Hopefully the final update on the CBD Zoning Update

Oakland’s new Central Business District (that’s downtown) zoning will come before the City Council for approval tonight. This process started over a year ago and I’ve written like a zillion posts about it.

Since I’ve blogged plenty about this already, I’m not going to go into detail explaining the proposal again. The very short version is that this is part of the effort to update Oakland’s zoning code so that it complies with the General Plan, and would divide downtown into four distinct zones (one for residential areas, one for areas we want strong pedestrian oriented retail, one for big commercial areas, and one for the kind of outer parts of downtown that we don’t really know what we want to do with). All zones are unique to Oakland’s downtown. It also divides downtown up into 7 height areas, each of which has their own special limits on height and density and so on. It looks sort of like this:


Of course, those are just the highlights – there are lots of other density and bulk restrictions for each height area, which you can read in detail here (PDF) if you’re so inclined.

So those are the basics. If you want a refresher on the proposal beyond that, go read this post. Or the staff report (PDF).

So after spending a year at the Planning Commission, the zoning proposal made it to the Council’s Community and Economic Development Committee a couple of weeks ago. With 43 speakers signed up to talk about it, public comment on this one item took up practically the entire meeting. And it was mostly the exact same things we’ve been hearing for the last year, from the same three groups who have been at like, every last meeting on this: the Coalition of Advocates for Lake Merritt (CALM), the Oakland Heritage Alliance (OHA), and the Oakland Builders Alliance (OBA). Here are the highlights.

CALM remains hysterical over tall buildings by the Lake, calling all the existing high-rises along Lakeside Drive a “mistake” and demanding 55 foot height limits near the Lake. Nobody cares.

The OHA thinks that basically every part of downtown where there are old buildings should be zoned with a height limit the same as the existing old buildings. The idea behind this is that nobody will ever tear down an historic building if you’re not going to let them build something any taller in its place. Personally, I think this is a ridiculous way to go about historic preservation. The Planning Commission wasn’t into it either, and instead, the City is going to write up new findings you have to meet before demolishing an historic building. The findings are supposed to come to the Council at some unspecified date in the future, after they’ve been vetted by the Landmarks Preservation Advisory Board and the Planning Commission.

The OHA is also upset about the fact that the area around the Lake Merritt BART Station is included in the zoning proposal. This neighborhood is one of the three in Oakland that are currently in the process of getting a Specific Plan. Since the Specific Plan is going to come with its own zoning, they think we should hold off on rezoning it until the Specific Plan is finished. I suspect they are afraid that the new zoning will somehow put at risk all those wretched falling apart Victorians in that neighborhood that really should be torn down. While I do not share their concern for the horrible Victorians, I do agree that we should exempt this area from the new zoning, out of respect for the Specific Plan process. If we’re doing it for developers (see below), then it’s only fair we do it here as well.

CALM and the OHA have also both latched onto this thing about “view corridors,” which, frankly, I just do not get at all. The idea is that the zoning code should protect important or “historic” views, specifically, the views from a few random spots on the other side of the Lake to the Trib Tower and City Hall. They think you should never be able to build anything that would block these views.

Proponents of the protected views are quick to point out that it isn’t some crazy idea they just came up with out of nowhere one night, and that in fact, San Francisco has protected views too, like the view down California Street to the Bay and the bridge that they put on San Francisco postcards. I don’t know why they even bring this up, because to me, it’s a perfect illustration of why we should not do view corridors. I mean, when I hear that, the first thing that pops into my mind is like “It’s true, that is a really arresting view, of course you shouldn’t allow people to ruin it. My friend sent me that postcard when she visited San Francisco on Spring Break in high school and I kept it on my fridge for years because it was so pretty.” And then you compare that image to looking across Lake Merritt, where neither City Hall nor the Trib Tower is at all the dominant feature of what you see from any point, and you’re like “Wow, how are those the same thing at all? Oh, that’s right, they’re not.”

I also find it the suggestion really offensive that people who live on the other side of the Lake are somehow more important than everyone else in Oakland. As dto510, an Old Oakland resident, is fond of pointing out, nobody cared about whether you could see the Trib Tower from his street when they built 555 12th Street. I will also note that I live like four blocks away from City Hall, and despite the fact that my windows face that direction, I can’t see it from my apartment either.

Anyway, staff says they’re working on a study of view corridors and that a proposal for them is going to come back in like a year. CALM and the OHA hate the idea of passing the rest of the zoning now with the promise of doing the view corridors later. I’d be upset, too. “Come back with x later” is City of Oakland code for something that is going to fade into the ether and never come back and eventually everyone will just forget about it forever. Since I think the view corridors are inane, this approach doesn’t bother me in the least, but I understand why CALM and the OHA don’t like it.

The OBA has decided they can live with the current proposal, and turned out 18 speakers who urged the Committee to just pass the damn thing already, except they wanted two parcels where development proposals are already underway to be exempt from the new zoning. One is the lot right next to Snow Park, the site of the proposed Emerald Views project, and the other is across the street from the Alice Arts Center, the site of another proposed high rise.

Both of these buildings would be permitted under current rules, but both are taller than what would be allowed under the proposed new zoning. Since their applications were submitted before we came up with the new zoning, the new zoning would not apply to them. However, both projects still must be approved by the Planning Commission, and the OBA fears that if the Council passes a zoning proposal under which the proposed buildings would be prohibited, then the Planning Commission could interpret that as the Council saying they don’t want these buildings. They believe the buildings should be judged on their own merits, and that new zoning would create an unfair prejudice against them, so we should leave those two spots out of the new zoning until a decision is reached one way or another on both proposals.

Oh! And District 3 Councilmember Nancy Nadel also showed up and basically parroted the CALM agenda – she wants the Emerald Views lot downzoned, thinks buildings along the Lake should be limited to 85 feet (her rationale for this one was great, actually: she said that since we already have a bunch of 170 foot tall buildings on Lakeside Drive, we should downzone it so every building doesn’t look the same), and of course, she thinks we should protect views from across the Lake of City Hall and the Tribune Tower.

Anyway, the Committee seemed really into the view corridors idea, saying that the study should come back quickly and we should put in place interim measures to protect the views in the meantime. Annoying. They also agreed that the two lots of concern to the OBA should be exempt from the new zoning, although the support for that one was a little wishy washy, and I’m sure it will be a subject of debate again tonight.

District 7 Councilmember Larry Reid didn’t have a ton to say about any of the particular items of controversy at hand, but piped up at the end to inform everyone in the room that he wants to make it “absolutely clear” that he is opposed to “any height restriction,” adding that he’s visited Hong Kong sixteen times and that it has “always been [his] hope and inspiration for this city.”

And that’s it, I guess. The new zoning will be discussed by the City Council tonight, and will hopefully be heard not too long after 7 (it’s the second public hearing on the agenda (PDF)). There will probably be like ten thousand public speakers.

40 thoughts on “Hopefully the final update on the CBD Zoning Update

  1. John Klein

    Cities all over the US zone for view corridors. The fact that people in Oakland “don’t get it” means they simply don’t know about it. Also, the EIR for the General Plan directs the City of designate view corridors as a mitigation related to new high-rise construction. What is new is that the Council is finally taking this seriously after 10 years.

    I’m not sure why people are so cynical and hostile about designating view corridors. I mean, DTO510 complains about people wanting to designate view corridors but then complains that his downtown views have been blocked. I agree with DTO510 that that shouldn’t happen downtown. V, when you say “nobody cares” about CALM’s issue, I think you mean that you don’t care. Lots of people care about this or we wouldn’t still be in the game.

    People who live across the Lake aren’t more important. They are ‘just as important’ as anyone else – they have a place in the discussion, too. I get a little rankled myself when people who live downtown act like the whole place belongs to them.

  2. dto510

    I never said that anyone’s view of something should be privileged over someone else’s property rights or the public interest in economic and housing development. I did say that I find it ironic that nobody seems to care when West Oakland and Old Oakland lose views of certain buildings.

  3. Max Allstadt

    The reason people are cynical about view corridors is pretty clear. The little hills on the east side of the lake have a huge percentage of owner occupied homes, and those owners are among the more wealthy in the city. Those properties that are rentals are owned by companies that make a good sum of money off of them.

    Prioritizing the view corridors across the lake means prioritizing the needs of the well-to-do. On the other hand, downtown development of a single highrise raises great hods of taxes and fees that Oakland can spend on it’s less fortunate citizens. Yes, a development company will make money. But so will Oakland.

    Preserving views, on the other hand, only serves to preserve the inevitable long term rise in the home prices of people who are protected from tax increases by prop 13. The city has nothing to gain from this.

    Your view is threatened. Boo hoo. My neighbors are physically threatened on a daily basis. The tax revenue that development will bring is a necessity. Your views are a luxury. They are not ‘just as important’. They are less important.

  4. John Klein

    Zoning for limited building heights and other limits on property rights have been found to be legal when a jurisdiction makes the necessary findings. Jurisdictions do this quite regularly because they find that preserving scenic views contributes to the unique cultural identity and sense of place for a city. I mean, people want this kind of stuff.

    Not all people, of course. Every city that has designated view corridors went through this exact same conversation: preservation of existing cultural enviroment & local identity vs. ecomomic development & property rights. We aren’t blazing any new trails, here. But we are working on a new way forward in Oakland.

    West Oakland has some of the most dramatic views of downtown. You can see some of them here. http://tinyurl.com/ngp3r3. Since staff has not provided any visual graphics or modeling, we sent these to the council members on our own for them to consider for view corridors.

  5. Max Allstadt

    The upper middle class can spend more on lawyers, and is more likely to have free time to lobby because of more single-income-two-parent households.

    That makes it a lot easier for them to get the “necessary findings”. “Preservation of existing cultural enviroment & local identity” is code for “upper income people getting what they want yet again”.

    Make no mistake. This is an issue about a wealthier neighborhood getting a luxury it wants at the expense of everyone else.

    As for your images of views of downtown from West Oakland… How unbelievably deceptive and manipulative! You walked one block across the unofficial border between Downtown and West Oakland, and took shots from the two most ideal street corners!

    I could probably find a viewpoint east of the lake to shoot a similarly dishonest picture from a spot where I might well be able to see the fucking Farallon Islands on a clear day!

  6. Kevin Cook

    I will man the barricades if anyone tries to block the view from my kitchen window into my neighbor’s living room. It’s culturally important to me to be able to see his two new kittens playing while I make dinner.

  7. V Smoothe Post author

    John –

    I understand the concept of view corridors. What I find completely ridiculous are the arbitrary “views” people have decided to be preserved. I mean, look at your own photos of these so-called “view corridors.” Neither the Trib Tower nor City Hall is the dominant feature in any of the vistas. In fact, I have to squint to see them in some of the photos.

    Come up with a legitimate view corridor, not just another flimsy excuse to push an anti-development agenda, and I’ll get behind it. But like I pointed out in the post, the examples of view corridors in other cities just serve to underscore how preposterous this “everyone on the other side of the Lake should be able to see the Trib Tower if they look really hard” idea is.

    The example of 555 12th Street blocking dto510′s view is a good one, I think. If, as you state, you think his view of the Trib Tower shouldn’t have been blocked, then you must think Oakland would be better off if that building had never been built. The suggestion is preposterous.

  8. Robert

    I don’t think the hills people are to blame for this view corridor thing. They are much more interested in their views of the bridges than in some old building in Oakland. And they would probably welcome a more interesting skyline in DTO.

    I would need to go back to the east side of the lake, but I don’t think you can see city hall from very many spots over there. Maybe the Trib, but even then it is not going to be a dominant feature. The geometry of a view corridor works against it being useful to see specific buildings from far away. A corridor works much better to preserve the view of Mt Tam from the city. It just doesn’t work the other way round. The oly way you are going to preserves views of the Trib is to ban all highrise construction east of it. It seems this is not about preserving views, but blocking development.

  9. East Lake Biker

    From my bus stop on East 18th St. I can see across the lake to the Kaiser building. It’s neat to be able to see that part of downtown from my neighborhood. Though quaint I don’t think that’s something that should be preserved in the face of development. What the focus is in view corridors is obviously up to individual opinion (the Lake, Trib. building, etc.). I’d rather the City make some $ off the development.

  10. SF2OAK

    Exactly V. I was on a walk the othre day in the hills, squinted and saw a red dot, I wondered what it was since it appeared to be sprouting something. My wife said it’s the Trib and that’s another building behind. Point is that OAK doesn’t really have iconic views, and ironically the views of the icons that JK wants to save are mastheads of miserable failures- the Trib and City Hall. Yes the smokescreen of anti development ain’t much of a screen. Let a builder build in OAK, we need the taxes to pay for this rotten gov. we need the vitality to add to our city . Go Emerald Views.

  11. Almer Mabalot

    All these issues are getting in the way of Oakland’s future. A huge potential for Oakland to finally have iconic buildings, and huge revenue increase. Oakland’s Downtown and surrounding neighborhoods are already transforming like crazy (Jack London Square, Old Oakland, Uptown, and Perhaps West Oakland. East Oakland is getting some projects going). Oakland is really painting a positive picture, but with issues such as preserving views of such historic buildings that are barely noticeable or are obscured by nearby buildings are things that I do not understand.

    Have you seen the views up from Oakland Hills? I would love to take a series of pictures once I get the opportunity to. They are quite nice, and once downtown develops more it will even look more beautiful. Views from Lake Merritt is okay, but nothing really catches my attention of any specific buildings. I don’t understand what they are trying to preserve here. Oakland has a lot of missed opportunities of development and I think it’s time for a change where Oakland is a city where it’s worth investing for.

  12. Naomi Schiff

    A lot of park-users and Oakland boosters will disagree with some of the above.

    “The upper middle class can spend more on lawyers, and is more likely to have free time to lobby because of more single-income-two-parent households.” Perhaps, but of whom are you speaking? Max, I have seen how John Klein lives and he does not fit your profile in any way. Me?

    Well let’s see, live near downtown on really busy street, have two kids I am trying to get through college, a very small struggling business in bad times, four person family, working sixty or seventy hours a week. Nope, that description up there is not me. I invite you to learn more before deciding somebody is a damnable dilettante from a hillside mansion. Myself, I have a pretty wide proletarian streak. As for Oakland Heritage Alliance, were it not for pro bono attorney advice, we would have none. On the other hand, Laura Blair–doesn’t she have a pretty solid law degree? Carlos P. wears nice suits, and he’s at city hall all the time. So who are you talking about?

    If you want to advocate for disadvantaged people, I’m thinking why get in bed with land speculators and luxury condo developers? Not sure this is clear thinking.

    Max, I’m seriously unwealthy, not that I am necessarily delighted about that, and neither are many of the other advocates for Lake Merritt and historic preservation. But that’s okay. You didn’t know, and it doesn’t really matter. We are all Oakland citizens. Some of my best friends are solvent.

    I am sorry that you have concluded this is about that economic divide, because in reality it’s the other way. Part of the dispute is between private views and public views. Private views are views from private property. Public views are views from public property. The whole views discussion we have been trying to engage concerns public views, especially from our National Historic Landmark, Lake Merritt and its park, but also along major streets, from the freeway as you enter Oakland from various points, and toward downtown from all sides. It’s true that still photos don’t adequately represent the situation. That’s why we’ve advocated for a good view corridor study and legislation, as long required under the LUTE and HPE of the general plan.

    We don’t see historic preservation and development as opposed to each other. In this town as in many others, they often go hand in hand.

  13. Ralph

    the only way to advocate for disadvantage is to get in bed with developers. as it so happens the disadvantage and poor are in no position to bring the tax dollars needed to pay for the social services they require. developers are in a position to build condos and single family homes that middle income people want and in the process increase the tax base.

    can someone describe for me in language that a 5 year old can understand what exactly is a luxury condo?

  14. John Klein

    Rezoning the CBD is one the most important land use decisions the City Council will make. This is the first zoning revision of the CBD in 50 years. The process has been going on for 1½ years. Yet, as of last night, not a single picture, visual representation, or characterization of Tribune Tower or City Hall was provided to the council in the staff materials. Several council members said this last night and we heard it from them all last week and up to the meeting – they couldn’t get any visuals.

    The complete lack of discussion for how these two major architectural and historic landmarks will be treated or how they would be impacted by future development downtown is a fairly damnable oversight. They are not the Taj Mahal or the Eiffel Tower. But they are ours and we all see them as distinctly “Oakland” in our own ways – even if those ways are completely opposite each other. That they could be totally excluded from consideration is inexcusable.

    I mean, the guys in the chess club at my local Starbucks spend more time on their end-game moves than we’ve spent thinking about how City Hall and the Tribune Tower will fare if surrounded by new office and residential towers.

    Some people are happy with what they have. Others are only happy when they are in the process of acquiring more. This may be more of an individual existential issue than anything else. In any case, the argument that those with the money, lots and lots of money, and who take risks with that money, are the ones who should be listened to is one-sided

    Another side is that of those with nothing to lose and don’t have a stake in one particular outcome. Someone with a lot to lose has a stake in a particular outcome. Others are not tied to a particular result. Consequently, the others can more easily step back and ask, “does this really work?” Or, “if we do X, Y will happen, also…; do we want Y, also?” Someone with a vested interest in X only wants X. They don’t want to hear about Y. X is good – Y is bad. The role of ‘others’ is to see different outcomes.

    Fortunately for us in a democracy, those ‘others’ can still participate. We jettisoned the requirements that only male landowners or wealthy educated white males could vote or hold public office, etc. There are many places in the world where this is not the case. Jean Quan discussed how much Beijing has changed in 30 years. There were people in Beijing who attempted to save the hutongs and wound up in jail instead.

    Lots of US cities and towns have view corridors. Their city leaders, business leaders, and residents were able to agree on this. Oakland isn’t there yet. This type of planning is brand new to Oakland and will take some getting-used to. Relax, take a few deep breathes, and look again. The 21st century is going to pass us by

  15. Max Allstadt

    John, the problem is that preserving view corridors must not be biassed in favor of the privileged residents of the east side of the lake. What would an egalitarian view coridor policy mean? Here’s a summary:

    I just walked over to San Pablo avenue, where I could clearly see the Trib tower and City Hall. So I guess that means we need to ban costruction to the north of those two landmarks. You recently provided pictures of them from the west so I guess we can’t build anything to the west of them either. And of course, you don’t want anything built to the east. That leaves the south, and I’m pretty sure there are spots on the street in the Jack London District with views
    of both the Trib and City Hall.

    So, in order to preserve view corridors for all of us, there seems to be only one solution: build absolutely nothing anywhere near anything. That’s your answer, now all we have to do is wait for Eric Angstadt to waste a year of staff time to give you an official version. What is that goin to cost? $300k in wages is my ballpark. Anybody have anything they’d rather see the city spend that money on?

  16. Max Allstadt

    As for the whole topic of who is wealthy and who isn’t, can we defer to wikipedia’s government-sourced maps of Oakland demographics? Anecdotal declarations don’t really tell us much.

    There’s a lot of money on lakeshore. There’s barely any on San Pablo, do I even need to source that claim? Anybody want to dispute that? Both streets have views. Either both get to keep them, or neither do. The third option is government sanctioned classism.

  17. Naomi Schiff

    Max, establishing view corridors generally does NOT mean views from anywhere and everywhere. They are usually clearly defined, narrow, and with endpoints. We don’t have to make this stuff up; there is a known body of planning practice for drawing fairly narrow, limited-impact corridors. If Planning wants to spend a whole lot of money and time doing it, they could, but our information from other people who have done it is that it is a pretty straightforward process that does not require a huge expenditure.

    It might make a great research project for an environmental design grad class at UC Berkeley. They have helped out on some previous planning efforts, and it is one way to save money and still get a professional result.

    Why so angry? I have heard no one declare they don’t want anything built. CALM did a pretty good job of getting the Measure DD stuff going, which has already finished a number of ambitious projects.

  18. Chris Kidd

    John,

    Attempting to compare those who don’t agree with you to the anded white males of the antebellum period is beyond hyperbolic. What’s more, you offer a disengenuous false choice: there are plenty of public non-democratic decisions that take place in our society for the common good. We don’t hold a nation-wide vote every time an animal is placed on the endangered species list, nor should we.
    I’d be much more inclined to listen to you if you laid off of the rhetorical straw men. “Some people are happy with what they have. Others are only happy when they are in the process of acquiring more. This may be more of an individual existential issue than anything else.” Really? I could just as easily say “Some people are only interested in preserving what they have, often to the detriment of others. Others aren’t satisfied with individual happiness and seek to make the world around them a better place. This may be more of an individual existential issue than anything else.” But, of course, I wouldn’t say those things because they’re unproductive and leading.

    And Naomi, what’s with the hangup on Carlos wearing a suit to city hall? I have to wear a suit every day for my job and I can certainly tell you I’m not well off. If Max is focussing on classism to much, you’re focussing too much on suitism. I’d hate to have to call you a suitist.

  19. Ralph

    “I could just as easily say “Some people are only interested in preserving what they have, often to the detriment of others. Others aren’t satisfied with individual happiness and seek to make the world around them a better place.”

    why does that sound like the perfect description of every elected official and the candidate running against them…cyncism still intact

    what was the outcome of last night’s council mtg?

  20. Naomi Schiff

    Chris, I was just trying to lighten the mood! I LIKE Carlos’s suits. I don’t mind jeans and flannel shirts either, though. I was reacting to the notion that anyone who lobbied during the day must be suspect as too bourgeois or hill-dwelling or something.

    It is true that it is hard for us working stiffs to get to city hall during the day. No aspersions on any class intended by this remark.

    I wish everyone well, and look forward to running into Dan and V in whatever coffee place they choose to visit.

  21. Max Allstadt

    My concern about classism and my grumpiness about it has more to do with where I live than anything. This place needs all the redevelopment funds it can get.

    Forgive me if I get a little ornery when view corridors are treated as important. But there really is a class issue here. The flatlands, being flat, don’t really have any view corridors to preserve.

    Meanwhile, I fully expect that the fact that the Cleveland Cascades is a public view will be used as a talking point in the interest of preserving the great many private views in the surrounding area. This just isn’t a priority for me.

    Revenue is a priority. Particularly long term sustainable revenue. I expect to live in this town for another 50 to 60 years, which means I can expect to see a great number of very big projects come along eventually.

    If we get a little more revenue, maybe we can afford enough cops so I don’t keep having to chase off dealers and pimps by myself. I am just so goddamn tired of being at war. But leaving would be surrender. I’m stuck, and that makes me ornery and grumpy when people who live in better places use their activism for what to me is not a need but a bonus.

  22. das88

    I’d like to see some more discussion of this assertion that “cities all over the country” zone for view corridors. Everytime it is made it seems to get bigger in scope.

    At last LPAB, CALM highly recommend reviewing the extensive Cincinnati Scenic View Study completed in March 2007 (http://www.cincinnati-oh.gov/transeng/pages/-16864-/). In particular, CALM suggested an appraisal of the literature review that shows what other cities have done (http://www.cincinnati-oh.gov/transeng/downloads/transeng_pdf16910.pdf).

    So, I went through some of this material. Most of the literature refers to actions cities have taken to protect view sheds of natural features such as mountains in Colorado or hillsides in San Rafael. By my reckoning only three examples were of view corridors of structures: 1) state capital in Austin; 2) state capital in Sacramento; 3) Space Needle in Seattle.

    Much as I like Oakland City Hall and the Tribune Tower, I do not really think they are of the same caliber as the three examples in the study.

    More importantly, though, all three of these are outside or on the edges of the CBD’s and surrounded by open-space. There are no examples analogous to Oakland where the proposed view is in the middle of the CBD and already hemmed in by a combination of historic and modern buildings. Basically, the extant views in the study that the other cities want to protect are much much higher quality than we have in Oakland.

    I am happy to entertain example of view corridor protection from other cities more similar to Oakland. Until then, though, I do not really like the implication that we are somehow backwards.

  23. Patrick

    We’re not trying to destroy views, we’re hoping to create them! Seriously, Oakland’s skyline is about as exciting as that of Toledo, Ohio’s. I agree with Max – the people who currently have the views will always have them by virtue of height relative to what is to be viewed. And their money. If their view is destroyed, they can always move or build higher.

    Furthermore, as someone who has owned two “view” homes in my life, allow me to say this: OVERRATED. They’re fun when you buy, but after a relatively short period of time, you no longer notice it. (well, except when you run out of toilet paper and run naked to the closet and realize that 3847 of your neighbors are “sympathizing” with you). Yes, guests may be enraptured while visiting but, really. Is that important?

    Why would we stifle economic development and the potential of a thriving urban city center to protect something that is purely subjective and frankly unimportant?

  24. dbackman

    The views everyone is talking about here are views of tall buildings, most of which are pretty unremarkable. This is Oakland’s skyline. If you enjoy a view of the skyline from afar, as some folks on the East side of the Lake do, then you probably shouldn’t complain too much about it. My place has a partial view of some of the lakeside towers. That does not make it a view corridor. When I hear ‘corridor” I think the view of the hills up Broadway or of the Fox Theater’s flashing lights down Telegraph, not the view from any individual’s window. The clumping of mid-size towers that marks Oakland’s downtown could use some filling out. The street and neighborhood level impacts of new tall buildings should take precedence over how they look from afar.

  25. Joe DeCredico

    There is no such thing as a “known body of planning practice for drawing fairly narrow, limited-impact corridors.” Any view corridor other than that down a public right of way is completely subjective. There is no such thing as a view corridor from the lake. There are views into the downtown from the lake and they change based on position.

    There are some great view corridors in Oakland, 14th, 12th, 19th, Broadway, Alice, and if you look carefully at them, they work very well with the approved height districts.

    But I think the whole conversation of view corridors is rediculous. Views in a City change over time as the City evolves and goes through its cycles. Advocating preserving a view of a building from a particular point of view is both selfish and suburban. It you want to look at the building, walk up and look at it. But do it on streets that are alive with poeple shopping, living, working and playing.

  26. Naomi Schiff

    Well, but Joe, Googling around I find courses dealing with view corridor analysis at U. of Washington, Harvard, MIT, and a great many cities discussing and legislating about view corridors in quite a few ways. In an extremely cursory browse through the first handful of the many tens of thousands of hits in a pretty nonsystematic search I saw planning documents and regulations and studies and discussions and criticisms and support, and scorn as well as concern about view corridors at various levels of government including national, state, and local. And also in relation to parks.

    There is recognition of your fact that views change. A number of municipalities revisit their view analyses once in a while. Vancouver seems to be having a robust discussion, but that’s not a reason to avoid the issue entirely!

    Austin, Vancouver, Seattle, Portland, San Francisco, Brisbane, Hong Kong: Lafayette CA; Singapore, Cincinnati; a bunch of places in Australia; Lancaster, Nebraska; Tacoma. State of Washington, Sacramento. Boston. New York City. San Diego. Estes Park, Colorado. Boulder. Well lots of places in Colorado. Hancock County, Maine. Massachusetts, Vermont. Not systematic, didn’t get far into it.

    Many of them are concerned with bodies of water. Not many towns have converted sloughs in the middle like we do, but then we are special. Much concern about rivers, lakes, and ocean coasts. Some analyze the view corridors toward new buildings, some toward natural features or old buildings. We should be open-minded about this. Some of the views of the federal building are pretty good, I think. Good sightlines attract people and may add to that yearned-for and much mentioned vibrancy.

    Lots of excitement at cool uses of GIS systems. The assertion that studying and designating views corridors is ridiculous, is ridiculous. Indeed many views lie along streets, as you say. Are you saying that the only view corridor worth having is one that runs along a road? But our streets and our things worth looking at are not aligned on a simple grid so why not study it? It isn’t that hard.

    Perhaps there is a built in conflict between those who want to build focii of views, and those who want to look at the sky and water and old buildings as well as new ones. But that is not a reason to avoid studying the issue and preserving some view corridors. I hear the voice of fear at being thwarted in some of these responses, but instead we could–as our general plan suggests–take on view corridors as a small part of the opportunity to build a more livable city.

  27. Max Allstadt

    I’m not opposed to a fair study of view corridors. But it has to be fair. So let me ask this:

    If, hypothetically, one of these hypothetical view corridors happened to coincide with a hypothetical high-rise housing project that was hypothetically already going through the entitlement process…

    Can we all agree that in the interest of fairness, such a hypothetical project should be grandfathered and entitled to be built in accordance to the rules existing prior to any determination of a protected view corridor? I’m speaking entirely hypothetically, of course ;->

  28. V Smoothe Post author

    Yes, I also welcome a fair study of view corridors. But if we’re honestly talking about a fair study of the views of individual buildings, then that study should be of the 360 degree views of the buildings, not arbitrarily limited to views from a small and comparatively wealthy area where a handful of noisy people happen to live. And of course to understand what we could be giving up by deciding to protect particular views, the study should also identify all the existing buildings that block the view of these buildings, again from all sides.

  29. Naomi Schiff

    Correct, V. I have recently walked around the edges of the CBD, looking, and driven on the freeways, trying to see what is what. I have to admit I still miss the view of the long-vanished St. Francis DeSales Cathedral which used to provide a tall foreground element as one pulled into the city from the freeway 24/980/580 direction, framing the city center behind it. In the meantime we have acquired quite a few tall structures in the city center, though, so as Joe says, it changes through time.

    Lake Merritt and its park are critical viewpoints, more than the neighborhoods beyond, because it’s public views that are studied under CEQA, not private ones. (By the way, I have no view of any of this from my home nor from my office downtown.) A large and increasing number of people use Lake Merritt and its park and we should safeguard and improve its amenities, which include views. As Councilmember Kernighan pointed out, this includes being able to enjoy sky and sunlight when one is on the western shore.

    (I don’t know that there’s been disproportionate noise heard from wealthy noisemakers. Actually, I felt a little frustrated that more people didn’t weigh in! In this town I’d say that moderate-income noisemakers are easily as prevalent.)

  30. Naomi Schiff

    Oh, and Max: Each of those two proposed and multiple-times-grandfathered projects are subject to CEQA which analyzes many impacts, is mandated by state law, and may include impacts upon their surroundings, including public views, wind effects, effects on wildlife, on cultural resources, air quality, traffic analysis, and so on. It’s a necessary requirement of large projects in this state. The developers know this; the consultants are used to dealing with it, and the scoping of any EIR will include factors of this kind. Many competent EIRs on large projects will include visualizations of views with and without the proposed project, sometimes also showing alternatives for various executions of the project. Sometimes, exactly where you site a tower or large element of a building can have a major effect upon views and other impacts, as has been much mentioned by David O’Keeffe about his EV proposal.

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/California_Environmental_Quality_Act

  31. John Klein

    das88: thanks for taking to time to check the Cincinnati study. I think our situation in Oakland is not that we had a defective process or that the council made a poor choice in asking for a view corridor study. Rather, I think what you are pointing out is that the context of our CBD is a lot different than those cities in the studies. Yes, Sacramento and Austion’s capitol buildings have a lot of open space surrounding them, which our buildings don’t have.

    It is the broader concepts of these view corridor studies that I think are helpful to us. First is the rather empirical fact that those other cities studied and designated view corridors, even if the contexts are very different than Oakland. In this sense, we are just getting into the learning curve about view corridors.

    On the more practical level, those other studies conducted mapping with overhead lines-of-sight showing view points and focal points. Those look like overhead maps with a bunch of lines all coverging on a single point from various points around the city.

    Then they conducted analysis of individual views – like looking at the Tribune Tower from across the Lake; or City Hall from West Oakland; or from wherever. The studies have several different categories and rating levels to quantify the “value” of a view. I have to admit, some views in those studies show very little. But then, a view corridor that requires someone to squint to barely see anything usually get low ratings.

    To me, those studies mostly bolster the general idea and methodologies of view corridors. I agree that they don’t show contexts that are comparable to our CBD.

  32. Joe DeCredico

    I would love for any of you to define for the rest of us what a fair process of defining view corridors looks like. First of all, who is the arbiter of what buildings or views are worthy. And second, who is the arbiter of where those views are worthy to be preserved from.

    Sorry, fear has nothing to do with this, except maybe the fear that in order to really understand views we would have to do exactly wha V. suggests, and that still doesn’t answer the question of what is worthy.

    I have had experience in providing view corridor studies for several of my planning projects, including Bend, Oregon, Los Angeles, Mobile, and even Kings Beach at Lake Tahoe. The Lake Tahoe studies approach this in what I think is a fairly objective manner. First, you take views along Shoreline Boulevard each way incorporating your project. Then you take views down the streets perpendicular to the lake that your project impacts. Finally, you take a view of your project from 300′ out in the lake perpendicular to the shoreline. That is then used to define your CEQA impacts as Naomi pointed out. It is a process that the design and planning profession is used to.

    It is quite distinct from creating the arbitrary view corridors to benefit the select few. So Naomi, as an exercise, lets say that you are the arbiter of all views worthy of being preserved and all vantage points worthy of preserving them from, tell us what they are. Oh and by the way, I will certainly walk the City with you.

  33. Daniel Schulman (das88)

    @Joe DeCredico
    “First of all, who is the arbiter of what buildings or views are worthy. And second, who is the arbiter of where those views are worthy to be preserved from.”

    As I’ve expressed, I am having a hard time wrapping my head around some of the view corridors being suggested. However, I do not really think it is an arbitrary decision like Joe and some of the other commentators seem to be expressing.

    The answer to who arbitrates is pretty simple – it’s a body called the City Council. They in turn take input from staff, the Planning Commission and interested citizenry. Where issues touch on historic matters the Landmarks Preservation Advisory Board might be asked to weigh in. Similarly, depending on which specific view corridor is under study there might be input from other bodies such as the Port or Parks Boards.

    So, after discussion it might not make sense to designate view corridors across the CBD to historic buildings. That, however, doesn’t rule out the possibility of designating view sheds from the hills to downtown or Mountain VIEW Cemetery to the bay.

  34. Naomi Schiff

    Thank you, Daniel, very sensible.

    Joe, you must submit architectural plans to city bodies from time to time. This is another example of planning policy which may require some aesthetic decisions. Obviously you know all about view corridors, so why so exercised? What is all this about the “select few”? Is this a code for something? I don’t live on top of a hill and if it is me you are asking about, well no, my place doesn’t sit on any likely view corridor (a busy street, some lovely electrical wires, a sizable tree. That’s about it.) But I among thousands use public amenities such as Lakeside Park. We are discussing PUBLIC, not private views—views from public, not private places.

    Specifically brought up in the general plan LUTE and HPE, designating view corridors is not a recent concept, just one that has not been implemented properly. Now we can remedy that.

    I don’t think I’m the arbiter more than any other citizen of Oakland, but I think it’s worth it to engage in community consensus building, in democratic procedure, using professional planning, and participating in open government.

    Water edges do seem to be of particular sensitivity in considering public views. Over the years one thing that really brings a lot of people out is anything that touches upon Lake Merritt and its park. The newly rehabilitated 18th St. Pier, which has been mentioned frequently, makes a wonderful outlook point, and is right at the transition point of several Oakland neighborhoods. So I think that one should be on the list of things to review.

  35. Steve Lowe

    What about the Duckie-Go-Round at the Lake? Sort of like a regular old Merry-Go-Round but with aquatic animals – swans, platipi, dolphins, octopi, alligators, etc. – instead of horses and octriches, you’ve got little boatlike frames to fit your kiddie into, and away they paddle, but always in circles, since the boats are all tethered to a hub (we don’t want junior to get out where we can’t retrieve him.

    Now that’s the water’s edge: a little closer to it than Fairyland but great for interacting with the Lake than just staring at it all day…

    – S

  36. Joe DeCredico

    Sorry Daniel, that was not sensible. The City Council didn’t define what view corridors should be looked at. In fact they showed no leadership in this area and punted to Eric to define them. So don’t even try to pull that City Council card in this hand. They folded along time ago.

    Naomi, you and I have spoken at length about how we both love our walks through the City and what we see when we make these walks. What we disagree on is that I have no interest in preserving views of iconic buildings.

    My interest is in createing the kind of vibrance that we have seen come recently to Oakland in the Uptown area. I am not sorry that I don’t share your nostalgia because I know that it comes from your heart. Because we like each other, and we have seen how close we can get to agreement and how far apart we are, lets just agree to disagree.

    But regarding using view corridors to define zoning, I have to dig in. Our cities are defined by overlapping grids that create amazing view corridors. I really want to enhance these. I don’t care squat about the views that someone who walks around the lake gets, except that they get a view of a dynamic city. And, what they see as they walk through the City. Otherwise, we are Bergers passive observers at the museum.

    To paraphrase Jane Jacobs, one of my favorite authors about the City, Cities are complex organisims. They present situations and organizations all happening simultaenously in inteconnected ways. They are like life science. To reduce them to simplistic models of positional politics denies their virtures and their faults.

    Lets cut the BS and work on making a great City.

  37. Daniel Schulman (das88)

    Naomi says I’m sensible; Joe says I’m not. I was just stating my understanding of the process, not saying how I think it should work. I think I should be either accurate or inaccurate.

    My main point was that that even though I disagree with some/most of the current view corridors being talked about, I do not think it is fair to characterize their proponents as being arbitrary. Some of the commenters are making it sound as if view corridor proponents are throwing darts at a map and connecting them with string.

    Eric Angstadt is certainly not the person who has been proposing view corridors or will define them in the future. Here’s the process as it has been to date. This is off the top of my head, so there my be some errors – people involved please feel free to make corrections.

    1) For over a year, CALM mostly in the guise of John Klein have been coming to City meetings making a case in open forum for view corridors from the East side of the lake to downtown. CALM has done this consistently at the Landmarks Preservation Advisory Board (LPAB). I believe they have also gone to many Planning Commission meetings, and I’ve seen them at a few City Council and City Council Committee meetings.

    2) View corridors were on the announced agenda and discussed at the June 8th LPAB which was my first meeting as a member. Staff prepared an excellent report of potential view corridors and sheds within and around the CBD. This report, if anything, is the first structured start of defining view corridors in the city. I do not know if Eric had any input to the topic being agendized or staff’s selection of corridors for study, but I certainly do not think that is the case.

    LPAB listened to input from interested citizenry who happened to be the sole members of the audience — John Klein of CALM and Naomi Schiff of OHA. Next, LPAB members including myself discussed the matter and voted on two motions directing staff to further study a subset of the view corridors in the report.

    3) The next major event on the view corridor saga was the June 23 meeting of the City Council’s Community and Economic Development meeting. Once again CALM and OHA spoke in favor of view corridors, and there was a special guest appearance by Council Member Nadel who spoke at length in favor of the subject. I do not believe there were any opposition voices at this meeting According to the minutes “The Committee also directed staff to submit a timeline and date for View Corridors and Demolition guidelines.”.

    4) Finally we get to July 6th City Council meeting and you can read V’s summary above.

    This process hardly seems arbitrary. There have been many opportunities for public input. Several staff members have looked at this and it has been debated by appointed citizen volunteers and elected politicians.

    And what’s more …. it’s still early days. People are acting like certain view corridors have been established and now its just up for the battle lines to be drawn. This is far from the truth … staff will make many more reports. I am pretty sure this will come back to LPAB. I’m guessing it will be heard more than once by the Planning Commission. And, as I said above, ultimately it is our elected City Council that gets to decide whether Oakland will have zoned view corridors or not.

    All along this deliberative process, there will be plenty of opportunity for public participation.

  38. Max Allstadt

    I think you are indeed being accurate, Dan. I also think
    that the process you are describing is very prone to squeeky-wheel influence.

    The planning department under Angstadt has done a good job of collecting the moat controversial decisions on any given topic and punting them to the commissions and Council. This is probably how it ought to be.

    However, I worry that the Councilmembers votes are all too often based on pressure from small groups. It is very easy to bring the same 10 people towering after meeting, and to rally a hundred emails oN any given topic. My impression is that many councilmembers listen to the numbers, not the messages.

    When it comes to turning out numbers on planning issues, the well to do neighborhoods allways do better. Even when poorer
    areas bring turnout, they often get ignored. There has been opposition to the dumping of multiple high-impact social services on San Pablo, but they just keep piling up. Try to put an affordable housing development in Rockridge and a bunch of people, half of whom voted for Nader or McKinney, will show up and go
    nuts.

    So even if the process is well established and defined, I fear it’s still more about influence than reason.

  39. Naomi Schiff

    Joe, you said: “I don’t care squat about the views that someone who walks around the lake gets, except that they get a view of a dynamic city.”

    I think a lot of people DO care, and they are walking around the lake and running and bicycling around the lake and playing at the lake and boating in it too, in significant numbers. It’s not a small thing, and I would not characterize caring for the future of a heavily-used public place and concern for its views as “BS” (I think verbiage like this lowers the tone, but oh well).

    So I am wondering, how much do you walk around in the area? Because it really is a key resource for the city. It is quite intensely used, by every kind of people. You could call the lake environment itself “dynamic.” Pat Kernighan mentioned the need to see views of sun and sky, and I’d add the great value of perceiving distance in a hemmed-in environment. Many people are not really able to get up to the Oakland hills in their daily routine. I think Lake Merritt and its park provide an extremely valuable place to “get away” while still in the middle of the city.

    I could write about the formal axes created across the lake by various structures designed and built during the “city beautiful” era, and how they interact with the mid-century Kaiser building and the Oakland Museum, but perhaps best to leave that for the walk we’ll take someday soon, should you wish to do so.