Oakland Zoo’s California exhibit

This Wednesday, April 20th, the Oakland Planning Commission will be considering approval of an amendment to the Oakland Zoo’s 1998 Master Plan. It sounds kind of dull, but actually it is quite controversial. I wrote a piece about it last year, when the Planning Commission heard an informational report about the zoo’s plans. More recently, the plans have been covered in the San Francisco Business Times, the East Bay Express, and Bay Nature.

The vote and the controversy involve a major expansion of the Zoo’s operations and the creation of a new, California-themed exhibit. Today I am going to go over exactly what the Zoo is planning, and how it is different from what was approved in 1998. Tomorrow, I’ll cover the debate up to this point, and talk more about the issues at stake at the Planning Commission hearing. So if you hate the zoo or are really concerned about the Alameda whipsnake or the Bristly Leptosiphon, you’re welcome to leave comments about it today, but just know that I’m not ignoring those issues, I just wanted to split up the coverage for space reasons.

The Oakland Zoo

The Oakland Zoo, for those who haven’t been (go soon! it’s awesome!), sits in the bottom of Knowland Park in East Oakland just off of 580. The red marker on the map below shows exactly where:

Oakland Map with Zoo

If you’re car-free, you can take AC Transit’s line 46 bus there from the Coliseum BART station. It only runs once an hour and only on weekdays, but it is a pleasant ride and you get to go past the new 81st Avenue Branch Library!

As far as zoos go, Oakland’s is fairly small, but I’ve always liked it a lot. They have three exhibit areas — the tropical rainforest (featuring gibbons, chimpanzees, tamarins, and macaws), the African Savannah (featuring giraffes, gazelles, elands, vultures, and lions), and the Children’s Zoo (alligator, tortoise, fruit bats, lemurs, otters). There was talk about them getting pandas for a while, but the pandas never materialized and now the spot where the pandas were going to go has become a new baboon habitat.

Baboons at the Oakland Zoo

1998 Zoo Master Plan

In 1998, the City Council approved a Master Plan for the zoo (PDF). The Master Plan included improvements to the existing zoo (facility renovations, children’s zoo, and an environmental education center), as well as an expansion project to create a new exhibit called California 1820.

The plans for the new exhibit involved fencing off a 62 acre portion of Knowland Park above where the zoo currently sits. Three exhibits would have been built within the enclosure — a “woodland” exhibit with grizzly bears, a “canyon” exhibit, and a “river exhibit.” A road would be built around the exhibits featuring some sort of shuttle bus or tram that visitors would ride to travel between them, getting off at each exhibit they wanted to look at, then getting on again to go to the next one.

It looked like this:

Approved 1998 Oakland Zoo expansion plan

The expansion was controversial at the time — after all, Knowland Park is very beautiful and as you can imagine, many people living nearby like it the way it is, and do not want any of the space being taken over by the zoo. The 1997 Planning Commission approval of the plan was appealed to the Oakland City Council by neighbors, and the zoo entered into mediation with the neighbors, eventually reaching an agreement about conditions and mitigations the Zoo would have to comply with in order to build the new exhibit. A Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) was signed between the two parties and incorporated into the City Council’s approval of the plans.

Amending the Master Plan

Since 1998, the Zoo has completed the improvements to their existing facilities outlined in the Master Plan. They are now ready to move on to the expansion phase, but they want to make some changes to the project that had been approved. The changes include:

  • Replacing the shuttle bus and road that went around the exhibit with an aerial gondola that would drop people off at the top of the hill
  • Reconfiguring the layout of the animals within the exhibit
  • Building a new Veterinary Hospital to replace their existing one (by the parking lot)

The revised plan looks like this:

Oakland Zoo 2010 proposed expansion plan

And here are the old plan and the new plan side by side.

Oakland Zoo expansion plans, 1998 and 2010

And here is a presentation by Oakland Zoo Executive Director Joel Parrott explaining the amendments to the plan to the Oakland Planning Commission a year ago.


So what about this exhibit? I will start right out by saying that I think it sounds really cool.

The idea behind the California project is to showcase our State’s native species — black bears, grizzly bears, mountain lions, wolves, jaguars, eagles, and condors.

Oakland Zoo California Exhibit Map

Before last year’s Planning Commission discussion on the zoo, I hadn’t really thought much about the California exhibit. I mean, sure, native animals, it sounded fine. But when I watched the meeting, I was very moved by the way Dr. Parrott described the exhibit. This starts at around minute 6 of the above video, but for those who don’t want to watch, here is the part of his presentation that so affected me:

As you go through this, the animals are not just what are native, but they are also representative of what animals have been taken to the brink of extinction and in many cases out of the state itself, but because of the impact of humans, brought back from it. So where the California Condor went down to 16 birds, people made a difference and it’s back to 300. The wolf went to the endangered species list, it is now being delisted. The grizzly bear was recovered in Yellowstone, simply because people made a difference. The bald eagle was endangered. Those are the examples for what people can do as an inspiration, as educational purpose to make a difference in wildlife, especially the wildlife that are so near and dear to us, which is the California collection.

So. I spend a great deal of time trying to show people how they can help influence decisions made at the local level, and encouraging people to become involved and engaged with the City. Activism is frustrating, and progress often happens slowly, if at all. This is true in local politics and even more true when it comes to bigger issues like conservation and environmental protections. So it is easy for people to get discouraged and start thinking that their involvement doesn’t matter.

So I have an almost instinctual affection for anything that reminds people of how their actions, however small, can make a difference in the world around them. In keeping with this, I find the concept of the California exhibit very inspiring. What a wonderful way to expose children to an important part of our State’s history, and potentially spark a love of nature, conservation, and activism in kids growing up in urban environments!

The details

So right now the zoo sits on 42 acres in lower Knowland Park. The California project expansion would fence off a 56 acre area immediately above the existing zoo (a slightly smaller area than had been approved previously).

Oakland Zoo in Knowland Park

Thirty-six acres of that would be devoted to an ecological recovery zone. There would be no exhibits in this space, but the Zoo would remove the invasive non-native plants (such as French Broom, the bushy darker green plants in the photo below) and replant the area with native species.

French Broom

The remaining 20 acres of the space would be for the exhibit proper, which sits higher up on the hill. Instead of the previously planned shuttle bus stopping at each exhibit, visitors would take a gondola up from the existing zoo and get off up here. The gondola building would also house an interpretive center.

Oakland Zoo gondola exit

Across the way from the interpretive center, you’d see the grizzly bear exhibit. From there, visitors would simply walk around the paths to see all the exhibits (which seems so much nicer and better for everyone than the previously planned bus, IMO).

Oakland Zoo expansion model

Outside the fence, walking paths would provide access for the public to key viewing points in Knowland Park. Like this one.

Knowland Park

Veterinary Hospital

The other major change to the 1998 plan is that the zoo wants to build a new veterinary hospital. It would be located at the back of the existing zoo, behind the parking lot.

Vet Hospital site

The expanded facility will allow the zoo to better care for their animals, and serve as a center for research and recovery work with endangered species such as the California Condor.

What’s not to like?

So like I said above, I think the zoo’s expansion plans are pretty freaking cool. Not everyone feels that way, though. The staff report (PDF) for Wednesday’s Planning Commission discussion will give you a sense of the objections, or you can just check back here tomorrow to read about them.

84 thoughts on “Oakland Zoo’s California exhibit

  1. Navigator

    The Oakland Zoo is an absolute jewel for Oakland. The Children’s Zoo is amazing as are the Elephant, Lion and Tiger exibits. The entire zoo if filled with beautiful naturalistic exibits. It’s a zoo where you feel like you’re in the animals’ environment. I’ve been to Zoos where the animals are clearly there to serve their human masters in sleek unnatural display areas. I’d rate the Oakland Zoo number two in California behind the San Diego Zoo.

    One of the things that make the Oakland Zoo so special along with its great natural exibits, is its incredible setting. I’ve been to the Zoos, in Seattle, Portland, Saint Louis, San Antonio, and San Diego. Nome of these zoos has a more beautiful setting than the Oakland Zoo. This new exhibit will emphasize Oakland’s clear advantage. This expansion will put the Oakland Zoo among the top five zoos in the nation.

  2. Kent L.

    The main objection by conservation organizations like the Sierra Club, that I am active with (Note: I’m not speaking for neighbors here) is that this expansion will fence off approx. 60 acres of prime open space from the public. Another is the process whereby this project was approved without a full Environmental Impact Report (EIR). Yes, the zoo is a good institution when it comes to promoting the preservation of wild species. However, I and others feel that the zoo could and should be doing more to promote “preservation” at the local level, by taking better care for Knowland Park (see CA native plant society comments on stewardship by the Zoo of native grasses and plants). Knowland Park was deeded to the City of Oakland by the State of California in the 1970s for public use. We have to be ultra vigilant when we decide to allow these public lands to be converted to a use that is no longer “public” (yes, it’s true, you can pay your zoo admission and then you, too, can enjoy this space.)

    Also, V. you wrote “Outside the fence, walking paths would provide access for the public to key viewing points in Knowland Park.” Reading the latest Environmental Study / MND, it appears this path has been nixed (see p. 72 of the MND) That’s a real shame. Or am I misinformed?

    For further reading see: http://sanfranciscobay.sierraclub.org/yodeler/html/2010/09/article6.htm

  3. Max Allstadt

    I think that preservation and stagnation are not the same thing. In fact, on the multi-decade scale, converting this open space to use by the Zoo for showcasing and conserving California species seems like a much better preservation strategy than leaving it wide open. If it’s wide open, we never know when the pro-development wind might start to blow, and bring with it something much worse than the zoo, like McMansions.

    How accessible is this land now? Is it easy to get to by transit? Or is it essentially a large green space that enhances the view of a small hillside neighborhood? If it becomes part of the Zoo, would fewer people visit it annually, or more. I would expect more. Isn’t that better?

  4. Naomi Schiff

    I don’t know yet what I think about the zoo expansion. However, conserving species should include conserving Bay Area native plants, habitats, and small native critters, as well as large top-of-food-chain things more popular at zoos, whether on the inside or the outside of the fence.

    We have 800 species or so of native bees, and scarce or endangered local species, plants and fauna, which include butterflies, birds, aquatic animals (there are streams up on that hill) and reptiles. I think there is a win-win here, but it would mean the zoo must take a careful look at opportunities among our immediately local biota.

  5. Navigator

    Max has a good point. The only time I get to see the beautiful acreage next to the Oakland Zoo is on the gondola. Most people don’t even know how to get to the trails to explore Knowland Park. It’s an underused resource which should be maximized for the greater good of Oakland as a city.

  6. Karen Smulevitz

    The trails are easily accessed by car if you pull into one of the few turnout spots on Golf Links Road. It’s a little harder by foot; the closest bus is by the zoo entrance, and it’s a steep walk up the hill without any protection from speeding cars, and no real path. I’ve done it, but don’t recommend it. There is a trailhead off of Grass Valley that’s a little hard to find. Perhaps some improvements could be made to make the park more accessible.

  7. Dax

    I am of mixed opinion about the zoo expansion.
    However most people commenting here have little or no knowledge of the space involved.

    The aerial photograph is rather misleading.
    It shows the park expansion taking only about 15% to 20% of the remaining parkland.

    First of all, the section of Knowland Park east of Golf Links Rd. is essentially a entirely different park.

    Of the section that most people refer to as Knowland Park, west of Golf Links Rd, the zoo expansion then appears to seem like it would only use about 25% of that section.

    In truth, half of that land is inaccessible by 99% of people as it is covered in deep brush and trees. NO ONE walks or hikes i those sections.
    That leaves the other 50% of which the zoo expansion would use up half….
    But it would also greatly impact and alter the other half as well. From most of the remaining undeveloped section, you would be able to see and/or hear the back section of the zoo.
    To gain a undeveloped view of the north bay, you almost have to turn to the right to avoid seeing the back of the zoo development.

    All views out towards the bay would be gone unless you hiked completely around the zoo development to a area, that I understand, you could visit without paying a zoo entrance fee.

    So, there is a real trade off here.
    This is not about the zoo only impacting a small section of this open space.
    It will essentially impact about 90% of the remaining open space in that park.

    The trade off will be that a very large number of people will be able to get that beautiful view of the bay in a somewhat natural type developed setting.

    But make no mistake, this area will no longer be a real natural space.

    There is a trade off and a loss involved.

    As for those who say, develop it because thats the only way most Oakland residents will ever see it…. Well you could make that case for most of the East Bay Regional Parks.
    How about opening up a paved road east of Skyline Blvd, so more people could drive into Anthony Chabot Park.
    I’m sure we could increase the usage 10 fold with a paved road leading to some picnic grounds.

    In the case of Knowland Park and the Zoo, I have no stance, but I think the issue is already settled. Nothing short of a legal roadblock is going to stop the zoo expansion.

    If opened up, at least a hundred times more “unique” visitors will see that view of the bay. However the hundreds of regular current visitors will forever lose their lovely open space and unfettered view.

    The people running the Zoo are very good individuals. The are doing what they feel is best.
    As are those on the other side.

    The outcome is permanent.

  8. Bill

    Dax, I think you captured the crux of the controversy well. This issue is and always has been more than a case of a bunch of NIMBY neighbors trying to protect their own “private” park.

    I lived in the neighborhood for 14 years and hiked the area daily. As a matter of fact, it was one of the primary attractions to moving into the neighborhood. I promoted the area to others and took them on walks. I posted access information on local dog sites, because my dogs enjoyed it so much.

    Many of the neighbors also used the area regularly, but there were always regular visitors from other parts of the City. I knew the dogs by name and sometimes their owners, too. Many of the neighbors never set foot in the park.

    I was also a Zoo member and supporter. I did have issues over the years with the Zoological Society’s stewardship over the land — including dumping and plowing under rare plant species. I had a number of issues with the proposed California 1800 exhibit, too, and was the individual who filed the original protest.

    I and a group of others met with Dr. Parrott and the City over several months and hammered out the original agreement. My primary concerns were to maintain access and views and to protect the wildlife, which lives somewhat precariously in an urban environment.

    Other neighbors had legitimate concerns, which some would (unfairly) characterize as NIMBYism — placement of manure composting facilities, route of the tram, etc. Whenever a group is challenging such a development, lots of concerns will naturally be aired — some legitimate and some not so. That’s the way these things go, whether it is a dog park at Lake Merritt, a downtown parking lot or zoo expansion plans.

    Had the Zoo moved more quickly on this, we wouldn’t have seen this second round of protest. Unfortunately, it takes time to get the money together for such a large scale project, so here we are.

    I haven’t studied the details of the changes, so won’t comment on them. I do hope that things can be settled more quickly than the first round. The exhibit will be outstanding, no doubt. The loss of Oakland “wilderness space” still bothers me as does the feelings of some that, without proper infrastructure for easy public access, open space has no value. Take paradise and put up a parking lot.

    I’m now living in the high desert and walk the dogs in thousands of acres of public lands. At the first talk of development, I’ll be all over it. And, when I visit Oakland, I will bring my hiking boots for a hike around Knowland Park.

  9. len raphael

    Dax, yup. Ridiculing all the opponents as nimbys is ridiculous. I say that as big fan of the Zoo and it’s director. The Zoo is a rare beast in the Oakland jungle of dysfunctional institutions. But that doesn’t override the overwhelming right of all Oakland residents to weigh in on the decision.

    There are some similarities to the Children’s Hospital situation.

  10. V Smoothe Post author

    The question of whether the Zoo is able to expand into Knowland Park has already been settled. Based on the 1998 approval, the Zoo has the right to build the expansion. If the amendments for the revised plans are not approved, the Zoo will still have the right to build the original, larger, expansion.

  11. len raphael

    V, you made that legal point clear in your post. Dax and I were not talking legaleze, but civil societieze.

  12. Chris Kidd

    I don’t believe V was really ridiculing the opponents, rather she was ridiculing their absurdly flimsy CEQA arguments. That doesn’t seem uncivil to me.

  13. len raphael

    Chris, misunderstanding. I meant civil not in the polite or impolite sense, but in the other whatchyoumacallit sense


    I should have just said something about the spirit of the law vs the letter of the law; or the rule of law is essential but not necessarily the best way.

    in the land use context, people who thought the Nik Nak liquor store should have gotten a variance? despite the laws and regulations, used a variation of that argument. And I argued the opposite :)

    In Nik Nak, no one called the opponents of the variance nimby, though that’s exactly what residents usually are.


  14. len raphael

    In Nik Nak, the opponents of the liquor permit were labeled gentrifiers and yuppies.

    Depending on your political base, that’s either a compliment or worse insult than nimby.

    -len raphael, temescal

  15. Naomi Schiff

    I wish we could set aside the useless categories of nimby etc. Namecalling tends to wipe out nuance. But crude categories are just not terribly helpful if you want to come up with good solutions that have the broadest good results. If you want to make political points or pick fights or impose some theology of some kind, then maybe namecalling is practical. I hope for better though. There will always be contending forces around land use. The idea, for me, is to come up with some win-win solutions, and for people to listen to each other’s seriously held opinions enough to generate some creative responses.

  16. Max Allstadt


    Yes, there are always the loonies who will insist that the way to prevent gentrification is to keep a neighborhood crappy. There needs to be a word for that kind of attitude that is different than NIMBY, because it’s a different problem.


    NIMBYism exists, is a real force, and is absolutely a valid criticism to bring up in many circumstances.

    STAND, in Temescal, for instance, universally opposes development over two stories. That’s NIMBYism.

    When people show up at a planning commission meeting to oppose a store that sells sex toys being allowed to open, they’re being NIMBYs.

    NIMBYism exists. NIMBYs don’t like being called NIMBYs because it highlights the self-centered nature of their activism.

    Let’s say decide your priority for community involvement is stopping some apartment being built near you. Let’s say you live in a city with 20% unemployment, a child prostitution problem, an enormous debt, and a Council that is trying to weaken transparency laws. I think NIMBY is rather a mild label for people who’s priorities are that far out of whack.

    And yes, in the case of this Zoo expansion, particularly because the scale is already a done deal, what we’re seeing is NIMBYism.

  17. len raphael

    Max, you’re setting up a strawman nimby then easily knocking him. but in real life around temescal the people you call nimbys are much more likely to be active on other public issues besides zoning than a typical resident.

    part of your impression is accurate in that it’s damn hard to motivate any resident to do anything civic other than vote and send in a few bucks to favorite local charities.

    so of course residents are much more likely to show up at city hearings, sign petitions etc when the results could directly impact their back or front yards.

    Self interest is an perfectly valid motivation for civic participation, just as is for a real estate developer or any other businessperson.

    My broken record is that if Oakland govt can’t service lower density city properly, why should anyone trust that the City bandwith could handle the demands of higher density bedroom community?

    i have to smile when developers blather on about how they want to reduce global warming by building with fewer parking slots.

    I prefer the straightforward old school developers.

    Sure true idealists abound, but the older i get, the more wary i am of idealists because they tend to advocate solutions that make other people sacrifice for their ideals. Kinda like generals in war treat soldiers.

    -len raphael, temescal nimby

  18. Chris Kidd


    Sorry for the misunderstanding. In what way, in the context of the Zoo expansion, does the “spirit” of the law differ from its correct interpretation? I’ve found too many times those who complain the “spirit” of the law isn’t being adhered are covering for their limited understanding of the law in question. The calls for a “full EIR” show a fundamental misunderstanding of CEQA law, which (at best) would call for a Supplemental EIR due to the previous environmental vetting and the limited project impacts brought about by the changes in the plan. In my mind, none of the new impacts meet any of the legal thresholds necessary to trigger further CEQA review.

    (not to suggest, of course, that *you* have a limited understanding of CEQA law. I wouldn’t be that crass, plus I know you too well to make such an assumption)

  19. len raphael

    For the record, stand joined ultra, rcpc, and panil for the pleasant valley safeway site to get a high as possible mixed used development instead of the multi story parking strip mall we’re going to get. though i’d agree that in some sections of Telegraph I thought their height limits were not reasonable, except as a negotiating starting point.

    Chris, my ignorance of land use law is vast. And i shouldn’t have used the term “spirit” let alone something like “legislative intent” without knowing the history and technicalities of the rules.

    My point was from a public policy perspective, something as irrevocable as converting open space to developed space deserves at least as much of a public hearing as the rights of a liquor store owner to sell liquor after his cup? expires.

    Remember I’m a zoo booster. Joel Parrott should be mayor. I’d even support that road into EB Regional parks and hecka more areas where you can bring dogs.

    -len raphael, temescal nimby

  20. CitizenX

    It doesn’t take all that much imagination to come up with a number of proposed land use and development schemes that could totally trash a neighborhood’s character and one’s quality of life. I’d fight it. If that makes me a NIMBY, then I’d gladly wear that T-shirt. Those who say they wouldn’t are liars, brain dead or deserve to live in their newly developed Hell.

  21. len raphael

    Most oakland flatland nimbys don’t fit your stereotypes any more than some ultra members fit mine.

    One prominent ultra member prominently criticizes the brt; another ultra member spoke up for lower heights on Tele near Berkeley.

    -len raphael

  22. Max Allstadt

    NIMBY called themselves that as a joke. They weren’t forced to move by neighbors either. There was a fire at their West Oakland space, rendering the building pretty much unusable, and also provoking inspections that mandated unaffordable renovations.

  23. Max Allstadt


    If a group is dedicated to preventing things from happening in their back yard, it’s not name calling to refer to them as NIMBYs. It’s accurate.

    I’ve heard you refer to people you disagree with as corrupt, or as hypocritical. If they people you’re talking about are corrupt or if they’re hypocrites, there’s nothing wrong with that either.

    I suspect your opposition to the term NIMBY is more robust because you get called a NIMBY relatively often. When the market comes back, if you start showing up at meetings about development projects again, I’ll be generous. Support over 50% of them, and I won’t call you a NIMBY.

  24. Chris Kidd

    And let’s not forget that Naomi publicly speculated that I harbored desires to ride a visionary plan roughshod over Oakland in a Robert Moses fashion without bothering to consider the needs, desires, and lives of current residents. To a progressive planner, that’s worse than a concerned neighbor being called a NIMBY; that’s like being called a BANANA. Let’s not overlook the fact that generalizations, miss-characterizations, and demonizing terminology often flows in all directions.

    To Naomi’s credit, she did apologize.

  25. Naomi Schiff

    I hope you folks will join me tonight at a cool event, Rick Malaspina talking about the Italian history of the Temescal, at the Columbo Club on Claremont. 6:30 doors open, talk at 7:30. It’s gonna be cool!
    Max, I’m outspoken on historic preservation and creative reuse of recyclable buildings, as well as some other planning issues, but generally neighborhood groups have led the neighborhood discourse in recent decades. I am on the record as having supported quite a few multiple-unit projects. I live on a busy street in a modest single family dwelling on a small lot that wouldn’t lend itself to anything much larger, but it is one of our denser neighborhoods. An immediate back neighbor is a four story building with a penthouse on top, on the corner nearest my building. Projects need to be judged on their merits, and those merits include how they fit into their contexts. For a refreshing view, take a look at the ongoing St. Joseph’s project on Fruitvale, combining dense new housing with a reuse of several historic buildings.

  26. len raphael

    Anyone have the link to the part of the city charter prohibition on outsourcing? In all the flap over the city hall security contract, how is it that there’s an exception allowing private contractor for that function?

    -len raphael, temescal

  27. Max Allstadt

    The acronym Chris used deserves to be credited to it’s originator, the late Don Terner, of BRIDGE housing, who died in the early 90s in the Balkans in the same plane crash as DNC chairman Ron Brown.

    It is unsurprising that the Bay Area would inspire that sort of humor from a non-profit developer.

    Naomi, sorry I missed your event. I was at the MISSSEY fundraiser. I encourage everyone to donate generously to them.

  28. annalee allen

    I was sorry to miss the OHA program Thursday, and Naomi, thank you for your statement re the name calling. As usual, your gracious way with words lays it out well. We should always be striving for the win-win position.

  29. Max Allstadt

    “NIMBYism” is as much a legitimate part of the dialogue as “gentrification” is. Some of us dislike one term more than the other. That’s the way the world works.

    The only reason I can come up with to not use NIMBY in this particular debate about the zoo is that it opens the door for people who are completely wrong about the zoo expansion to play the victim card even harder than they are now. So I’ll stop.

    How about this: the people advocating against the zoo expansion are wrong because the species that they claim are endangered are not endangered according to the State of California or the US government.

    They’re wrong because it’s completely misguided to make doing nothing a priority over creating a preserve for multiple endangered California species.

    They’re wrong because the expansion they’re currently trying to protest is better for Oakland than the expansion they already failed to stop.

    And they’re wrong because many of them seem to have taken up environmentalism at a rather convenient moment when it helps their property values.

    And the Sierra Club’s absolutist position on open space is wrong because sometimes open space isn’t actually the best thing for the environment. Golf courses waste water, and birds get killed and maimed by flying balls. If they can be re-developed into green housing, that golf course shouldn’t be an open space priority.

    Similarly, an open meadow inside city limits that can be re-configured into a haven for endangered species that will be open to the public and remain mostly outdoor space, I don’t even think you can legitimately claim that blocking the project is “preserving open space”.

    Is that a better way to make my case, you NIMBYs? (Oops.)

  30. Jocelyn Combs

    I wanted to highlight this community meeting next week. Max has been especially interested in uses for CalTrans air space –

    Community Meeting
    Workshop on Potential Uses for “Air Space” in West Oakland

    Do you walk or ride by empty lots under and adjacent to freeways in West Oakland and think, “I could do something great with that space to stimulate the economy”?

    Please join us at a workshop with the California Department of Transportation (CalTrans) to come up with ideas for creative utilization of “air space” in West Oakland.

    The workshop will include discussion on CalTrans and City of Oakland zoning and use restrictions, photographs of the empty sites, potential lease rates, and a presentation on the leasing process.

    Date: Wednesday, April 27, 2011

    Time: 6:00 to 8:00 PM

    Place: West Oakland Senior Center, 1724 Adeline Street

    For more information, please contact Xiaojing Wang at 238-7031 or xwang@oaklandnet.com.

  31. Chris Kidd

    Let’s channel some of that environmentalist energy towards some environmental justice goals, like getting EBRP to actually provide naturalized open space in low-income and minority communities. The park acreage per capita within walking distance of Oakland’s low income communities is both atrocious and shameful.

  32. Dax

    “like getting EBRP to actually provide naturalized open space in low-income and minority communities.”

    Just wondering, how does EBRP create “naturalized open space” in those areas?

    Buy vacant lots, tear down houses or business buildings?

    I’d like to see one project proposal as a example.
    I know there is the MLK Regional Shoreline area, but even that may not be within walking distance.

    BTW, what is “walking distance”.
    Perhaps that should be defined first.

    1 mile….2 miles (each way)?
    Thus a 1.5 mile walk and 1.5 mile return might give some indication as to what is possible for consideration.

    What distance did you have in mind?

    Additionally, I live right next to several parks. Amazingly, in one nice 120 acre open space, the usage by people age 18 or under is near zero.
    I think I could go a entire year and not see two boys, ages 10 to 14 running, hiking, or flying kites in the park, unless accompanied by their parent.
    Yet I’m sure their classrooms are filled with posters, lessons, etc. all about ecology, recycling, and global warming.


  33. Chris Kidd

    Sorry, Dax. I was using planner shorthand for the sake of brevity.

    Walking distance, typically, is between a quarter to half mile.

    There are plenty of examples of commitments to EJ open space projects across the country. Bimini Slough in LA. The Green Alleyways project. Nature isn’t just “out there”, it’s also in our midst. Creating this false dichotomy is a human construct of the last 100 years. Organizations that prioritize the “out there” nature to the detriment of urban nature are getting only part of the picture and doing themselves a disservice.

    And of course there’s disconnect with some people. It’s not the planners’ job to force people to do things. That’s social engineering. It’s the planners’ job to simply give people a *choice*. In far too many of our low-income neighborhoods, choice is not present.

  34. ralph

    A little off topic, but it seems to me that the planner definition of walking distance is insanely short. Is that really planner shorthand? A mile to mile and a half seems better.

  35. len raphael

    re. 38 Chris, isn’t “park acreage per capita within walking distance” very low for much of oakland except for parts of the hills, not just for low income areas.

    Max, you seem to assume that most nimbys are primarily motivated by economic concerns. For the classic oakland example of nimbyism, Rockridge college ave area, i don’t see property values as a the primary motive of your nimbys. Nor do do i see it for the stand people on Telegraph. Very few of them would have been directly impacted by taller buildings there.

    fair is fair, so we have to recognize “greenmail” as a tried and trued tactic by developers who become born again enviormentalists when it means they can squeeze more units onto a site by eliminating onsite parking or getting density bonuses.

    -len raphael, temescal

  36. Max Allstadt

    If by “greenmail” you mean “pointing out the absurdity of calling yourself an environmentalist while insisting on perpetuating a single-family detached, car-centric vision of cities” you’re right, that’s exactly what developers do.

    They do it to justify building larger and making more money. They like using that kind of talking point because IT IS ALSO TRUE, and that makes it easy to defend.

    Count me as someone who doesn’t care if a developer makes some money by building housing that is actually better for the environment and energy efficiency.

  37. Naomi Schiff

    I believe the term is “greenwashing” and what it refers to is claiming environmental goals for a project in order to provide an altruistic-looking cloak for what is at base a straightforward profit motivation.

    Please note, before jumping all over me, that this is a definition of a term. I am not saying that all development is characterized by greenwashing. But some is, and ideas and concept labels characteristic of environmental movements (as before them, terms characteristic of socially progressive movements) have sometimes been coopted for marketing or political purposes.

  38. Max Allstadt

    It’s a real definition. But if a development sets real goals and meets them it isn’t greenwashing.

    Also, when somebody wants to build housing in an urban area that creates a high number of units per acre, regardless of how many solar panels or LEED points they get, as long as the project follows california building code standards, the project almost always will be greener at 6 stories than at 2.

  39. len raphael

    Max, this is offpost, but in prior posts you’ve referred to density of north oakland as suburban. In much of my hometown brooklyn, the density was and still is lower than north oakland.

    Is your reference point for suburban density, the Tokyo suburbs?


  40. Max Allstadt

    Brooklyn has a population of about 2,501,700 and a land area of 71 square miles. That’s 35,235.21 people per square mile.

    Oakland has a population of just under 390,724 and a land area of 56.1 square miles. That’s 6964.77 people per square mile.

    Admittedly you’re not incorrect by an entire order of magnitude. You’re only incorrect by half an order of magnitude. In other words, Brooklyn’s population density is FIVE TIMES that of Oakland. Almost exactly. If I wanted to say “MORE THAN FIVE TIMES” I could, but since the factor is 5.06, I’ll be generous and say that your off by a factor of five.

    Interestingly, but no surprise to me, the Tokyo suburb where I attended high school (I lived downtown), has a lower density that Brooklyn. The population density of Chofu-Shi, (an inner suburb, just outside city limits) is 27,035 people per square mile.

    This makes sense: suburban Tokyo is largely tiny single family detached homes on narrow streets. This layout surrounds build up areas closer to train stations, where there are frequently apartments in the 7-15 story range. Also, Chofu-Shi is home to a large park and a stadium, and the entire city is only 8 square miles, so that might skew the way the density lays out a bit.

    Also, the density of Tokyo proper (the 23 wards) is 36,418/sq mi, only a hair more than Brooklyn.

    Anyway, so yeah, your anecdotal perception about a couple neighborhoods in Brooklyn, compared to Temescal, really adds up to being meaningless in terms of the bigger picture.

    I’d like to thank Wikipedia and the US Census for making this rebuttal possible.

  41. Dax

    “green-washing”, “renewable-energy washing”, and the current King of them all, “job-washing”

    Throw all three of those in and you’ve got a winner…

  42. Navigator

    Oakland maybe only slightly less than 7,000 residents per square mile but it’s much denser than that when you consider how much wild land and lightly develop[ed areas exist in the hills and canyons of Oakland. If we take Adam’s Point, Lake Merritt, Piedmont Avenue, and even Rockridge, the density in these developed neighborhoods is much greater than 7,000 residents per square miles.

    Also, please don’t refference Wikepedia when getting information about Oakland. That site is manipulated by SF editors who have turned the Oakland article into a gigantic crime blog. No other city in the nation has as large crime section as Oakland. Meanwhile the SF article is all peaches and cream and flowers and rainbows without a crime section at all. For good fear instilling measure, they even include the dangerous Hayward fault in the Oakland article. I’ve caught one of the main Editors on the Oakland article writing seperate articles for the SF page. Wikipedia is a joke manipulated by certain interets without disclosing who they work for.

  43. ralph

    Off topic: Of the cities of checked on wiki, only SF lacked a crime section but none were as large and as random as Oakland’s. If you don’t like the coverage, change it. – Oakland + San Francisco.

  44. Max Allstadt


    I was referencing sourced, verifiable census and USGS data, nothing more.

    Also, Brooklyn and Tokyo and Chofi-Shi have quite a lot of park land, and Brooklyn has a significant amount of undeveloped land on the eastern side, on Jamaica Bay and on the Atlantic. I’m absolutely positive that even if we only counted residentially zoned acreage, we’d be looking at a similar discrepancy.

  45. len raphael

    Max, got you going on that. Useful data. Would be more useful if it’s available by zip code to see if the very dense areas of Brooklyn and the very sparsely populated Oakland Hills are weighing the averages you’re coming up with.

    Still, Brooklyn does have hecka more cemeteries and parks than the flatlands of Oakland.


  46. ralph

    Max, probably should not resort to facts to make a point. I mean to get to away from Oakland’s surburban density numbers, Oakland needs to be 11 sq miles.

  47. Navigator

    Ralph, I don’t like the coverage at all but you have to get a consensus from these biased editors to change anything. I don’t think it’s that easy. They won’t allow a crime section for SF and they wont change the historial police blotter that passes for the Oakland article. Anyone know how to do it give it a try.

  48. ralph

    Nav, Is Wiki “city editing” different than other topics. Having edited other sections, I think someone is feeding you some bull about “consensus from biased editors”. Other cities that don’t have crime sections include Las Vegas and Reno. The Dallas section tells you straight up that UCR can not be relied upon. While I would prefer that section be deleted for all cities, I would settle for standard reptorting across all cities. If I were you I would just click the edit button delete the Oakland section and replace it with the applicable text from Dallas or whatever you feel most appropriate.

  49. Navigator

    Ralph, I’d probably have to delete the entire Oakland article since it’s not only the “crime section” that has references to crime, but throughout the entire body of the article going through just about every decade there are references to crime. Take a look at Detroit and Saint Louis. These two cities have a very small crime section and a much nicer overall article with very nice photographs. The Oakland Wikipedia article sucks big time. It’s gotb crummy small photographs and is basically a glorified crime blotter designed to frighten any reader to every possible danger in Oakland including earthquakes. The entire article even ends with a quote. ‘Oakland is still a very dangerous city.” I’ll see what can be done.

  50. len raphael

    What percentage of oakland is open space or non residential?

    Better comparison is not to Bklyn or Tokyo if you’re saying that North Oakland has suburban density. It would be to Northern CA suburbs.

    Further out burbs like Tracy have about 2,700 people/sq mile. Pleasanton, which seems to be getting many of our departing big employers, has 3,215 people/sq mile.

    Walnut Creek is about 3,400 people/sq mile.
    Concord is surprising higher at 3,900/sq mile.

    Not orders of magnitude less dense than Oakland, but at least half. Again, without adjusting for those huge abandoned insdustrial sections of East and West Oakland, and the EBRParks, could make Oakland relatively much more dense.

    The median incomes in the burbs seem to range from 1.5x of ours to 2.x ours in Pleasonton. ($109k) if ours is about 46k (have to check)

    Nav, chicken or egg question: is it that you want Oakland to be denser because the benefits of higher density outweigh the costs?

    or would you just like to see more people wanting to live here because they love the place like you do?

    (btw, Nav, that nice 1,200 foot renovated house on 49th and Lawton just went back on the market again. looks like it fell out of escrow)

  51. len raphael

    Max, only those of us who grew up in NYC or Tokyo would even consider whether Oakland flatland’s density is “suburban”. People who grew up i the American burbs wouldn’d even understand the question.

  52. Navigator


    I just like urban “elegant density” instead of the large wide suburban streets devoid of pedestrians like you see in Pleasanton. In my opinion Oakland is far superior to places like Pleasanton and Dublin. I’m not a big fan of empty streets that are wide enough to land a 747.

    When you go to urban cities like New York, Boston and many European cities, you see how interesting these cities are. These places are vibrant and full of life with great transportation options.

    Oakland can be the same way. We have 8 BART stations in the city and areas like upper Broadway, Temescal, Uptown, Jack London Square, Old Oakland, the Lake Merritt/Oakland museum areas should all strive for high density walkable neighborhoods convenient to transportation options.

  53. len raphael

    Nav, how about settling for the livability of Minneapolis or Denver? Are those cities V for vibrant enough? They probably won’t get you to Save the Earth heaven the way Portland would, but they seem like they do a decent job for their residents.

    btw, if you do take a look at that nice rehabbed house, be sure not to let your significant other walk to the corner and read the warning about the gal who was mugged there the other night. There’s been a big increase in petty and not so petty crime in Temescal, lower Rockridge, and some other parts of N Oakland the last few months. Doubtless all we need are more eyes on the street to fix that.

  54. ralph

    It is difficult to remove large sections of wiki data. Some options include gradual editing and reframing, editing the tone and context, adding a SF crime section.

    I deleted a bunch of text and amonth other things added the following: “According to the FBI, a city to city comparison of crime rates is not meaningful, because recording practices vary from city to city, citizens report different percentages of crimes from one city to the next, and the actual number of people physically present in a city is unknown.”

    The whole section was changed back to the original; maybe it is time to add a Wiki is racist page.

  55. Max Allstadt

    Len, the DTO is probably lower in population density than many other parts of Oakland, because it’s so full of offices.

    The most dense areas in Oakland are probably Adam’s Point, San Antonio, and possibly some of the apartments-only neighborhoods near the lake. I know Adam’s Point has the highest concentration of registered voters in the entire East Bay, not sure if it’s also the most populous overall.

  56. len raphael

    Max, my question about density about dto was partially a leading one because of the number of offices, but only partly. I am curious what density of Chinatown is, and what overall density of dto.

    Even though dto parcel map is densely covered with offices/businesses, seems that most of them are only a couple of stories high. If the goal for all of oakland (except for the highest income residential areas) is mixed use, it is a valid question to ask what’s the residential density of the sections of DTO that could utilize high density mixed use before planning to encourage high density in areas such as North Oakland that don’t have the indfrastructure to handle higher density.

    -len raphael, temescal

  57. len raphael

    The Jamaica Bay Wildlife Refuge straddles Queens and Brooklyn. My guess is that most of it falls within Queens, but maybe none of it is included in the stats for either borough because wetlands might not count as land.

    I would like to see a comparison of the stats for parks and open space of Brooklyn vs Oakland. That’s not a leading question.

    Was surprised by the high density stats for much of Brooklyn. But again, the areas I was opining had density lower than North Oakland were the middle class single and semi-attached home areas like Midwood,Canarsie, Marine Park etc. Admittedly only housing a tiny percentage of Bklyn residents.

  58. Navigator

    Len, did you know that Oakland was rated the number 1 underrated city on the west coast ahead of Portland and ten other cities? I’ve been through Denver once. I saw the area near Coors Field. I didn’t see enough of the city to have a good impression.

    Ralph, you can go on the “discussion” page on the Wiki Oakland article and let them know how you feel. I’ve given my two cents. Do the same for the SF “discussion” page.

    Max, you’re right about Adam’s Point. I’d also include the Grand Lake Apartment District area bordered by Grand, Lakeshore, the Lake and the City of Piedmont. Also, the apartments around Haddon Hill off of Lakeshore on the east side of the Lake are very dense.

  59. Navigator


    BTW, my daughter lives in Manhattan and has gone to Brooklyn many times and she’s told me that downtown Oakland is much nicer than downtown Brooklyn. She says that downtown Brooklyn is filled with older unkept buildings and the area is pretty sketchy.

  60. ralph

    O/T: Now I am pissed. Someone peed in my cheerios. That c—— at Wiki removed my modest edits which were pulled from other pages and their source data. I sent them a message, which was surprisingly short on expletives.

  61. Navigator

    The Zoo expansion is a great thing for Oakland because it will turn the Oakland Zoo into one of the top zoos in the nation and make it a tourist draw. It’s progress and it will open up opportunities for people who would otherwise never be able to enjoy the great enviroment and vistas that Knowland Park now offers to only a small number of local residents.

  62. len raphael

    not a leading question, but a semi test of the “eyes on the street theory” would be charting the beat crime stats with population density here. I don’t know if say Adam’s Point has a lower or higher per capita rate for the street crimes which would wb expected to be lower if more eyes = less crime.

    But i’ll bet one BB chicken sandwich that San Antonio District has a lower per capita street crime rate for muggings than Temescal.

  63. Navigator

    Ralph, I share your frustration. Anyone reading the Oakland Wiki page would never want to come or locate to Oakland. That’s including any prospective businesses. I think that’s the idea from some of these editors who obviously work for SF marketing interests.

  64. Patrick M. Mitchell

    Anyone with even a modicum of forward-thinking would pounce on Oakland as the undiscovered treasure of the century. Like me :)

  65. Ravi

    Ralphie: “O/T: Now I am pissed. Someone peed in my cheerios. That c—— at Wiki removed my modest edits which were pulled from other pages and their source data. I sent them a message, which was surprisingly short on expletives.”

    Yo gonna have to be mighty busy ‘rasin’
    Oaktown crime stuff from the internet: “Two Murdered, Four Shot Up in Jack London Early Today”


    Maybe the fact that Oaktown is crime-ridden will eventually come to the attention of people who can do something about it.

  66. ralph

    While your statement may be true, it seems like a considerable number of people spends a considerable amount of time portraying Oakland as crime central. The editors at Wiki will tell you that on one level that the Oakland crime section is biased and is inconsistent with Wiki guidelines but because it is referenced, albeit with statements that are self-serving and out of context, they let it stand.

  67. Navigator

    Ralph, The wiki editors will defend their Oakland Police Blotter to the end. They think the Oakland article is perfectly balanced. That goes double for an editor who calls himself “blinkstnet” who does double duty inserting lovely edits in the “gorgeous” San Francisco crime free utopian Wiki article.

    For the person bringing up the shooings inside “Sweet Jimmies” nightclub NEAR Jack London Square, let me first say that nightclub shootings are not un usual in lovely utopian San Francisco. Secondly, Sweet Jimmie has had a history of shootings and violence going back to when they were located at 17th & San Pablo in what is now the Uptown area. It seems that Sweet Jimmie took its violence down Broadway.

    I was under the impression that this establishment had been put out of business in Oakland. Unfortunately, Sweet Jimmie’s has reared its ugly head again and Oakland’s reputation takes another hit. Why does Oakland allow ANY nighclub that caters to young thugs? How many times does this have to happen in San Francisco, in Oakland, in Philadelphia, in NY, In LA before people understand that we can not have places which cater to these gun toting thugs. Every single club that caters to young African Americans in Oakland has seen shootings and homicdes. Most of them have been shut down but uinfortunately Sweet Jimmies came back to life and Oakland will now pay a price. Oakland isn’t that teflon city across the Bay where kilings of tourists and nighclub shootings don’ stick. I’ll guarantee you this will be another entry in Wikipedia. You can bet those “independent” editors are looking forward to another entry on the massive Oakland crime section.

  68. Jim

    The mindless hurling of the NIMBY epithet at every opponent of the current zoo expansion plan is foolish and inaccurate. Accusations of personal or parochial motivation have been directed both at certain residents who live near Knowland Park and at representatives of the zoo. This is unfair to both groups and is a simplistic substitute for providing a well-reasoned rationale for either side of the zoo expansion controversy. The arguments both for and against this plan should stand on their merits without resorting to name-calling. Many who question various aspects of the plan do not even live near the site of proposed zoo development and many are not opposed to what they feel to be an appropriate zoo expansion.

    Any decision regarding the zoo’s expansion should be based on the impact that it will have on the city and its people. The concerns and unique insights of neighbors should be considered, but they should not outweigh the interests of the community as a whole.

    The truth is that the Oakland Zoo is a great resource as is the open space of Knowland Park. Both have their value as does the potential expansion of the zoo. Thoughtful residents should consider the relative benefits of the current zoo plan and come to their own conclusions as to its suitability.

    What follows are a few thoughts of an individual who is a big fan of both Knowland Park and the Oakland Zoo and who would like to see the zoo expand in an environmentally sensitive manner. Although an optimally designed zoo expansion could adequately protect valuable open space while at the same time providing facilities for a new state-of-the art California Exhibit, the current proposal seems to fall short of this goal. Problems with the original 1998 Master Plan concerning the protection of open space are only exacerbated by the amended plan, which moves most of the exhibits and facilities farther into undeveloped parkland. At a minimum, the development plan should entail some further mitigation measures if not a more extensive redesign.

    The Knowland Park open space is a unique East Oakland gem. It is the only open space in the area that runs from flatland neighborhoods up to our much treasured hilltop regional parks. It is a unique view corridor and wildlife corridor that is presently underutilized as a recreational venue. A few relatively minor mitigation measures could enhance its utilization by the surrounding community while having a minor impact on the expansion.

    At a minimum, mitigation measures should include:
    • Creating a scenic trail linkage between the park segments above and below Golf Links Road and up into Anthony Chabot Regional Park.
    • Moving the perimeter fencing inward as far as is feasible. (Up to this point, the East Bay Zoological Society has not provided a consistent rationalization for the large amount of undeveloped open space to be included within the fenced area.)
    • The strategic placement of native landscaping, berms, and the creative use of other types of earth contouring in order to preserve the views and serenity of the remaining open space.

    Beyond the minimal mitigations mentioned above, it would seem that there is adequate reason to further revise the current development plan in order to minimize its impact on recreational opportunities. The Oakland Zoo is an important resource and it is possible to have an expansion of the facilities that would be robust, scenic, educationally valuable, and appealing while at the same time protecting the unique character of the existing undeveloped parkland. Such an expansion should serve the zoo’s needs without creating any significant negative impact on the park’s open space, hiking opportunities, wildlife, views, or the maintenance of an adequate buffer zone from the zoo’s neighbors. The flaws of the present plan should be addressed in order to produce the best possible design.

    The goal of an effective zoo expansion can best be met by avoiding needless sprawl into undeveloped sections of the park. Infilling near currently developed areas of the zoo should be a priority. The present plan calls for concentrating exhibits quite far into the existing open space while leaving potentially developable areas closer to present zoo facilities untouched. This is a change from the 1998 plan, which placed a canyon exhibit and a river exhibit closer to the current zoo attractions. The new modifications needlessly extend the zoo’s required footprint and place the bulk of the proposed development beyond the lower ridgeline, where it would intrude on the natural setting that now exists in the western highlands. Any new development should be limited to the bluffs below the proposed site of the visitor’s center and should not extend over the ridge located at the lower section of the current development plan.

    I feel compelled to note that I am not currently a close neighbor of the area of the planned zoo development. I have lived in various parts of the city for most of my 52 years and currently reside off of upper Keller Avenue. During the first 15 years of my life, from 1958 until 1973, I grew up in a home directly adjacent to the western segment of the park and from my earliest years I visited both the zoo and the open space on a regular basis. I have a deep affection for both and hope that future generations can enjoy experiencing the zoo and the undeveloped parts of the park as I did in my youth. (My memories of visiting to the zoo go way back to when “Effie” the elephant was a major attraction, at which time I referred to the zoo as “Effie the Elephant Park.”)

    My family has maintained a zoo membership in recent years and we continue to visit frequently. I was excited about the prospect for the development of the California Exhibit when I first heard about it and I remain supportive of a thoughtfully designed zoo expansion along with the opportunity it would present for our community.

  69. Stephanie Johnson

    In your article, you speak of the undying efforts of environmentalists who clamored against development, hunting and rampant habitat loss, helping bring animals and habitat back from the brink. In the same breath, you speak of how good this proposed project is.

    Can you hear yourself? This project is being opposed by environmentalists and environmental protection groups because it’s invasive, destroys habitat for sensitive species, and will destroy rare grasslands that only exist here in California. How is this “protecting natural California”??

    Furthermore, the Zoo has been responsible for scotch-broom eradication for quite a number of years, and the problem has never been worse! This is a prime example of the Zoo’s failed environmental stewardship, and speaks volumes about exactly what Oakland and California can expect if their self-serving plan breaks ground.