ABO readers, do not adjust your computer screens. Chris Kidd here, that impertinent young scamp you often see shooting his mouth off in comments. I have to admit that I totally geeked out to V about the upcoming Estuary Specific Plan and she asked me to write up a post about it while she was taking the week off.
As mentioned above, I’m super psyched about the Estuary Specific Plan process. Most people give me blank stare when I mention the ESP, so I suppose I should give some background. It’d be best to start where all things start: the beginning.
This all started with the Estuary Policy Plan (EPP) (PDF), a project developed from 1997-1999. This was a update of the city’s General Plan designed to help transition land that was previously heavy industry into a mix of light industry, commercial, park land, residential, and mixed-use residential. The Plan was really forward-thinking in recognizing the value of Oakland’s waterfront areas, but the EPP sadly had no plan for implementation. It was only a suggestion for the city to follow.
The central area of the EPP is bound by 19th, 50th, the estuary and I-880. So far, the only sections in the central estuary closely resembling the EPP’s intent are Union Point Park and the Kennedy Tract neighborhood area (also known as Jingletown). Here’s the map (PDF) from the original project for the central estuary area.
Fast forward to 2005/2006. The EPP isn’t much closer to fruition than when its recommendations were first presented. I don’t know who thought of it first, but between developers and the city planner’s office, the concept of a specific plan for the central estuary region began to take shape. Carlos Plazola was part of a group that wanted to design a privately invested specific plan for this area in this time period. You can read his own words on the subject here. I don’t know what role Dan Lindheim had in killing the project (I won’t make those kinds of assumptions). I can tell you that when the proposal to initiate a specific plan went before the city council, staff recommended a city-run specific plan process over a developer run process. Read into that what you will.
This still brings us back to, “What the heck is a Specific Plan?” SPUR just had a great article in their July issue of The Urbanist which dealt with a similar specific plan process that took place in the Market/Van Ness/Octavia neighborhood from 2002-2007. It’s a great read (I <3 SPUR), and you can find it here. For those disinclined to click on the link, I’ll do a worse job explaining it right now:
A specific plan is broken up into two major purposes/points of involvement. The first purpose involves the creation of new zoning and building specifications for the area encompassed by the specific plan (in this instance, most likely zoned closer to the Estuary Policy Plan recommendations). The second purpose harnesses this change in zoning/specifications in order to secure fees from developers to improve the specific plan area.
To carry out a specific plan, the city completes an Environmental Impact Review (EIR) for the area the specific plan encompasses. The EIR explores the environmental ramifications of a range of building specifications and zoning changes. If a developer decides to build in this area, and the planned project falls within the guidelines of the zoning and EIR performed by the city, the city allows the developer to bypass the CEQA/EIR stage and streamline the project’s approach to the planning commission. This can sometimes remove a year or more from the pre-construction phase for a developer. For the right to cut costs, and especially for the right to shorten the time to get approval, the city will extract a fee from any developers building projects within the specific plan area. The fee is usually based on a dollar-per-square-foot amount for the property being developed. All of these funds extracted from new development go into a piggy bank that can only be used for purposes in the specific plan area.
In the central area of the estuary, these funds could be used to great effect. Improving waterfront access, roads and infrastructure, and sewer systems (some of which, I am told, still have wood-frame sections); putting Measure DD projects online; and increasing police presence–these potential improvements only scratch the surface of what could be accomplished in the area with funds gathered by the implementation of a specific plan.
What causes me to geek out about this specific plan is that the slate is almost currently blank. The decisions for what kind of buildings will be covered under the EIR is wide open; the uses of the funds generated from the specific plan are wide open. It’s all contingent upon the plans drawn up by the consulting company hired and the public input received. The city planner’s office is currently asking for RFP submissions (PDF) from consulting companies. The only current piece of direction is the old 1997 Estuary Policy Plan. It will need a serious updating, considering how the area has changed in eleven years.
The planning process is supposed to take 18-24 months. Hopefully we’ll be able to see concrete effects of this plan in the very near future. Personally, I would love to see the full implementation of the bay trail throughout the specific plan area (with the increase in waterfront access it would entail), encouragement of industry to develop towards biotech/greentech, creation of denser housing concentrations in an area in close proximity to a transportation hub, and the retention of high levels of work/live space (being that it is a zero-commute type of housing). But that’s the great thing about a specific plan at this stage: It can be almost anything.
I’d love to hear what everyone else thinks is possible. If you live in the specific area, I suggest you keep tabs on whomever wins the bidding for creating the specific plan. They will be required to hold at least eight public stakeholder meetings during the process. If you show up, you’ll probably have a great chance to create tangible change in your neighborhood. There’s a flip side to that, however: if you don’t show up, you can be sure there are a lot of other interests that will. This is a huge project that has the potential to generate substantial funds for a small area of the city. Myriad people will want to dip their fingers into that honey pot. It’s the responsibility of all of us to make sure that the type of buildings zoned in the EIR are acceptable and that the fees generated are spent in the best possible manner.
I’ll be out of town for the rest of the week, so don’t expect me to respond to any posts/questions. Corrections and scoldings are always welcome.