Monthly Archives: November 2010

Harrison Street high-rise comes to Planning Commission on Wednesday

While the Victory Court ballpark EIR scoping session is getting all the attention, there are actually some other interesting items on the agenda for Wednesday’s Planning Commission meeting (PDF). For one, the Director’s Report will feature a verbal update on the progress of the International Boulevard Transit Oriented Development plan, which I’m looking forward to, since I wasn’t able to make either of the meetings earlier this month.

Another interesting item is a public hearing on the Draft EIR for a project at 325 7th Street (PDF). Remember how I was describing the EIR process the other day? (Read this post for a more detailed explanation of the process) Well, this is what the next step looks like. The scoping session for this project (PDF) was held in January of 2008 (PDF), and now, two years later, Draft EIR has been completed (you can read it here (PDF) and read all the appendices here (PDF).

At Wednesday’s meeting, the public will have an opportunity to make comments on whether the EIR is sufficient in its assessment of the project’s impacts and proposed mitigations for those impacts. The Final EIR will have to respond to all the comments received, and based on what they say, at least some parts of the Draft EIR will likely be revised. Only then can the City approve the project.

325 7th Street

The subject of Wednesday’s hearing is strictly about the adequacy of the Draft EIR, not about whether or not this is a good project or whether or not the City should approve it. That comes later. But just for fun, let’s take a look at what’s being proposed.

325 7th Street is a proposed residential high rise at the edge of Chinatown, between Harrison Street and 880 and 6th and 7th. There would be two towers, one 20 stories tall and the other 27 stories tall. Together, they would contain 380 units on top of four stories of parking featuring 399 spaces. On the ground floor would be a little over 9,000 square feet of office and retail space.

Here are some renderings from the architects:

325 7th Street

327 7th Street

For the more detail oriented among you, you can view more renderings, plus floorplans here (PDF).

Project Impacts

The project’s expected impacts and possible mitigation measures are detailed in the this table from the Draft EIR (PDF). Unsurprisingly, the main unavoidable impacts are traffic related, specifically causing increased delays at the intersections of 5th and Oak and 6th and Jackson.

The other main issue is that the project as currently proposed would require the demolition of an historic building. The staff report for Wednesday’s hearing (PDF) explains:

The proposed Project would demolish the structure at 617-621 Harrison Street which is a contributor to the API. The City Standard Condition of Approval requires that the Project applicant make a good faith effort to relocate the building to an acceptable site. If relocated, the impacts to cultural resources would be less than significant.

If the building cannot be moved, the proposed mitigation measures require that the Project applicant hire a qualified consultant to prepare a deconstruction and salvage plan to identify interior and exterior elements that can be reused either on or off site with all deconstructed materials to be promptly recycled back into the construction market. In addition, the Project applicant shall make a monetary contribution to the City for a Historic Interpretive and Program about the 7th Street/Harrison Square Residential District and a historic resource related program such as the Property Relocation Program or the Façade Improvement Fund. Even with these mitigation measures the Project will result in a significant and unavoidable impact if the building is demolished.

Frankly, that seems like a lot to ask in exchange for a building with a C rating, but I’m sure several of the preservations among my readers would disagree and will be happy to lecture us about the importance of APIs. The City’s Landmarks Preservation Advisory Board certainly did, and have noted a number of areas where they believe the Draft EIR is insufficient (PDF).

Want to see the Parkway Theater reopened? Donate to help make it happen

You guys have read about The New Parkway, right? There was a story about it last month on Oakland North and a story in the Trib about it last week:

The Parkway Theater could be close to reopening more than a year after the screen went dark and the last beer was sipped on its spongy sofas.
The prospective owners — New Parkway Entertainment LLC — announced Tuesday that a deal could be less than two weeks away.

A lease with the landlord hasn’t been signed. But the new manager, J Moses Ceaser, said they are close to the finish line. For now the group is calling the cinema The New Parkway, or just Parkway for short.

Once the lease is signed, New Parkway Entertainment will be able to turn its attention to raising the $400,000 needed to reopen. Officials hope to raise the money from equity investors and donors. The doors could reopen as soon as May if they get the lease signed in December.

And that $400,000 they need to get the theater up and running? That’s where you come in.

Kickstarter

Do you guys know about Kickstarter? I think it is a really cool idea. If you haven’t used it before, here’s how it works. An organization trying to raise money will set a fundraising goal and some amount of time in which they think they can accomplish it. People who want to support the project pledge whatever about they’re willing to give. Then a running total of the funds raised as well as how many donors there have been is posted on the project page.

The catch is that if the project does not meet its fundraising goal before the deadline, then they don’t get any of the money. I like it because it makes me feel better about my money not going to waste. There has been more than one occasion when I’ve given generously to try and help some group raise enough money to do X or Y, and then it turns out I’m like one of ten people or something who gave and they didn’t get enough money to do what I wanted to support and then I’m like “Great. I just spent $50 so these people can buy a couple of reams of paper for their office printer. Awesome.” So with Kickstarter, you know that’s not gonna happen.

The New Parkway

Anyway. The people who are trying to reopen the Parkway Theater are doing a Kickstarter fundraising drive to help with their fundraising. They’re working on getting most of the money they need the old fashioned way, with normal investors, but are looking for community donations to fill an eighth of the hole — $50,000. With 61 hours to go before their deadline, they’re only about 20 percent of the way there.

So here’s what I say. As of this writing, there are like 125 donors total to this fundraising drive. And I know I heard whining about the Parkway closure from more than 125 people. Everyone is all, “The City should do something!” or “Someone should do something!” or “The theater landlords are assholes! This is so unfair!” And maybe it is, maybe it isn’t, but the fact is that old buildings in disrepair cost a lot of money to fix and maintain, and while it sucks that it costs so much money to get the theater up and running again, it’s also just the way of the world.

New Parkway Logo

I was sad when the Parkway closed, but was pretty skeptical about the prospects for anyone being able to reopen it due to the extreme costs involved. So I think it’s awesome that these folks are taking the plunge and trying to make it happen. And if you miss the Parkway Theater and want it open again, then there is no excuse for you not to help out. Through Kickstarter, you can make a donation of as little as $1.

If the theater doesn’t open, you get your money back. If they do open, and you donated at least $25, you get a cool thank you present! Here’s what they’re offering:

  • $25 donation: 5 free shows at the New Parkway
  • $50 donation: Date Night at the New Parkway: 2 tickets, pitcher of beer, pizza, reserved loveseat
  • $100 donation: 10 free shows and an invite to the Grand Reopening with the always useful +1
  • $500 donation: One year pass for free movies, plus the same party thing as above
  • $1000 donation: Get your own screening room at the Parkway for one whole night. They show 2 movies, give you 10 pitchers of beer and 10 pizzas, and you invite 150 of your closest friends. They’re only giving away 5 of this prize, and 3 are already taken, so if you want it, move fast.
  • $2500 donation: Lifetime movie pass at the New Parkway

All the passes (except for the lifetime one, obviously) are good for one year after the theater opens.

So if you want to see the Parkway Theater open again, please, give what you can, and pass the link on to your friends, and ask them to give too.

319 Chester Street, revisited

It took me longer than I planned to get around to this, but I said a while ago that I’d follow up on my post about 319 Chester Street. Better late than never, right?

So when they get to the consent calendar at the Council meeting, District 2 Councilmember Pat Kernighan is like “Okay. Let me see if I have this right. ”

  • This lot is worth $100,00.
  • We are giving the lot to the developer at no cost.
  • We are also providing the developer as much as $375,000 to build the house.
  • The total investment is therefore $475,000.
  • Then the house will be sold to someone who qualifies for affordable housing assistance.
  • Then the house will have affordability restrictions for 45 years.

Which is, well, a pretty good recap of the situation. Then she added that the idea of any house in that neighborhood selling for $475,000 seems unlikely, and that although the job training aspect of the proposal was appealing, the Council had not been given any quantifiable information about said training program, like how many people would be trained or how many hours they would work or anything like that.

So then District 3 Councilmember Nancy Nadel was like, “Well, I don’t know about the cost of the land, but I’ve been trying to make this happen for like five years. Sure, it’s possible that we won’t get all our money back, but if we’re going to take public property and put it in private hands, there has to be some public benefit, which is the reasoning behind the job training and affordable housing aspects to the plan.

So the first thing that popped into my mind when she was talking is that if it is taking you five years to figure out how to build one house on one City owned vacant lot, maybe that should be a sign that it isn’t meant to be. Right? Also, if we were to just sell the lot at a market price, it seems like there would be a public benefit to the transaction because we would get money from it that can be used to pay for services.

So then Pat Kernighan comes back and is like “Well, that’s all very admirable, but I’m concerned that we’re not going to be able to sell this house. Even if it wasn’t required to be affordable, $475,000 seems like a stretch. And why would anyone buy a house with affordability restrictions that limit their ability to benefit from appreciation when they can just get a normal house without all that for less money?”

Then she asked if staff was aware of any affordable housing anywhere in the city that had sold for $475,000, to which staff responded that there are non-affordable condos like half a mile away that have been listed for $400,000, and that since this house is going to be bigger than most of the other houses in the area, and because the neighborhood is so “centrally located” to downtown and various highways, that they expected to get a pretty good price for it.

And Pat Kernighan is all “Um…you do know that the way people normally figure out what property is worth is by looking at selling prices, not asking prices, right?” And staff was like “Oh, sorry. We don’t have any information about that.”

Nice.

So then, at-large Councilmember Rebecca Kaplan was like “Look, maybe you can sell this house for $475,000. Or you can sell it as affordable housing. But obviously not both. What is the price affordable to someone at 60% AMI anyway?”

And nobody knew!

I was pretty pleased with the conversation up to that point. But then District 6 Councilmember Desley Brooks is like “What am I missing? We own this property and we’re not doing anything with it right now. This seems like a great idea, why are we even discussing this?” And Rebecca Kaplan is all “Oh, I’m fine with us doing it for the job training if we remove the affordability requirement.” Which seemed odd to me, since nobody seemed to have any information about this training program.

Then District 5 Councilmember Ignacio De La Fuente is like “Look, this doesn’t make any sense. If we want affordable housing, then give the lot to someone who’s going to build some affordable units that will actually be affordable and stop pretending we’re going to get the money back. If we want job training, why don’t we just invest more in our existing job training programs like the Cypress Mandela training center or whatever.” I completely agree with that. I have never understand why Oakland seems to feel the need to constantly reinvent the wheel.

So then Mayor-elect Jean Quan is all “Well, there’s a lot of gentrification going on in West Oakland, so it’s important that this stay affordable. I walked West Oakland during my campaign and I’m really concerned about keeping some affordable housing there. Plus, this isn’t General Fund money anyway.”

And then Nancy Nadel is like “Oh, actually, there’s plenty of affordable housing there, so really what I want is the job training. The Cypress Mandela program is too long and lots of people can’t afford to do their 13 (actually, it’s 16 – V) week all day training program, so this is better because they can just come at night after they get off work and get trained.”

And you know what? Maybe that is the case. I have no idea. Because nowhere, in any of these discussions or reports (PDF), has anyone provided any kind of information about what this job training entails, how many people will be trained, and what the end outcomes for the trainees is supposed to be. And without that information, approving the project for job training purposes just seems totally insane to me. How can you evaluate whether a program is worth spending all this money on when you don’t even know what the program is? At the very least, you’d think the City should be providing some kind of tangible, measurable criteria for the program before doling out money.

So then Council President Jane Brunner is like “Well, I liked it when it was affordable housing and job training, but if it’s only training, then it seems silly, since we have all these other training programs already.” And then Rebecca Kaplan said she would support it if we removed the affordable housing component, although that seemed even more problematic to me, since most of the money they were proposing to use for the project was from affordable housing funds.

And then they decided that they’d go back and try to figure things out a little more and have it come back at a future meeting. And that was that.

You can watch a video of the discussion below.

Montclair Village gets dolled up for the holidays, go see on Thursday

I love the winter holiday season! I love all the lights and the trees and the decorations. I love Christmas music. I love picking out the exact perfect presents for people, and then wrapping them all elaborately. I’m not much for eggnog, but I do like holiday parties. Just overall, the festive spirit makes me really happy.

Another thing I like about the holidays is events like the Montclair Holiday Stroll, which give people an excuse to break from their normal evening routine, and go be outside with their neighbors and support their local businesses.

This year’s stroll happens this Thursday evening, December 2nd, from 6:00 to 8:30 PM in adorable Montclair Village. Here’s more info from the Montclair Village Association website:

Village merchants stay open to welcome shoppers and their families for a gala kick-off to the holiday season.

The event features:

Merchant Special Offerings

Merchants are providing their own in-store entertainment, as well as refreshments for Strollers.

Merchant Holiday Window Display Contest

Selected merchants are participating in a Holiday Window Display Contest where Strollers are invited to judge the best windows. Ballots are available at participating stores, and Strollers who participate in the contest are eligible to win prizes in a drawing to be held after the event.

Holiday Center – Lucky Supermarket Parking Lot

We are cordoning off a section of the Lucky Supermarket parking lot at 4 PM. to set up a Holiday Center for entertainment.  The current schedule of events:

  • 6:00 PM – Piedmont East Bay Children’s Choir
  • 6:20 PM – Arrival of Santa  (Receiving children until 8:30 PM)
  • 6:45 PM – Oakland Youth Chorus
  • 7:30 PM – Piedmont High School Troubadours
  • 6 – 8:30 PM – Kids in Motion Face Painting

On Village Sidewalks

Other Village locations are featuring musical performances:

  • 6:00 PM – Piedmont High School Troubadours – Village Square
  • 6:30 PM – Bishop O’Dowd Brass Ensemble – La Salle/Mountain intersection
  • 7:15 PM – Pacific Boychoir Academy – Madison/McCaulou’s Shoes

The following music groups are roaming the sidewalks throughout the Stroll:

  • 6:30 – 8:00 PM – Tap Dancing Trees
  • 6:30 – 8:30 PM – Barbershop Quartet

Oakland Planning Commission looks at Victory Court

If you follow Oakland political news at all, which, if you’re reading this, you presumably do, you are already aware that the Oakland Planning Commission will be discussing the Victory Court ballpark proposal at their December 1st meeting (PDF).

Before we get into exactly what that means, let’s step back a little bit and review how we arrived here.

Victory Court

A little under a year ago, the City unveiled four potential locations for a new stadium. Two of them weren’t real options, which left us with two choices, which have now been whittled down to one.

The winner among the four is a site called “Victory Court,” bordered by Oak Street, Embarcadero, the Lake Merritt Channel, and 880. It’s situated just east of the Jack London District and just south of Laney College. Further east is the planned Oak to 9th development.

Victory Court Map

The stadium itself wouldn’t take up the entire site shaded in the picture above. Obviously, a ballpark is not going to span a freeway. The land included in the site on the other side of 880 is a surface parking lot currently owned by the Peralta Community College District that would likely be transformed into structured parking should a stadium end up getting built. The stadium itself would be sandwiched between the Lake Merritt Channel and Fallon Street, with some kind of public plaza on the Channel end and with the block between Oak and Fallon reserved for some kind of adjacent development like retail or condos.

Why Victory Court?

Advocates of a Victory Court ballpark use the term “hole-in-the-donut” to describe the location. The idea is that the site is surrounded by a number of (hopefully) up and coming neighborhoods.

To the west, you’ve got Jack London Square, with its restaurants and bars, fancy hotel, and frequent outdoor events. Plus, eventually Jack London Market will be open. I know that a lot of people like to dis Jack London Square and call it a failure or whatever, but I gotta say, I kind of like it. It’s a spectacular spot for big outdoor events like the Eat Real Festival, the water is pretty, I like the view of the cranes, and for the past year or two, every time I go there, there seems to be a remarkable number of people out. For a while it always seemed kind of deserted, but lately the people are totally back. I have no idea why. Perhaps they just can’t stay away from the kick ass happy hour at Bocanova. Anyway.

So there’s Jack London Square on one side, and that’s kind of the only part of this theoretical donut that actually exists right now. On another side, you might be able to get away with claiming you’ve got maybe some half-baked dough, and then on the other you have totally raw dough. Or maybe just your mise en place for making the dough.

The half baked side I mentioned is the area surrounding the Lake Merritt BART Station, just to the north. It’s always been a mystery to me why this place is such a total wasteland, what with it being right next to Laney College and Chinatown and the adorable Lake Merritt Apartment District and so on. It seems to have everything going for it, yet the only place to even get a cup of coffee is the MetroCenter cafeteria, which is a place I prefer to avoid. Anyway, the City is hoping to rectify the problem of this neighborhood being a failure for no reason through the Lake Merritt Station Area Plan process, which is going on right now. I hope they can figure it out.

Finally, there is the planned Oak to 9th project to the east. I think Oak to 9th sounds really cool, and I totally want to hang out on the big new waterfront parks and all that, so I really hope that shit gets built. But I’m not holding my breath for it to happen anytime soon. Some people say that if we had a successful stadium nearby, it could act as a catalyst for more development because people would want to live near it, and then Oak to 9th would get built faster. Maybe.

So the idea is that we have all these cool things on all sides of the site — whether they’re existing, but maybe struggling a little, or planned but not built, or just somewhere with a lot of potential. And they all have the same problem, which is that they’re kind of disjointed. It all seems so close if you’re looking at a map or something, but the connectivity isn’t there. And each area suffers because of that isolation and therefore is not able to reach its full potential. And a ballpark could provide the missing connection, and also could provide the flows of people needed to boost the surrounding areas to success. It solves a problem for Oakland.

And from that broad planning perspective, I completely agree. The major barrier to the success of downtown Oakland and downtown-adjacent neighborhoods is the lack of connectivity between them, and there is nothing better you could do to spur the success of Jack London Square and the Lake Merritt BART Station area than sticking a big attraction smack in between them. It is, without question, the best of any location in Oakland I’ve seen suggested in that sense.

But will it work for a stadium?

Of course, it’s one thing to say that a Victory Court ballpark makes a ridiculous amount of sense on a map, when judged on this one, fairly specific criteria. It’s another thing entirely to say that it is actually a good place to build a baseball stadium, or a feasible place to do so.

Obviously, there’s the issue of getting the land together. The City owns some of the acreage there, but nothing close to all of it. And some of that non-publicly owned land contains businesses who may not be eager to move. So getting the space together is gonna be expensive, and it could be messy and controversial as well, depending on just how resistant the existing businesses are to relocation.

Property acquisition, however, does not seem to me like the primary barrier to a ballpark at this location. Transportation does. Yes, it is true that the site is conveniently located an easy walk from the Lake Merritt BART station. But no matter how convenient the site is for public transit, if you’ve got 30,000 people going to a ball game, you’re going to be bringing in a lot of cars.

So the first thing you might think of with all those cars is where are they going to park. I’m not worried about that. There is plenty of parking in the Jack London and Laney College/Chinatown neighborhoods. You have to provide some spaces really close for VIPs, but most people will walk for a while. So I don’t see that as an issue at all.

What is an issue, however, is getting all those cars to their parking spaces. To move that amount of traffic around the area, you would need major upgrades to a number of freeway on and off ramps, plus some kind of reconfiguration of traffic flow on surrounding surface streets. Like most transportation problems, these barriers are not insurmountable. What they are is very expensive. Exactly how expensive all this would be, I don’t know. I tried to come up with a figure by looking at the ramps that would need expansion and then adding it up based on the costs of other recent freeway improvements, but then when I told my number to a Victory Court ballpark booster who has studied this more than I have, and they were like, no way, that’s crazy high. So who knows. Since we’re not at the stage where we talk about financing yet, I don’t really see the point of playing guessing games about price tags right now.

The other big issue is the fact that you are talking about sticking 30,000 people right next to an active railroad track 80 days a year. I swear, I bring this up every time someone tries to talk to me about Victory Court, and every single time it happens, people laugh at me. But I’m serious! Sure, you don’t have to cross the tracks to get from the BART station to the stadium. But a big part of the reasoning behind this particular site is that the City is expecting that at least some of those people are going to go eat and drink in Jack London Square either before or after the game, and to get there, they are going to have to cross those tracks.

It’s a legitimate safety issue. And given the way they freaked out over Oak to 9th, I cannot imagine the Public Utilities Commission (PUC) liking this idea one bit. Laugh all you want, but the PUC is mysterious and weirdly powerful, and they are not going to let the City add that much vehicle and pedestrian traffic to this area without some major safety improvements to all the intersections with track crossings going way down Embarcadero. Again, that’s doable, but expensive.

Plus, you have to remember that a couple thousand people live right nearby, and I would count on significant and vocal opposition from at least some of them. So the site is clearly not without challenges.

Time for an EIR

So. Victory Court is not my fantasy stadium site. In a perfect world, we’d get Jingletown Stadium, where the glass factory is. There are a number of reasons that isn’t going to happen. I know a number of people who think we should build a new ballpark on top of 980. The idea is cool conceptually — I have long dreamed of capping that part of 980 and turning it into a big public park. But the lengthy and complex negotiations and approvals with Caltrans and the Federal Highway Administration that would be required to do anything on top of the freeway render the site completely unrealistic from a practical standpoint.

If Oakland wants to have a realistic shot at retaining the A’s, it is long past time to stop talking and start moving. And to that end, I am very happy the City has finally settled on a site and is taking the important step of preparing an Environmental Impact Report (EIR).

If you’re not familiar with the EIR process, this old post offers a pretty solid overview, plus links for further reading. I’ll do a briefer version here.

Basically, California state law requires that before a City can approve a development, they have to recognize what impacts that project will have on the surrounding environment. An EIR is the document that tells them what those impacts are going to be.

When a developer or, in this case, the City decides that they need to complete an EIR, the first step is to issue a Notice of Preparation (NOP), which briefly describes the proposal and notes what types of impacts are expected. The City issued a NOP (PDF) for a ballpark at the Victory Court location on November 10th. The purpose of this document is to alert the public and other interested parties that you are doing an EIR.

A NOP includes instructions for those who want to submit comments about what the EIR should study, a deadline for comments, and the dates of any public hearings where verbal testimony on the scope of the EIR will be accepted. In this case, comments are to be directed to:

Peterson Z. Vollman
City of Oakland, Community and Economic Development Agency
250 Frank H. Ogawa Plaza, Suite 2114
Oakland, CA 94612
pvollman@oaklandnet.com

Comments must be received by 4:30 PM on December 9th. Additionally, a public hearing will be held on December 1st. More on that below.

Anyway, once the comment period is over, the next step is to prepare a Draft EIR. This is a ridiculously long document that lists the project’s expected impacts, explains how they arrived at their conclusions about the impacts, lays out the impacts of “alternative” projects, and notes what steps can be taken to mitigate the impacts. To get an idea of what that looks like, check out the Draft EIR (PDF) and Draft EIR Appencides (PDF) for a proposed development nearby, at 375 7th Street. (This project will also be discussed at the December 1st Planning Commission meeting, FYI.)

Once the Draft EIR is released, the public gets a period of time in which they can provide comments. It will generally be available online, although I personally tend to have a hard time reading them on my computer, since they are just so long and frankly, pretty damn dry. So I like to go read them at the library instead. The Oakland Main Library keeps copies of all the current local EIRs out on a shelf in the main reference area, and usually whatever branch is near the proposed development will have a copy available as well.

Then the entity preparing the EIR has to respond to all the comments, which may require further study of impacts and likely will result in at least some changes to the Draft EIR. Finally, a Final EIR is issued, at which point it can be certified by the City, and the environmental review process is complete.

Got all that?

Scoping Session on Wednesday

Listening to the way people are talking about this week’s meeting, you might get the idea that a “Keep the A’s in Oakland” rally was on the Planning Commission agenda for Wednesday (PDF). It’s not. What is on the agenda is an EIR Scoping Session. The staff report (PDF) helpfully explains:

The main purpose of this scoping session is to solicit comments from both the Commission and the public on what types of information and analysis should be considered in the EIR. Specifically, comments should focus on discussing possible impacts on the physical environment, ways in which potential adverse effects might be minimized, and alternatives to the project in light of the EIR’s purpose to provide useful and accurate information about such factors. Comments related to policy considerations and the merits of the project will be the subject of future, duly noticed public meetings.

So basically, this is when you have an opportunity to go say what you think should be studied in the EIR. Like, for example, you could go and say, “I think it’s really important that the EIR examines pedestrian and vehicle safety impacts at the railroad crossing at the intersections of Embarcadero and Broadway, Franklin, and Webster” and that would be appropriate. If you went and said instead “I think Lew Wolff is an asshole and the A’s should stay in Oakland,” that would not be appropriate. Or productive. You don’t have to go to the hearing to have input on what gets studied — as I mentioned above, you are also encouraged to submit your comments in writing.

My take on all this

I have been accused, in the past, of being “anti-Oakland” because I’ve been pretty upfront about the fact that I do not believe it is realistic for Oakland to expect to retain the A’s. I don’t think that’s a fair characterization of my position. I love going to baseball games, I go to a lot of them every year, and I would be very sad if the A’s moved to San Jose and I couldn’t go anymore. But I am also a realist. And the attitude from so many City officials and A’s-in-Oakland boosters that we should keep the team because we just deserve them rather than because we have an actual plan for how we’re going to accomplish that infuriates me.

So it isn’t that I’m anti-Oakland so much as I’m anti-whining. And running around bitching about how unfairly Lew Wolff treats Oakland while doing absolutely nothing to further the goal of offering a viable stadium site is whining. While Oakland sat around feeling all put upon and pouting about being rejected and claiming there are tons of great ballpark locations all over Oakland if your ignore all the feasibility problems with them, San Jose, without any guarantee or even real reason to believe they could land the team, identified a site, bought up most of the land, certified an EIR, and built up significant community support for their proposal. That’s what being serious looks like.

I remain skeptical that Oakland can pull this off, but I am absolutely certain there’s no shot in hell of pulling it off if the City doesn’t stop dilly dallying and talking and actually do something real. And that’s why I support this new step of beginning an EIR. Because it’s action.

It’s not everything. Once the EIR is completed, which will take at least a year, and probably a whole lot longer, there will still be significant issues to address with respect to financing (both for the stadium, which would have to be done mostly privately, and for the infrastructure and land acquisition, which would have to be done with redevelopment funds) and infrastructure improvements. We remain way behind San Jose in terms of having an actual feasible plan to offer. But we’re never going to get there if we don’t at least start moving, and while we’re starting years later than we should have, well…better late than never, right?

Giving back during the holidays: Oakland Warthogs Youth Rugby

The gluttony of Thanksgiving day is over, and today, the gluttony of the holiday shopping season begins. Hopefully, you’re planning on spending at least some of that money at local businesses.

But during the holiday season, it’s good to take some time out from buying presents for our friends and family, and remember to help those less fortunate. There are all sorts of worthy organizations doing excellent work here in Oakland that could do a lot of good with a small donation from you, and over the next few weeks, I hope to highlight a number of them here.

Today, I’ll start with Oakland Warthogs.

While there is plenty of debate about what the City should do about it, few people dispute that there is a shortage of productive activities available to youth in Oakland. One of the local organizations trying to do something about that is Oakland Warthogs Youth Rugby. They’ve recently put together a little documentary illustrating the positive influence rugby can have on the kids they play with, and if you have a couple of free minutes today, I recommend watching it, because it is quite heartwarming.

If you made it to the end, you saw the pitch for donations. If you didn’t, well, here’s the text version from their website:

At a time when cities and schools have almost eliminated recreation and sports programs, the Oakland Warthogs Youth Rugby Program is stepping up and offering young men a tremendous opportunity, not just for sports but for life. Through intense fundraising we are able to offer virtually no-cost participation because we are passionate about teaching kids the ultimate team game, which emphasizes sportsmanship, courage, speed, skill, tenacity and communication. While teaching the game we are also teaching life skills, striving for a 100-percent graduation rate. We want to get our kids to a higher level, whether in college or the work force…All of our coaching staff either live or work in Oakland. It is because of our ties to the community that we are committed to the short and long term goal of producing confident, accomplished athletes and confident accomplished citizens.

Whatever you can give helps. $20 buys one of the players a ball, $40 buys them a pair of cleats. A $100 donation covers a season’s worth of registration fees, and $200 buys one of the kids a year’s worth of health insurance. $500 gets the team a real field to play their games on, and $5,000 covers a place to practice for a whole year. (Securing a practice field has been a longstanding problem for the team.)

Small donations add up to make a big difference in the lives of these kids, so if you support the work this organization is doing, I encourage you to click through to the Warthogs website and give what you can (scroll down towards the bottom of the front page for the donation link).

2010 City Crime Rankings puts Oakland at number 5

So, this year’s CQ Press City Crime Rankings are out, and once again, Oakland finds itself right up at the top of the list.

The rankings are based on 2009 crime stats, available for cities throughout the United States thanks to the FBI’s Uniform Crime Report.

Oakland moves down a couple spots this year, back to number five, where we sat in 2008, which, I suppose, is a nicer place to be than 2007′s number 4 or last year’s number 3.

City officials, as usual, will remind us that the FBI cautions against ranking cities based on crime statistics, dismiss the report as misleading (PDF), and remind us that crime is mostly concentrated in certain parts of town.

All of this, of course, completely misses the point, which is that crime in Oakland is simply too high. Of course a number ranking based on some formula (PDF) using data that has limitations of its own (PDF) does not paint a complete picture of the relative merits and flaws of every city in the US. I don’t think anyone would pretend it does. Of course a per capita rating for the entire City doesn’t reflect the fact that there are neighborhoods with less crime and neighborhoods with more crime. But I have always failed to see how that matters. I mean, I’ve never been, but I assume that St. Louis has nice parts of town too.

But the fact that since 2005, Oakland has been playing musical chairs at the top of the list every year with St. Louis and Detroit and Camden should be cause for concern. I, for one, welcome the loud annual reminder that when it comes to the amount of violent crime that goes on in Oakland, we are not in the type of company that we want to be keeping. So yes, it is good that reported crime compared to last year is down. And it is good that it is also down from the year before that.

But the fact remains, people are constantly getting killed on our streets, and despite recent progress, we have a really long way to go before we’re we want to be in terms of public safety in this Oakland.

Anyway. Here’s the top 10 from this year’s city crime rankings (PDF):

  1. St. Louis, MO
  2. Camden, NJ
  3. Detroit, MI
  4. Flint, MI
  5. Oakland, CA
  6. Richmond, CA
  7. Cleveland, OH
  8. Compton, CA
  9. Gary, IN
  10. Birmingham, AL

And if you’re wondering how other cities stacked up? Check it out here:

Spend Saturday night with Santana and the OEBS

I had the loveliest evening last night at the Oakland East Bay Symphony.

I try to make it there ever time the Symphony performs. I did pretty good last year. I think I missed only one show, and that was because I was out of town for the weekend. I always have a really good time when I go, and every time I go, I think to myself “Oh. I really should write a blog about how great this was.”

But somehow, I never get around to it. Partly, that’s because the Symphony will often have only one performance. So if you go and then want to write about it — well, there’s not a ton to say, right? I mean, you can be all “Oh, this was so cool!” But what use is that to your readers, since they can’t then go out and enjoy it?

A couple of times last year, the Oakland East Bay Symphony Orchestra did two shows — one on Friday night and then another on Sunday afternoon, which would have made it possible to write about it after going, except that the Sunday afternoon show was more convenient for me, so that’s the one I went to.

The other reason I don’t write about the Oakland East Bay Symphony that much is because I don’t really know anything about music. I mean, I really enjoy the experience of attending, but reading the programs in advance means absolutely nothing to me. I don’t know anything about scales or tones or notes, or what makes a symphony different than a concerto or a sonata or an étude. I even had to go look on Wikipedia to find all those words. I can’t listen to music and know whether a sound is coming from a cello or a violin or a harp or whatever.

Sometimes, I think that maybe it would be interesting to try to learn about all that, but the truth is, I actually really like doing things for entertainment that I’m not conversant in at all. It’s nice to just be able to enjoy the experience of something without having to think about it. I find it relaxing. For me, the only way that can work is if I don’t know enough about the subject to even form coherent thoughts.

However. While my total lack of knowledge about music makes for a really enjoyable concert-going experience, it does have some disadvantages as well. For example, it makes it pretty difficult to write a blog post about it. I mean, what’s there to say? “I went to this thing last night. It was cool. Um, I liked it.” It just doesn’t make for the most compelling reading.

But hey, I’ll give it a shot.

OEBS Season Opening

So the concert I attended last night, which will also be playing again tonight is the Season Opening for the Oakland East Bay Symphony Orchestra’s 2010-2011 Season. If you can’t make it tonight, you should check out their calendar and pick out a different show to try in the coming months.

Last night, the symphony was joined by Narada Michael Walden and Carlos Santana. I wore my Carlos by Carlos Santana shoes to the show, even though they are not rain shoes at all and I was terrified I was going to slip and like, crack my skull on the sidewalk or something during the very short walk over there. Happily, I survived.

I guess a lot of people who don’t usually go to the symphony went last night because of Carlos Santana. That wasn’t really a draw for me — I just wanted to go because I like to go to all their shows. I have nothing against Carlos Santana. I’m just not really into that kind of music. I mean, I don’t dislike rock music, but if given the choice, I will choose to listen to country music probably 9 times out of 10. Long guitar solos really just are not my thing.

I arrived a little late, so I missed the first piece they played. But I really dug the rest of the show. I had never been a particularly big fan of While My Guitar Gently Weeps, but sitting in the Paramount and listening to it with Santana and the Orchestra playing? OMG, it sounded incredible. I was super into it.

The second half of the show, after intermission, was the World Premiere of a symphony by Narada Michael Walden called The Enchanted Forest: Seven Higher Worlds of Music. The orchestra was accompanied by Walden on drums and Santana on guitar for The Enchanted Forest.

I have to admit, after reading the program notes about this one during intermission, I was not expecting to think very highly of it. It sounded really, um, hippie-like or something, and not in a good way. So I was pleasantly surprised by how much I enjoyed listening to it. I really liked some of the parts, and wasn’t that into others, but overall, I felt like hearing it was a good use of my time. At one point they brought out these adorable little girl ballerinas to dance. I am not good at figuring out how old children are, but some of these looked extremely young to me. They also looked like they were having just the best time ever doing their dance. It was adorable.

The people sitting near me really seemed to enjoy it. As I was getting my stuff together to leave, I heard the woman sitting behind me talking about how she was moved to tears by how beautiful it all was.

Go to the Symphony tonight!

Often when I mention the Symphony, people are like “Oh yeah, I meant to go to that but I didn’t” or “Oh, I should go sometime. Maybe next month” and so on. But I say there’s no time like the present. So if you don’t have plans tonight, why not check out the Symphony? It’s fun. It’s easy to get to. The Paramount is beautiful. There are plenty of places nearby to eat and drink either before or after the show. Don’t have anyone to go with? Wev. Go anyway. So you won’t have anyone to talk to during intermission. Big deal. Read the program. Read Twitter on your phone.

Anyway, here is the program.

You can still buy tickets — they’re available online through Ticketmaster and also at the Paramount Theater Box Office (open 11-3 on Saturdays, then again starting at 6 o’clock tonight before the show.)

Tickets start at $25, although if you order online it comes out to like $32.50 or something because of the handling fees. I assume if you just go to the Box Office and buy them then you can avoid that extra cost.

Oh, and here’s a good article about the show from San Francisco Classical Voice.

Disco Volante opens for lunch today

Hi! Has it really been more than a week since I posted anything here? Yeah, I guess it has. I feel bad about that.

I confess that I actually hadn’t thought much about it at all, and in fact, totally did not realize that it had been so long until I got this very sweet note from a reader yesterday wondering if I wasn’t writing because I was just so distraught over the election.

Just so we’re all clear — that is not the case. I have made peace with the results, and have decided that I think Jean Quan will be a good Mayor.

No, the reason I haven’t been posting is not that I’m upset, but actually because I’m really happy. Election volunteering started in February for me this year, and while some months were less work than others, overall, it was just a really long and exhausting and draining campaign season.

So now I am just enjoying the fact that it’s over, and that I have all my nights and weekends free again. I’ve been spending my time outdoors and in the kitchen and reading for pleasure and sleeping a lot. And also trying to catch up on other, non-campaign related volunteer commitments. And sadly, all that has kind of meant neglecting the blog. Hell, I’ve been having kind of a hard time even remembering to read the news.

Disco Volante

Anyway. I’ll try to get back to regular posting next week. In the meantime, I have some exciting news to share. Downtown has a new restaurant!

That’s right, Disco Volante has made it through all their inspections and are open for lunch starting today! (Hours: 11:30 AM to 2:00 PM)

Here’s the menu:

Jar of bacon and duck liver mousse
with grilled bread, honey liqueur, and quince preserves

Persimmon salad
with farro, almonds, and grilled red onion

Warm fennel and pork pie
with greens dressed in stone-ground mustard vinaigrette

Pan-seared sand dabs
with boiled potatoes and brown butter caper sauce

Kale and smoked mozzarella pannini
with rosemary chips

Baby romaine salad
with currants, pine nuts, and blue cheese

Pumpkin soup
with golden raisin crostini

Hot smoked beef frankfurter
with E.M. kimchee and mustard greens

Volante burger
with farmhouse cheddar, bacon jam, and pickled pepper aioli

“Root Beer Sunk”
sassafras ice cream and vanilla cream soda

Coffee flan
and snickerdoodles

Chocolate ganache
with grilled bread, sea salt, and olive oil

Doesn’t it all sound so delicious?

Oh, and here’s some pre-opening pictures I snapped with my phone the other day:

Disco Volante Oakland

Disco Volante Oakland

Disco Volante Oakland

Doesn’t it look great? That stained glass, which my photos do not do justice, came from the Fairmont Hotel’s tea room. Fancy, huh?

Also, doesn’t the exterior of that building look like ten million times better without those hideous awnings they used to have all over it?

Anyway, if you work downtown, you should totally come check it out. They’ll have dinner service too at some point, but not until they have their liquor license, which is apparently being delayed by some kind of backlog in processing applications at the State or something like that. I don’t know what the timeline is there.

Anyway, Disco Volante is located at the corner of 14th and Webster downtown (347 14th Street). Read more about the DTO’s newest restaurant at Inside Scoop, Tablehopper, and the Oakland Tribune.

Congratulations, new Oakland Mayor Jean Quan

Yeah, I don’t actually have anything ready to say about this at the moment. I mean, obviously, I’m disappointed in how this election turned out. And even after having had a few days to think about it, and to make myself ready, I never managed to get it together to prepare a blog to post for this outcome.

I mean, I wrote about this last week, right? What more is there to say? It hurts when your candidate doesn’t win. But also, it isn’t the end of the world either. And I do think all volunteers should feel good about the work they did, no matter the outcome of the campaign.

I will try to update this post tomorrow with more of my thoughts on the election. Try is the key word there. No promises. This is one of the funny things about having a blog. Everyone expects you to have something to say about everything. But sometimes, you don’t know what to say. I mean, I really do wish her luck. I hope she will do a good job. But it’s not like I can pretend that I was all in favor of her all along or anything. The fact is that I disagree with a lot of the things she advocates for.

So…I will write about this. But I may need a little bit of time. And for now, well, congratulations to new Oakland Mayor Jean Quan. Winning elections is hard. And hey — running the City is even harder. So you’ve got a very tough road ahead of you. I wish you the very best of luck in the next four years.

One thing I can say right now is that I am very happy that we’re going to have someone in that office who is a very hard worker. Oakland needs someone who will put in a more than full work week, and I have no doubt in my mind that Jean Quan will do that.

Also, I am exceedingly happy that this is all finally over.

Halting of December service cuts does not mean end of trouble for AC Transit

I cannot remember the last time I was so delighted to see a press release pop up in my inbox as I was yesterday afternoon when I read this from AC Transit:

The arbitration panel in the AC Transit labor negotiation has reached a decision between the transit district and the union representing its 1,750 of its bus drivers and mechanics for a new three year contract. The decision was reached in time to halt the weekend service cuts planned for December as part of a cost reduction program by the transit agency.

The binding decision calls for contributions from the members of Amalgamated Transit Union Local 192 to their health and benefit plans, work rule and holiday changes, and will help the district reduce its protected deficit by approximately $38 million over the term of the contract.

“There are no winners or losers in this arbitration,” said Interim General Manager Mary King. “Both AC Transit and the union focused on what is best for the riders and taxpayers of this district and what is in the long-term interest of maintaining public transit for the people we serve.”

I never managed to get around to writing anything about the December service cuts (PDF) the AC Transit Board of Directors approved back in September , partly because I was so busy with other stuff, and partly because it was just, like, too depressing to write about.

You probably read about the cuts somewhere at the time, but in case you didn’t — basically, due to ongoing budget crisis, AC Transit was going to eliminate weekend service on most lines, and cancel 4 out of the 6 buses that run all night. AC Transit service has already been reduced to very close to their lowest level in twenty-five years (with only the period between 1996 and 1998 being worse), and the December cuts would have taken them well below even that disturbing level.

AC Transit historical platform hours

It would have been just devastating. So the fact that those cuts aren’t going to happen? Yeah, it’s awesome.

AC Transit still has problems

Of course, it’s only awesome because what was about to happen was so dire. It doesn’t mean by any stretch of the imagination that AC Transit is doing okay now. The first round of service cuts (back in March) was okay. I mean, obviously, it wasn’t a happy occassion. But they were able to be pretty creative about them and structure the cuts in a way that did relatively little harm when you consider them in the context of just how many service hours were being lost. The second round, the ones that happened in October? Those were tougher.

So it is important to remember that even though this is good news, bus riders are still suffering a great deal, and AC Transit’s budget problems are nowhere near over.

Which is why I was delighted yesterday to see the guest post from Bob Allen on Living in the O. If you missed it, here’s some highlights:

However, you might be aware of and read headlines about the recent efforts of the region’s elected officials and agencies, like the Metropolitan Transportation Commission (MTC), to secure funding for a project – the Oakland Airport Connector – with ridership of several thousand daily riders , many of them from outside the Bay Area, versus the over 230,000 daily riders of AC Transit that face drastically declining service.

When BART lost $70 million in federal ARRA stimulus funds (because of its violation of Federal Transit Administration Civil Rights procedures) to complete its three-mile Oakland Airport Connector (OAC) boondoggle, elected officials from Oakland, Alameda County and Congress all pitched in and found the money. Now bus riders, transit workers and advocates are asking, “who will fight for AC Transit and its riders?”

Among the OAC’s top supporters were Oakland Mayor Ron Dellums and City Council member Larry Reid, Alameda County Supervisor Scott Haggerty, Alameda County Transportation Commission Chair Mark Green, State Assemblyman Sandre Swanson, U.S. Rep. Barbara Lee and Senator Dianne Feinstein. These elected officials stepped in and helped find and swap funding at the federal, state and local level. Bus riders are asking for the same treatment for AC Transit.

With the upcoming Federal Transportation Bill reauthorization, the development of the Alameda Countywide Transportation Plan, the reauthorization of Alameda County’s Measure B sales tax and MTC’s Regional Transportation Plan there are plenty of opportunities to increase AC Transit’s funding to reverse its cuts and protect its service for the long-term.

I am really glad that Urban Habitat, among others, is making a stink about this. So glad, in fact, that I even went to their rally yesterday. And believe me, I am so not a rally person. But they are so right to call out all those elected officials who scrambled to find a way to get the Airport Connector built and ask where the hell they all are as local bus service is being completely decimated.

People depend on these buses to live their lives. They need them to get to work. They need them to get to the doctor. They need them to get to the store. They need them to get to school. They need them to go see their families. And it is not okay for all these officials who bent over backwards to try to help out this overpriced construction project to just sit their and twiddle their thumbs and ignore these devastating service cuts that have serious impacts on people’s lives. Lots of people. Hundreds of thousands of people.

The immediate response you get to something like this is, of course, “Well, sure. I support not cutting the bus. But where’s the money for that?” And the point of all this is, of course, that it is their job to help find the money. This is a crisis, and it’s not okay to ignore it. It is not enough to just shrug your shoulders and be like “Well, duh. I agree the bus cuts suck. But operating money is just so hard to find. There’s nothing to do.”

So good for Urban Habitat and ACCE, and BOSS, and the Center for Progressive Action, and Genesis, and Public Advocates, and United Seniors of Alameda County, and the other groups that organized the event for pointing out that doing nothing is not an acceptable response. Yeah, finding operating money is a problem. So let’s change that! Transportation advocates have been trying. But they are not going to get it done without help from our local elected officials.

Pictures!

I didn’t actually get very good pictures of the rally yesterday. My phone was just about out of batteries when I arrived. I did manage to snap three kind of crappy photos before it died. So here’s what I got. There were tons of cameras around, so hopefully somebody else will post some better ones, and when I see them, I’ll link there.

Transit rally

Transit rally

Transit rally

Peralta Colleges & the Kaiser Convention Center

You guys probably recall that over the past year or so, one thing that keeps coming up in the City’s budget discussions is the idea of making some money by selling off the Kaiser Convention Center.

Some people are against it because they are afraid of whoever buys it tearing the building down. Other people are against it because they don’t think we should be selling off City owned property at all.

For my part, I think selling it is a no-brainer, so long as we can get a decent price. I mean, if you don’t want it to get torn down and replaced by a high-rise, well…don’t zone the land for high rises. Problem solved!

And the Kaiser Convention Center is an amazing building. The City can’t do anything with it, so now, instead of putting it to productive use, we just let it sit there, rotting. It’s awful!

And it’s not for lack of effort. We tried to get voters to approve turning it into a new Main Library, and we failed. We spent plenty of time trying to work out something with LiveNation to keep it owned by the City and do something with it, and we couldn’t make that work either. So why not let somebody else have a shot at it? And get ourselves some money to keep City services going at the same time. It just seems so obvious to me.

And so, it was with much delight that I read item 9 on the agenda (PDF) for last night’s meeting of the Peralta Community College District Board of Trustees:

Consider approval to formally enter into an exclusive negotiation agreement (ENA) between the City of Oakland (City) and Peralta Community College District (District) to explore the potential of purchasing the Henry J. Kaiser Convention Center (Kaiser Center) located at 10 Tenth Street in Oakland, California. During the ENA period, the District will continue to conduct required due diligence and engage the shared governance process to determine how the facility might support the District’s educational mission.

So what does this mean? Well, it does not mean that the Peralta Community College District is necessarily going to buy the Kaiser Convention Center from us. It means that they’re talking to the City about it and seeing if they can work something out. They would have to decide out, during the negotiating period, exactly what they would want to do with the property if they bought it, figure out what kind of needs the building has to get it back into usable condition, and of course, come to an agreement on price.

Here’s the explanation from the staff report (PDF):

The City of Oakland has requested that the Peralta Community College District formally enter into an ENA for a period of 120 days. The ENA does not obligate the District to purchase or the City to sell (or approve the sale of) the Kaiser Center. The purpose of this ENA is to insure that both parties will continue to perform any due diligence required so that they may be in a position to make a final decision regarding the purchase and sale of the Kaiser Center. During this ENA period, the District will have the opportunity to explore the options and cost benefit analysis of the proposed acquisition. The duration of the ENA period which started on July 27, will end on November 30, 2010. At that time, an extension may be requested so that stakeholder will have the oppotunity to review and digest the draft business plan.

No, I don’t know why they just approved it last night if it’s expiring in a couple weeks either. I am far from an expert in the workings of the Peralta Community College District. It didn’t really sound at the meeting like they had a plan for it in place, so I assume they’ll just extend it? Anyone who knows is more than welcome to enlighten us in the comments.

What I do know, however, is that unlike the City, they actually have money they can use for capital projects like this, thanks to a 2006 bond measure.

So will the sale to Peralta happen? I have no idea. Area 6 Trustee Cy Gulassa sure didn’t seem convinced it was a good idea last night:

And if they do buy it, what will they do with it? I don’t know that either. I’ve heard some people talk about using it as some kind of sports facility. Other people have talked about using it for performing arts. My fantasy for the property is that Peralta buys it and then we turn it into a joint library between the City and Laney College, although I have gotten the impression that’s off the table. A girl can dream, though. Right?