I always wish more activists, policy wonks, and planning geeks would start blogs about Oakland. There’s just so many fascinating things going on with the City and I just do not have time to write about them all. One of these completely fascinating things that I have completely dropped the ball on covering is the Central Estuary Specific Plan. I’m hoping to remedy that a little bit over the next week or so. Better late than never, right?
The process began last March, with a visioning workshop (PDF), covered here by Tom Thurston and also by Crimson at the (sadly) now-defunct blog Oakland Streets. This was followed in April by another meeting where attendees worked to refine the plan’s vision statement (PDF). June brought an open house style meeting (PDF), where a variety of display boards (PDF) offered information about existing conditions in the plan area.
July’s workshop invited residents to play Sim City with a hands-on mapping exercise (PDF), which was used to develop a set of draft alternatives (PDF), presented at another meeting (PDF) in October. Last month, at the Specific Plan’s sixth community meeting (PDF), community members got another opportunity to play with maps, picking and choosing their favorites among the proposed alternatives.
As you can see, if you haven’t been following the Estuary Specific Plan up to this point, you’ve missed out on a lot. But it isn’t too late to have your say. In the coming months, there will be a number of opportunities for comment on the draft preferred alternative (PDF). On December 9th (PDF), the Parks and Recreation Advisory Commission will review the open space aspects of the plan. This will be followed by a Planning Commission review on December 16th (PDF), and then consideration by the City Council in January. And if you’re thinking that with more pages than I care to count right now of plan-related presentations and documents informing this draft alternative, there’s just no possible way you could ever even hope to make sense of how this all came about, don’t worry. I read every single one of them, and I’m going to spend the next week and a half getting you all caught up.
So let’s start at the beginning. The Central Estuary Specific Plan (CESP) concerns a 416 acre area between I-880 and the Estuary, from 19th Avenue to 54th Avenue. See the map below.
If that map means nothing to you, no worries. For the purposes of the CESP, the space has been divided into four separate sub-areas, and in the coming days, I’ll be giving you guys a little photo tour of each of them to get you up to speed. But today, we’re gonna stick to a broader kind of background and take a look at the existing conditions report.
If I had to describe the Central Estuary Specific Plan area in two words, they would be pedestrian nightmare. If I had to describe the Central Estuary Specific Plan area in three words, they would be pedestrian fucking nightmare. But I’m getting ahead of myself.
Overall, the Existing Conditions report is really interesting. It’s quite long, and takes a while to go through, but enjoyable if you can find the time, and easy enough to break up into pieces. The only complaint I have about it is that the map images are really low-res. That probably sounds really nitpicky and maybe a little bit silly, but after a while, all the squinting gets really tiring. Anyway, let’s get started.
Because waterfront access (and later, the addition of railroad tracks) provided such excellent access to regional supply and distribution networks, the land along Oakland’s estuary originally developed as an industrial area, specifically marine-related and agricultural industry. This process is spelled out in the historical context chapter (PDF) of the Existing Conditions Report, which probably goes back a little further than strictly necessary (it begins “European explorers first encountered the San Francisco Bay in 1769…”), but is actually pretty interesting and worth reading if you have some time. Also, it features some pretty cool old maps and photos.
The area’s industrial legacy remains visible today, in the form of existing uses, building stock, and of course, zoning. The CESP area is mostly zoned industrial. Oakland’s 1999 Estuary Policy Plan recommended a complicated mix of zoning designations (PDF) for the area – light industrial, planned waterfront development, residential mixed use, heavy industrial, and general commercial. That might seem like kind of a lot for a relatively small space, but when you spend some time inside the Plan area, you see how it makes sense.
The biggest problem with the CESP area is transportation. Transportation in the area is kind of odd. You’ve got all sorts of major arterial streets and regional connection points within and very nearby the plan area (I-880, International Boulevard, East 12th St., and the Fruitvale BART Station just outside; Fruitvale Avenue, High Street, 23rd and 29th Avenues within), yet when you’re inside, it is very difficult to get around. As the transportation chapter (PDF) explains:
Despite the close proximity of the Plan Area to these major transportation facilities, the access to these facilities and their overall quality of service is poor. In particular, I-880 and the freight rail tracks serve as a major physical barrier between the study area and adjacent neighborhoods, BART, the International Boulevard transit corridor, and the local Oakland street grid. The design and alignment of I-880 utilizes a system of local interchanges with confusing and inefficient ramps. The substandard nature of the interchange and ramp designs translates into an inefficient local street network.
Specific problems noted in the plan include a crowded and often bottlenecked freeway, a poorly planned and inappropriately closely space freeway on and off ramp system, an inconsistent and confusing local street good with a number of ludicrous intersections, poor waterfront access, an incontinuous Bay Trail, and just the whole area in general being a complete pedestrian nightmare. And not much better for bicycles.
Furthermore, access to public transit in the area is extremely poor. Although eight different bus lines (19, 50, 53, OX, 356, S, SA, SB) run through the area, only the first four stop inside and the whole place has only five bus stops. Unsurprisingly, almost nobody here uses the bus (AC Transit estimates a daily grand total of 63 boardings and alightings in the whole area.) You might not think this is a problem, since the 1/1R on International Boulevard and BART plus the many buses serving the Fruitvale BART station are so close. But good luck trying to get there. The map below highlights the bike/ped problems in the area.
Click on the map for a larger image or click here to download a PDF version.
Anyway, we will get into the difficulty of walking around this place a little more during the photo tour, but the bicycle & pedestrian issues section (PDF) of the Existing Conditions report handily outlines the following problems: freeway ramps, uncontrolled right turns, missing sidewalks, large blocks, wide roads, few crosswalks, prohibited pedestrian problems, unsafe connections to East 12th, BART, and International Boulevard, and a lack of bike lanes.
Moving on, let’s take a look at what people do around here. I’m going to kind of skip over the resident profile section (PDF) because there just really is not good data on this sort of thing anywhere right now, since we’re at the very end of a Census cycle. You can read it yourself (PDF) if you like. Anyway, in 2000, there were 916 people living inside the CESP area boundaries, mostly renters, mostly in the Jingletown area, many in overcrowded conditions, and almost half Hispanic.
Regarding industry (PDF), the CESP area has been losing employment over the past several years. As of 2007, 4,796 people were employed within the plan area, and the industry breakdown looks like this:
10 percent of the total employment in the area and nearly a third of the service industry employment comes from Alameda County Behavioral Health Services, which relocated to the area in 2002. Even with that influx of County jobs, the area’s total employment shrunk by 18% between 2001 and 2007. The number of businesses, on the other hand, grew a little bit over the same period, indicating a trend towards smaller businesses. Specifically, there has been a notable growth in small specialty food production firms. Of the businesses that left the area, most of them just closed outright rather than moving elsewhere
As the chart above indicates, the biggest chunk of jobs are in service. Within that industry, the distribution of jobs (and employment trends over the past twenty years) breaks down like this:
In interviews, service industry businesses indicated that they like the area because of its central location, ample location, relative proximity to amenities in Jack London Square and downtown Oakland, and the unique ambiance of the waterfront location. They complain about the poor public transit access, lack of immediately proximate amenities like restaurants, bad traffic, high rents, and vandalism.
Manufacturing represents the second biggest group of jobs. CESP area employment within that industry are illustrated in the chart below:
These business say they like this location because it makes it easy to deliver products to their customers, most of whom are in the Bay Area, due to the strong access to highways, the Port, and rail lines. Plus, it’s just a nicer place than most industrial areas. Their concerns include the poor condition of the roads, too much vandalism, and fear of displacement due to the increasing amount of housing.
The final section of the Existing Conditions report is devoted to the Public Health (PDF) conditions in the area. This section sounded really interesting when they talked about it at the second community meeting back in April, but I don’t know what really happened to that. It’s kind of a letdown. At the time, I thought it sounded pretty interesting, but the chapter is just, like, I don’t know, just lame. I don’t know if there was just not that enough data available to do what they wanted, but it is much less in depth than the rest of the report, and just kind of poorly written overall, with a lot of typos. I don’t know, it clearly just did not work out, and I don’t think it adds much to the report.
So that’s kind of an overview of what the CESP area has going on now. The idea behind the Specific Plan is to think about what it’s going to look like in the future. Light industrial? Heavy industrial? Open space? Residential? Commercial? Keep checking in over the next week to see what kind of future vision this planning process has developed so far.