You know that giant pit in the ground on 12th and Jefferson downtown? It’s like a block away from the half-built condos at 13th and Jefferson. The space was supposed to become 601 City Center, and in theory, we still have that to look forward to…in 2017.
Yes, you read that right. The project, which broke ground last October (click through and read that link for a good laugh), was originally supposed to be completed by Spring 2011, although the City’s deadline was April 2012. Last night, the Oakland Planning Commission approved a development agreement that would extend the completion date by 36 months (PDF), until April 2015, and on top of that, provide two options for twelve month extensions, for a total of five years of extension.
So basically, Shorenstein had a deadline of October 1st with the City to start building, so instead of just getting a damn extension on that, they fenced off the site, closed the sidewalks, and dug a giant hole in the ground, then abruptly stopped construction two months later.
Okay, so obviously, it’s incredibly annoying that Shorenstein wants to basically abandon their big pit on 12th street for five freaking years, but, hey, developers are like children, whatever you let them have, they will take, and if you fail to clearly establish adequate boundaries, you can’t really blame them for acting like brats. So my real beef here is with the City, which is basically saying that we’re perfectly okay with leaving a giant hole in the ground in the middle of downtown Oakland indefinitely. Their position is that by charging $200,000 for the fourth year extension and $300,000 for the fifth year, they’re providing an incentive for Shorenstein to not wait the full five years.
You know what an even better incentive for Shorenstein not to wait the whole five years to resume construction would be? Don’t give them five years! dto510 spoke at the meeting, arguing that three years should be a sufficient extension, but he was unable to convince the Commission. Ironically, in October, when other developers who have not yet disrupted neighborhoods by closing off sidewalks and digging giant holes in the ground came before this exact same Commission and asked for a three year extension on the date they would have to start building their projects because of the economy, they were told that three years was totally excessive, and that they should be content with one year. (The Council later approved a modified version of the extension, giving everybody until December 31, 2011 (PDF), regardless of when their original deadline was.) Anyway, the Commission had none of those same concerns with giving Shorenstein five years to do nothing – according to Commissioner Doug Boxer, if we only gave them a three year extension, they might just abandon the project altogether, even though they’ve already bought all the steel for the building.
So, once the Council gives the thumbs-up, Shorenstein gets five extra years to complete construction on the tower. In exchange, the neighbors will get their sidewalks back during the interim and will get a sturdy, permanent fence around the lot instead of the green construction fencing that’s there now. Shorenstein has also agreed to provide as much as $50,000 for art on the site, most likely in the form of a mural painted on the fence. And that’s it. Seriously.
Just in case I haven’t been clear enough about this yet, let me sum up. Shorenstein broke ground on their new office tower on the block between 11th and 12th Street and Jefferson and MLK in downtown Oakland in October of 2008. The City now wants to give them, and the Planning Commission agrees, until 2017 to complete that project. 2008. 2017. That’s nine years of an entire City block in the heart of downtown Oakland, a block that, by the way, sits right in between the two major access streets taking people in and out of downtown, being either a construction site or just a big abandoned pit. And we’re supposed to feel grateful that Shorenstein is willing to spend a pathetic $50,000 painting the freaking fence?
Shorenstein, apparently, since they’re not required to spend any money on public art, seems to think that offering to paint the fence while they sit on their big pit is generous. The fence painting was repeatedly referred to as a “community benefit” at yesterday’s meeting, which, frankly, is like, totally nauseating. Making your construction site a little bit less visually offensive is not a “community benefit”, it’s a mitigation, and the City should demand nothing less in exchange for their obscene generosity with Shorenstein’s deadlines. Actually, they should demand more.
Oh, also. The poor dry cleaner a block away who has lost, like, all her customers from 555 12th St. since Shorenstein closed the sidewalks between there and her store and put up a big fence so nobody can see that it’s there anymore, wanted a sign on the fence just letting people know she was still open, but the Commission didn’t go for that either. In fact, Commissioner Doug Boxer scoffed at the request, saying it would be “free advertising.”
It’s just incredible. We are constantly listening to self-righteous whining from anti-development activists about how developers should all be required to provide “community benefits,” by which, of course, they don’t mean actual benefits to people who live near the project, but rather, huge arbitrary and unrelated payments either to the City or some random non-profit in exchange for being granted permission to construct something the law says they can build anyway, and everybody acts like what they’re saying is totally reasonable and half the Council totally wants to do it. But expecting developers to deal with an actual giant mess they’ve made in a reasonable amount of time? And provide minimal mitigations to their eyesore in the interim? Well, apparently that’s just crazy talk. No wonder Oakland is such a damn mess.