Estuary Specific Plan Photo Tour: West Subarea

If you managed to read my whole monster post yesterday about the Central Estuary Specific Plan, good for you. You deserve some sort of prize. If not, that’s okay. We’ll get you caught up anyway.

For the purposes of the Central Estuary Specific Plan, the specific plan area has been divided into four subareas, creatively named West Subarea, Central-West Subarea, Central-East Subarea, and East Subarea. Talking about the whole plan area at once is very difficult because it’s so big, so I’m going to follow this division and do separate posts over the next week about each subarea.

And since I find that photos are a much better way for people to get a sense of what a place is like than text, we’re going to start our exploration of each subarea with a photo tour. So let’s get started. Meet the West Subarea.

This is the area of that has the most going on. Or, more accurately, I guess, that has the biggest number of different sorts of things going on.

Our tour (and pedestrian nightmare) starts at the western end of the Specific Plan area. Physically, it’s actually not far at all from the East 14th, where the 1 bus line runs. Of course, try taking the 1 to get there, and you will quickly notice that there’s a big ass freeway and a bunch of train tracks between you and where you are trying to go. Hmm.

No worries, we’ll take the 16th Street overpass. The overpass is curved, making the visibility for pedestrians and bicyclists quite poor. Cars and trucks drive along it extremely fast while pedestrians stick to the very narrow sidewalk on one side and cling to the fence for protection. Although the overpass features a “bike lane,” all the bicyclists I have seen whenever I use this overpass (which isn’t all that often, so it’s probably not the greatest sample) are also riding on the narrow sidewalk. Normally, I’m against this and think bicyclists should stay in the street where they belong, but I totally do not blame them here.

While you’re up there, you may want to pause and take in the lovely overhead view of Oakland. Charming.

The overpass puts you down at the beginning of the Specific Plan area, at Embarcadero Cove, a small commercial center with a sign featuring a tackle shop and not much else.

Also right around here is the Harborside Health Center, a medical marijuana dispensary that offers a very impressive menu of holistic healing services, and is the sort of place anti-dispensary types should take a look at before rushing so quickly to judgement.

Across Embarcadero, looking towards downtown, you’ve got motels, and next to them, boats.

As you continue walking down Embarcadero, it’s pretty much boats on one side and bland office buildings on the other. The sidewalk here, at the beginning of the CESP area, is pretty good once you brave the scary overpass and find your way in.

The pedestrian crossings, however, leave a lot to be desired. You just have to kind of stand there for a while until you see a gap in traffic and then dash across. Once you manage to cross the street to the water side, the walk along Embarcadero is really pleasant. It features some placques about the history of the area, and plenty of benches.

Then you get to this adorable little collection of old houses that were moved there and are now used as offices. With the exception of the rent-a-car place, which I have no idea what its doing there, it’s all like, sickeningly cute, and if you don’t mind the accessibility issue, I’ve gotta say, it beats the pants off of Preservation Park (which is sort of the same idea) any day.

Wouldn’t you just love to get to eat your lunch outside looking at this every day?

And get after work drinks at Quinn’s Lighthouse? Where do I sign up?

Okay, moving on. We’ll continue walking along Embarcadero until we reach Livingston Street. As we turn, we see Beacon Day School.

Across from the school is a charming little area full of cute brick warehouses. There’s some live/work space and a bunch of boutique food processing companies. Also, if the signs on the parking spaces are true, apparently some sort of office or something for Chevy’s.

Anyway, this section is really very charming. This is where Numi Tea is.

Also, there’s a winery (Irish Monkey Cellars). There isn’t much in the way of sidewalks here, and the streets are in quite the state of disrepair, but there’s also not a ton of traffic, so it doesn’t feel like much of a problem when you’re walking around.

As charming as it may be, this area features little in the way of amenities. There’s the Buttercup Grill & Bar (which will charge you a damn near-criminal two dollars and forty cents for a eight ounce to-go cup of weak coffee), a tiny cafe I never got the chance to go to and can’t remember the name of in the Beacon School parking lot, and the Rainbo Bread outlet store.

Also, the neighborhood’s charm is somewhat mitigated by proximity to the freeway.

Moving on, we enter a decidedly less charming, but seemingly pretty active industrial area. Lots of trucks and indistinguished one-story buildings.

It isn’t what you would call exactly pleasant to walk through because of all the trucks, but there’s also not really any reason to be walking there, so this section gets a pass. All the baking going on makes it smell like bread everywhere, which I like because it reminds me of downtown Portland before the brewery shut down, when it smelled like hops everywhere all the time.

The sidewalks here are okay. Mostly, there’s just a lot of trucks everywhere.

If you head back towards Embarcadero and manage to cross without getting run over by a car, you’ll get to the lovely, if underused (and soon to be expanded), Union Point Park.

This park features lovely vistas of the Estuary, plenty of benches, a cute, boat-themed play structure for children. Unfortunately, it also features this terrifying Frankenwoman statue that used to sit outside of City Hall. Man, was I glad when they took that away. It celebrates notable women from Oakland by combining parts of their bodies into one tall, multicolored superwoman who has like, Isadora Duncan’s leg and Ina Coolbrith’s hand or something. I think it’s supposed to be inspiring, but honestly, I find it terrifying. Someone told me there’s going to be a much bigger version of it on Treasure Island, and I don’t know if that’s true or not, but if it is, I feel sorry for the people who live there.

Other than that, the park really is lovely.

Except, of course, for the giant ConAgra facility looming in the background.

If you’re trying to leave the park on foot from the end (where the parking lot is), getting out and across the street alive is an issue, what with no crosswalks and busy, curvy road and the always ominous railroad tracks. Once you can manage it, you’ll walk past some more bland buildings, with like a ballroom and party supply on one side, and ConAgra and a cement plant on the other. The sidewalks here suck and are falling apart.

And with that, we end our West Subarea photo tour. Tomorrow, we’ll take a look at the West Subarea existing conditions (PDF) and proposed alternatives.

31 thoughts on “Estuary Specific Plan Photo Tour: West Subarea

  1. Daniel Schulman

    If you are driving on a warm day, Union Point Park is a great place to eat a tasty torta, burrito, or taco plate from a Fruitvale area taco truck.

  2. Robert

    Quinn’s is one of my favorite restaurants in Oakland. Who can not like peanut shells on the floor.

  3. Carlos Plazola

    And pick any day of the week and stand on the sidewalk near the Cove at noon. You’ll think you’re in a ghost town. So much charm. So few people to enjoy it.

  4. Nancy Mueller

    Thanks V for the updates. My hubby and I have done this all on our bikes and at that pace it’s really pleasant. We got off at Fruitvale and went to a hole in the wall German/Swiss sausage co on INternational Blvd. and then down to Numi and along the Estuary. Your comments about the giant cermanic woman are a crack up. I look forward to the day when we can ride easily from the Embarcadero to Lake Merrit. There used to be a way under the freeway that circled a tiny lake at Merritt College. It’s closed while they build the new route, in the meantime you have a rough jumble of streets, cars and trucks and getting across E 14th. Some day our dreams will come true. The imporved path by the Lake Chalet is really nice tho…

  5. Karen Smulevitz

    Excellent, V. I’m eager to read the next, and every installment. After 40 years of seeing this area becoming more delapidated, it’s so exciting to see new parks and improvements happening, and the process of involvement with residents is what will make this work, unlike all the half-assed attempts over the years. Early this year Greenbelt and Sierra Club did a nitty-gritty city walk from downtown to the Coliseum, supposedly following the Bay Trail. Too many breaks in the trail were due to private property restrictions and denial of access. Hopefully the legal minds can achieve a workable solution, with an intact Bay Trail and preservation of some of the historical-marine- industrial ambiance. Hats off to all who are taking part and recognizing the value of an oft-neglected area that is essentially Oakland.

  6. Dave C.

    Nice post about one of my favorite parts of Oakland! Even some of the ugly parts are sort of interesting (the ConAgra plant, for instance. Definitely not the Enterprise Car Rental “building”). At least one person rides their bike on the street when going over the 16th Avenue overpass every day, namely me. It’s faster than cutting onto the sidewalk, and I actually feel safe with the cars and trucks—the sightlines are decent despite the curve, and the shoulders/bike lanes are plenty wide. Even late at night I usually stay on the street, putting my faith in the power of my blinking rear light. For me, the main problem with biking on the street there isn’t the traffic but the broken glass. For some reason, people seem to like breaking bottles on that overpass (the sidewalk, oddly, always seems clear of glass). I feel a lot less menace from cars and trucks there than I do on Park Blvd or International or San Leandro, that’s for sure.

    I’ll echo the comment above in saying that this is a nice place for a bike ride. There are bike lanes or waterside bike paths all the way from the Jack London Aquatic Center to Union Point Park, with very few street crossings and several places to stop for a picnic, a drink, or a snack. The pavement isn’t always the smoothest, but there aren’t many potholes either, and drivers seem to drive fairly calmly on Embarcadero. Continuing through Jingletown to Fruitvale is also interesting although a bit less easy, and for a great longer ride, you can navigate your way to High St. and connect to MLK Shoreline, which has a great unobstructed bike path for miles along the shore to Hegenberger or Doolittle. I highly recommend MLK shoreline park, which might be even more underused than Union Point Park, especially considering how large it is. (I’m looking forward to part 4 of this series already!)

  7. Dave C.

    P.S. You are giving a slightly bad rap to the view from the 16th Ave. overpass. If you look one direction, you see Round Top and Grizzly Peak. Look in another, you see most of downtown Oakland’s skyline (albeit with an ugly freeway in the foreground). Look in yet another, and you see the SF skyline with the picturesque 9th Avenue terminal and a lot of sailboat masts in the foreground. Someone has even helpfully cut some rectangles out of the fencing so that you you can get an unobstructed view. I’ve taken a few photos from that overpass–don’t knock it!

  8. Becks

    Awesome post V! I had thought that I wasn’t very familiar with the area in the Central Estuary Plan, but the photos remind me that I am much more familiar with the area than I would have guessed. I just don’t go there very often because of the sub-par bus access and the pedestrian issues.

  9. Born in Oakland

    Yes , killer posts and the secret is out. While I have been critical of the area on the other side of Embarcadero, namely the International Blvd area, I love the estuary side and it has been fairly represented. My son is an alumnus of Beacon Day School near Quinn’s and would ride his bike there every day from my flatland neighborhood. A word of caution, the cheap ass motels doting Embarcadero are rife with prostitution and drug dealing. A great place to do business. This area even made it on national TV for underage hookers being pimped by thugs. I also find condoms at Union Point Park and fast food wrappers. Sometimes people in the vans there are groaning with pleasure, pain? We could have had real public access, but the port gave us sleazy motels. I hope Carlos can ram his project through, maybe we will get some real economic “diversity” in this area.

  10. Dave C.

    Born in Oakland, I’ve mainly heard of problems with the Motel 6. I’ve been to the Executive Inn and Suites a couple of times (knew people who were staying there) and it seemed quiet and well-run. Do you know if the other two motels also have issues, or is it mainly the Motel 6?

  11. Born in Oakland

    I already mentioned the incidents to the police, more than once. The police say the motel receptionists are co-operative when asked questions. I find them to be rather adverse to discussing these issues with me. Kind of like asking your local Burger King server what she thinks about the national health care debate and whether we should have a public option. The old speak no evil, see no evil, know no evil so prevalent and a barrier to getting at the root of Oakland’s ugly underbelly.

  12. Patrick

    The “Statue of Unity” was certainly conceived by someone with schizophrenia – who was also high on some primo weed (most likely laced with PCP). That piece of “art” is a boondoggle that rivals the new East Span of the Bay Bridge. It’s revolting.

  13. Born in Oakland

    She, he, it is truly unbelievable. Cannot wait to see this installation on T.I.! Bring us your tired, your huddled masses, yearning to be ethnically “averaged.”

  14. Naomi Schiff

    I don’t believe it is exactly a done deal that Sigame on Steroids is going to rise from Treasure Island. (Especially since a huge thing like that would probably sink the all-fill island under the waves.) We should declare a moratorium on all sculptures composed of Parts of Many Deserving Heroes, I think. This is a category that could cover Sigame, the Thing that Will Eat the Uptown Park, and that older atrocity on Broadway, Masks on Sticks.

    We have a high per capita count of art professors in this city. How can we succumb to the banal and provincial?

  15. Izzy Ort

    “The statue will complement and balance the Statue of Liberty”

    More like the East Bay’s answer to Laffing Sal

    Both have high creep factors.

    Another in the pantheon of great bad Oakland statues is the Cheemah Monument, next to Barnes and Noble in JLS — a Caucasian woman dressed like Maureen O’Sullivan in a pre-Code Tarzan movie, standing on the lower wing of an eagle banked at 60 degrees. Both the woman and the eagle are actually well done, but the combination is absurd. And the premise behind it reads like a parody of new-age cliches.

  16. Naomi Schiff

    We do have some excellent publicly-visible artwork in Oakland. Might be fun to put together that walking tour, instead of obsessing on the less wonderful specimens. I like the public art installation at Union Point Park, the one out in the water with its own pier. I find the thing in City Center fine. I like Abe Lincoln out by the Courthouse on the Lakeside, as mentioned previously. The sculpture near the Museum on I think 11th St. where it dips down is a great use of three-dimensions and great siting. I even don’t mind the 3 Zs by Kaiser Center, though it’s not the most earthshaking. The Henry Mooresque item in Snow Park is a period piece, but well done for what it is.

    Being such a young western city, we don’t have much heroic nineteenth-century sculpture, and that allows our parks to be fairly free of nobly scowling historic figures. Seems a plus.

  17. Chris Kidd

    Also, watching the sunset from the top of the hillock in Union Point Park is amazing. At the right time of the year the sun sets right down the middle of the estuary between Oakland and Alameda. Union Point Park’s position as the original end of the estuary gives you a straight shot view all the way out into the bay.

    Also, it is an absolute crime that across the street from Union Point Park is train tracks with the blank backs of buildings behind them. If there was even a semblance of an inviting streetscape environment, that park would get way more use.

  18. Born in Oakland

    Very perceptive Chris, the warehouses and tracks across Union Point Park are underutilized and apparently unoccupied. They are awaiting a great industrial renaissance which will bring high wage jobs for low skilled work and we will all live happily ever after. Would such prime real estate remain fallow for over 20 (30) years in a City or Port that had a real vision and planned economy? Meanwhile, Alameda continues to develop their waterfront areas with some promise for public access and economic development. There are some creative people and small businesses, artisans who work in the Embarcadero’s nearby small warehouses .I would love to see their future enhanced towards Union Point Park. I suspect the semi-autonomous Port may have some considerations about anything too creative or sustainable located at that site.

  19. Livegreen

    BIO, Those warehouses aren’t unoccupied, there some of the same ones that have baking and food related businesses in them (& others) that V not only specifically mentions in her posts but also has pictures of (if not just behind the tracks then just adjacent to the businesses that are in those warehouses).

    The tracks, on the other hand, might be un or under utilized.

  20. concernedoakff

    Numi Tea has an awesome restaurant/tea garden/music space that is the absolute best kept secret of that area. They do traditional gongfu tea ceremonies, have good food and a super unique atmosphere and unlimited tea pot refills.

    It is at 2230 Livingston St near the West Marine and some radio shop.

    There are also a few wineries in that complex now that have tastings.

  21. Dave C.

    I believe (though I could be wrong) that the tracks across Embarcadero are still used late at night to deliver grain to the ConAgra plant. (The tracks also pass through the ConAgra and Cemex plants and lead to the controversial tracks on Glascock St, which V Smoothe wrote about for Oakbook earlier this year and will probably be discussing in the next installment.)

    I have to disagree a bit with Chris Kidd about the warehouses and train tracks with respect to Union Point Park. I think what prevents the park from getting “way more use” is that there are very few residents who live within a mile of the park. An improved streetscape would be nice, but it wouldn’t, in my opinion, attract significantly more people to the park on its own. (Incidentally, I think the designers of the park also did a good job of creating visual barriers between the main part of the park and Embarcadero. When you’re inside the park, the landscaping draws your attention toward the water, not toward the Embarcadero side of the park, so it feels more separated from the drab industrial streetscape than it actually is. Kudos to whoever designed the park.)

  22. Annalee Allen

    Naomi, I think you would agree the closest we have to monumental 19th century heroic public art, is the set of niches on the east facing facade of the Oakland Auditorium (a.k.a. Henry J. Kaiser convention center) done by Stirling Alexander Calder. Keeping the view of them unobstructed by a new cathedral building was one of the reasons OHA and CALM got busy and produced an alternative to the 12th St. roadway.

  23. Chris Kidd

    Nope, Dave.

    The re-activation of the tracks on glascock was done specifically because the tracks running behind union point park were getting taken offline. Those tracks cross 880 at the ‘north spur’ where the 5th street overpass is. When Caltrans decided to retrofit and widen that overpass, the north spur had to be de-activated. The south spur running along glascock was put back in action (with much gnashing of teeth from the people living in The Estuary condos) as a solution to keep conagra supplied.

  24. Dave C.

    Interesting, I didn’t know the switch to Glascock had already taken place. I’m pretty sure I had to stop for a short train crossing Embarcadero next to the ConAgra plant recently, but maybe it was being moved across for some other reason (or maybe it was longer ago than I remember—memory can play tricks). The Existing Conditions report mentions that Veronica Foods on Dennison also gets deliveries by train twice a week. Is that no longer true? Or is Veronica also being served by the Glascock spur now, which would mean that the tracks across from Union Point Park are being used after all?

  25. Naomi Schiff

    Dave C.: Designers of Union Point Park: PGA Design, an Oakland firm run by Chris Pattillo, Cathy Garrett, and Chris Kent (PGA designed the Uptown Park too). I believe the hill that is so well-done is making the best of an encapsulated pile of contaminated dirt: a creative way to deal with a weird remediation problem.

    Annalee, those niches on the old Auditorium are indeed terrific: done around 1915 by the father of the Calder who is so famous for the mid-century mobiles and stabiles. The niches are also amazing period pieces, with exhortations to right and healthy living.

  26. Dave C.

    Thanks, Naomi. And in case anyone’s still curious, those tracks across from Union Point Park are indeed still being used: I had to wait Friday afternoon as a dozen or so freight cars were hauled from the ConAgra property, across Embarcadero, and down those tracks toward Dennison. I don’t know whether the train was coming and going, or which business it was serving, but I was relieved to know that I hadn’t been hallucinating when I saw a train on that stretch of track sometime in the past few months.