So I’ve complained here plenty about the new downtown draft zoning chapter (PDF!) – the process has been flawed, as is the proposal itself. If you want the short version, you can check out my Novometro story from yesterday.
Anyway, since the last zoning update committee meeting, there has been one more public meeting about the proposal, organized by the Chinatown Chamber of Commerce. The meeting drew over 100 people, more than any previous meeting on the issue, and wholesale opposition to the proposed zoning was near unanimous. Nearly every speaker at yesterday’s meeting opposed to plan as well, and the Committee ended up asking staff to return with a new proposal that does not contain height limits. Frustratingly, they did not direct staff to hold more public meetings. I wasn’t able to attend the meeting, and my correspondent wasn’t in top form, so I don’t know if they want just the height limits gone, or all the bulk and intensity requirements, which, frankly, are the real problem here. People are very hung up on height, but the tower floorplate and length restrictions are much more dangerous.
I also find it disturbing that staff appears completely disconnected from what’s actually happening downtown. For example, Eric Angstadt, in response to repeated complaints about the downzoning of downtown, said several times that the draft zoning chapter is actually upzoning, and that the current zoning doesn’t actually allow the recently approved projects people keep referencing. Angstadt is wrong. The new Shorenstein building at 601 City Center, at 10.5 FAR and 378 feet, conforms perfectly to the C-51 zoning on its lot, as explained on page 4 of the design review staff report (PDF!).
Angstadt later said that people were making too big a deal of the height limits, that they’re higher than any existing downtown buildings, and that “Nobody’s going to build anything close to these height limits anytime soon.” I don’t know what his idea of close is, but, at only 27 feet below the maximum height proposed for Area 5, 601, which will be breaking ground soon, seems pretty close to me. Again, the real issue here is the tower floorplate restrictions. 601 exceeds the maximum tower floorplate size for Area 5, as does the existing building 555 12th Street. We want to build office space that will attract large, high quality employers to downtown. We have plenty of small spaces appropriate for non-profits and smaller businesses. What we don’t have enough of (although recently opened Center 21 helps) is the very large full floor spaces that bigger companies desire. People are always talking about how we need to bring jobs to Oakland – right now, the vogue is to talk about the need for industrial jobs. We need office jobs, too! To restrict construction of the most in demand space makes absolutely no sense if we’re serious about job creation and revitalizing our economy.