Building up Broadway: Specific Plan and Alta Bates

Tomorrow night will be the third in a series of community meetings about the Broadway/Valdez District Specific Plan. If it seems like it’s been a long time since you heard anything about that effort, well, that’s because it has been. The last community meeting, which covered existing conditions (PPT) and market demand (PDF) in the area, was held in early July.

Since then, project staff have been developing a set of alternative development scenarios to present to the public for feedback. From these, the community will select a preferred alternative, which will then be studied and assessed further. All alternatives are designed with a specific goal of creating a major retail destination along Broadway between 23rd Street and 580.

For planning purposes, the area has been broken up into two parts – the area south of 27th Street, the “Valdez Triange,” and the area north of 27th Street, called, less imaginatively, the “North End.” See below.

In all of alternatives, major retail efforts are concentrated in the Valdez Triangle, accompanied by a mix of residential units, a hotel, and lots and lots of parking. North End alternatives imagine a larger format style of retail, plus at least some residential use and a medical office space component. In general, the Plan locates taller buildings and more density in the Valdez Triangle area.

This is an important moment for the Broadway planning effort, so if you’re at all interested in this neighborhood, I strongly encourage you to attend the meeting, where you will be able to find out more about the plans yourself. For those who can’t make it, I hope that the alternatives information will be on the project website soon, so you can also check it out. But really, go if you can. This is the likely the point where you will be able to have the most concrete influence in shaping what we ultimately decide this stretch of town is going to look like in the future (unless, of course, you’re against having retail there, I suppose. In that case, it’s pretty much too late). The meeting will take place tomorrow, Thursday, January 28th from 6 to 8 PM at the First Presbyterian Church, 2619 Broadway. I hope to see you there!

There’s really not a ton more for me to say about the Specific Plan without documents to refer you guys to, but I don’t want to just put up an event announcement either. So while we’re waiting for Thursday’s meeting, let’s talk about something else being planned in this part of town – the new Alta Bates/Summit hospital rebuild! It’s more exciting than it sounds.

So, quickly. State law requires that all hospitals soon must meet significantly higher seismic safety standards by 2015. (Kaiser is in the process of doing this now as well.) The Alta Bates Summit Medical Center wants to accomplish this by building an 11-story, 230,000 sf new hospital plus a new 7-story parking garage. It would look like this:

If you want more information than that, you can read the project description section (PDF) of the Draft EIR. (The whole thing is handily online, and broken up into sections.)

So, the Draft EIR came to the Planning Commission last week, and while it wasn’t exactly the night’s big fireworks item (I’ll get to that one later this week, I promise!), it did generate more comment than I expected it too. I guess I should know better by now. There’s no such thing as a non-controversial big project in Oakland. (Oh, except for those SWIG skyscrapers on the Lake, which for some reason nobody cares about.)

So first, there was a doctor and a nurse from Alta Bates who got up and went on and on about how great the new hospital and facility is going to be for the doctors and the patients, who are apparently all crammed in there too tight right now, and will all be like a zillion times better off in these awesome new rooms they’ve designed.

I don’t know anything about hospital rooms, and I’ve never been to the Summit ER, so I really have no way of knowing if the current room situation is as inadequate as they say or not. I have no reason to doubt their assessment. Still, their comments did strike me as really bizarrely enthusiastic about the new rooms and also oddly defensive, so I guess at that point I should have figured that there someone out there against these great new rooms, and a few minutes later, I got to learn who.

This guy from the California Nurse’s Association got up and complained forcefully that the new hospital, although twice the size of the old facility, will have 36 fewer beds than the existing facility. I guess because these great new rooms take up a lot of space? Then he started complaining about some kind of lab that Alta Bates was closing somewhere else and Kaiser was closing at their Oakland hospital and how now this facility would have all the traffic from it – I don’t know, I couldn’t really follow that part. And then about how Alta Bates is reducing beds all over California and it really was a little much and didn’t seem that relevant to the discussion at hand. I mean, like I said, I don’t know anything at all about hospitals, so maybe the dude has a legitimate point. I’m just saying he didn’t do a very effective job of making his case. It sounded kind of nuts.

The Commissioners totally did not care about this bed dispute. Well, I suppose that’s not exactly fair. It’s entirely possible they were all deeply concerned about the number of beds and special design of the rooms, but held their tongues for now, because they didn’t think the issue was relevant to the Draft EIR, because it’s not. What they were concerned about was – can you guess? Traffic! The City of Oakland requires Alta Bates to design a Transportation Demand Management program, and so of course Alta Bates is going to do one, and the Commission was basically like “Yeah, watch out. You’d better do a good job on that, we’ll be watching closely.” And also asked for more study of how to enhance bike/ped and bus access.

Also controversial is the proposed removal of this historic building – 418 30th Street (PDF), currently used as medical office space. Personally, I don’t find this building anywhere near so exciting as some people seem to, and it wouldn’t bother me very much if it were to go away (I really think preservationists in this town would get a lot more sympathy from the general public if they had higher standards about what we should be preserving.) But I also don’t see any point in demolishing it if it isn’t necessary, and it kind of doesn’t sound like it really is.

Anyway, two speakers showed up to advocate for saving 418 30th Street, although one of them seemed a lot more interested in how much she dislikes the whole concept of the hospital rebuild than how much she cared about the historic building:

Already the campus, Alta Bates is already 20 point something acres. So we’re really concerned about, you know, how big can you go? And why is this big bigness, so, so, why is this being so emphasized?

She did kind of hilariously suggest a bribe of sorts – apparently, she’d be okay with Alta Bates buying the empty Courthouse Athletic Club property on Telegraph, moving the building from 418 30th Street to there, and turning it into a new Preservation Park. Hey, it can’t hurt to ask, I guess. The Commission was a lot more receptive to the concerns about 418 30th Street than they were about the beds, at least.

Okay, that’s enough hospital talk for now. If you’ve got comments on the Draft EIR, you have until 4 PM on February 3rd to submit them – contact information is here (PDF). Oh, and I think you’ve got a chance to complain about the historic building on February 8th, when the Draft EIR goes in front of the Landmarks Preservation Advisory Board (6 PM), but I’m not 100% sure on that since the agenda isn’t posted yet. Perhaps one of my readers more familiar with LPAB goings-on than I am can confirm that?

123 thoughts on “Building up Broadway: Specific Plan and Alta Bates

  1. Ralph

    I am so there. I especially like concentrating medical facilities on the North End. The hospital seems to be moving in the right direction. Curious how the folks at the synagogue are taking the new development.

  2. Naomi Schiff

    I believe the Landmarks Board information above is correct, V. but not posted yet.

    We historic preservation people, the city of Oakland, and the state of California do have somewhat elaborate ranking systems for historic buildings. While we strongly advocate for a fair number of buildings and other historic resources (such as landscape features), we do come up with appropriate types of comment, amount of rabble-rousing, extent of heartrending drama, willingness to go to court and likelihood that we would lie in front of bulldozers or chain ourselves to pillars.

    Our efforts are roughly matched to the level of community support, the value to the surrounding neighborhood and to the researched and/or acknowledged historic or cultural value of any particular resource. Our efforts are sometimes limited by exhaustion, frustration, and happenstance. But they are also buoyed by the community’s interest in green development (the greenest building is most often one that already exists, won’t use new resources and won’t landfill old materials) and in a growing realization that historic preservation can be a bulwark against dullness.

    The building on Pill Hill that we were discussing is not in the way of any imminent construction: it occupies a vague plan in “phase 2″ of the Summit project. It is a serviceable building in current use.

  3. len raphael

    Maybe what CNA rep was trying to say, was that Sutter (the non profit that operates a goodly share of the hospital beds in the East Bay after Kaiser) has been alleged to be changing their business to focus on good insurance only patients, and those who will private pay. Fewer but bigger rooms are part of that marketing strategy.

    Apparently the fewer but larger room plan is what they’re doing at Eden Hosp (the Sutter Hosp in Castro Valley,) at the same time as they pushing to close San Leandro Hospital.

  4. East Lake Biker

    It’ll be interesting how Alta Bates’ transportation plan will incorporate bike/ped/transit access. From BPAC I learned that Webster will be closed for part of the construction.

  5. Born in Oakland

    The new Alta Bates Summit tower is a good thing for Oakland. We don’t call this area “pill hill” for nothing. Thousands of people WORK in a Medical Center….these people shop and eat locally. A new Medical Center will also produce offices: doctors, acupuncturists, chiropractors, etc who will re-locate to this area. This is a big deal for Oakland. Notice that they are not building the new tower in Berkeley. This a big deal.

  6. Agnes

    Is there any discussion about the impact on the galleries and art-community spaces located in the area? I assume part of why they’re concentrated around there, and by Telegraph, is the cheap rent, and new development will drive that up.

  7. Ralph

    BiO, every time I walk up to the Quest office or drive Telegraph, I keep thinking how one could really make this a desrirable medical office center.

  8. Daniel Schulman

    V. Smoothe, the LPAB agenda is not online yet, but I have received my hardcopy version – Alta Bates is on the Agenda for the Feb 8th meeting.

    As Naomi pointed out, historic and potentially historic buildings in Oakland have a variety of designations. According to the Agenda (I don’t have full staff reports yet), the building has a OCHS rating of Dc3 (minor importance, not in an historic district) and a NRHP rating of 5S (eligible for local listing). Those are not really very high scores, so it seems like you are more in agreement with the raters than not.

    This is no no formal action scheduled form the LPAB Board. The main purpose is to get more comment – both board and public – into the EIR process, so come on down everybody and let us know what you think.

    As an added bonus, February’s Landmark of the Month presentation is on the Fox Theater.

  9. Kerry Jo Ricketts Ferris

    For those who are interested, the Broadway Valdez District Specific Plan Alternatives Analysis Report is now available on the project website:

    The Community Workshop on Janaury 28th provides an opporutunity to give feedback to six alternative scenarios for the district which will aid in the development of a preferred concept. that will then be presented to the public in spring 2010.

  10. Matt

    I have two concerns for our town regarding the med complex expansions.

    My first concern is about taxes. The medical facility expansions on Pill Hill and north have eradicated large swaths of residential homes. I appreciate the work of these institutions, but they contribute $0 to property tax revenue or to any other tax to pay for the upkeep of the immediate area. I think these hospitals are good for the community, in moderation, but Oakland and Pill Hill clearly already have their moderate share.

    The second issue is about community and the environment. As I mentioned the ever expanding facilities have removed block-upon-block of dense walkable residential homes. In doing so hundreds of heritage properties are gone for good. For nearly half a century these expansions have been done without any regard to the streetscape or neighborhood leaving the area feeling fragmented and undesirable. The latest plans for Alta Bates seem to only throw crumbs of retail to satiate the communities need for healthy streetscapes.

    Well, I propose the city limit the footprint of these facility expansions. That they figure out a way to save heritage buildings like the house at 418 30th. Most importantly, they demand these expansions be designed to encourage a healthy walkable community.

  11. Naomi Schiff

    Good thinking, Matt! If you send in a written comment (such as the above!) by 4 pm Feb 3 (I think it is, you may want to check) it can be included in the final EIR and they will have to respond to it. Oakland does suffer from having an awful lot of large nontaxpaying property owners.

    Scott Gregory, Contract Planner
    c/o Gary Patton, Deputy Director of Planning and Zoning
    City of Oakland, Community and Economic Development Agency
    250 Frank H. Ogawa Plaza, Suite 3330
    Oakland, CA 94612
    Phone: (510) 535-6690


  12. dave o

    Is there really money around for all of this retail expansion? Maybe it’s just me, but I get the impression that everybody is heavily in debt and future income prospects look bleak. Is this like some kind of escapist fantasy thing?

  13. Daniel Schulman

    The Agenda and staff reports for next Monday’s Landmarks Preservation Advisory Board (LPAB) meeting are now online.

    The agenda is located at

    The staff report on the Alta Bates project is at

    I highly encourage anyone interested to come to the meeting which starts at 6:00pm in Hearing Room 1. Alta Bates discussion will probably start around 7:00pm. You can also watch on KTOP.

  14. len raphael

    dave o, i think the future for oakland retail is walmart not target, and forgetabout nordy’s. not exactly anyone’s dream of how to revitalize anything. but in some of the prior periods of real estate inflation, it seemed that people who were priced out of housing, spent more on cars and other consumerables.

  15. PRE

    Lots and lots of parking is an understatement!

    It’s clear that both the Valdez area and Broadway “North End” are ripe for much more intensive use than they currently enjoy, but I wonder if an expensive planning effort is the best way to go about it. I can’t think of any vibrant, exciting place in the Bay Area that came about as a result of a master plan such as this. They all grew out of an organic need piece by piece. I’d love to see much more retail and residential (and the tax base) along B’Way but not if it ends up as another Bay Street.

    Oakland should be concentrating on making it easier for interested parties to come in and build – not dictate a street by street plan for the area.

    And what about downtown? Does it make sense to position “major retail” such as a Macy’s 10 blocks north of the BART station? Of course, I’ll be in the grave before Macy’s comes to Oakland…

  16. James Robinson

    We’ll all be in the grave before Macy’s comes to Oakland! Remember, department stores are slowly dying in general, and especially in urban downtowns. There are exceptions, of course (SF, Chicago, etc.). However, we can pretty much forget about downtown department stores.

    Regarding master plans vs. “organic” development. Is it possible that having a plan can spur more informal organic development? Maybe having a master plan will give other developers an incentive to invest in the area like they are doing in the Uptown area.

  17. len raphael

    Would seem that the city can plan till Macy’s comes to Temescal, but without eminent domain, big redevelopment monies, tax holidays, and the indirect subsidies that Uptown Forest City received, rezoning will only shape the decisions of investors who already decided the area was attractive to them. Or do the rezoning now and wait for the next real estate boom that comes after the big quake hits.

  18. Born in Oakland

    Oakland City Hall and political sandbox retrofit and restoration – 83 million bucks and no tax revenue accrues.

  19. Naomi Schiff

    BIO: You mean the post-EQ restoration of City Hall? Mostly paid for by insurance on the former city hall annex building (now demolished and replaced by 250 Frank O.) and FEMA. About 90 million. Thank yous go to FEMA.

  20. len raphael

    some of the people working in our city leave much to be desired, but it is a hecka good looking city hall to be proud of. just waiting for the right fill it..

  21. Daniel Schulman

    Just to follow-up on what happened at the Landmarks Board. Unfortunately, Monday night we failed to make quorum which was a shame since we had a fair number of public attendees and speakers.

    However, in the case of the proposed demolition of property at 418 30th Street (Meeker House) in the Alta Bates project, this became a non-issue. Prior to the LPAB meeting the project team decided to proceed with the notion that this property is a historic resource and that they could modify the plan to work around it.

  22. Matt

    Naomi I sent my comments to Scott and CC’ed Gary before the 2/3 deadline. New and old structures situated together make for an interesting streetscape.

    Getting more current on the thread…. I also do not see Broadway as a place for department stores. I also think the plan needs to be simple. New projects need to have retail on the first level, housing above -some offices, too. There should be higher density along the arterial streets. We should implement transit improvements to encourage shopping and dining. Last, sprinkle in parks and public art. Poof -destination BROADWAY – OAKLAND!

  23. Naomi Schiff

    Thanks, Matt!

    Let’s do Broadway. Let’s not scrape off Valdez. Let’s definitely build on all those surface parking lots! But most of all, we need to get smart about business attraction and retention.

  24. Max Allstadt

    New and old structures together are indeed interesting. Contrast between old scale and new scale is also interesting.

    That’s why it would really be great if OHA would abandon it’s anti-growth recommendation for super low height limits on Broadway.

    That recommendation is a recipe for no-growth. There is simply no way to make any money by building at that scale, which means nothing will get built if staff takes OHA’s suggestion seriously.

    We also need to get staff and the consultants to stop saying that a street car is “beyond the scope” of the discussion. We pay them. We decide the scope. When 15 people get up at a public meeting and say they want transit, transit becomes part of the scope.

  25. J

    Why shouldn’t there be department stores on Broadway? Broadway seems like the most logical place to put them in my opinion. Mr. Matt, where would you prefer there to be department stores in downtown? A streetcar however would certainly make the area more vibrant and spur growth in addition to a hotel as outlined in the current plan.

  26. Naomi Schiff

    Say, Max, we really didn’t recommend superlow heights on Broadway! What are you speaking of? We said, preserve the historic auto row buildings (there aren’t that many, really), and build dense whatevers (that is, whatever developers are proposing–residential or commercial) on the many many vacant lots, both on Broadway, and in the Webster area just to the east of Uptown. In the Valdez area, fill in the empty lots.

    The contiguous area we think should likely be preserved is the ASI from Harrison to Valdez, 23rd to 24th, plus Creative Growth building. Our letter stated that it seems strange to start up a whole new retail area when we have areas that are languishing and full of empty lots. If you need a copy of our full letter, let me know and I will send it to you.

  27. Max Allstadt

    ASI from Harrison to Valdez and 23rd to 24th amounts to most of the area.

    I’m fine with preserving the creative growth building. We aren’t really talking imminent domain yet anyway.

    As for the criteria by which buildings are deemed historic, and who made the decisions that designated them historic… That’s an important question. If we demand fair and transparent processes for development studies, we should have the same for preservation studies. I would really like a clear answer on that.

  28. PRE

    Doesn’t anyone in “planning” departments ever read Jane Jacobs? The idea that the area would be scraped clean and a new set of buildings constructed all of the same vintage, and all with the same need for high rents is just idiotic. There is so much asphalt along that stretch of Broadway that no building of even passing interest would need to be torn down to increase the activity by a factor of five. Tear down that ugly paper building, and the nasty old circular diner to start with. Why do we make this so much more difficult than it has to be?

  29. Max Allstadt

    The “nasty old circular diner” is apparently what people are talking about when they say they want to reopen “Biff’s”.

    I gotta say, from my experience seeing that building, there’s little or no aesthetic value to it. Nostalgia must be the driving force behind wanting it reopened. Smash! Replace.

  30. Naomi Schiff

    Max, yes, there is a system for evaluating historic structures. There is a fairly large (although in my view inadequate in some respects) historic structures report put out last summer concerning the area. The same firm, ESA, did a draft EIR on Biff’s/JJ’s some years ago, and the landmarks board held a big hearing about it. The upshot was a B rating, which under our system and that of the state, would make it a historic resource under he local register.

    It is a little technical to go into here, but if you would like more detail, feel free to call me and I’ll go through it. I have the feeling you haven’t really checked all this out real carefully, so I do understand your immediate reaction. I had to walk past the abandoned, blighted, but historic Cadillac dealership twice daily for fifteen years before it was reused as Whole Foods. However, whether from an environmental point of view, from a historic preservation point of view, or from an urban design point of view, scraping large areas clear is not smart. There is really quite a large amount of land available on which we could build right now, occupied by acres of cars and concrete!

    I will try to get a full copy of our letter to you, as it addresses some of this better than does our summary handed out at the public meeting.

  31. Max Allstadt

    No mention of the city list of historic structures that was created in 1981 by a certain two people who drove around the city and made evaluations which are still relied upon today?

    No I’ve checked out what used to be Biffs. It’s ugly, hard to reuse, and I believe it’s younger than all but two of our City Council members. 48 years old is not “Historic”.

    Biff’s should not be preserved precisely because it would be a monument to obsolete, pro-sprawl planning. I just looked at a “googie” architecture fan page that lists Biff’s and it’s mainly a giant list of 50′s and 60′s fast food joints. Denny’s and the like. This is not history, but nostalgia run amok.

    I think there are definitely opportunities to mandate facade preservation along auto row. I think prioritizing the use of vacant lots makes sense too. But insisting on preserving almost everything within the Valdez Triangle is just preposterous.

    There are much more important things that are wrong with this plan besides the fact that an abandoned coffeeshop might be demolished. Like a lack of new public transit. Like too much parking. Like not enough opportunities for high-rise construction. Like failure to integrate new zoning between the 27th street off ramp and the area. Like a consultant who’s ignoring everybody who talks to him except for one commercial realtor.

    This plan can be better, but we need to expand it, not limit it.

  32. Max Allstadt

    No mention of the city list of historic structures that was created in 1981 by a certain two people who drove around the city and made evaluations which are still relied upon today?

    No I’ve checked out what used to be Biffs. It’s ugly, hard to reuse, and I believe it’s younger than all but two of our City Council members. 48 years old is not “Historic”.

    Biff’s should not be preserved precisely because it would be a monument to obsolete, pro-sprawl planning. I just looked at a “googie” architecture fan page that lists Biff’s and it’s mainly a giant list of 50′s and 60′s fast food joints. Denny’s and the like. This is not history, but nostalgia run amok.

    I think there are definitely opportunities to mandate facade preservation along auto row. I think prioritizing the use of vacant lots makes sense too. But insisting on preserving almost everything within the Valdez Triangle is just preposterous.

    There are much more important things that are wrong with this plan besides the fact that an abandoned coffeeshop might be demolished. Like a lack of new public transit. Like too much parking. Like not enough opportunities for high-rise construction. Like failure to integrate new zoning between the 27th street off ramp and the area. Like a consultant who’s ignoring everybody who talks to him except for one commercial realtor.

    This plan can be better, but we need to expand it, not limit it.

  33. Daniel Schulman

    Max, I know there is lots of harping on the methodology of the original historic survey, but the fact of the matter is that the independent ESA consultants upgraded far more structures than downgraded.

    I think a lot of people have serious issues with where the current planning is heading. The way to make change, though, is not by pointing the finger at one group and saying they are the cause of all the problems.

    As a disclaimer, I attended the first three public hearings on the project plan out of my own interests. Recently, though, I was appointed to the Landmarks Board sub-committee on the Broadway-Valdez specific plan. So far, the sub-committee has met once with the city’s project planner.

  34. Matt

    I can’t seem to recall a scrape and replace redevelopment plan that has EVER succeeded. I have studied this for a decade now. I can only think of places like Santa Clara where it failed miserably.

    Yes to a classic or Oakland designed street car line in Oakland!

    Department stores or not I’m sticking to my proposal to keep redevelopment plans simple and just get it done.

  35. J

    I agree with just getting in done and posably streamlining the process to make it more palatable for developers to even want to develop here. pardon my spelling.

  36. Robert

    Matt, I guess it depends on your definition of succeeded. There is an example right next door, Bay Street in Emeryville. It may not be what you like, but it is very popular.

  37. Max Allstadt

    My main dislike of Bay Street is it’s location, which is not easily accessible to non-drivers. They’ve created a shuttle, yes, but the site is not integrated within the urban fabric.

    Others may dislike Bay Street because it’s exclusively chain stores. I personally prefer to shop local, but there is a place in society and within a city for a big corporate retail district. Oakland has nothing like Fifth Avenue in NYC or Union Square SF. We should aim for at least one neighborhood that comes close to those examples. And remember that an area full of corporate chain stores also tends to provide momentum that allows local small businesses to be involved, and often to thrive on the periphery.

  38. Robert

    So would you consider Bay Street a successful brown field development?

    Union Square and Fifth Avenue are both wonderful shopping areas, but they both have grown organically over decades from existing retail roots. Oakland’s comparable area is downtown Broadway, in which only Sears is left as a major retail site. I think Walnut Creek (or Bay Street) is a far better model to look at for retail development in Oakland. And even then, I don’t think a Macy’s or Nordstrom’s is in the cards.

  39. Patrick

    Googie architecture is just as important and relevant as any other, even if you don’t care for it Max. Googie was not only architecture, it was a whole design movement, one that was part of America’s looking-to-the-future mindset of the admittedly not so distant past. Googie was everywhere, not just fast food joints: home decor, fabric, fashion, jewelry, appliances big and small, cookware, cutlery, dishware, glassware, automobiles, banks, malls, apartment buildings, office buildings, corporate logos, the Jetsons, Holiday Inn signs, the still-prevalent brown National Parks signs – all of them featured Googie design hallmarks for an extended period of time. Why? Because people loved it and they loved what it stood for: America’s relentless march into an ever-brighter future. And now it’s disappearing, along with our faith in that future. To dismiss Googie is to dismiss an American generation, not nostalgia run amok.

  40. Patrick

    Hell, even Target is only coming here because they get to locate in Emeryville-Lite. The Best Buy in Oakland even lists their store as Best Buy – Emeryville; you only see the name Oakland in the address, along with the rest of the fine print.

  41. Matt

    I think Bay Street is a success, a retail development success. However I really don’t think a community has developed there. For the residence sake I hope it has.

    Bay Street is special though, it wasn’t a mixed-use urban community before. I’m sorry I wasn’t very specific about what type of scrape and replace projects have failed. I specifically meant situations where an urban community existed, but was in decline and a redevelopment agency intervened and demoed block after block allowing developers to buy and develop block after block at the same time. Examples are the Western Addition in SF, Downtown Santa Clara (never came back), Boston’s City Hall area and many more.

    History shows there is a high chance if we demo the entire area it could be 20-30 years before the last lot is redeveloped. It happened to all of the places mentioned above. In the late 60′s Santa Clara aspired to create a mall out of it’s old downtown. It demoed it’s entire downtown. Finally in the early 90′s SC sold the land to a condo developer. There’s presently talk about again developing something like Santa Row in SC, but that may not be for another 5-10 years. That will make about 60 years Santa Clara has gone without a place to build a community around.

    The City of Oakland was absolutely awful to me in my efforts to restore my house near Downtown. I really think just cutting the crap the City dishes out will get development to happen around Broadway.

  42. Robert

    Nobody is suggesting anything like that for the upper Broadway area. So what was your point? To say that something nobody is contemplating won’t work?

    I would agree that there is too much bureaucracy in Oakland. But part of that bureaucracy is the concept that every old building needs to be saved. Back to the house near Alta Bates. Nothing historic has happened there, the building is of minor architectural interest, and only rises to secondary importance if restored. And restoration is a far different animal than renovation. But we need to save it because it might possibly be used as something else rather than being torn down? This is bureaucracy at its highest.

    Biff’s on the other hand is of significant interest as an example of the times when it was built. It is most likely unique in Oakland, although it is probably not unique in CA. Oakland needs to make an intelligent decision about whether preserving a piece of Americana similar to what exists elsewhere is really worthwhile compared to alternative development possibilities. And quite bluntly, if it is important to preserve this bit of the era, it is only meaningful if it is returned to its original use as a coffee shop.

  43. Max Allstadt


    A 48 year old building just isn’t Historic. In my opinion a building earns historic status by remaining usable and integral to its surrounding for much longer than 48 years. The reason Biff’s is closed is because it isn’t useful. It was designed for an autopia that never came to be.

    The reason it’s a circle is for a wide angle view. Unless we historically preserve the giant surface parking lot, the view goes away, rendering the design pointless. If the lot gets built out, it will only have a view of the paper company across 27th street.

    I see no reason to preserve a building that is no longer useful just so that Baby Boomers can worship at a tomb of their teenage glory days.

  44. Naomi Schiff

    Max, by the time anything gets built it will be older than 48. The government looks at 50, as a rule of thumb. The reason Biff’s closed is that Chevron wanted to build a McDonald’s, actually.

    I understand that you may not appreciate the style. (You have no idea how much I am not worshipping at any relics of my teenage years.) In fact, midcentury structures seem to be far more popular among younger people who didn’t live through the period the first time around.
    Despite your assertion, it isn’t actually up to you to decide whether it is historic. And luckily, a building not in service can indeed be a historic structure. We would have lost the Fox Oakland and the Floral Depot (Flora) both long ago, using your yardstick! (And there were serious advocates for demolition.)

    I believe that with your artistic sensibility you would be able to apply your imagination and see the potential in reusable–even if quirky–structures. They add considerably personality to a city, and if you stop to consider the urban structures around you, you probably do appreciate a number of our beloved eccentrics without necessarily realizing it.

  45. Max Allstadt


    Why do you always avoid mentioning that a large part of the City’s criteria for historic significance is a list of buildings compiled in 1981 by two people? I believe those two people were you and Chris Buckley.

    Based on that survey, you’re right. I don’t get to decide what’s historically relevant. You do. Or you did. With one other person. When I was 5 years old.

    I do believe in creative re-use where possible. I see no possibilities for Biffs. If you want to build on the Biff’s parking lot, there’s no profitable way to build under 5 stories. If you do that, all of Biff’s is in permanent shadow, and half of it would be surrounded by walls.

    Flora and the Fox are red herrings here. The Fox was totally reusable, and it fits into the urban pedestrian fabric because it was built before the era of automania. Flora would have been a perfect candidate for the facade-ectomy strategy. It still is and still should be considered eligible for that in the future.

  46. Naomi Schiff

    Max, with all respect, your information is incorrect. For one thing, I have never worked on any survey! You won’t find my name on any survey forms, because it is not there. Chris Buckley was a planner in various capacities, with the city for about 25 years. After an initial general survey, certain areas of the city were later subjected to much more intensive survey–not all of it, that is true. There is more than one type of survey, and the survey dates vary. Some of them are old, because there has not been funding and staffing to survey and update the whole city. In addition to the intensively surveyed neighborhoods, for example the historic districts of West Oakland, when an EIR is required, a more intensive study may also be required. It is not a matter of whimsically driving about pointing at structures and making random notes. There are standards and evaluation points and research. Let’s go over this off line, and get some better info for you, okay?

    As an individual and as a member of OHA and FOOF, we worked for about 30 years on and off to keep the Fox standing. It was no slam dunk, and required persistent advocacy. One year, Federated Dept. Stores decided to sell the Flora block to BART for a 20-story off-the-property-tax-rolls edifice. I stalled the BART real estate dept. by showing them how the Floral Depot is a nationally known example of art deco, and explaining how my organization would go to the mat for it, while Phil Tagami and Matthew Fox quickly and heroically put in a bid and saved it from demolition. (OHA had already early in the 1980s generated a mass mailing effort to keep the Floral Depot standing.) Truly, not red herrings. I would be happy to have a conversation with you about some of this; you certainly need better information.

  47. Max Allstadt

    Look, I’m sure I haven’t got my facts exactly right, but more than one person has explained to me that the 1981 survey was citywide and involved very little oversight and community input.

    I also know from my own experience that there is a small cadre of people in this town who are vehemently anti-growth and very vocal, and unfortunately they get to drive the process all too often.

    Naomi, you and I were at a zoning update meeting dealing with the housing element a few months back. When staff announced that the State had decreed that Oakland needed to adjust the general plan to accommodate 15,000 additional housing units in the coming years, do you remember how most of your allies reacted?

    I do. They gasped in horror. There was a look on several people’s faces that I would never display myself unless I was looking up at an incoming asteroid.

    My reaction to 15,000 more housing units city wide? A good start.

    Fundamentally, I believe that this city needs to grow to be successful, and I believe that there are many people who side with you in these debates who are looking for no growth.

    Back to broadway. I’ll re-read your letter, but everything I’ve heard here from you about the Valdez Triangle plan comes off as advocating entirely too little growth.

    If aim for very little change, what we will get is zero change. That is unacceptable.

    And again, the Fox is a red herring. Nobody’s going to put 30 years work into preserving Biff’s. If you could find an operator in the next 2 years, maybe it will stay, but it simply isn’t anywhere near the asset that the Fox is, nor does it have any potential to be.

    The Fox generates thousands of visitors from outside Oakland every weekend. You can’t do that with a coffee shop. And certainly not a coffee shop that isn’t transit accessible and will have no view once the lot adjacent to it is developed. Who’s going to come and sip java while taking in the view of HarriOak and a brick wall?

  48. Naomi Schiff

    Max, let’s do have a chat. There are a lot of nuances between all-growth and no-growth, and you will find me in there amongst the nuances, with the liveable city folks. We could even take a little walk if you like.

  49. Max Allstadt


    I’d be happy to chat.

    But I’m not going to be deflected from examining your savvy maneuvering. You’ve explained how developers play the game to me on a couple of occasions. You play the game too, and I think it’s fair to explain it to people.

    For instance, when some of your allies take strident and emotional tones and make absolutist statements, you play good cop and deliver a similar message. It means the same thing, but because you’re softer, you get to command more attention.

    There’s also plenty of manufactured legitimacy in your arguments. I understand you just undertook a view corridor survey with James Vann and John Klein. Conveniently, the corridors you identified seem to have fallen directly upon the portion of the lake where you have all long been advocating for downzoning.

    By setting up a narrative like that, you can create the illusion of a legitimate case for downzoning, even if the entire exercise was contrived to reach a foregone conclusion.

    I’m sure I can find other examples of this sort of technique. And I can identify other tactics that you’re very good at using to achieve your goals. Not that I begrudge your skill. Developers play similar games all the time. But you, like me, have the advantage of being an unpaid concerned citizen, which makes people presume that there’s nothing hidden. We all hide some of our plans. That’s fine. It’s necessary.

    I guess the lesson I want readers to get out of this is that there aren’t any good guys or bad guys, it’s just a bunch of people playing the same game to different ends.

  50. Naomi Schiff

    View corridor preliminary survey included one representative from CALM, one from OBA, myself from OHA, at the request of city staff. We were not making any decisions at all, we were surveying to see what the possibilities might be and what the impacts might be. OBA was an active participant. A view corridor provision is in our general plan. The city is doing the actual survey, calculations, mapping and work. They are mapping a number of optional viewpoints and are preparing for a full public discussion. The study was requested by landmarks board, zuc, planning commission, and a majority of the city council as part of the CBD rezoning proposal, which certainly did not incorporate all OHA’s positions or hopes, but did come to consensus on quite a few things. (During these zoning discussions, OHA is one of many stakeholders. We have had productive and very amicable discussions with people in the development community, the city staff, housing groups, and property owners, and neighborhood groups.)

    The idea about views from the lake is not a new one. The public discussed lake views when the city considered selling off the Kaiser Conv. Center parking lot to the Diocese of Oakland, at the beginning of the Lake Merritt Master Plan process, years ago. I don’t know wherever you are getting your info, but I surmise that you aren’t getting unbiased information, and may need more facts.

    I generally try to state clearly whether I advocate as a representative of Oakland Heritage Alliance, one of several orgs in which I am active, or speak only for myself. I don’t hide much. If there is anything you want to know about in detail, I urge you to call me up, as it is too time consuming to type any more of this.

  51. Matt

    Robert, several have commented on the idea of scrape and build, so I wanted to explain why that tends to be a bad idea. Getting back to that dang house, I’ve covered why it and others like it should stay and I’m not going to waste this space to go over it again.

    Biff’s could be a pretty cool refurb. It was quite a place to see when it was built. All we need are enough investors…

  52. Ken O

    Matt, good luck finding investors.

    Naomi, phew, i thought you were part of the other OHA. (Which I think should and will be sold off for $200M or more.)

  53. Naomi Schiff

    KenO: That does cause confusion, but I am not associated with the housing authority, no. Housing Authority is a body of the city. It can sell property, but probably not its whole entire self, since it is a govt entity.

  54. Patrick


    I did not say anything about Biff’s directly, I was questioning your position that “googie” (your quotes) was seemingly unimportant in and of itself.

  55. gem s

    ” If you want to build on the Biff’s parking lot, there’s no profitable way to build under 5 stories. If you do that, all of Biff’s is in permanent shadow, and half of it would be surrounded by walls.”

    Building on the west side of the lot leaves the Biff’s building with a southern exposure. If I were designing the project, I’d put the access pedestrian to whatever the new building is on the south side, ensuring the sun corridor. It could also remain a parking lot with access to more parking under the new building. Biff’s doesn’t actually have a 360 degree view, so I disagree with the claim that it is only worth keeping the place if you maintained all the open space around it.

    Considering more than five stories, it would look a bit silly to have something really tall towering on that island, Biff’s or no. With the characteristics of that particular few blocks, I would build up the Broadway facade and step down towards Biff’s, making space for terraces or patios or whatever, depending on whether it’s commercial or residential (or both) use. However, if some developer insisted on something taller, I don’t see why a good architect/landscape architect team couldn’t rise to the challenge. Not every building in an area needs to be the same height; balancing negative space is just as important to making a place livable as any other design consideration. People who have the design chops would be able to work around Biff’s.

    As for tenants, I hear Shake Shack is planning to expand across the county.

  56. John Klein

    Your criticism of the view corridor study is off-the-mark. Those who favored conducting the study made their case at the Zoning Update Committee and the Planning Commission for over a year – and lost.

    The City Council called for the study, which was quite contrary to the recommendations from Planning Commission. The Planning Commission did not make a recommendation for view corridors. The Council made the call for the view corridor study on its own. It’s that simple. One might say then, that the ZUC and Planning Commission had it wrong for that long.

    The claim that the views to preserve were identified and manipulated to correlate to preservation areas is just you trying to find a conspiracy. It’s more accurate to say that there is more than one good reason to conduct the study. The views being studied are the only remaining views of the CBD from Lakeshore Ave. These are the only views being studied.

  57. Robert

    Matt, that artist’s rendering looks far cooler than what I remember it looking like, but I readily admit to a hazy memory 40 years from the last time I saw it in an un-boarded up state.

    The problem I see in restoring it is not the style, but the historical context for this type of Googie architecture depends on the vast sea of parking surrounding it, and a high degree of visibility from the street. This particular example also needs the surrounding parking lot to help provide the transparency inherent in the windows. It is hard to imagine a reuse other than a restaurant that would preserve that, and you would still need the surrounding open space, which will hardly contribute to a urban walking environment. This building is suitable for, and typical of, the suburbs.

    I believe that it is appropriate to preserve examples of this style of architecture, but this may not be the right location and desired environment to preserve this specific one. Biff’s is a monument to the suburban, car centric, lifestyle, and preservation may be better suited for that suburban environment.

  58. Max Allstadt

    I understand tha there was a lot of lobbying at a lot of city boards to create a view corridor study, and that a lot of the people advocating
    for it have links to CALM, and to other groups who have been active in trying to downzone the lakeside and atop the emerald views project.

    There have been arbitrary and convenient criteria set and advocated by these same groups. Namely, placing high importance on views of two relatively short buildings: the Trib Tower and City Hall.

    The fact that OHA and CALM have the same position on lakeside height limits means that their shell game is being played by 2-1 of the representatives you mentioned, Naomi.

    The fact that the preliminary look at views only looked from one direction, which is convenient to your goal of downzoning is also very suspect.

    See, if we want to study view corridors in good faith, and the Trib Tower and City Hall are the benchmarks, we have to be able to see them from public spaces in all direction, not just a direction convenient for CALM and OHA’s ends.

    If we look from every direction, the end result us we can’t build highrises anywhere ever again. That is, unless we set up a double standard which protects the views of wealthy eastlake citizen’s public spaces, but doesn’t protect views of West Oakland’s public spaces.

    If view corridors are applied equally, the only conclusion is to scrap them all together, because it would be insane to prioritize views of two buildings and disallow all further highrise construction.

    I see the game. I’m calling shenanigans.

  59. John Klein

    The view corridor study will be discussed at the Landmarks board on March 8 and then at the Zoning Update Committee on March 17.

  60. Steve Lowe

    “Union Square and Fifth Avenue are both wonderful shopping areas, but they both have grown organically over decades from existing retail roots. Oakland’s comparable area is downtown Broadway…even then, I don’t think a Macy’s or Nordstrom’s is in the cards.”

    What happened to the Broadway / Telegraph Triangle (with the Cathedral Building as its flagship) was that another economic down cycle hit just as the Rouse Company’s patience with the City of Oakland was running out, and Nordy’s ever-increasing terms and conditions were being exacerbated by the failure of Federated Stores to assemble enough of a complement (Bonwit’s, Lord & Taylor, etc.) to assure that the overall retail mix would appeal to those legions of destination shoppers who would be willing to brave even Oakland’s difficult terrain to come here and shop at what is after all the historic crossroads of the East Bay. Those shoppers are now happily cavorting at the San Francisco Centre, Bay Street, Walnut Creek, etc., because the cities that fell over backwards to accommodate the developers knew when to stop negotiating and cut a deal.

    Bay Street also began with the premise that by securing its retail cluster first, the housing would follow – just as it has since ancient times when trading posts all over this country (and, for that matter, all over the world) saw that a stable would be a great improvement along with overnight accommodations for folks that came from farther and farther away and needed a place to stay before heading back to wherever the hell they came from. Stables and inns require innkeepers, smiths, cooks, bakers and all sorts of workers who need housing: and that’s the basic mud from which our lotus-like cities of today have sprung. And that’s why the Forest City plan was so vision-challenged, its proponents almost as clueless as they were relentless in getting us to subsidize what amounts to the exact opposite of smart growth. Instead of thinking through the implications of not restoring our Downtown and, at the same time, using our most historic buildings to help legitimize the message of Oakland’s authenticity, we went ahead and erected a monument to architectural blah.

    Fortunately, as Naomi points out, the Fox, Floral Depot and other contributor structures in the area were saved because of FOOF and OHA, lending charm to the area and a feeling that real live humans had something to do with the history of a place that, God knows, would otherwise be just another visit to Plastickville, USA.

    Because there’s nearby shopping, cinema, etc, Bay Street will end up filling its residential units, while Oakland will likely struggle for years to get enough retail back into the area – an accomplishment that may be even further away we think if the center of town is going to be resurrected farther and farther away from BART and reliable transportation on Upper Broadway. As to whether the FOOFers et al., had a nefarious side agenda in wanting to continue the vital work that OHA began and still champions to this day – for, like it or not, your benefit – it would seem to me that whatever motives drove any us, whether it was fame, power, money or disdain for political underhandedness, none of it worked: the politicians remain largely anti-preservationist (one even saying that he wanted nothing more than to kick preservationist butt); none of us has a goddam Roosevelt dime, as my dad used to say, to show for any of the advocacy positions for preserving Oakland’s history; our power is so low voltage that it isn’t really even addressed during “Opine Time” at Council following the public testimony portion; and any fame as may be found is about as much as might merit getting a free cup of coffee for $2 from a sympathetic merchant now and again.

    CALM and all its cousins are the vanguards of what little might be left of this city’s raggedy architectural soul and sense of place. As in any battle, huge sacrifices have to be made, and hard choices as to what can be salvaged almost always requires tradeoffs, no?

  61. Naomi Schiff

    Max, if it will relieve your mind, so far as I know Emerald Views doesn’t really enter into the view study.

    Some of us did look at views from 360°, but the planning department is under direction from the higher-ups to focus on Lakeshore.

    Given the current building climate, I’m not sure who is planning to construct a lot of highrises in the short to middle term, but while some oppose various proposals for tall buildings on particular sites, it would be overstating to claim a grand conspiracy against density. For example, Oakland Heritage Alliance has met with the Swig Co. to discuss their two planned (for someday) office towers on Webster and it was not hard to get consensus. Oakland Heritage Alliance is not an anti-growth group.

    My phone numbers are in the phone book, if you want to go over any of this.

  62. Ken O

    Hi Naomi,

    Thanks for the confirm. If prisons are any example, government agencies can be sold off to the most connected bidder.

    (See: Gov Arnold attempting to outsource CA prisons to Mexico, or see Corrections Corporation of America, or see Wackenhut…)

    Veolia, a French conglomerate, operates busses on behalf of Amtrak. Veolia also operates the municipal water systems for probably 50 US cities by now.

    The jobs of many government workers (soldiers) became jobs of private mercenaries. The work is subcontracted out to Blackwater (now rebranded “Xe” and no crosshairs or bear claw), Bechtel(?) and hundreds of others.

    I can see OHA being privatized. Selling it would definitely ease the city’s budget problems. That’s at least 100MM at current prices in a distress sale, even if the buyer kept all the current subsidized occupants at $99/month rent or whatever.

    Just food for thought.


  63. Ken O

    Steve. thanks for bringing up.

    I’ve been discussing with friends, and it seems Uptown is a failure as a neighborhood.

    Sure it may be a so-so commercial district.

    The problems are many: vacant CRE storefronts, Sears seemingly out of place and not efficiently used, no grocery stores or cafes around.

    On the brighter side we are getting a few more mom and pop eateries soon for less-than-Flora pricing:

    * beer & pizza place by flora
    * taqueria run by flora, next to flora
    * bakesale betty’s in 2010 across from luka’s taproom
    * restaurant downstairs from fox theater??

    These just barely offset the rest of the empty CREs, though they are filling in very slowly. The empty lot as a meeting/congregating/”market” area as Steve envisions would tie the area together better.

    So would removing a couple Broadway and Telegraph car lanes… these big boulevards dissect Uptown into separate pieces like a high school frog in science class.

    Is there a way to add a bowling alley and karaoke boxes above the two retail floors of Sears? Sears just doesn’t really appeal to me…. it does appeal to a lot of working class Mexican families and older downtown Black folks though, judging by who parks in the Uptown area walking around with Sears bags.

    Might help if someone (me?) surveys Uptown residents who live here and ask them what they want to see put in the area. I KNOW grocery would be high up the list. No idea what’s taking so long……

    bottom floor retail spaces of Uptown Apartments haven’t been filled with anything except occasional art since construction ended.

  64. Steve Lowe

    It would be interestinng to see what Project for Public Spaces would come up with if given the challenge of the Telegraph Triangle. Usually they overlay other successful centers and look for the classic elements of downtowneering, taking into consideration literally thousands of other cities, towns and squares all over the world. Before we just stand back and let FC fumblefinger its inexorable way towards denying Oakland a thriving center, let’s get a second opinion from some real pros whose life’s work is the study and promotion of healthy cities. Try

    For those of you who dote on conspiracy theory, is it at all odd that, instead of promoting a retail-oriented center for Oakland, FC went around proclaiming that it would never work here – and all the while that selfsame company was over building the SF Centre just four or so BART stops away? It’s difficult to believe that Oakland’s retail “leakage” (the amount that Oaklanders spend in cities other than Oakland and estimated to be over $1B a year) was never ever discussed in the FC Board level when examining potential sources of market share to verify projections, ROI, NOI, etc., that the banks surely want to pore over before letting go of even a single dime.

    My guess is that it was just an innocent coincidence.

  65. Max Allstadt


    My concerns have nothing to do with Emerald Views.


    The reason the Council called for the view corridor study is because they were lobbied to ask for it. Of course, because you don’t believe meetings with volunteers should be documented, I have no way of knowing if you and Naomi or CALM or OHA were involved in lobbying for it. My recollection is that Nadel was one of the councilmembers that called for it, and I know from Carlos’ public records requests that Naomi has very very frequent and close access to Nancy via email.

    No, I actually don’t care about the Emerald Views. It’s no skin off my back if it doesn’t get built, I’m not down there very often and I couldn’t afford to live there.

    I care about the dubious narrative that Oakland’s NIMBYs have created, portraying themselves as crusaders who are always taking the high road, when in fact there is a long term trend of NIMBYs doing as much backroom dealing with councilmembers as developers do, and a long term trend of manufacturing legitimacy for absurdly anti-growth positions.

    I believe I’ve seen members of OHA openly suggest the complete elimination of the Redevelopment Agency. If that’s not anti-growth, I don’t know what is.

  66. Naomi Schiff

    Hi, Max, this is why I mentioned it: you brought it up, remember?

    “to other groups who have been active in trying to downzone the lakeside and atop the emerald views project.”

    Call me any time if you want to discuss any of this.

  67. Matt

    Ken O, Uptown is not a failure as a neighborhood. In the last two years I went from being one of the only pedestrians after dark to being one of many. When my friends and family visit they are very impressed with what has happened in two short years. I no longer hear doubt about Uptown from any of them. My friends often ask if I want a roommate!

    Here’s what’s in the neighborhood that I can think of.

    The New Parish
    Uptown Night Club
    The Fox Theater
    Somar Lounge
    Chef Edwards BBQ
    El Senor Burrito
    (A salon I forgot the name of)
    Subway Sandwiches
    Cafe Van Kleef
    Piedmont Piano (also planning to open a piano bar next door)
    Great Western Power Company
    Sweet’s Ballroom
    Bench and Bar (now on 17th)
    Best Musical Instrument Company
    Oakland IceCenter
    Oakland School for the Arts
    Youth Radio
    Angels Beauty Supply
    Liz and Co

    Plus, a number of store fronts on Telegraph south of 19th are currently being repaired and readied for new tenants.

    I’ve written to several grocery store chains and Safeway has shown the most interest. They’ve followed-up with me a few times with questions about the neighborhood.

    Last I heard from the city they received a development proposal to build on the lot on San Pablo Ave that backs the Fox Court Apartments. The proposal is for housing, retail and a grocery store. I don’t yet know which grocery chain is involved.

    I don’t understand your concern with Telegraph, because its vehicular traffic is absolutely tame in the Uptown area.

  68. John Klein

    You can find out which council members CALM met with through a public records request. To the extent those offices keep records, you can get them. Don’t forget that 1,400 people signed CALM’s petition supporting what you are calling “absurdly anti-growth positions.” Call it what you will, we did our homework and the leg work, and it worked. We all feel pretty good about that.

  69. Al

    This definitely is the builders’ forum, pro or con. I am getting the information I need for a change, from passionate observers. There should be a motion somewhere to require all legislative bodies to break things down so that all city residents are really aware of the big picture.

    I’m only catching up on the principals here, but I see a process which is very healthy; unfortunately, most of this dialogue concerns only a small part of the entire city, the revenue generating areas apparently related to commerical property.

    This is the fatal flaw in the city planning process itself, something if you trace back to the fifties and the highway system shows a constant pattern of freeways, malls and more and more suburban growth.

    All this, from groundbreaking to leasing is controlled and manipulated by financial interests that usually are impossible to trace, until they rewind and evacuate every mall, seemingly at once.

    Even the big chains are placeholders for investment firms. They scare all the other tenants to death, because one Montgomery Wards, or a Sears, or a Mervyns going out of business can literally shut-down an entire shopping center.

    Few of anyone can remember what Downtown Oakland used to look like with all the theatres and barber shops and little diners. You really have to be old to remember going into swans and hearing the din from the fish market or housewives market all around you. Unless you go to Chinatown, you can’t get that ambiance in one place anymore and Genoa’s is basically an island now, not the hub of a big, big family circus environment of the “good” old days.

    That class of merchants has gone from Oakland for the most part, thanks to Safeway and Luckys in some respects. And we were all part of that phase of expansion and contraction in one lifetime already. Unions in, unions out…higher prices, more unemployment, yet the building moguls never stop beating the drum.

    They had better start investing serious time and effort in bringing the poplulation into the 21st century. Whatever class of business interests we bring here, there needs to be an absolute standard of adherence to a correct model wich is environmentally friendly and can withstand changes in usage.

    To this day there are dozens of hi-rise buildings in this city where no one ever thought about what happened when the garbage chute became something more than a black-hole for everything you discard.

    People were practical, frugal, and smarter before the war, but as soon as it was over, all that common sense and community went right out the window. it was only human nature and people deserved their just rewards.

    So, just like they planned the war, they planned the building…with one thing in mind, profits, not people, not safe water, safe food or even fair wages.

    We get walked down the garden path, over and over again, built it, lease it, tear down and tax some more, get more bonds,…and on and on it goes.

    The problem with Oakland is that we won WWII and were left unscathed, a manufacturing powerhouse and a veritable consumer market with unlimited potential, as long as our scaled up manufacturing was needed by the rest of the world. Everybody bought into it and the paradigm was me, me ,me and get yours.

    It was too easy and too profitable to not look back at what had been created.

    Going forward, we all need to be on the same page, or even a majority interest in a worthwhile project may be thwarted by the same controlling minority, the same ones who have played on these same pressures for decades.

    How can it be that we have an absolute ban on plastic at the Farmer’s market but right in District 2, they can get away with flaunting basic littering ordinances?

    Tunnel vision, and it is reflected here as well.

  70. Ken O

    Matt, it’s an improvement, but it’s not a neighborhood yet. and a neighborhood of all renters and no homeowners doesn’t feel very stable to me.

    everyone is transient.

    most of the shops you mention are open at non-standard times.

    the bookstore bibliomania isn’t open after 5pm.
    whenever i try to get grub at catered to you or the burrito place they are closed.
    subway is not a “neighborhood” deli or cafe
    there is NO grocery store or bakery in the area (thanks for trying on this one tho)
    I don’t shop at beauty supply stores–their clients do not live here (same goes for Sears, although i’ve bought the odd tool there once)
    YouthRadio–I don’t see this as a neighborhood store
    There is not one cafe in your list (ie rockridge cafe, ethiopian coffee place, remedy/awaken type place)
    The only cafes “in” uptown aren’t in uptown — zaya on bway (which isn’t good) and cafe madrid (which doesn’t feel very neighborhooldy)
    Pianos…ok. Have you ever been in there?

    Most of the businesses on your list are expensive (Flora), bars (Somar, van kleef, bench and bar, den, 2022), or music venues (new parish, fox, paramount, uptownNightClub).

    Where are the cheap eats and more importantly, cafes? I guess I’m expecting too much too soon. Fine.

    Tele/Bway along with certain streets: 17th, 18th,… are HUGE thoroughfares and really cut up the area. If you’ve lived anywhere else in Oakland in a true neighborhood, there are at most two lane streets in residential neighborhoods. Uptown being sandwiched by 980 and Bway/Tele feels hemmed in like some downtown LA neighborhood

  71. Max Allstadt


    I brought up Emerald Views not because it’s my key concern, but because it’s obvious that it is your key concern and John’s key concern, and that your concern for view corridors only developed as a cynical ploy to go after Emerald Views and to create height limits in a particular neighborhood.


    I wouldn’t be surprised if you got 1400 signatures. But what did you tell people when you were collecting them? If you created a narrative that was about protecting a “historic” garden (that’s completely disused, and has been for decades) from evil developers who you claimed were breaking lobbying laws and making backroom deals, I could totally see how you would get 1400 signatures.

    It’s very easy to exploit the general public’s impression of development – what I call the “Scooby Doo” stereotype of developers. That’s another form of what I’m calling you out on – manufacturing legitimacy.

  72. Max Allstadt

    I also want to reiterate that I don’t hold your ability to play the game against you.

    What’s important to me is that everybody knows that everybody’s playing the game, and to illustrate how it’s done. Expect me to do the same to development interests, candidates, and government agencies.

    I mean if anybody should win a prize for attempting to manufacture legitimacy this year, it’s BART, for the OAC project. Except not anymore, ’cause it finally came back and bit them. One of the reasons the FTA decided BART was full of it, in my opinion, is that TransForm carefully documented all of their astroturfing, fabricated statistics, and outright BS… and sent that documentation to the FTA.

    Everybody does it. Some more than others. The only reason I’m calling you guys out on it this week is that I realize nobody ever really has before.

  73. John Klein

    You (and others) make the mistake of assuming CALM’s position on building heights at Lake Merritt was based solely on opposition to the Emerald View project, or that we are simply ‘anti-development’. You will never find opposition to that project in any of our rezoning materials last year nor any language opposing development in the greater CBD. You won’t find it in the petition language, either. That was not our ‘narrative.’ I’m amazed by how little you seem understand about what we were saying.

    I’d correct that by saying the only time CALM raised the issue of Schilling Garden is when the Planning Commission singled it out for ‘spot zoning’. Then, yes, we let fly with our thoughts about it then. But that was well into the process.

    Max, you have been around long enough to know there are a lot of people who want building heights to remain low around the Lake and who don’t want more tall buildings there. We simply reached out to all of those people.

    We don’t deny opposing a large project at Schilling Garden, but that was not all it was about. It was, and is, about the entire length of Lakeside Drive beginning at the 14th & Oak to 20th Street and then one block into the neighborhood from there. The view corridors transit through several open spaces between the existing tall buildings. Schilling Garden is not in a view corridor under consideration.

  74. Max Allstadt

    John, your particular involvement may have been confined to attempting to restrict heights in a small area.

    I’m talking about that small area as a part of a broader discussion about how the Oakland anti-growth activists manufacture legitimacy. One of the ways the game is played is to seek studies and surveys and other such documentation that don’t explicitly stop development, but create a source of legitimacy for later arguments against development.

    It’s very difficult to get politicians to oppose the use of staff time for studies, focus groups, surveys and the like. So the game is to ask for as many as possible, and to keep their scope and scale as seemingly limited and un-radical as possible.

    This way, developers, builders, urbanists and architects are less likely to show up and be heard. It appears that there’s nothing as stake. There are so many little meetings that are attended by nobody but dedicated NIMBYs, and which don’t lead to grand conclusions. Not a lot of people show up. Small decisions are made.

    Later, when there’s a larger discussion about significant matters, the NIMBYs collect all those little events and refer to them as a way of legitimizing anti-growth goals.

    I don’t necessarily oppose some height restrictions by the lake. But that’s not the only place where anti-growth activists have aggressively attempted to restrict building heights.

    About the only place where there’s been no opposition has been along Broadway downtown. I think the lack of resistance there can be explained two ways:

    1. It’s so utterly silly to oppose tall buildings near other tall buildings that it wasn’t worth bothering with.

    2. By not opposing tall buildings in one very limited area, anti-growth activists could later say “see, we don’t oppose tall buildings everywhere!” anytime somebody accused them of being against new growth.

  75. Max Allstadt


    Actually, back to the original topic of this thread: If OHA and STAND would kindly provide flat maps of the area with their proposed height limits, I will be more than happy to create 3d models and overlay them in Google Earth, so that we can see exactly how little growth those proposals would create.

    I’m currently creating a model that shows 65 foot heights along broadway south of 27th, and it’s looking very conservative. The Presbyterian Church is over 65 feet tall, for some quick perspective on this.

  76. Naomi Schiff

    Proposed height limits? Oakland Heritage Alliance wants to encourage the reuse of historic buildings, and I don’t think we plan to map heights other than if they affect these properties. Many parcels in the area are currently vacant or parking lots. Let’s build on them.

    The area we’d like to see preserved in the Valdez area is an ASI indicated as remaining fairly intact in Alternative Two of the draft alternatives. We’d like to see the Creative Growth gallery survive, as we think it could help link this area with the arts area in the garage district across Broadway. Biff’s should be discussed. I know you don’t love it.

    I do hope that whatever results from the plan will strengthen the Broadway spine, and connect the above-27th stretch with downtown and uptown, preferably encouraging more focus on connecting to 19th St. BART and the bus routes on Broadway.

    Frankly, I don’t see any high-rise on any near horizon anyhow. Looks to me like we should be happy with filling in the empty lots at any scale.

  77. Born in Oakland

    There is much to digest in Al’s post but all I could focus on was his observation that anyone who remembers downtown Oakland in its prime has to be old. So true so true. I am old and my mother (obviously) is older and we took a car ride “down memory lane” not too long ago along Broadway and Telegraph and reminisced about our memories of the strips. What was very interesting is that while we both remember how many times we went shopping at Kahn’s and later Liberty House (I think that was the next iteration)….neither of us has been to the Rotunda. We shopped Capwell’s and still shop occasionally at downtown Sears but haven’t been into the old Sears since it closed. Rattos is a shadow of its former robust self, I Magnin morphed into something else and neither of us have been there. We both marveled at the Fox and Paramount but mostly attended Berkeley theaters because they were available by streetcar longer. It is wonderful that many of these old buildings were saved but their re-use seems not as welcoming or affordable or providing necessary goods or services. I went to the Housewives Market as a young adult because it was one of the only places where one could purchase anything “in bulk.” When other stores began offering similar services the weekly trips to the Housewives Market ended. There are family movies of us crossing 41st Street to go into the original Fenton’s and that store was torn down to build the post office and Fenton’s moved a couple of blocks away and still services today’s population. I have always considered myself a preservationist but in this economy what we need are the services that some of these old buildings provided. Old (albeit historical buildings) are not valuable when they provide nothing to the neighborhoods they serve. I thought Victorian Row took a long time to develop but downtown Oakland has offered nothing of much value in a long time. I am not certain the point I am trying to make but I know we cannot wait yet another generation to reignite Broadway and Telegraph. We sometimes have to agree to disagree and just DO SOMETHING>

  78. Naomi Schiff

    Yes, many of those local-resident-serving businesses were killed off. Some of them were adversely affected by the long period of upheaval on Broadway when they were putting BART through. Remember that mess?

    I have a Chamber of Commerce map from the 50s that identifies all the local businesses. It’s amazing to look at it.

    Do you think the big multi-block redevelopment effort is the way to go, or do you think there could be a more incremental approach? The large redevelopment projects didn’t generally result in as much retail as people hoped for, it seems.

  79. Al

    Wow, I didn’t know about Fenton’s, old, old Fentons that is. I keep learning. Now that I think about it, that spot Biff’s is a critical segment of public infrastructure. I can’t think of the name of that street behind the older Jag dealer and some copymat or other after that. (I don’t drive anymore.) But as memory recalls just forward of Biff’s is the nice church, quite remarkable, still has gargoyles on it.

    Just across the street matching the one next to Biff’s was the old Webster st. thru fare, now closed. It’s all beneficial but that little domed structure behind the dealer was once visible as well. It’s not grand or anything, but it’s quaint, just like the old one that remains on 17th and Franklin. Litttle Pearls that bring you back to a time when you could walk into a chapel at any hour along Grand.

    Anyway, that little island, Biff’s, if developed cannot be anything like the free-for all, laizze-faire thing I’m seeing elsewhere; Fire Department personnel have to get to all those buildings via that street, the name eludes me. E. 28th is the only other way into that densely populated area. Nothing must ever interfere with eggress or ingress into that corridor. There are too many contingencies, IMHO

    This makes for an arguement to purchase the property back from whomever holds it and put it back into service as green space for crisis management or triage overflow in case of emergency.

    I’ve seen crazy things happen on 27th. I wouldn’t be surprised to see access to Broadway eventually blocked from the West Grand side entirely except for emergency vehicles, and some kind of public transit, something slow and easy…and free.

    Happy Valentines

  80. Matt

    Ken O, a neighborhood/community exists no matter what the percentage of the residence own or rent. The rest of your rant -gees man, I don’t care.

  81. Born in Oakland


    I would much prefer an incremental approach and not build multi-block redevelopment projects. I would love it if some of the old architecture could be incorporated into new developments that don’t all look alike (Munich’s post war rebuild is a perfect example of what I would like to see). Having said that….I wish there were services and stores in the main part of town. I have had to leave Oakland to buy a quality raincoat since Capwell’s closed. After the BART building fiasco it looked like the downtown or perhaps it is now called uptown area would come back alive and then Loma Prieta happened and many of the buildings that were coming alive around those empty redevelopment holes vacated. It has been almost 60 years since the downtown was vibrant and that is two generations of dead space. I just want something/anything to reverse that in my lifetime.

  82. Naomi Schiff

    Yes, I’m with you there. The earthquake plus the savings and loan crisis, if you remember. Buildings had been overleveraged (sound familiar?). When the quake hit, there was no way to finance repairs. We had to wait for all the value to seep out, for foreclosures to occur, before they could be sold cheap enough to make repairs feasible. The Bermuda Building up on the north end of Franklin took years of litigation before it could be demolished.

  83. Ken O

    Matt haha. If you don’t care then don’t comment on my posts.

    Uptown is a commercial area, specifically commercial music, with a sears thrown in. It’s not a real neighborhood anymore than Bay Street in Eville is a real neighborhood. There’s no “community” here other than occasional rants of “where is OPD” when some crime happens. Nobody living in Uptown gives two shits about it besides that. Quality matters.

    You only think quantity matters. I bet you’ve never bought anything at more than a third of the “neighborhood serving” businesses you listed. C’mon now. Where do you go for your food and coffee?

  84. J

    Ken O Uptown is part of the greater Downtown area. It’s a subdistrict within a much larger district. Uptown is not intended to be a new Rockridge, or Peidmont. It is meant to be an entertainment destination supplementing the rest of the Downtown area. its not a residential neighborhood. Yes it has apartments, which were basically designed, in my opinion, for newly graduated mid 20 to 30 something’s. People who don’t have a problem leaving to the wholefoods or going to the farmers market. people who’s sole purpose to living in that area is to be near the entertainment venues. Coffee shops don’t make a neighborhood. they are a single business. An area with only coffee shops and bookstores can be just as stale as an area of just H&Ms and Gaps. Unless of course that is the purpose of that area. Uptown is not independent like other areas of the city. it is within the CBD and a specific purpose destination within that district. it is meant to feel as if it belongs to everybody not just its residents. the Uptown is not a true neighborhood nor is it meant to be, it is an entertainment destination in the making. The Uptown area has far from competed its transformation. I do however respect your opinion and disgust with what seems to be a lack of effort to improve anything in Oakland.

  85. Steve Lowe


    First of all, for all those who may think that you have to be old to remember Oakland’s downtown as it was at its peak, you’re mathematically correct; however, it isn’t hard at all to walk down Broadway or Telegraph and, with a little help from the wealth of historical photos and articles, imagine what this city must have been like – and, with sensible planning, asset management and vision, could all too easily be again.

    All of that presupposes, of course, that the preservation element is viewed as fundamental to that process, as the various icons we have that are, after all, the primary indicators of how the city lays out: it’s no accident that the Fox was built smack dab in the middle of town, just as the main congregation hall might have been built next to the square or main plaza in any small town that cropped up around a crossroads somewhere. I don’t believe that the folks who built the Fox or I Magnin’s or the Paramount or Capwell’s (calling Sears somehow just doesn’t ring true…) were the kinds of scholarly urbanologists who were thinking much, if at all, about how cities grow and remaking the agora and any of the stuff that, say, the Housemans of this world were capable of orchestrating (although it is interesting to sidebar a little and think about the role that Olmstead played here and who he might have influenced).

    Instead, those early builders were most likely interested in making a profit by getting their hands on downtown real estate, particularly pieces of property that were serviced by the fabulous East Bay trolly system that basically converged right here in Oakland where Telegraph, Broadway, 14th and San Pablo met, the very place where City Hall was built after moving out of what today is Old Oakland, an area built to receive continuous trainloads of passengers emigrating here to escape the horrors of the East Coast (and still coming!). (As to the restoration of OO taking so long, please thank your friendly executives at Citicorp who basically shut the process down because they could and it suited them to do precisely that during the crunch that came at the end of the 80′s. As, of course, bankers are just about as close to being gods in any City Hall anywhere in this great country of ours, the only support for the developers of OO, an official Redevelopment project of the City of Oakland, came from Councilmember Mary Moore, the rest having then just about as much regard for Oakland’s history and its icons as they do today…)

    But back to the future for a moment: if we really want to see this City functional and rising to its highest and best potential, then we need to get serious about first realizing its transportation potential and plan for something far more efficient and streamlined than that which BART, MTC, CTC, etc., would have you believe is our pathetic due. Just for starters, we’re supposed to be elated that BART wants to extend the system down to San Jose so that the A’s and anything else around here can be siphoned off down south with it. Huh? Where’s the parity in that – an equal amount of investment in the very heart of the system? Or are we just waiting for the earthquake to come along and tear the guts out of Oakland so forcibly that the feds will have to pony up megamillions to put Humpty back together again, this time with superglue.

    As Dellums will most assuredly address this gaping hole in Oakland’s sometimes aimless planning process – his Transportation Task Force has officially recommended a Transportation Commission – he’ll have my vote when it comes time to go to the polls, should he hopefully decide to run again and complete the job of creating a Model City.

  86. Al

    the above article has a nice twist to it and I think someone here can shed additional light on the subject as it relates to commercial property endeavors right here in Oakland. Some of the firms listed when you google names like Lembi, or Madoff, may ultimately connect to those entities enmeshed in the very projects now under discussion.

    There may be a lesson here for all of us if anyone can connect any of the dots.

    Things are developing, and fast. What happens in SF does not happen in a vacuum, especially where writing off vacant property and foreclosures are on the rise. SF can take it, hopefully, a lot better than lil old Oakland.

    So, info is all over the net about this process and it’s a pertinent subject.

    No real comment really. I’m all ears.

    Honestly, you can draw a map, label items of interest or concern, forward to an official public agency for follow-up and nothing happens. If it happens with pot-farms and simple street signs, you have to believe the highest levels of government are just as hamstrung, they have to wait, wait for the accident, wait for the pot to mature? and just as significantly, as stated earlier, they wait for foreclosures to finally happen. It is a chess game, with very high stakes, for all of us.

    Individuals however, are not restricted, especially those of us who arent’ on anyone’s payroll. It makes all the difference.

  87. Al

    Here’s one possible(additional) reason BART didn’t get the 70 million. They totally wasted a bunch, about 6 million, just on snafus related to a cross-walk at another site already under construction. There’s an article on this today, out there.

    Given the other bad press BART management has been getting, which I won’t even mention, as well as the outrageous “marketing” expenses like designing a new TRANSLINK pass, it probably doesn’t make any sense to keep on rewarding such nonsense, or in my own words, “feeding the monster.” I’m sure there is a whole lot more to this picture. The news just keeps coming.

    Oh yes, my previous post did indeed mention articles on the net. Some of those links detail names of firms, of differing practices, who are still involved in litigation which ultimately effects every person covered by PERS, for example.

    But I’m no expert on PERS, yet I can’t help but have the feeling that this process of unraveling financial packages, by and by, benefits a select few, a very select few. Just curious.

  88. Ken O

    BIO and Naomi, Uptown would be better (and back to being a thriving downtown) if there was more BALANCE here.

    Most businesses here are music related. Which isn’t terrible, but besides music and bars, there’s nothing else to do here. Not a place to raise a family.

    Thankfully Matt has been working hard to get a real grocery store in here to supplement the liquor store on san pablo.

    Zaya, Madrid and FatCat all stink (to me) as cafes so I don’t use them. I’m not a real cafe person though. The place I’ve liked most is “Crepes o Chocolat” by Barney’s in SF.

    Sears is a hugely wasteful use of space–Uptown could have its own bowling alley, mini mall in the style of Ranch 99 in Richmond … way more variety, not just tons of expensive chinese-made un-stylish clothing and boring looking brand name shoes.

    To illustrate:
    There’s sears and there’s hat guys. Which place would you prefer to get a hat from? Some big box with no knowledge, poor service and no variety of styles, or the local shop with tons of knowledge and decent variety?

    I guess it depends on your budget and need, but for most folks I’d guess hat guys.

    Something I note that others have discussed: all the areas with stronger retail have intelligent parking solutions and almost no crime/homeless hassle to speak of. Here’s a list:

    – College Ave, Oakland – paid street and lot parking turns over quickly, many interesting local merchants, restaurants
    – Longs/Safeway at Bway/51st, Oakland – huge parking lot, huge variety of shopping, open 24 hours
    – BayStreet and PublicMarket, Eville – huge parking lots/paid parking and variety of things to do: shop, watch movies, eat

    We’re just a car-lovin culture or that is what we have, so that is what Oakland “has to” work with. Temescal is a sustainable commercial district since so many people own housing there, which lends stability and “I give a damn about this place” to that neighborhood unlike Uptown, which also lends stability and safety to all the renters who live there. And all these folks patronize their local businesses which are growing in the incremental style that Naomi, BOI and everyone else seem to like.

    Incremental change is natural, harder to notice. Most successful places are the way they are because they had a strong core, diversified commerce balanced with other human needs, and incrementally built upon their successes.

    Many cities have informal districts of where to buy a certain type of thing. But if we look at the most successful areas, they have Balance. Berkeley has this — most amenities within walking distance. House supplies, eating, entertainment.

    Nature likes balance. I’m highly tempted to move out of Uptown at the end of my lease because this isn’t a balanced enough neighborhood for me and I can’t wait forever. Oakland’s overall violent crime and amount of inconsiderate/lazy/ thieving/ criminal elements is unacceptably high to me too.

    If you look at budget trajectory, the city will have to lay off police soon, and portions of this city will end up looking more and more like Dark Ages Europe — mostly turf wars by unemployed young men with a scared sheeplike populace. Certain areas are already somewhat like that. (Ghosttown, east oakland…) Only in places where an Oakland resident (or neighborhood) stood his ground like Patrick McCullough did, or areas far from the flats/freeways is there any semblance of normalcy.

  89. Ken O

    Al, likewise, is working on a UC Regents and Arnold story about how they are making a killing off public monies… no big surprise there.

    Not to be a complete downer on the city. The lake merritt landscaping and new pavement work is looking half decent.

    I had a great time in a paddleboat over the weekend, only $10/hr.

  90. Al

    Thanks Ken. I’m all over it and I’ll see what the “kids” know about it; those social networks are a godsend. I just can’t wait until they complete the entire lake, the part near the courthouse. It’ll change the way everything fits together, beautifully I hope. I just wonder what is taking so long?

  91. Max Allstadt


    OHA’s recent letter about the Broadway plan specifically advocated for, and I quote: “30-foot height limits from Grand to 24th and from Harrison to Valdez.” It also advocates for 10-15 foot setbacks in the same area.

    That’s a lot of very short real estate. People interested in an illustration of what such height limits would look like can check this link, where I’ve posted a 3d rendering of the area:

    The height limit, show in translucent brown, would make at least 8 existing buildings out of around a total of 35 into non-conforming structures. It would also bar the construction of a highrise on Grand avenue adjacent to the existing highrise building at the corner of Harrison and Grand.

    The limit proposed seems unduly restrictive, and I didn’t even include the setbacks that were proposed along with it.

    I hope that there’s some error. If OHA meant to suggest something else and it got lost in the language, I’ll be more than happy to redraw a more reasonable suggestion if OHA issues a correction.

    But seriously folks, look at the rendering. It’s just way too restrictive a limit.

  92. Naomi Schiff

    We are interested in protecting historic resources. We have consistently (and I haven’t looked back, but it is probably somewhere in our letter) advocated for development on the many vacant parcels and surface parking lots. What was meant in our letter, and no doubt wasn’t clear enough, was the Area of Secondary Importance plus a couple of other historic resources which are within that larger Valdez area that you describe. I have now clarified this many times here, on twitter, and in an email to you. If there is someplace else you have posted this misleading map, let me know, please, and I will post disclaimers so that my group is not misrepresented.

    Please forgive any imprecision of language within an eight page letter; we did not submit any exact mapping or height limits, as those should be part of a larger review and discussion of historic resources. The letter was composed by a committee trying to cover a great deal of material on fairly short order, and is not perfect. But most people reading it did seem to get the general ideas in it, whether they agree or not.

    If necessary, we will provide more information as the proposals move along. For now we are going to see what the planners come up with as a preferred alternative, and then we will comment upon that, rather than going back and retreading previous comments. Please do not circulate your map as an OHA document. It does not represent the position of my organization. It shows your idea of what you thought we were saying. It wasn’t what we were saying, and it isn’t something that we have advocated for. Again, your diagram does not represent any OHA position.

  93. Naomi Schiff

    Ken, I’m glad you like the ongoing improvements at Lake Merritt, and just want to point out that that program is a result of public participation in a lengthy planning process, followed by public investment resulting from Measure DD’s passage.

    I love Rusty and the other fellows at The Hat Guys, used to work right across the street there on Broadway, and used them as my gift shop. What do you think of the little home decor place “Entrez” at Tele and 17th? I thought it was pretty smart to open such a place right before Uptown opened, and I have tried to patronize them once in a while. The Hat Guys have a “destination business” which is to say that people come to Oakland specifically to go to that store.

    In some ways, things are improving a little. That block 16th to 17th on Telegraph has had a lot of facade improvements, and it is beginning to look a lot better than it did when it was the wig and pawnshop capital of Oakland, years ago. In the 1950s, that was the jewelry district.

  94. V Smoothe

    Naomi, Max’s map is not “misleading.” It clearly illustrates a height limit recommendation that was explicitly stated in OHA’s widely distributed letter. If, after seeing the map, you’ve realized that what your letter asked for is unreasonable, then I suggest you distribute a new letter that contains update language accurately reflecting what you have in mind.

  95. Max Allstadt

    My diagram represents an illustration of a position explicitly stated in OHA’s letter.

    This is the direct quote, in context:

    “Specific areas of concern in the Valdez area include the Waverly ASI, the Creative Growth building, and the stretch of Harrison between Grand and 24th Streets, which include the valuable A-rated former Christian Science Church. This valuable building should be treated gently by creating standards for what is around it, including 10- or 15-foot setbacks and 30-foot height limits from Grand to 24th and from Harrison to Valdez.”

    I didn’t misrepresent the language. I represented it’s implications accurately, in 3d, in living color, and it exposed the language’s folly, which is why you’re now accusing me of misrepresentation.

    If the language doesn’t mean what you want it to mean, then change the language: Issue a correction or a clarification.

    If you don’t want 30 foot height limits from Grand Ave to 24th and from Harrison to Valdez, you should issue a retraction of that paragraph of your letter.

    I believe in protecting historic resources. But when we’re dealing with city planning, it’s dangerous to use imprecise language – if I hadn’t challenged that language and you’d successfully lobbied for it’s inclusion in an official finding, you would have blocked growth for years on over 40 parcels on 3 large blocks.

    I am more than happy to use this new 3d modeling technology to mark all of the buildings that you believe need historic protection. But understand that the kind of radical overkill protection that OHA suggested in it’s letter will immediately be exposed as overkill with a little 3d modeling.

    There are better ways to protect historic buildings than with blanket height limits for everything within a block of them.

    Creative Growth, for example, should probably be immunized from imminent domain seizure, and it should be afforded a permanent protection on it’s facade, so that any future buyer would be able to build tall, but would have to save the historic look at street level.

    Similarly, anything adjacent to the old church should probably be required to taper to it’s maximum height, with some lower height restriction for the lot lines abutting the church. We might also mandate mirrored glass for walls abutting some highly significant historic structures, so as to emulate the effect that IM Pei achieved in Copley Square in Boston.

    What we MUST not do is mandate no-growth, faux historicism, or onerous design review guidelines that prevent innovative modern architecture, even near historic architecture.

    Cities grow organically. A mix of architectural eras on one street is as organic as it gets. In this particular era, commercial buildings under 55 feet are usually nonviable, so we’re going to have to mix height with history, or we can’t grow at all.

  96. Naomi Schiff

    Hi, folks: Please note that in our letter of 1-27-10 we specified Valdez as a likely western boundary of limited height in an area of historic buildings: we did not furnish any map, and certainly did not intend to impose height limits on areas that don’t seem to have any reason for it. I apologize for any misunderstanding. We did not generate a map because additional review would be required. Our intention is to comment at the next stage, because we will need to meet as a committee to discuss the next report. We try not to write these things off the cuff.

    The below references “ASI” which means “Area of secondary importance” –an area of buildings which would likely not be eligible for the National Register of Historic Places, but would likely be eligible as “local register” which has relevance in an EIR. The former church would likely be individually eligible for the National Register, as an A (or it might be A+) rated building.

    From our letter:
    Specific areas of concern in the Valdez area include the Waverly ASI, the Creative Growth building, and the stretch of Harrison between Grand and 24th Streets, which include the valuable A-rated former Christian Science Church. This valuable building should be treated gently by creating standards for what is around it, including 10- or 15-foot setbacks and 30-foot height limits from Grand to 24th and from Harrison to Valdez.”

  97. Daniel Schulman

    I certainly don’t claim to speak for OHA, and the letter could be a lot clearer, but my interpretation is that the shaded area of the map should not include the half of block along Valdez (mostly covered by surface parking lot).

    The Waverly ASI goes up Waverly and t’s along 24th. Add in the stretch of Harrison and I think that might be what OHA meant. As you state, though, a clarification would be really nice.

    Max if possible is might be helpful to have a map that shows all of the Valdez triangle considered for development, so we can get a better understanding of what percent of it OHA believes should have 30 foot heights.

  98. len raphael

    JOT, Uptown so far seems to be as you described, but i’m surprised it was designed to be that way. I thought the original projections and design was for quite a bit of retail square footage that never happened, and (i assumed) the idea was to build a high density community of long term residents. Are you saying it was always designed to be an entertainment district, more like the rehabbed lower East Side than say Stuyvesent Town?

    Apart from the discussion of the physical attributes of height, setbacks etc. and the social impacts of same and the hoped for types of business’ attracted to the Bway Valdez area, is there any consensus on whether the housing component is meant to create a neighborhood or or a way station for 20/30 urbanites on their way out of oakland, and empty nesters coming back before they go on to Pill Hill?

    -len raphael

  99. len raphael

    am happy to see BART and local pol bs defeated, but not so sure what the fed transportation people have in mind for oakland is that much different than Dellum’s Model City: a better place to house poor people.

    -len raphael

  100. Ralph

    len, i was under the impression that the Uptown was always meant to be a mixed used area with residential, retail, nightlife, and arts. This does not mean you can not create a neighborhood . The problem as it currently exist is a number of disconnected areas. There is Broadway and the area east and AWOB, area west of broadway, which last i checked lacked the ‘hood stuff). Nonetheless, in time there is no reason why we can not mix a grocer, cleaners, cobblers, wine shop, yoga studio, coffee shops and all the other stuff in the Uptown. But the areas need to be connected the store fronts occupied. Unfortunately, absent large scale investment and more feet there is little incentive for some desired businesses to rush to open.

    Despite what you and Naomi think, there are a fair number of older people living in the DTO. Not all are empty nesters. People in the Uptown just look younger because it is a vibrant area.

  101. Max Allstadt

    I just want to reiterate that if it helps the process, I can draw whatever. I’d love to show CEDA how to do this too. It’s really easy, and it’s a really powerful tool.

  102. Al

    this may seem like it’s coming out of left field, or I just crawled out from under a rock but why not all of these things, but with more emphasis on some real, REAL futuristic design concepts like the one on Harrison st, the Geosphere for example. That’s a thing of the past, just like solar power, but why aren’t we thinking about Mag-lev turbines at these stations? or solar powered walkways, and companies to manufacture or at least assemble them?

    Do we have ordinances to at least show a vestige of what SF has accomplished?

    Look at all these big box stores, just waiting for a reason to lower their prices and give us a double benefit. Why not just “give” the land away to the firms with the right ideas, without compromising?

    Time to dream.

  103. len raphael

    Ralph, v for vibrant. a standin for the article of faith that higher density is the cure for what ails oakland. just came back from ny, where i visited brooklyn near 54th and 4th avenue. sidewalks so crowded on the weekend, could barely walk. mostly working class and middle class ethnic folks. residential side streets gridlock because there is no offstreet parking. yes there is excellent mass transit.

    feet on the ground street safety: yes. high sales tax revenue: yes. pleasant place to live: no. i’m told residents who can, move out to lower density areas when they can.

    -len raphael

  104. Daniel Schulman

    Max, I’d think it would be cool if you drew a map with the shaded heights that was zoomed out to include all of the Valdez Triangle. Also, if you are willing to teach people, I’d love it if you were to show me how.

    The main reason I think it is important to show the historic area in relation to the whole is that in your desire to pick a fight with the OHA, I think you’re missing the big picture. You seem to want to squabble over some 10′s of feet by Harrison/Waverly when the real height problem is over by Broadway.

    With the exception of 1 or 2 slender towers, all of the project alternatives envision top development of six stories. Further, this proposed height is fairly even throughout the project area resulting in a vision of Walnut Creek for central Oakland. If there were much much higher structures along Broadway, we would have an urban landscape, and obtain critical mass of retail square footage without compromising the historic area.

    Small little fights among community activists just makes it all that much easier for the project team to ignore all input.

  105. Naomi Schiff

    In general, I agree with Dan that height should focus on Broadway, in part because we need to link the different chunks of Broadway instead of diverting activity away from areas that are just now getting to viability.

    About uptown: there has long been inconsistency and confusion about whether it was supposed to be an uptown entertainment district (the name of many official city reports) or a residential area (an intiative by Jerry Brown’s administration). No verdict was ever reached; the city went down both paths simultaneously. There are points where this got really awkward, for instance at the corner of 19th and Telegraph, and in not providing much neighborhood-service-related business, needed by the new and extant residents.

    I hope enough small-scale development will fill in the holes that it will become a more cohesive neighborhood, and that in moving up Broadway we don’t abandon the effort to encourage building upon the already-huge city investment in Uptown.

  106. John Klein

    I agree that the Google 3D image tools are needed by the City of Oakland. I also know they are simple and free. A number of groups and people, including the City Council, pointed out the poor quality graphics provided by CEDA for the CBD rezoning.

    I think that City staff made a strategic decision early in the CBD rezoning to not use 3D imaging, both for resource reasons but also for political reasons. At least, I believe this was true for the debate about building heights at the edge of Lake Merritt. The City stubbornly stuck to its idea that it was possible to place 170-foot buildings along Lakeside Drive. They proposed the infamous ‘tower/base design’ and that this would not block views of downtown.

    Of course, CALM thought this was preposterous and asked the City repeatedly to show it graphically. They never did, even up to the City Council where even Council members crabbed about the skimpy little 8.5×11” maps. I think the reason staff never produced 3D images is because they would have clearly shown that the tower/base design would not work.

    This created a problem for us now because CEDA did not, and has not, availed itself of this imaging technology. They don’t have it now when they needed it – they outsmarted themselves. I am certain that an enterprising CEDA planner could quickly master the Google Tools 3D imaging technology. That employee would instantly become a more valuable and sought-after employee. Not to mention, they’d bring City planning into the 21st century.

    It is a powerful tool, as you say. In your picture, it clearly shows heights that are too low for the area. It would work the opposite if you sketch in the tallest, desired heights. That might bring a similar but opposite response like, “Wow, that’s a lot of too tall buildings.” The next step is to finesse the sketches with placements of individual buildings, open spaces between them, parking lots, etc., rather than blocking in the entire area as shown.

  107. Max Allstadt


    I’ve actually experimented with some building height sketches along lakeside, and there is some truth to the fact that thin towers won’t block downtown that much.

    170 feet might be a little high, but 55 feet is definitely way too low. I sketched a 100 foot tower on lakeside, a few lots down from the Scottish Rite (which is way over 55 feet) and found that it was insignificant when viewed at eye level from the Cleveland Cascade.

    I’ve also sketched what uptown would have looked like if it hadn’t been forced by activists to stay below 55 feet. Again, at 85 feet (another legal/code benchmark height) the difference did not seem disruptive at all.

    As for Broadway: I concur with almost everything Dan Schulman has to say. would be happy to cede reasonable protections for the area I sketched if it allows the conversation to move on to more important things. I did, indeed, just want to point out that sloppy verbal descriptions of height limit policy are dangerous.

    I would like to see, among other things:

    Height limits pushed to at least 85 feet, if not 180 feet on a lot of broadway south of 27th. Possibly with an air-rights transfer scheme that creates a diverse array of heights.

    A provision against developments that cover an entire block. Particularly in the Valdez triangle, a diverse array of scales is important. Disallowing consolidation of more than 66% of a blocks area would be a way to do that. I would also bar consolidation of parcels that led to more than two corners of a block being within the same parcel. That doesn’t preclude a consolidation that would run diagonal through a block, so long as the other two corners are separately developed.

    I also am vehement that most of the old garage spaces should be allowed to be developed to tall heights, so long as facades are preserved. Any reuse of these spaces as-is would likely involve radical alteration of their interiors anyway, so there’s no reason to preserve the whole thing.

  108. Matt

    Ken O, I’m not aware of any research that shows only property owners can establish a community. Also, I’ve never read a comprehensive study that shows renters have an inherent lack of responsibility to their surroundings. I just haven’t and my experience contradicts these claims. I have heard people say things like this my whole life, but I’ve never seen it supported empirically. I still think Uptown is a neighborhood.

    Your opinion matters to me, but an objective analysis of Uptown businesses would be more helpful to me.

    Since you asked, no, I don’t shop in my neighborhood, because I’m never home. I work too much and it sucks, but that’s my problem. The places I mentioned are successes no matter if I shop, dine or attend functions at them are not and that success is worth taking note of considering the history of the neighborhood.

    Anyway, we agree on one thing. The neighborhood needs a grocery store. Please feel free to call Gail Mackay of Safeway Customer Care at 1-877-723-3929 regarding reference number 15587450. They’re taking comments on the matter.

    Max, your post to John -it’s a good one.

  109. len raphael

    Tonight city planners on the Bway 40th to 51st rezoning project were asked why the city wasn’t providing 3D mapping graphics to translate the arcane interactions of FAR’s and max density, slope setbacks etc. in context of existing streetscape.

    Simple answer: no money in the budget to train the planners how to do it. City estimated it would take average of 50 hours per planner to learn.

    I offered Max’s services without his prior permission.

    We hired a young architect to translate the proposals into graphics because we didn’t have time to do it ourselves and were told google map didn’t have most of the buildings here mapped yet. Some consequences of the city’s proposal were worse from the resident’s perspective and some were better. Regardless, it would have cut thru much wasted staff paid time and resident unpaid time if the city staff were given money to either learn how to do this or farm it out.

    -len raphael

  110. Naomi Schiff

    The city staff should find a way to get with it on this, or else they will find they spend time evaluating various renderings submitted by miscellaneous people trying their hand at it. Because our planning commission and city council is not replete with planning experience (one planner in the whole lot), 3-d and other visualization tools would be invaluable in informing the policy making process. Right now these commission and council members have little clue of what any of this would look like. Extrapolating a visual image from a flat site map is not that easy.

  111. Max Allstadt

    Learning to use Google Earth to do planning illustrations would not take 50 hours a staffer. I taught myself in less time than that, without reading the manual.