So I really did mean to go to Saturday’s meeting about new downtown height limits, part of the Lake Merritt Zoning Study that was supposed to be completed last fall. But after sleeping in, hitting the farmer’s market, and riding the 1 across town to pick up some salumi, I decided I just didn’t have the energy to rush back downtown and waste such a pretty afternoon in a dreary room listening to whining from anti-development activists. So I decided to enjoy some tacos instead and take my time walking home. I justified my decision by telling myself that nobody would be there, nothing interesting would be said, and that I could get all the answers I needed from one of my helpful correspondents, who I knew was attending.
The meeting, for those who don’t know or don’t want to click through to the explanatory link above, is part of an ongoing effort to “update” the zoning for downtown Oakland, initiated last year “at the request of Councilmembers Nancy Nadel (D-3) and Pat Kernighan (D-2),” according to the Lake Merritt Townhall Meeting Yahoo! Group, an online forum about the update, moderated by Nancy Nadel policy aide Marisa Arrona. The community meetings on the matter have been hosted by Nancy Nadel and Pat Kernighan, and public comment on the study has been collected by Nadel’s office. Concerned residents have been instructed to send their thoughts to Nadel’s staff:
We are soliciting public input via community meetings as well as written comments that can be emailed to Councilmember Nadel’s Policy Aide, Marisa Arrona, at ArronaM@oaklandnet.com. If you have been, or will be, unable to attend the community meetings, please email your input to Marisa Arrona.
Those who want to learn more about the meeting and proposals should visit the Lake Merritt Zoning Study webpage.
Anyway, I didn’t go to the meeting for the reasons explained above. I was right on the first point, at least. But after hearing about the planning staff’s proposal to downzone downtown, initiated at the request of Nancy Nadel, from said correspondent, I’m kicking myself for not going, because I now have about 10 zillion questions that won’t be getting answered. I will try my best to get something up this week explaining the plan in more detail, but for now I’ll sum it up in one sentence: 55 foot height limits downtown! Unfreakingbelievable.
Okay. It’s a little bit more complicated that that. Planning staff, as part of a downtown zoning update initiated at the request of Nancy Nadel, proposes to divide downtown into 6 totally arbitrary zones, each with its own height limit. The meeting’s handouts are too big for my scanner, the maps are apparently going to be uploaded to the City’s website next week, so when they appear, I’ll update with a link.
The planning staff’s proposed map for the downtown zoning update, initiated at the request of Nancy Nadel, was accompanied by some handouts listing the heights of existing buildings downtown. This makes sense, since people should probably have some sort of context for what x number of feet actually looks like if they’re going to be talking about how many feet tall buildings should be allowed to be. Unfortunately, the list was completely wrong.
My go-to resource for building heights is Emporis, generally regarded to be a reliable source of information – since they exist to sell their research, they have a vested interest in getting things right. Here’s a list of the tallest buildings in Oakland and their heights according to Emporis, and the heights of the same buildings listed on the handout under the heading “Top 10 Tallest Buildings in CBD.”
Un-freaking-believable. The handout not only fails to include City Hall itself, but also knocks roughly 100 feet off every building on the list!
When questioned about the numbers, planner Eric Angstadt claimed that the listed heights were accurate, and from data in official City records. I find this assertion…improbable, particularly considering the nice round numbers for each building and the little note on the document that reads “Building height and number of stories are based on an estimate of 10 feet per story and field work.”
Another handout offers images illustrating which buildings would be allowed in which zones, and gives approximate heights for each one (“based on field observations and an estimate of 10 feet per story”). Among the examples:
Spear Tower: Handout height: 430 feet. Actual height: 564 feet.
Citicorp Center: Handout height: 400 feet. Actual height: 551 feet.
50 Fremont Center: Handout height: 430 feet. Actual height: 600 feet.
Chevron Tower: Handout height: 400 feet. Actual height: 573 feet.
So basically, the planning staff, in a downtown zoning update initiated at the request of Nancy Nadel, is not only suggesting we downzone downtown Oakland, its’s using lies to justify it. Deliberately lying to to citizens is hardly the sort of behavior one desires from one’s city staff, although not exactly shocking when Nadel is involved.
The most charitable scenario I can imagine is that the planning staff actually thinks that most buildings are between 100 and 170 feet shorter than they actually are, in which case, their suitability for the duty of determining height limits is, um, questionable. Even the most inept researcher should be able to plug something along the lines of tallest buildings Oakland into a Google search box and find the Emporis data on the first page of results. At the very least, you’d think this would prompt some sort of curiosity about the discrepancy in the numbers.
Anyway, if the heights on the meeting handout lists were true, the local papers sure missed out on a big story back in December, when the Planning Commission approved Shorenstein’s new 23-story, 370 foot office building (PDF!) in City Center. It’s apparently the tallest building in Oakland by nearly 100 feet! And only 30 feet short of the new proposed height limit for its lot.