on ballot!

Three way race in District 3 after all. From the ruling:

While the City Clerk did not act in an improper manner, the applicable ordinance required Petitioner’s nomination petition to include the signatures of at least fifty (50) registered voters of the city who are residents of the district of the office for which the candidate seeks nomination…Whether or not the signature at issue, that of Charles Mouton, technically complies with the foregoing ordinance and statues, his signature is in substantial compliance with their reasonable objectives, which is to ensure that signators of such petitions are both residents and registered voters of the relevant district…As such, Respondents Latonda Simmons, City Clerk of the City of Oakland, and Dave MacDonald, Registrar of Voters for the County of Alameda, and all persons acting under their direction and control, are ORDERED TO take all necessary steps to include Petitioner Gregory Hodge on the June 3, 2008 City of Oakland Municipal Nominating Election ballot for the office of the Oakland City Council…

Related posts:

The sad story of subarea 8

People will tell you that the new industrial land use policy is about providing certainty and predictability to developers, business owners, and property owners. Adopting a set of objective criteria, developed through a public-input process, to use in evaluating applications for General Plan amendments is a planning tool. In theory, it should ensure that approvals are not arbitrary, or based on the political influence of any particular developer or business owner, and that the decisions made are those appropriate for the city as a whole. It would provide objective measures to evaluate whether the land in question has potential for job creation and industrial business use, what sort of economic impact the conversion will have on the city, and whether a proposed residential development will contain appropriate measures to buffer the new homes from nearby industry, in order to avoid creating the oft-threatened domino effect of conversion after conversion.

And if that were the case, all this would be fine. But it isn’t. Nancy Nadel and Pat Kernighan both stated on March 4th that the provision of community benefits in any new residential project on industrially designated land should be one of the criteria for conversion. Dan Lindheim threw a minor fit because the Council’s motion did not specifically identify community benefits as part of the criteria staff was to return with (I found this utterly bizarre – the Council didn’t give any direction as to what criteria should be, only that they be “comprehensive.” Nothing prevents staff from returning with criteria that include community benefits – in fact, I would be shocked if they didn’t.) Community benefits have nothing to do with predictability or the appropriateness of conversion.*

As illustration, let me tell you a about a little place called subarea 8. Subarea 8, a 50 acre section of East Oakland, is bordered by 92nd and 98th Avenues, San Leandro St. and E Street. Continue reading

Industrial Land Use: So what just happened?

Better late than never, right?

Okay, so last week I talked about what the Council has been doing with respect to industrial land retention for the past few years. In September 2006, they agreed to retain a number of the City’s industrial subareas solely as industrial, but could not reach consensus on others. Instead, requests for conversions in these areas were to be considered on a project by project basis. So this was kind of where we stood until February, when Mayor Ron Dellums submitted a proposed Industrial Land Use Policy to the City Council, asking them to declare: Continue reading

Victory for smart growth

STAND lost their lawsuit. The group was suing the City over approval of a new building at 4801 Shattuck, claiming that the project needed an Environmental Impact Report. The City Council rejected STAND’s appeal of the Planning Commission’s approval of the project last July, and in August STAND sued. Earlier this month, Judge Frank Roesch issued a tentative decision denying STAND’s request and affirming that the project is exempt from CEQA review.

Also going on today:

  • Oakland’s 2008 homicide total is up to 33 – last year at this time, we were at 22.
  • Oddly, both Oakland magazine and the San Francisco Chronicle are still saying that Fresh & Easy is coming to West Oakland this year. I keep hearing that they still have not signed a lease and are now looking at locations in East Oakland instead. Strange.
  • The Trib’s take on kids selling bootleg DVDs on the street? They’re entrepeneurs!
  • I actually thought that Brenda Payton had already left the Trib, but I guess I was wrong. Here’s her farewell column.

Think before you write

So the Uhuru Movement is, unsurprisingly, opposing Patrick McCullough’s candidacy for District 1 City Council. I find this neither newsworthy nor interesting, but there was something in their blog about it that caught my eye:

Remember that just reported in the New York Times was the fact that in Oakland, one in every five families live on less than $15,000 and the poorest 20 percent live on $7600 annually.

So…that’s not actually what the New York Times said, but even if it was…it should be immediately apparent that something is very wrong with that sentence.

CBD at the ZUC

I apologize for the lack of posts this week, and for the tardiness of the continuation of my industrial land series. Work has been killer lately. Tomorrow.

Anyway, the CBD Draft Zoning Chapter was introduced to the Planning Commission’s Zoning Update Committee yesterday. I was at work, and therefore unable to attend, but one of my excellent correspondents made it and took copious notes, for which I am very grateful.

Some highlights from the public comment: Continue reading

Zoning from Mars

So there’s a community meeting tonight to solicit input on the downtown zoning update. (Ironically, the meeting isn’t downtown, but instead at the comparatively transit-unfriendly Lake Merritt Sailboat House in Adams Point.) Regular readers may remember that the last community meeting on the subject, which introduced proposed height limits for downtown, residents were provided with a handout illustrating what different building heights look like. The handout gave heights for each building that were between 100 and 170 feet shorter than the actual building heights.

So last Monday, planning staff released the draft zoning code (PDF!) for downtown, and I’ve pretty much been rereading over and over again the last week, thinking I must be misunderstanding something. Because it is, quite frankly, insane. One friend characterized it as “zoning from Mars.” While I don’t know if I’d go quite that far, I will say that it reads like it was written by someone who had never so much as walked around downtown Oakland, let alone read the LUTE. There is so much wrong with this that I don’t even know where to start! [Maps and photos after the jump] Continue reading

Industrial Land Use Policy: How did we get here?

The LUTE, as I explained last week, divides Oakland’s land into 14 different categories, two of which are reserved for industrial uses. Of course, zoning for something is no guarantee of creating it, and Oakland has been struggling with a dwindling manufacturing base for decades. In recent years, more and more longtime local employers have been disappearing. Some, like Mi Rancho, went to cheaper parts of the Bay Area. Some, like Red Star Yeast, shut down over environmental issues. Others, like Granny Goose, shifted production to cheaper domestic locations. And outsourcing and off-shoring continued eating at the industrial base – quota elimination in the textile and apparel industries resulted in the loss of much of Oakland’s garment industry earlier this decade. A 2005 study from McKinsey & Co. (PDF!) paints a grim picture for the future potential of heavy industrial activities (and the low-skilled jobs that accompanied them) in the region. Much of our industrial land has sat vacant or underutilized for years, and remains so today. Nonetheless, Oakland, because of our Port, remains a potentially attractive location for those industrial businesses that do wish to remain in the Bay Area, and the current supply of industrially zoned land provides room to accommodate growth in the sector.

Meanwhile, Oakland struggles with an ever more pressing need to create new housing units in order to meet our regional housing allocations. As housing prices (and therefore land values) rise, it has become increasingly difficult for developers to profitably deliver moderately priced new housing. Our ample supply of underutilized industrial land presents an opportunity to for developers to employ economies of scale, and produce more reasonably priced units in significant numbers on the large and comparatively cheap parcels in industrial areas.

By 2005, the City was looking at proposals for rezoning industrial land for several large housing developments, including Wood Street in West Oakland, Arcadia Park in East Oakland, and Fruitvale Gateway in Central Oakland. As more residential developers expressed interest in industrial parcels, planning staff sought direction from the City Council about how to respond, resulting in a discussion of industrial land use at the June 14, 2005 meeting of the Council’s Community and Economic Development Committee (CED). The staff report (PDF!) for the item discussed the dual pressures of providing space for jobs and business attraction as well as housing production, particularly if we hoped to attract more retail.

CED agreed that something should be done, and asked staff to return with a more detailed report and some specific recommendations regarding industrial land conversions, and staff returned to the Committee on November 8, 2005 with more information as requested. Recognizing that there was no one solution that made sense everywhere, staff divided the land in question into 17 distinct subareas, grouped by existing land use characteristics and major street boundaries. The maps below show the location of each subareas, although they’re a bit difficult to read.

West Oakland

Central Oakland

East Oakland

The subareas ranged widely in size, from a meager 26 acres to almost 400, some supporting thousands of jobs, and some barely over 100. The table below displays the size of each subarea in acres as well as the number of existing jobs in it.

Staff also mapped the current land use in the area. Industrially zoned areas ranged from successful, with as much as 97% of land being currently used for industrial purposes, to weak, with as much as 34% of land currently vacant.

By September 2006, the Council had reached relative consensus about what to do with at least some of the land. The Council voted keep subareas 2, 6, 7, and 14 solely as industrial, keep 3 and 13 industrial except for allowing retail along the freeway, and keeping area 4 industrial between the freeway and Tidewater, but could not reach agreement about subareas 1, the other half of 4, 5. 8, 9, 10 , 11, 11a, 15, 16, and 17. They decided that all these areas needed more analysis, and kicked them back to the Planning Commission’s Zoning Update Committee, who held hearings between December 2006 and July 2007 on the items. The Zoning Update Committee declined to make recommendations for each subarea, instead suggesting the requests for General Plan amendments in these areas should be considered projected by project.

And this is where we stood until a few weeks ago. Check back tomorrow to find out what we actually did (with video!).

Random Saturday thoughts

  • So, I didn’t end up getting to do my series about industrial land this week as I had hoped. Real work and life obligations were particularly time consuming. Rest assured, the posts are not canceled, but delayed. I hope to have the first up tomorrow, but definitely by Monday.
  • This is a very sad day for the State of California. State legislative analyst Elizabeth Hill is retiring. Hill provided non-partisan, objective analysis of the fiscal implications of decisions before California’s legislators and voters. I so looked forward to sitting down with a glass of wine and my voter guide and reading her analysis on State propositions every election. Although too many legislators and voters ignored her warnings, a government that carefully considered the information she provides would be a well-run one indeed. Every State should have one of her, and while I’m talking about it, every city should too. If Oakland’s City Council spent any time at all thinking about the real implications of the decisions they make, fiscal or otherwise, this city would be a much safer, prettier, and cleaner place. I wish Ms. Hill the absolute best in retirement and I hope that her replacement and well-trained staff will be able to continue working to the high standards she established.
  • This is taken from City Council President Ignacio De La Fuente’s newsletter:

    FRUITVALE SAFETY PROJECT A SUCCESS: On Tuesday March 18, we will be conducting the final Fruitvale Safety Project meeting. The results have been great! It is clear from this project that we can do something about public safety when we put a variety of City resources together in one place, get people talking to each other, and do regular check-ins. We’ll be sending out a summary of the Fruitvale Safety Project accomplishments next week.

    I questioned the Fruitvale Safety Project when it was first announced, so if it’s been successful, that makes me happy. I haven’t been checking the crime numbers in that area for comparison, but presumably next week’s summary of accomplishments will show a drop in crime. My question now is: if the project is such a success, why is it not being continued? Perhaps we will learn more about this next week. Until then, color me confused.

  • Is there an affordability problem in Oakland? Of course! But there are also parts of the city where 900 square foot condos are being marketed for $129,000. That’s for a place with no income limits or resale restrictions, not a BMR unit. More Oakland bargains at Redfin.

What does the DA do with cases we give them? Nobody knows.

So, I mentioned on Wednesday that the District Attorney’s office is unwilling to provide information about the outcomes of charged cases to Oakland’s City Council, and by extension, the public.

The first time this came up, at the end of November, the Committee members seemed appropriately shocked. They settled on requesting that staff send a formal request through the City Administrator’s office to the District Attorney Tom Orloff’s office for the information.

So staff did exactly that, and on December 3rd, sent the letter reproduced on pages 9 and 10 of this document (PDF!). Specifically, they asked:

The Public Safety Committee is formally requesting your presence for the next Public Safety Committee meeting regarding this information; it is scheduled for February 26, 2008. In addition, the committee would like to receive the following information:

  • Dispositions on robbery and burglary cases for the calendar years 2005,2006 and 2007
  • Dispositions on robbery and burglary cases involving juveniles for the calendar years 2005, 2006 and 2007
  • Current charging guidelines for robberies and burglaries (residential, commercial, and auto)
  • Current charging guidelines for juveniles convicted of robbery and burglary (residential, commercial, and auto)
  • Current diversion programs available for juveniles and/or alternative programs (i.e. Home Supervision, Electronic Monitoring, Youth Court, Boot Camp, etc.)
  • What are the factors that will mitigate a case?
  • Do you track recidivism rates for either adults or juveniles? If so, can you provide that information?

The item was heard this past Tuesday, March 11, instead of February 26th as noted in the letter. As of February 28th, 2008, the date the staff report on the item was submitted, the City had received no response from the District Attorney’s office.

I expected the Councilmembers to be as outraged as I was about this, so you can imagine my surprise when I watched the meeting, and during discussion of this item, the only reference to the District Attorney’s failure to provide data was:

There was zero follow-up on this point from any of the Councilmembers during the rest of the discussion on the item! Not a single question. No expressions of frustration. No offhand remark. Nothing! I sure hope they’re trying to address the issue privately, because the Council and the public deserve this information.

I can’t help but wonder if the reason for the refusal on the part of Orloff’s office to share the information is that they fear the public would be upset by it. After all, as Novometro reported nearly a year ago, ADA Tom Rogers runs around telling Neighborhood Crime Prevention Councils “We try not to put people in jail.”

A transcript of both videos is available here (PDF!).

Employment in the Oakland MSA

I’ve been wondering about Oakland’s employment ever since I read that New York Times story set in Oakland about the bad economy two weeks ago. So this morning I finally decided to stop letting myself be bothered about it and finally looked it up. Information is from the California Employment Development Department, and represents employment in the Oakland Metropolitan Statistical Area.

Anyway, here’s the numbers for total nonfarm employment in the Oakland MSA every January and July since 2000.

The scale there doesn’t make it all that easy to see the changes. So here’s a somewhat more visually exciting version: