Let’s take a trip in the Way-Back-Machine, guys.
Remember Sim City Classic on your mac plus? That game was awesome. I remember coming into school early, going to the computer lab, switching on one of those little off-white boxes, and building new cities with 3×3 squares of residential, commercial, and industrial zones. It was all there: fighting crime, delivering essential services, growing your tax base, solving traffic, fighting off a Godzilla rampage(okay, some things weren’t so realistic).
Man, that game was sweet. I shoulda known back then I was a sucker for city planning. Well, this coming Saturday at 9:00 AM, you can play too. But instead of playing on your old-school Mac Plus, you can come down to the Beacon Day School at 2101 Livingston St. and play for the benefit of your city.
The city of Oakland is having its fourth meeting for the Central Estuary Specific Plan. The first meeting got people talking about what they’d want in a specific plan, the second meeting crafted the vision statement for the specific plan, the third meeting dealt with the existing conditions in the specific plan area, and the fourth meeting will be a big game of Sim City.
Here’s how it’s going down: Planning staff is going to lay out a huge map of the specific plan area and anyone who attends can show the changes on the map that they envision with either markers or place holders (or maybe even some sweet little residential/industrial/comercial squares). The challenge is to make your dream real while also making it realistic. Say you want to complete the bay trail: what about the waterfront industries that need access to the estuary? Say you want economic/industrial development for blue collar jobs: what about the added polution affecting the quasi-residential neighborhoods 2 blocks over? Maybe you’d like to increase housing density: what kind of traffic implications are you creating? Though it can feel like trying to dance between the raindrops, these are the issues(among many others) the specific plan must resolve. If you want the specific plan to be a success, you’ve gotta pitch in. Staff is asking for your help.
I’m not going to play my hand right now (gotta have something left for the meeting), but I’ll lay down some ugly truths that we’re going to run up against at some point. Getting them out of the way right now might help the coming meeting deal more with fun solutions and grand visions. Or so I hope.
There are a few things that just aren’t going to change in the CESP area. The Central-West section of the CESP area, bounded by Fruitvale and 23rd Ave (basically Jingletown) isn’t going to have its zoning changed. It’s one of a very few areas in the city zoned HBX (mixed use), a new zoning that was implemented only a few years ago. Adding to the HBX theme, the city council (in their infinite wisdom) declared that the area below Tidewater Ave on the south side of High St.(about halfway down the linked post) was to be zoned HBX as a pre-requisite for funding the specific plan study. A big retailer like Home Depot ain’t going nowhere: Don’t plan on replacing that with low income housing or green collar jobs or whatever. Places like Quinn’s Lighthouse and Beacon Day School are other sources of vitality that will most likely have a long life.
Outside of that, it’s open season! It’s also where things start to get hairy. My opinion is that a lot of the current industrial uses simply don’t fit in with the goals of the CESP. Small time manufacturing, light industry, etc. certainly have their place -and should be encouraged to grow within the specific plan- but the large industrial producers like Cemex, ConAgra, and the Brockway-Owens glass factory are kinda antithetical to a lot of the goals for the CESP. They impede the progress of the bay trail and contribute nothing to the vibrancy and walkability envisioned by so many stakeholders at previous meetings. What’s more, they’re already an issue for current residents. Take a gander at the “polution risks” pie chart in the Public Health section of the existing conditions charts. Jingletown residents had to get John Russo’s office involved before Cemex was willing to take actions mitigating the enormous amount of particulate matter thrown up into the air (and thus, into people’s lungs) from their cement manufacturing. Whatever type of specific plan is drafted, there are going to be more residents moving to the estuary and the polution is already unacceptable for the ones living there now.
It’s true that such a pronouncement is sure to make the social-justice types howl, and rightly so: That’s a whole lot of centrally located blue collar jobs going out the door. To counter this, the specific plan needs to be rigorous in attracting new blue collar jobs in more small-scale, low-impact industries. By spreading these replacement blue collar jobs across the CESP area, we could help retain the industrial feel (even while more residential development takes place) that make these neighborhoods so uniquely attractive. Additionally, spreading low-impact industry throughout the CESP area could serve as a counterweight to rapid gentrification, helping some areas retain their working-class and artist-loft affordability.
My last wish is a mechanism within the specific plan to make a permanent place for artists on Oakland’s estuary. It was primarily a second wave of artists to Jingletown (escaping the rapid gentrification of artist space in the Mission and Potrero Hill during the dot-com boom) that made the central estuary so attractive to further development. The specific plan needs to make sure they stay. On one level, it’s altruistic: the reward for revitalizing a section of Oakland shouldn’t be a ticket out of town. But on a more city-serving level, it makes plenty of sense: their pressence is the safety net for the the central estuary’s vitality. Artists will make the central estuary an interesting place to live, no matter the status of either the economy or the housing market. Why wouldn’t you want to live in a place where this, this, and this are right outside your front door? What’s more, creating a permanent place for artists will help maintain the economic diversity necessary to have a truly vibrant neighborhood.
So what are your ideas? One idea I’ve heard floating around is a street car from Jack Lodon Square down the estuary to Jingletown. Maybe you think the central estuary should be an incubator for biotechnology with state of the art research campuses. Maybe you’ve got an idea nobody’s thought of yet. This is a great opportunity to dream big! Bring any and all ideas down to Beacon Day School this Saturday at 9:00, no matter how nutty they are. It is, after all, Sim Oakland.