Apologies for the short notice, but I wanted to bring your attention to a community meeting tonight on the Lake Merritt Station Area Plan.
What is the Lake Merritt Station Area Plan, you ask? Well, it’s a joint effort between the City, MTC, BART, and the Peralta Colleges to plan for future development of this area:
Lord knows the neighborhood around this BART station needs a lot of help. There really is just, like, nothing going on around here. (Except for Madison Square Park, which is quite nice.) I mean, once you get up into Chinatown (much of which is within the planning area), it’s great — you’ve got activity everywhere, and people, and stores, and so on. But seriously, the immediate area surrounding the Lake Merritt BART Station is hella depressing and it is totally embarrassing for Oakland. I work just a few blocks away, but somehow the only time I ever find myself anywhere near there is when I have to go to an MTC meeting (which is almost never a fun experience). And then, the only place around to get anything to eat or even a cup of coffee is the MTC cafeteria! It’s just awful.
A couple of months back, I was looking for a new apartment and having trouble finding anything in my price range, and dto510 found an ad on Craigslist for a place across the street from the Lake Meritt BART station that looked pretty in the photo, and kept harassing me for like a week to go look at it. And I kept insisting that it was not an option because I have no interest in moving to the middle of nowhere. He, in turn, insisted that calling the Lake Merritt BART Station, or anywhere downtown, the “middle of nowhere” was ridiculous, and eventually I broke down and went to look at it.
It was horrible! The building was disgusting and covered with graffiti. Across the street on one side of the apartment was the BART Station, and then across the street on the other side was a vacant lot filled with shipping containers! Besides Laney College and the soon-to-be-reopened Oakland Museum, the neighborhood is a wasteland, and a stunning example of Oakland’s abject failure to take any advantage whatsoever of our assets and resources.
Anyway, so the idea behind this Station Area Plan, which is being paid for by an MTC grant, is to figure out how to deal with this area so that it is no longer a wasteland. Or, as the City puts it:
The City of Oakland, BART and the Peralta Community College District, through a grant from the Metropolitan Transportation Commission, have come together to prepare a Station Area Plan for the area around the Lake Merritt BART Station. The Plan will consider land use, buildings, design, circulation, BART improvements, streetscape improvements, parks and public spaces. It will identify actions the City and the other public agencies should take to improve the area, and it will establish regulations for development projects on private property. The project also involves the preparation of an Environmental Impact Report for the Station Area Plan.
The planning area is a one-half mile radius around the Lake Merritt BART Station, which encompasses Chinatown, Laney College, civic buildings of Alameda County and Oakland and the channel connecting Lake Merritt to the estuary. Many diverse residents, businesses and students make up the community of this area, and Chinatown functions as a citywide center for the Asian community. The Station Area Plan must address the needs of the community, as well as the needs of BART related to ridership, and the needs of the College District related to education and maximizing the use of their land. BART has stated that it envisions the area transitioning from its current status as an “Urban Neighborhood Station” to a “Regional Center” station type. Completing the environmental review process is also a critical component of the project, so that issues are resolved and development can proceed by tiering off the environmental analysis.
Some of the key objectives of the Lake Merritt Station Area Plan, which will continue to be developed and refined throughout the planning process, include:
- Increase use of non-automobile modes of transportation, including walking, bicycling, bus, BART, carpooling, ridesharing and other options; and reduce auto use.
- Increase the housing supply, especially affordable housing for low-income residents. Specifically increase the amount of housing around the BART station.
- Increase jobs and improve access to jobs along the transit corridor.
- Provide services and retail options in the station area.
- Identify additional recreation and open space opportunities
Finally, the Lake Merritt Station Area Plan must provide an impetus for real development projects and specific public improvements. The plan should generate interest, enthusiasm and consensus about new development in the area and establish priorities for public improvement projects.
Tonight is the first of a series of community meetings on the plan, and will be focused on identifying “community goals and key issues of concern.” As with any planning effort, there are a lot of different interest groups with a stake in the final plan. Smart growth advocates want density, affordable housing advocates want affordable housing, preservationists want to make sure that none of the horrible, rotting Victorians in the area are ever replaced with something better, and so on.
Perhaps you find yourself in agreement with some of the more organized advocacy groups. Perhaps you have your own ideas of what should happen in this part of town. Either way, it’s good to get your thoughts in as early in the process as possible. So if you’re not doing anything tonight, you may want to head on down to the Metropolitan Transportation Commission Auditorium at 101 8th Street at 6 PM and share your thoughts. And I promise I’ll do a better job giving notice of future meetings.