I hope by now that you have all read the two excellent posts on Living in the O about the new surface parking lot the City wants to stick on 19th and Telegraph in Uptown. If you haven’t, here’s the story.
Forest City, developer of the Uptown Apartments, has a Disposition and Development Agreement (DDA) (PDF) with the City that says the City is supposed to sell them the big lot at the corner of 19th and Telegraph for $6.9 million so they can build 220 units of housing and some commercial space on it. According to the DDA, this was supposed to happen by July of 2008. Forest City, for a variety of reasons, couldn’t get it together to buy the lot by that deadline, so now the City is moving the date back three years, to July 2011 (PDF). The new schedule includes performance milestones such as a building permit being issued by June of 2011 and construction beginning in October of 2011.
Nobody wants to look at ugly green construction fencing for the next two years, so the question becomes, what do we do with that big empty space sitting there on Telegraph? The City has decided that the best thing we can do with a large parcel on Telegraph Avenue across the street from the Fox Theater and Flora is to turn it into a surface parking lot that will hold 120 cars.
Here is how that would play out. We would lease the parcel (PDF) to Forest City, who would then be responsible for paying to turn it into a surface parking lot (probably $400,000-$500,000). Then, Forest City would get to keep the revenue generated from the parking fees to help cover the cost of building the parking lot. The City estimates that the parking lot could generate $125,000-$150,000 per year. After Forest City earns $300,000 from the parking lot, the rest of the revenue would go to the City. If the Community and Economic Development Committee approves the lease for the parking lot at their meeting on Tuesday (PDF), the proposal will then move on for approval by the full City Council at their next meeting. If they approve it, then Forest City will have to go get building permits and apply for a conditional use permit to turn the parcel into a parking lot, which will have to be approved by the Planning Commission (a body which, just last week, voted to prohibit all new surface parking downtown, BTW).
So, the staff report (PDF) on this item suggests that this will generate around $100,000 for the City. Maybe one of you can explain to me how the math on that one works, because I can’t figure how this parking lot could feasibly get approved, constructed, and opened before October, at which point there are only two years left before the lot will have to be closed because construction on the new building is starting, and according to staff’s numbers, Forest City will not have earned over $300,000 by then.
I live less than 500 feet from this intersection, and I can walk out my door and identify open street parking within my immediate sight lines pretty much any night of the week no matter who is playing at the Fox. (I tried to take photos to document all this parking, but, idiot that I am, I managed to lose my camera battery charger and therefore now cannot use my camera, so I just fell back on taking pictures with my cell phone, none of which, I discovered this morning as I was preparing this blog, came out visible at all. Alas.) Anyway, if the City really believes there is a parking shortage in Uptown, they should change the street sweeping hours to free up spaces.
Or, hey, they could keep their garages open later! It’s really hard for me to stomach the idea that the City is claiming we need more car storage in this area at night when there are already floors of parking spaces like a block away that they control and choose to shut down at night. (At last month’s meeting, we were told that not enough people use the garages at night to make it financially feasible to keep open. How that supports the argument that the area desperately needs more parking is completely beyond me.)
I’m always saying that the biggest thing standing in the way of Oakland’s success is the City of Oakland, and this is just a perfect example. After years of everyone talking about how downtown is going to take off soon and how nightlife and vibrancy and restaurants and bars and crowds are coming just around the corner, it is all finally happening. We managed to get ourselves one successful, crowded, busy street downtown and how does the City respond? By trying to stick a giant parking lot right smack in the middle of it all.
I got really sad thinking about this on Tuesday night, when I was enjoying a drink at The Den. I was sitting by the window, and had ample opportunity to observe the behavior of the post concert crowd, since my date had to abandon me right as that night’s show was letting out, to go move his car, which he had left in a City parking garage that was about to close. It was sooo exciting to watch all the people just filling up all the sidewalks, lingering outside in the neighborhood after the show, and I just could not help but wonder how that behavior would change if a field of cars, constantly reminding you of driving away, suddenly became the dominant feature of the street. It was so disheartening.
The staff report (PDF) argues that we should go ahead with the parking lot because we can’t afford to do anything else with the property. Pat Kernighan was really worked up over this the last time the Committee discussed the parking lot, saying that if people don’t want it, then they have to come up with some other way to use the parcel because nobody wants to look at ugly construction fencing for two years. Which is, frankly, ridiculous. If there’s no economically viable short-term use for the lot, then why do we have to do anything with it? Just put up a nice looking fence and call it a day. Do you guys remember that fence they put up by the new Uptown park while it was being built, where they had the kids from the School for the Arts decorate it?
Just do that. It sure as hell can’t cost as much to build a pretty fence as it would to build and operate a parking lot, and I doubt it would require a Planning Commission hearing. Also, unlike a parking lot, it would visually enhance the intersection and make the pedestrian experience more interesting, rather than more horrifying.