This Wednesday, the Oakland Planning Commission will consider, hopefully for the final time, a proposal to create something called a Temporary Conditional Use Permit (TCUP), which you can read all about here, here, here, here, here, here, and here if you’re interested in the details. The short version is that these TCUPs will allow for the creation of new surface parking lots in downtown Oakland.
Under the recently adopted new downtown zoning, parking structures are allowed, but new surface parking lots are banned, in accordance with the policies for downtown Oakland laid out in our General Plan, which specifies that parking facilities in the downtown area should be “designed to enhance the pedestrian environment.”
Surface parking lots are gross
On Saturday, I took a little walk around a relatively small section of downtown, surveying the state of all the surface parking lots between 19th and Broadway and 13th and Madison.
It was really, really gross.
Some lots were better than others, and some were especially super gross. But out of all the lots I visited, there was only one that was actually clean and totally free of trash. Only two were free of graffiti.
The most common argument I hear in defense of adding new surface parking lots downtown is that even if surface parking isn’t an ideal use, it is at least better than having some an empty lot, which will inevitably become blighted and covered in trash and graffiti.
Observation indicates, however, that in reality, the opposite is true. The existing fenced vacant lots downtown, while hardly an ideal use of land, tend to remain relatively free of such things, perhaps because fences lend a sense of ownership to the land and present at least a small barrier to entrance for littering and/or other gross purposes.
Surface parking lots, on the other hand, are large expanses of open space that appears unowned. Their large blank walls welcome taggers. Their dark, open corners invite those in need of a place for sleeping or conducting other personal business. Their vast expanses of uncared for asphalt are treated as trash cans for anyone who passes by.
The deplorable condition of these lots only invites more blight. A space full of trash day after day sends a message to everyone who passes by that it’s okay to add to the pile.
As we have seen with the recent addition of a “temporary” parking lot at 14th and Harrison, it doesn’t matter what kind of conditions the City places on these permits — Oakland simply does not have the resources to monitor or enforce these conditions. And then you end up having piles of feces sitting there for three months and 20 foot tall graffiti that remains for six weeks even though we were promised the lot would be cleaned daily and all graffiti would be removed within seventy-two hours.
What kind of message does this send to people who come to our downtown? Is this the kind of welcome we want to give visitors?
I had originally planned on doing a larger section of downtown for my little parking lot blight survey, but after just going through this small section, I had to stop. I was so disgusted that I just couldn’t take it anymore.
How you can help
If you don’t want more of this kind of blight downtown, well, it would be awesome if you could come out on Wednesday night to speak at the Planning Commission against the TCUPs. The meeting starts at 6 PM.
If you can’t make it on Wednesday, you can still help out by sending an email to the Commission. Here’s a sample message to get you started, but I encourage you to personalize it with your own views.
Dear Planning Commissioners -
I am writing to ask you to vote against adopting the Temporary Conditional Use Permits that would allow for new surface parking lots in downtown Oakland. Allowing unlimited surface parking downtown would be unpleasant and unsafe. Parking lots are a magnet for blight, graffiti, and crime. I enjoy downtown and don’t want to see more cars and more curb cuts. There is no good reason to do this, it’s not part of any transportation or business strategy, and is in direct opposition to Oakland’s stated goals of created a more pedestrian-friendly and vibrant downtown. Please recommend against adopting this proposal.
The Planning Commissioners emails are as follows: firstname.lastname@example.org, VienV.Truong@gmail.com, Blake.Huntsman@seiu1021.org, email@example.com, firstname.lastname@example.org, email@example.com, VinceGibbs.firstname.lastname@example.org.
So please send an email. Or don’t, if you want more of this: