Grafitti and Blight in Downtown Oakland

So, one my all time favorite posts on any Oakland blog ever is the seventh post on Living in the O, where Becks shares an exercise from a writing class she took. She had to write two paragraphs describing a place (she choose the corner of Broadway and 14th), one from a positive angle, and one from a negative perspective.

First, the good:

The corner’s bustling, as a man in a new suit helps a young mother with a stroller get off the bus. Two young men trade jokes and laugh out loud, stepping aside to allow me to pass by and sharing their smiles with me. Though a cool wind blows through the air, beams of sunshine warm me. The grand buildings of the late 19th and early 20th century watch over the city calmly.

Then, the bad:

The sidewalks and gutters are full of cigarette butts, empty soda bottles, pages ripped from newspapers, and fries spilled out from a McDonald’s bag. Though I try not to breathe through my nose, the smells of urine and exhaust fumes are inescapable. An old man in tattered clothes yells complaints to no one in particular. The tall buildings cast a dark shadow over what would otherwise be a sunny morning.

I’m not particularly sympathetic to complaints about shade, but aside from that, Becks’s post almost perfectly captured my dueling feelings about downtown. Some days, I walk down the street and all I can think of is what a wonderful place I live in, and how much better it’s gotten since I’ve been living here, and how much even better it’s going to be soon. Other days, all I can see are abandoned storefronts, litter, and graffiti. Lately, I’ve been cutting short or skipping entirely my morning downtown walks because I just can’t stand the overpowering and nausea-inducing smells of trash and urine on every corner. I don’t know if it’s getting worse lately, or it just feels like it, but these days, I’m having a harder and harder time seeing the positive side of downtown. I was hoping that would change this weekend, and that getting to watch my beloved Holiday Parade would remind me of what a great place the DTO is after all. But it ended up being just the opposite.

So, something I like to do on weekends is to go out in the morning and kind of just clean up along my street. It’s not a big thing, I just try to pick up some of the litter on the sidewalk for a little while and generally try to make it look nicer. I figured I’d be getting a break on Saturday, cause with the Holiday Parade happening that day, the City would have cleaned up downtown on Friday night. Imagine how surprised I was when I left to get my coffee on Saturday morning and stepped outside to find the street just as, or maybe more, filthy and litter-strewn than usual. I bent down to pick up some discarded bottles and newspapers, then thought “Forget it!” If the City doesn’t care, why should I?” and then dropped them back on the ground and left them there. I know that was wrong, but I was just so frustrated! I’m happy to do my part 50 weekends a year, but when you know you have a major event attracting a huge regional audience downtown, and you can’t even be bothered to make it look moderately presentable, why the hell should anyone else waste their time? Clearly, the City simply doesn’t care how we present ourselves to the world.

After the parade, we walked around downtown a little, and my friends kept complaining about all the trash all over the place and how rude all the parade viewers were. One suggested people threw their trash on the street because there aren’t enough trash cans. I thought it was because they didn’t see any reason not to. I mean, they say you should try to leave a place nicer than you found it. And cleaning up after yourself is one of the hallmarks of a respectful guest. But if you walk up to somewhere and it’s just one giant rubbish bin, why would you bother to show respect and clean after yourself when clearly throwing crap on the ground is just totally acceptable.

Sure, downtown’s wild west atmosphere has some advantages. It’s nice if you want to ride your bicycle down the sidewalk like a psychopath (and don’t mind when you nearly run me over in the process). Or if you want to smoke a joint on the street, or need to get a DVD of whatever the hot new movie that just came out is, cause you really hate going to the theater. But the downside of getting to do all that is that shoppers and retail workers constantly get harassed by aggressive panhandlers, the sidewalks are, at certain spots, literally stained with urine, there is trash everywhere, and nobody thinks twice about taking a can of spray paint to whatever wall they happen to be standing next to, or smashing in storefront windows or my apartment building’s door just for fun.

And THIS is why, despite like, every conceivable on-paper advantage, we’re having trouble attracting businesses to Oakland, why we have a brand new Class A office building sitting empty a year after it opened, why SKS isn’t building their project, and why Levi’s is never ever going to come here. You can rattle off statistics about the relative safety of Oakland and the higher crime rate in SF until the cows come home, and nobody is ever going to care. You know why? Because when you walk out of the BART station here, it looks like someplace you’re going to get mugged and when you walk out of the station in Walnut Creek or downtown San Francisco, it doesn’t. And that’s that.

I’ve been meaning to write about the completely deplorable state of downtown Oakland for a while now, so you can imagine how pleased I was to see Pat Kernighan kind of randomly bring it up at last Tuesday’s Public Safety Committee. Apparently a late November meeting with “business owners and building owners, like, major, major investors in downtown Oakland” put the fear of God in her about the condition of downtown, and she was pretty visibly upset at the meeting, complaining about:

How grimy Broadway looks and how, especially on the East side of the street, which is in my district, the loitering, the drug dealing, the really unpleasant offensive behavior that just goes on there, and which is driving away business. It’s also, that little corridor, is where both BART entrances, the 12th Street and the 14th Street, and as some of those building owners and business owners pointed out, when visitors to Oakland, like from San Francisco or other places come to Oakland on BART, their first view of Oakland is what happens when they walk up at 12h or 14th, and you get a really unpleasant look. I mean, it’s bad.

Larry Reid wasn’t about to let her have all the fun, and jumped in to add:

There is no way we’re going to be able to attract retail in downtown Oakland unless we’re able to clean up that corridor. You know, I’m an adult. But earlier today when I walked down there, you know, it was somewhat alarming to me about the number of individuals who hang out on that corridor – both those who are homeless, who are there, panhandlers. And those who are skipping school, and sitting on top of the newspaper racks, and the use of profanity and the smoking around the bus stops which we have an ordinance that’s not getting enforced. I mean, if I was just coming to Oakland, and saw that, I would go back down the stairs, get on BART, and leave.

He later informed the audience that if his own mother wanted to visit downtown Oakland, he would tell her to go home and stay away, cause things here are just that bad. Even Nancy Nadel jumped in with a productive comment for once, asking why it is, if the department has four walking officers downtown like they say, that nobody has ever seen them? GOOD QUESTION. I’m happy the Council seems just as upset as me over the conditions around here, and I’m happy that Pat promised she would be putting a team together to work on the problem, but I can’t help but wonder how it is that they apparently just noticed what a disgustingly filthy neighborhood they all work in.

If we’re going to attract any business, whether it’s retail or quality office tenants, the City needs to figure out a way to keep downtown clean and to remove grafitti in a timely manner. Maybe the BIDs could use their money to pay for boring things like everyday clean-up, instead of fancy stuff like private security and fixing up parks. It would make a bigger impact. And the City needs to start enforcing the blight ordinance on all the nasty properties around here that contribute to the overall atmosphere of decay. Maybe people would be more inclined to rent space in Center 21 if the building across the street didn’t look like it was about the collapse at any second. Maybe people would be more excited about living in the Cathedral Building if that deserted building across the street didn’t have like, two feet of solid trash locked between it and its permanent fence.

This is not an issue that can wait. It’s a matter of business attraction, business retention, job creation, quality of life, and revenue for the City.

79 thoughts on “Grafitti and Blight in Downtown Oakland

  1. V Smoothe Post author

    Also, I’m sick of these horrible sidewalks that shred my heels to bits when I walk on them. If I don’t want to spend like every spare dime at the damn cobbler, I have two choices downtown. Either carry my heels in my purse, wear flats while I walk, and change shoes when I get wherever I’m going, or I can just never wear stilettos, only chunky heels. WEAK! You should be able to walk down the damn street without destroying your footwear.

  2. Patrick

    A real Mayor would read this article, get on the phone, and demand action – without accepting excuses or payment of overtime. Our mayor would briefly wonder who was responsible for overseeing the resolution of this problem, and then just a quickly write it off as another Oakland cultural phenomenon.

  3. Kevin Cook

    Close the effin Burger King and you will go quite a ways towards solving some of the problems on Broadway between 12th and 14th. The paramedics show up there at least once a week; customers strew BK trash everywhere, and there hasn’t been a working bathroom in the place for years. Anyone who spends time downtown knows that place attracts trouble. I realize it serves as a de facto community center for retirees for unemployed folks, but if you shuttered that place the mayhem would decrease. In the last month I’ve seen teenagers brawling in the 13th street crosswalk at Broadway around 7:30 and stood across the steet from some clown who stood at the cab stand and started shooting across Broadway around 8 PM. Maybe if Pat would get out of her car and walk or bicycle to city hall occasionally she might have had some idea of what actually happens on the streets of downtown before it has to be pointed out to her by the business and property owners. Instead, I’m sure she drives right up to her reserved parking spot.

  4. John

    When I was an intern for CEDA in the early 90s, I walked from Adams Point, up Franklin, to 14th and Broadway. It was worse then because there were a couple of construction barracades that got postered regularly. Franklin is still pretty bad, especially near 14th.

    At that time, because I was active in the Graffiti Abatement Program, I noticed both the graffiti and the posters for local events. I started taking down posters on my way to work and collecting them in the corner of my cubicle. After a while, people at CEDA began to notice. To my amazement, I was strongly criticized for taking them down by some senior beauracrats there because they were patrons of a nightclub for which I had collected a lot of the posters. Needless to say, I didn’t last long at CEDA.

  5. Nomia

    I work on 14th and Broadway and always go back through City Center and side streets and avoid Broadway as much as possible. Saturday I decided to attend the parade (thanks for the heads up V!) and thought “well it won’t be like it normally is, right? kids and crowds, the police will be out, it will keep the craziness away, right?” Hah! I saw two different beligerent shouting men, one hunched over aggressively just off the side of the paraders, another walking/dancing amongst the cars and actually smacked a Lakerette on the ass! The only person around the chastise him was a female clown and she wasn’t a scary clown. I smelled pot very strongly, and the little girl in front of me was picking at trash in the street when her mom wasn’t looking.

    I enjoyed the parade but was sad that such an unusual event didn’t change the business-as-usual down here.

  6. das88

    The Burger King is pretty bad, but I would put the bus stop at 14th ahead of it for being a problem. Maybe it is my 1-block nimbyism, but my office is right above the bus stop. People love to loiter directly behind the bus shelter reducing the already narrow sidewalk. Often it is boisterous groups of teens creating a slalom course.

    I share an office with lawyers. They actually meet prospective clients in the office. They get people who live past the tunnel and have never visited DTO taking BART or parking in the Merchant’s garage and walking through this mayhem. The only positive spin I ever put on it is that the prospective clients will realize their serious predicament by having to make their way through this morass.

    I think the turning point where this stretch of Broadway got bad was the opening and expanding of the downtown schools. I hate to sound like the grumpy old man, but the kids are away from their families and outside of their own neighborhoods, so they have no oversight or stake in the area.

    Burger King needs to be more active in patrolling the litter they create and contacting the police when their patrons create problems. They may also need to hire a security guard. The schools, though, also need to take more responsibility in teaching their students to respect the DTO. I think the schools should also have someone provide supervision at the bus stops in the afternoons and monitor the area during lunch time.

    Finally, I think shops in the DTO should be prohibited from selling chewing gum. If they are not going to take responsibility for pressure-scraping it off the sidewalks after their patrons spit it out, they should not profit form it.

  7. Frankie D

    V Smooth great post the Broadway corridor near Burger King is a civic embarassment. I dont usually comment on this site but your post moved me. Kevin Cook you also make an excellent point regarding our elected and appointed officials needing to get their butts out of their cars and get on public transit or bikes or maybe even walk. The city could start by eliminating car allowances and free parking for staff and elected officials. If more people responsible for the actions of those hired to keep the streets clean actually walked these streets, “like the rest of us”, they might realize just how bad it has become and put pressure on staff for action. Also I’m sorry about your heels V Smooth, just get a pedicure and wear flip flops like all the women in downtown SF do, then put your fighting shoes on when you get to the office.

  8. erocking

    “Shaw Plaza”, the building across the street from Center 21 (that “looks like it’s about to collapse at any second”) makes me crazy. There was a flurry of activity inside about 3 years ago, and my hopes were high for a bookstore or bakery or coffeeshop or something…then nothing. The untapped potential in the building makes me want to cry. It could be such a great addition to that part of town, meshing wonderfully with Luka’s, Franklin St Wine Bar, the coming-soon Bakesale Bettys. In fact, it’s pretty damning that Betty chose the old Broadway Grand sales office to relocate into, rather than Shaw Plaza. Sad.

  9. OaklandSpaceAcademy

    I will never forget the first time my parents were going to come out to visit me in Oakland several years ago. I suggested they stay at the Washington Inn in Old Oakland, just a few blocks away. My aunt, a resident of the Berkeley hills, in a separate conversation with my Mom, told my parents not to stay there, because “they might get shot.” Now obviously I don’t think that would happen (or I never would have suggested the Washington Inn) and I believe the DTO to be much safer than it looks. But after a comment like that, there was nothing I could say to change my parents mind. And that is absolutely the mindset of anyone who hasn’t already spent some time there. That is what Oakland is up against regarding downtown.

    In the SFChron a couple weeks ago there was an article about a recent study which pretty much confirmed the “broken windows” theory.

    If the DTO ever wants to improve significantly, it will need to change the optics it presents to your average person.

  10. Becks

    Aww, thanks V! I didn’t realize anybody had ever read that post, and I think it’s getting more traffic today than it has in the previous year and a half.

    I couldn’t agree more with your assessment of the situation. None of my friends ever want to meet me downtown for dinner or drinks because they think it’s dirty, creepy and/or unsafe. It’s really a shame because there is so much downtown has to be proud of.

    We must be on the same wavelength because one day last week I hopped off the bus early and walked through uptown and the City Center area, snapping photos of gorgeous buildings along with photos of graffiti, boarded up buildings, and trash. I’ll be posting a photo essay later this week.

  11. TheBoss

    I think the solution is to focus on residential instead of businesses. This is why I think the situation around 19th St Bart is significantly more likely to improve than that around 12th St. Oakland needs to accept that it is essentially an urban bedroom community for San Francisco.

  12. dwhiting

    Interesting footnote to the condition of sidewalks in the Broadway corridor… a city employee told me that efforts to improve street trees with plantings and new grates was stymied. Every notice those steel doors in sidewalk along retail property? Those property owners still retain easements under a portion of the sidewalks, evem of access to their basements have been paved over long ago.

  13. V Smoothe Post author

    Are you talking about the sidewalks in the Uptown area? Residents, property owners, and business owners in the area were promised new sidewalks years ago. The sidewalks remain a disaster. I found out what the story was a while ago, but of course I seem to have forgotten the details. What I recall is something like the City realized that they couldn’t do the streetscape improvements without backfilling the basements under the sidewalks, which they can’t afford, so now they aren’t doing the improvements and want the property owners to do the backfilling themselves and pay for it. It was something to do with the costs of backfilling anyway. I’ll try to find out.

    Or maybe dto510 will chime in an enlighten us. I’m pretty sure he knows what’s going on here.

  14. Navigator

    I’ve sent Nancy Nadel countless emails regarding the graffiti and trash on Broadway. I’ve sent photographs of the blight to Nadel, Bruner, De La Fuente, John Russo, etc. It’s pathetic. The area in Jane Bruner’s district in upper Broadway is no better. The area around Tech High School is a disgrace.

    What can you say about the leadership of a city that allows its “main street” to remain in that type of blighted condition. Either they don’t care, or they’re just incompetent. The bus stops at 14th & Broadway & 12th & Broadway, are always filthy. Why not have someone stationed in that two block area and just make the rounds from one side of the street to the other making sure that those bus stops in the very heart of the city stay clean. If the city can’t afford it, perhaps they can put it up as a volunteer position. I’m sure that there must be at least one civic minded Oaklander who loves the city and has time on their hands who would offer to help.

  15. Max Allstadt

    Alright, so I’ve already said my piece on graffiti five times over. I’ll leave it alone except to reiterate: it wont be solved with enforcement. The only solution is to build wealth, build retail, and institute a BID run paint-over program.

    Banning gum? Good luck. Gum is all over the sidewalks of every major city on earth except for Singapore. The solution here is to accept it. after a few days it’s just a black dot anyway.

    The Burger King is a menace, managed by jerks, and should be shut down. The last time DTO, VSmoothe and I went by there, I dropped in for some fries. I know, I should boycott, but I’d had two Jamesons and a PBR and I needed some starch in my stomach before I delivered my pro-Creekside rant to the Planning Commission. Anyway, while I was there, two workmen were cutting tile in there with an angle grinder, without goggles, without masks, without dust abatement, around patrons waiting in line. Earsplitting tile grinding noise. Not OK.

    They also don’t have a bathroom, which is illegal. As a matter of fact, their lack of a bathroom makes riffraff leave BK and try to go to bathrooms in adjacent businesses, which in turn made these businesses close their bathrooms. Now the whole corner stinks of piss most of the time.

    Does anybody in the Blight Enforcement office read this blog? nudge nudge…

  16. Navigator

    As far as the city not cleaning Broadway of graffiti and litter prior to the Holiday Parade, I believe I predicted that would be the case in a previous post. As I said in that post, the leadership of this city has no common sense. Not cleaning a street where a major parade, which supposedly viewed in 50% of the National television market, is pretty much par for the course for the City of Oakland.

    The problem with Oakland is that nobody cares. It’s a balkanized city with neighborhood interests taking priority over downtown. It’s a city where the affluent are happy to ignore their city’s downtown and do their shopping and entertainment in surrounding cities. Oakland has a population of over 400,000 residents and you go downtown on a weekend and the place is a ghost town. Jack London Square way under performs, Old Oakland should do better, and Uptown is still a question mark. The only truly vibrant area downtown after work and on the weekends, is Chinatown.

    The reason downtown Oakland under performs is because many Oakland residents ignore their own institutions like the Ballet, the Symphony, and would rather spend their money in Walnut Creek or San Francisco.

  17. das88

    @Max Gum is all over the sidewalks of every major city on earth except for Singapore. The solution here is to accept it.

    Whoa Nelly! Someone is impersonating Max Allstadt. Surely these are not the words of an anarchist cyclist. Certainly we should not just recognize something we do not like and accept it. There must be some alternative — perhaps street theater.

    Besides I do not really think it is true. While most cities definitely have gum spots on the sidewalks, I think few compare to Oakland’s Center Center area. Certainly not SF, Berkeley, and other cities I have experience walking around. Most of Oakland even looks ok, just that area where people (especially young people) loiter.

    I just saw Milk yesterday. It recounted and I remembered how people used to accept dog poop all over cities until movements lead by Milk and others changed public attitudes.

  18. dto510

    V, thank you for drawing attention to the grimy conditions downtown. I don’t think it’s fair to say, though, that Councilmember Kernighan and her colleagues are late to notice it – let’s just be happy that they want to do something about it! The DTO only recently has seen the formation of civic groups like BIDs and neighborhood associations, and things have gotten worse over I would say the last 18 months (about the same time Burger King closed its bathroom, hmm).

    The Uptown sidewalk improvement project is officially on track now, though only the section that does not have under-sidewalk basements is under construction (Telegraph above 19th). Why it took the city four years to realize that the sidewalks are unsupported (yeah, it’s scary) is beyond me. das 88, as part of the same project, the city planted some trees in the stretch of Broadway above 14th (East side), making the situation worse around the bus shelter squeezed onto downtown’s narrowest sidewalk. It’s the pedestrian equivalent of gridlock – pedlock!

    Walking officers would be a big improvement, and it’s true that people don’t see them enough. Apparently they’re all working at the same time, and the Sgt at the meeting said that they were sending them to West Oakland too. Downtown needs a real police presence! Though jaywalking across 13th or smoking at the bus stop aren’t the highest priorities.

  19. oaklandhappenings

    There are definitely some good points in this article, V. However, I walk downtown as much as anyone, and to me, things seem pleasant a decent amount of the time. Maybe it is because I ignore some of the blight, and/or accept it for a city which is drawing people from both east and west Oakland via BART or AC transit. I rarely get panhandled, avoid the Burger King corner when I can, and more. Even if I do have to be there to wait for a light (to corss the street), I am left alone. Even back in ’99, when I first discovered downtown, I liked it. Even after dark. I feel comfortable walking there, as do many others.
    So, yes, I beg to differ, but will not list all reasons why, for now.

  20. Ken

    OH- you must be a guy. I am a guy too, but I can attest from hearing about it from girls, that they do not enjoy walking around Oakland. Ask some women sometime.

  21. Max Allstadt

    As far as the Uptown sidewalk goes, are we talking about the giant crater of dirt across the street from Flora? My understanding was that Forest City had planned to put a building there, but now can’t afford it, or can afford to not do it until further down the road.

    I’ve heard that some folks were pushing for a temporary park there, but that Forest City was resisting for fear that once a park was there, they would never be able to build on it.

    I’m all for a temporary park. How long before CEDA can use blight enforcement on the ugly pile of dirt that’s there now?

  22. Max Allstadt

    OH -

    Ken has a point about the guy/girl thing. I feel fine at midnight at 32nd and San Pablo when I’m alone. But not when I’m there with a girl. Not only do women get bugged and mugged more, men walking with women get bugged and mugged more.

  23. Kevin Cook


    Evidently jaywalking is a priority. I saw four cops at 13th and Broadway yesterday afternoon writing jaywalking tickets. As I stood watching this, two office worker types walked by, and one made the inevitable comment about how this seemed like a waste of resources given the amount of other mayhem that goes on downtown. Next, a large crazy drunk came up and stood very close to me mutttering to himself or me while 50 feet away the cops wrote up a mom, dad and their little boy for crossing against the signal. As I extracted the U-lock from my bag just in case the deranged street person decided to get frisky, Pat Kernighan appeared on the corner to observe OPD keep a lid on things. I love this town.

  24. Ken

    Max, what uptown sales staff teell me is that there was goign to be a park there, but city of oakland wanted it to be a parking lot for the soon-to-open FOX movie theater. I don’t knwo how true that is.

    Forest city did make a park, but it’s super tiny and not sufficient for downtown… definitely no central or GG park.

    and i’ll be living right next to that parking lot. time for some sandbags. ;)

  25. V Smoothe Post author

    If there’s so much demand for a large park/public plaza downtown, why is it that the giant clean, well-manicured green plaza surrounded by retail space and featuring ample seating as well as an ampitheater just down the street is deserted all the time?

  26. Max Allstadt

    Ken, are you saying that telegraph between the Uptown and the Fox will be a parking structure or a surface lot? I hadn’t heard that. Are we talking about the same spot?

    V: I’m not talking about retail at this point. And all I wanted to see was a quickymart or a takeout sandwich joint close to Uptown Park, I never wanted it lined with shops. The reason there’s nobody in city hall park is that what surrounds it isn’t any good, and probably because there’s not enough adjacent residential. Another is that it’s December. I bet when the Uptown fills up, we’ll see more people in City Hall Plaza. As for the Amphitheater, just how much does it cost to book it, and who gets to nix your booking? Something tells me it ain’t easy to play there or perform there. I’m gonna look into it.

    If City Hall Plaza is to thrive, frankly it needs a bigger draw than City Hall. Seriously, how many average shmoes get excited about going to City Hall? Maybe if this town weren’t so uptight, we’d have good dining and maybe even a bar on City Hall Plaza. I mean, if I’m going to go drinking with the right people, it should be as convenient as possible, no?

    What bugs me about Uptown Park (other than the sculpture) is that a park that was given to us as a condition of the development ended up being designed to be most inviting to the people in the development and less so to the rest of us. I’m very hopeful that sheer number of humans that the Uptown brings into the city will outweigh the shitty design. For real, I think the people will ultimately make up for it. But it’s still ugly, and laid out in a way that says to me that the city didn’t negotiate hard enough regarding the way the design could serve the people as a whole.

    Still, ultimately, I think density and investment are the solutions to blight. The extra humans in the Uptown will end up having their own associations that drive improvements and abatement. That’s a start.

  27. V Smoothe Post author

    Max, I don’t think the problem is with the City not “negotiat[ing] hard enough,” it’s more that you just don’t like what they wanted. The plans were unanimously endorsed by the Parks and Recreation Advisory Commission, the Planning Commission, and the City Council. Changes (in my view, for the worse) had to be made to accommodate that horrible monument, and the revised plans were also approved without objection. You might want to consider joining the Parks and Recreation Advisory Commission if you’d like to try to prevent something similar from occurring in the future.

    As for retail near the Uptown Park – one block away, there’s a sandwich shop, a BBQ place, a taqueria, and a convenience store. I’m aware of no other parks anywhere in downtown or West Oakland that have so many options so close.

  28. das88

    I am not sure what park you are talking about. Are you referring to Frank Ogawa Plaza? If so, I would certainly take issue that it is deserted all of the time.

    I often eat lunch there and see many other people eating/reading/people watching. I have attended several events there this year including Art and Soul Festival, Prop 8 Rally, and Sister Cities Day. I have seen school kids on field trips playing on the grass. On warm days the seating in front of the burger and Vietnamese places thrive.

    I think it would get more use if half the time I ate lunch there I did not get panhandled. If the amphitheater had cushions like at City Center I am sure more people would eat lunch there. When I was in New York last spring, I went to one park in the center of midtown that was jam packed with office workers eating lunch. It was super convenient given the NY parks dept provides folding tables and chairs.

    If you are expecting it to be more busy on weekends, I don’t think that makes sense. There are not many people who live by there and the grass area isn’t all that big and is adjacent to a busy street.

  29. Ken

    V- I think Max bemoans the lack of *good* options…such as can be found around Telegraph and 51st Street… which i’m leaving soon to swoop down on the uptown food desert… (at least, for daily foods, not lukas taproom/Bs fare)

    guess i’ll be biking it to chinatown, berkeley and temescal

    I don’t consider subway “food”

    i want one of those much-maligned expensive hippie-yuppie-hipster-greenie places like Split Pea Seduction, Bakesale, Witchcraft or Gregoire’s at a slightly lower price point. hm. I want to have my kake and eat it too!

    at least Bakesale will open this summer in downtown. finally! (mike and allison please hurry:)

  30. V Smoothe Post author

    People use City Hall Plaza during the weekday lunch hour. Sometimes the local charter schools will bring their kids to play there. But overall, the plaza is hardly used at all and it’s empty most of the time. I don’t have a problem with that. But the argument people keep making against the appropriateness of a small, neighborhood serving park in Uptown is that downtown needs a large public plaza that can serve the whole city. I’m pointing out that we already have exactly that, and the utilization patterns most certainly do not indicate that there is any demand for another one.

  31. Ken

    Where can I play soccer near downtown? is it just that litle green patch of triangle shape by the grand lake and 580 overpass? (stupid freeway)

  32. Ken

    How do w3e get rid of fast food craptastic BK?

    berkeley has a nice Indian restaurant in their former BK…much betta!

    and where do i sign a petition to get the council and dellums to FIRE the police chief already?

    will someone start one at

  33. Mike Spencer

    A lot of Oakland’s problems start at home. Kids who litter become adults who litter and are too lazy to put a Coke cup in a garbage can 3-feet away. If you work with kids, give them a reminder about not littering. Did you read the Oakbook piece last year about all the garbage floating around on the shoreline? This is a city with a hardcore slob population that makes it bad for all of us. Not sure how much the City can mitigate slobs being slobs.

  34. Frankie D

    An urban designer friend of mine made a very good point about Downtown Oakland. He said it has some great things but there is no linkage (visual or other) between them, so you never get the feeling your in a great space. A perfect example is what’s currently happening at the Uptown site. As you travel down Telegraph the logical location for the open space would be right along that Telegraph corridor where you can see the Uptown Housing complex, the restored Fox Theater and the Floral building. But instead the tiny pocket park is tucked in the back and will eventually be blocked from view when the retail space is built, or worse a surface parking lot (thats really attractive). Surface parking in a downtown is like a pretty smile with a missing front tooth. Tax payer subsidy has financed Uptown to the tune of 60 million dollars, we deserve better. The existing nearby parking structures are empty and closed in the evenings we dont need another surface lot there. Expand the Uptown public space out to Telegraph Avenue and put some pocket retail kiosks in it, but keep the open visual link along Telegraph that creates a dynamic space that gives the area a since of arrival to a pedestrian, skateboarder, cyclist, surface transit rider or driver cruising down Telegraph Avenue. This will enhance the experience and improve surrounding property values. Regarding 14th and Broadway, get the damn cross town bus stops off that intersection separating the people who are innocently waiting for a bus (which I occasionally am one of) from those loitering in the center of town. This is our City’s main intersection and the first spot future investors go to determine if they should lend money on a potential business venture. Build a cross town bus terminal in the merchants garage if necessary, or reserve one of the downtown side streets to transit and emergency vehilces only and turn it into a transit mall. Finally get term limits on these district elected city council people (Nadel’s going for 20 years now) and put in two more at large council seats by merging some of the districts.

  35. Chris Kidd

    Well, there would be more people using Frank Ogawa plaza if the city hadn’t shut down Oaklandish’s urban-capture-the-flag games. Shouldn’t events that get people to come into downtown in the evening hours be *encouraged*? Thanks a lot, fun police.

  36. Max Allstadt


    the shops on San Pablo that you mentioned, on the other side of the uptown:
    I’m all for them, they park a little piece of civilization in a spot that desperately needs it.

    Chris Kidd: EXACTLY! frankly, I think once a season, the council session should be on a saturday afternoon, and we should have a fair outside with live bands. Open forum could even be outside. Aside from illuminated corridor, after hours fun in the City Hall Plaza is non-existant. And please, let’s get in the habit of calling it “City Hall Plaza” instead of conceding to name it after a guy who probably would have been indicted if he hadn’t died at a convenient moment.

  37. dto510

    Frankie D, I agree that a major problem downtown is the lack of connections between the different districts. I don’t see this as anything to do with parks, though. It’s partly the result of surface parking lots and underdevelopment between (ie, outside) the more defined districts, and partly because of a lack of transportation infrastructure (maps, signage, bike lanes, bus lanes, structured parking). Downtown needs better sidewalks and more retail, not more parkland.

  38. das88

    @Frankie – lots of good comments in that post

    @dto510, Downtown definitely needs more retail and sidewalks, but I also think it needs more and better parks. People keep looking at the issue of parks from their own perspective and saying downtown and environs parks serve my needs. However, that is because many of us are already live in these areas. More and better parks might serve to attract different types people to the urban core.

    Increased urban density in Oakland has been geared toward yuppies commuting to SF, DINK’s, empty-nesters, students and other young people in shared housing. We’ve gotten nice restaurants, art galleries, coffee places, express buses, and pocket-parks.

    What’s missing from this picture are kids and teens. Other than a few babies and toddlers how many children live in the urban core? While I am not speaking from experience, I think families with kids and teens want larger parks with grass and play structures and good schools.

    I don’t think you can expect 6-12 year-olds to have much fun in Uptown Park or walk the 1/2 mile plus to Lakeshore Park.

    Maybe my thoughts that anyone with young kids (other than weekend dads) would ever move downtown are as far-fetched as my dreams of sidewalks not spotted by used gum. However, I think a necessary precondition is a park within a few blocks that can substitute for a suburban backyard.

    If more families start moving downtown, uptown, and all-around, issues like graffiti and blight will get more forcefully addressed.

  39. New Resident

    Well I have a young child (3) and I moved to Oakland, recently. Adams Point across the street from Lake Merritt so yeah parks are taken care of.

    What Oakland needs for families are decent schools, period. I plan on doing the good school lottery for my child at five. If she gets a good one I stay and buy. If she gets a crap one we move from Oakland, just like my cousin did. I could enter the SF lottery from a temp address and try there, or move to Alameda, Piedmont, or even Berkeley and get a guarenteed better school.

    As for the toddler types the uptown park is MUCH better this way then on a busy street like Telegraph. And teenagers, HELLO, the city IS their park. Not wanted to confine older children to the sterile suburbs with grassy dead parks is why families with older kids should move TO the cities.

    A serious crackdown is needed at Broadway on 12-14th. It is shameful. Definitely a HUGE black eye to Oakland’s rep every time someone arrives via BART. The 19th street area is much better.

  40. Frankie D

    dto510 I agree parks are not the only solution to DTO’s problems or any downtown for that matter. I just think the expansion of the park in Uptown is a good urban solution for that site. Whats needed for greater DTO is a comprehensive downtown plan that looks at a number of things, retail, transit, sidewalks, bike lanes, building design, streetscape, openspace, energy efficiency, node linkage etc. And “new resident on Today” I also agree the new small park suits your needs as a parent with a small child, but there is no reason that the park couldn’t extend all the way to Telegraph with areas more suitable on the Telegraph Avenue side for seniors, young adults or even (heaven forbide teens) which I happen to live with. Little kids will want to go where the play structures are so keep them secure and seperated. We are talking about a big area that could easily be divide to separate and protect the smaller children and their parents from rampaging seniors and teens. I think a good sign for a healthy recovering community is when you can have an integration of generations in public spaces peacefully coexisting.

  41. dto510

    This afternoon, three police officers stood at the “intersection” of Broadway and 13th. I can’t help but think, can’t they just spread out a bit more?

  42. driver

    At least the police are showing a presence.Did anyone see street cleaning and grafitti crews there working? For that matter,did you see any city crews working in this city?

  43. Max Allstadt

    I haven’t seen city crews, but one thing in my ‘hood is finally getting fixed: Cal-Trans is doubling the fence height under the 980 at 23rd and MLK. It’s taking a crew of four over a week to do it, which is PATHETIC for chainlink fence installation, but at least it’s happening.

  44. Navigator

    I think Broadway is the major problem. Broadway should be a link between the thriving, or at least cleaner and more developed areas, of downtown. Instead, Broadway works as a unattractive barrier between the more successful areas of downtown like Old Oakland, Chinatown, Lake Merritt and Uptown. Let’s not throw out the baby with the bath water. There are some good things happening in downtown. Unfortunately, we have dead zones between Chinatown & Lake Merritt. There are neighborhoods downtown which are becoming contiguous stretches of renewed urban success. We can now link Jack London, Old Oakland, City Center, Frank Ogawa Plaza and Uptown into a contiguous redeveloped area. On the east side of Broadway we have many holes to fill. Other than the east side of JLS and Chinatown, there isn’t much to link it to Grand Ave and Lake Merritt.

  45. Navigator

    Max, I recall you asking about the sidewalk next to the Cathedral Building. What the heck did they do to that sidewalk? Is it carpet? Is it permanent? And Why?

  46. Max Allstadt

    That was a random Thanksgiving musing. It was outdoor carpet for a while. I don’t know if it’s solidified with use or if it’s new material now, but it’s freaking wierd.

    As for Broadway, it’s just a part of the equation. I think ultimately, with a decent Zoning Update, Downtown will sort itself out in the next upcycle. If you want to see an obstacle to growth and beauty, take a look at the 980, 580, and 880. If we don’t improve the pedestrian crossings beneath them, we have a big problem. If we don’t create destinations directly adjacent to these crossings in order to draw folks to either side, we have another problem.

    Without attention to this, our city will be carved up until we have our next revolution in personal transit. That would take an event rivaling the invention of the automobile. There’s just no way to guess when that will happen, so we must must must mitigate the highways in every way possible.

  47. driver

    If you think about how many city vehicles you see on the streets as you make your way around Oakland. Then think when you saw any of these crews actually working, it’s rare.

    I saw a paving crew patch a hole 5ft x 15ft, it took 3 days with a crew of 22, ( yes I counted) 3 dump trucks 7 pick-ups, 1 cargo van, 1 backhoe, 1 loader. Pathetic

  48. Max Allstadt

    driver, I see plenty, if not too many incidents like that. At the same time, bizarrely, two months ago I saw a crew of 3 show up with a backhoe and dumptruck in front of my house. The tore up a bad patch that PG&E made, poured asphalt, and tamped it down… and they were gone in under two hours.

    Mostly I see the opposite, but that one incident gave me hope that there actually are some competent dudes out there. But who were they?

  49. Navigator

    I agree with you regarding 880. The City spent $200,000 on the mangled guardrails which are suppose to serve as some sort of link under the 880 freeway between downtown and JLS. Who is the Art Director in Oakland and what is she or he smoking? Mangled dreary guardrails as an art project under 880 on Broadway? Unbelievable! I don’t know weather to laugh my head off, or cry.

  50. Max Allstadt

    Not who is, who was. That was a while ago, wasn’t it? And is that CalTrans territory?

    I agree, it’s horrible. Laughably horrible. As a matter of fact I’ve heard more than a couple prominent Oaklanders laugh at it’s horribleness.

  51. driver

    City workers dont redo patches for PG&E,EBMUD or private homeowners.Who were they? Sub-contractors for PG&E!!!

  52. Brian T

    Bakesale Betty’s, welcome and open soon!

    DTO for me has been a mixed bag. I was crushed when The Gap closed, that space is still vacant. I was amazed to see the new Comerica Bank at Broadway &

    City Center should be open weekends.

    Night movies like in Old Oakland.

  53. Brian T

    Sorry I messed up my previous post. This is how it should be…

    Bakesale Betty’s, welcome and open soon!

    DTO for me has been a mixed bag. I was crushed when The Gap closed, that space is still vacant. I was amazed to see the new Comerica Bank at Broadway & 12th. I won’t be banking there, but it’s so comforting to see a new bank opening.

    I hope DeLauer’s goes forward with their coffee shop/bookstore plan.

    My quick answers to help fix DTO:
    -open City Center on weekends
    -Summer evening movies in Frank Ogawa Plaza, like in Old Oakland

    If there’s a volunteer litter cleanup crew sign me up.

  54. Fischbyne

    I was one of those folks who got a jaywalking ticket this evening. I’m crossing Broadway and when I look up there four cops standing around the patrol car. One takes a step toward me animated. I’d intended to walk to the curb gutter, but I figured I was about to be told I was intruding on a police action, what with the big force on the corner, so I stepped back into the narrow street of 13th. Then I realized he was getting on me for jaywalking. A little startled, I’m now in the center of 13th, and jump back to the opposite curb and mouth “I’m sorry” to the cop. I figured this was enough to satisfy him. I’m not going to get a ticket for jaywalking, am I?

    I continue walking toward DeLauer’s. I hear someone shout “Hey!” and I’m thinking, surely that’s not the cop. Panhandlers shouting “Hey!” at passersby is a continual chorus in downtown Oakland, but a cop would say something else, right? I could have turned around, but by then I’m going into denial. Maybe I’m hoping the cop won’t bother to chase me down, if indeed it is the cop.

    Of course, it is. He stops me in front of DeLauer’s and begins writing the ticket. I feel guilty already and don’t bother to argue, answering his questions and giving him my real name and address even though I don’t have my ID on me. “Why don’t you have your ID?” he asks. Before I open my mouth, his partner jogs up in a lather. “Why didn’t you stop when he told you to?” At this point, I wonder if a racial dimension is developing. The first cop and his defender are black, the other two back at the curb are white, and there was a white guy ignoring the black officers. Or maybe it was just garden variety face-saving. At this point I just want to get the piddly jaywalking ticket and move on.

    “Whose question would you like me to answer first?” I say wearily to the partner. This stops him. He gets exasperated and huffs, “Answer his,” and walks into DeLauer’s. Now I’m thinking, rookies stuck on the jaywalking beat. In DeLauer’s a few moments later, I’m buying cigarettes and they’re looking at magazines rating the models’ bodies to one another.

  55. Patrick

    So, the bottom line is that you were jaywalking and got a ticket. Where does the “racial dimension” fit into all of this?

  56. Jame

    Whenever someone asks me about living in Oakland, I say there are some great places. But Downtown isn’t one of them. And sadly to say downtown is the first impression of Oakland. I am still waiting. I was hoping the Whole Foods would start the clean up (and the caring) but it hasn’t happened. Well to be honest I thought Sears would lead the revival. Going on Broadwy near BART is like going to Telegraph near the Cal campus. Dirty, smelly and full of homeless people. I hope we can put some resources into fixing the first impression, so Oakland will get to the second date.

  57. driver

    The police were on the spot at the public safety meeting.When that happens all city staff enforce a zero policy.Your dog pukes…TICKET!

    Now the cops will drive everyone to Frank Ogawa Plaza and BK will be a Italian dinner house.

  58. Fischbyne

    Patrick – Is the U.S. so racially harmonious that a person can’t even speculate that race influenced an event? You’ve put racial dimension in quotes, like this is an outlandish possibility.

  59. Patrick

    I used quotations for three reasons. First, because the term “racial dimension” is ambiguous. Perhaps you meant “racially motivated”? Second, because your comment brought up “racial dimension” prior to any supporting evidence. And, the following line : “The first cop and his defender are black, the other two back at the curb are white, and there was a white guy ignoring the black officers.” does not explain your hypothesis (are you black or white?), and the lack of typical grammatical structure renders the sentence nonsensical. Third, because it appears most likely that you got a ticket because you were jaywalking, not due to some nebulous “racial dimension”.

  60. Navigator

    Jame, there are some great things in downtown. Broadway is a mess in certain areas particularly next to the bus stops around 14th & Broadway. However, there is much to be proud about downtown Oakland. Areas of downtown like Lake Merritt, Chinatown, Old Oakland, Preservation Park, City Center, Uptown, Jack London Square, and Frank Ogawa Plaza are areas that Oaklanders should be proud of.

    Unfortunately, the conditions on Broadway leave a bad impression on visitors. Broadway is the street which is mostly identified with Downtown. I’ve sent many emails to Nancy Nadel regarding the graffiti and litter on Broadway. Nothing gets done. I drove by 14th & Broadway today and the benches and gutters next to the bus stops were once again full of litter.

    Maybe V, can at some point include some photographs of the litter and blight around the bus stops. Anyway, here’s Nancy Nadel’s address if anyone wants to give her your opinion regarding the litter and blight around the bus stops at 14th & Broadway. I’ve tried and tried, and frankly I’m tired.

  61. Patrick

    No, the ambiguity stems from your inability to construct a viable argument via the English language. You may have a point, but your comment is impossible to understand. Impatience? Huh?

  62. Max Allstadt

    Nav, I’m not a full fledged convert or anything, I’m just saying she called this one right. I have a litany of complaints, like V, but this time, she got it.

  63. Fruitvale Res

    I run one of the downtown charter schools and we work hard to retrain our students about how to contribute to their immediate community. Most adjust well. Some need continuous feedback. What we are noticing about downtown is a recent outbreak of theft and intimidation. We have had six students robbed and one at knifepoint in the last two weeks. The perpetrators were all youth.

    Connected to this – I was speaking to one of our beat officers about the outbreak. During the conversation I asked about the current OPD levels and learned something disturbing and I am wondering if anyone else has heard this as well.

    I was told that the entire press barrage celebrating meeting officer targets was contrived by asking injured and retired officers to stay on the rolls until after academy graduation. Since then the actual ranks have dwindled below 760. Can anyone verify this? If this is true – it continues to exacerbate my frustration with this administration.

  64. Patrick

    How about clarity? Example: “A black police officer was giving me, a white man, a ticket for jaywalking. Two white police officers stood and watched nearby and did not intervene on my behalf. The evidence suggests that this incident was not racially motivated.”

  65. Ken

    Hey party people! I’m moving to downtown Oakland soon. So i’ll be giving NN some more earfuls and helping galvanize action. Temescal will (maybe) miss me!

    Nav/V–having a downtown oakland blog with photos will help highlight the graffiti+blight plight.

  66. Chris Kidd

    Though I do really like downtown, I have to agree that Broadway is an absolute mess. It is a physical and phsychic barrier that cuts off the neighborhoods on either side. When you think about it, almost all the things interesting to do downtown are on streets adjacent to Broadway until you get down below 880 or up to the Paramount and Luca’s. If stores, restuarants and bars avoid Broadway, why should we expect people to want to spend time there? Broadway needs to tie these regions together to raise the overall profile of downtown because none of these regions on their own (old oakland, uptown, china town, gold coast) are enough to change the way people feel about the area. I’m not sure how to fix Broadway, but cleanup, maps and visitor signs would probably go a long way.

  67. Zach Seal

    “Maybe the BIDs could use their money to pay for boring things like everyday clean-up, instead of fancy stuff like private security and fixing up parks.”

    V Smoothe:

    The Lake Merritt/Uptown and Downtown BID’s (also called Community Benefits Districts – CBD’s) will address security as well as cleanliness issues. The security services are scheduled to start in late January/early February, 2009. Details such as number of security patrol officers, patrol hours and patrol areas are still being worked out between the CBD Board of Directors (mostly property owners, some business owners) and the security firm. I would be happy to provide an update when these specifics are determined if you and your readers are interested.

    The RFP for cleaning and maintenance services in the CBD areas is still being prepared. The goal is to select a firm by early February and have them start working by the end of February, 2009. Services are likely to include graffiti abatement and sidewalk cleanup.

    Some background on the Lake Merritt/Uptown and Downtown CBD’s:
    Private property owners lead the formation of the CBD’s, which together encompass approximately 60 blocks, involve over 350 property owners, and will contribute about $2 million annually in private investment in the Downtown area. Money will be spent for enhanced security/ambassador services, sidewalk cleaning, graffiti abatement, and assistance with business attraction, marketing and events.

    Zach Seal
    CEDA- Economic Development

  68. Navigator


    That sounds like great news. This is long overdue. I have hope for Broadway now. This should bring Broadway up to the standards we see at City Center, Old Oakland, Frank Ogawa Plaza, Jack London Square, certain parts of Chinatown, and certain parts of Lake Merritt.

    I’m hoping that the resources are targeted at the areas with the greatest needs. Broadway, lower Allice between 10th Street & the 880 freeway, etc.

  69. Cylvestria Williams

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  70. R.B.R

    I just currently found this website. I usually go to the redevelopement site for the city to see if they will be making changes, especally downtown. I live Jefferson on the edg of oldtown, and it is relatively safe over here. One of the huge problems I have is all the cars with their music literally booming, shaking the building I live in, at all hours of the day. I emailed someone at the police station, the mayor and city council about this but no one cares. You would think that if they want people to move downtown to Oakland they would clean it up and stop these cars with excessive sterios. I don’t know how the people in their vehicals can even hear, its that loud. I also noticed at times large groups of young kids hanging out near Jefferson Park and in some of the parking lots aafter 2 in the morning, and they are really loud. I watched even once, a police car go by and not even stop? I like were I live but things like these make me think, id it really worth it. Its dirty, depressing, lacks retail, people always smoking dope everywhere, loud cars, ect. If I was Mayor I would be embarrassed. Oh wait, the mayor supposedly lives here but is never in town? I guess then he would not see what I do???