So yesterday I wrote for Novometro about the zoning update plan going to the Community and Economic Development Committee (CED) on Tuesday. If you aren’t already familiar with the details, I encourage you to click through for an overview. Basically, this is part of the ongoing process to update our zoning to conform with the General Plan.
This afternoon, CED will be voting on a proposal (PDF!) to do just that for the parts of Oakland zoned General Industrial and Business Mix. Now, if you’ve been paying attention, you know all about General Industrial and Business Mix because one of the hot items on last week’s Council agenda was how we plan to deal with them.
If you missed it then, here’s the short version. The General Plan designates 19% of Oakland’s total acreage as either General Industrial or Business Mix, the two industrial designations in the General Plan (out of 15 total). But most of that land is controlled by the Port. Of the land the City has control over, only 5% falls into industrial designations. Right now, our messy zoning places that land into a whole mess of categories, ranging from R-50 (residential) to M-30 (industrial). The zoning update will fix all that, dividing them up into 4 different zoning categories. Everything designated General Industrial (for heavy industry) will be called General Industrial. The parts designated Business Mix will become either CIX-1 (Commercial Industrial Mix 1, light industry, mostly West Oakland), CIX-2 (Commercial Industrial Mix 2, light industry, mostly Central and East Oakland), or IO (Industrial Office – those fancy flex office parks that are so in demand, certain parts of Central and East Oakland).
So, for the most part, this is fine. Industrial zoning isn’t all that complicated. But, as always, there’s a catch, and that catch is work/live (and also recycling, but I’m not getting into that one). To vastly oversimplify the situation, industrial businesses owners don’t want work/live near them. They see work/live as simply a euphemism for residential, any nearby residents as a threat to their ability to make noise and smell bad and load trucks at all hours of the night. Because neighbors complain when you wake them up, right? So they think the new zoning should allow for no work/live whatsoever, and if the Council wants to allow it, they should have to amend the General Plan to indicate that.
Work/live residents, unsurprisingly, disagree. They consider their work a valid industrial use and would like to be permitted throughout all four industrial zoning categories. What both parties agree on is that they have a vested interest in keeping out “fake” live/work housing, or what people often call “lifestyle lofts,” which they believe drive up property costs and drive out industrial businesses. It’s a mess. In December, staff presented a draft version of the plan to the Planning Commission that did not contain any plan for work/live. Instead, they asked the Commissioners to direct them to do something about work/live, offering three options. The Commission’s answer was basically “figure it out yourself.”
So what the planning staff has done is draw up a compromise that pleases no one. Work/live is permitted in CIX-1 & 2, but only as a buffer and only within 300 feet of the border with a residential zone. Additionally, the staff has taken extraordinary measures to ensure that no “fake live/work” will slip through – both new developments and conversions of existing buildings to work/live (within the buffer zone) will require conditional use permits and crazy design review. Really – the design review guidelines are way too stringent. If you don’t believe me, look at two spaces that nobody, as far as I know, disputes are legitimate work/live projects – Peralta Studios and the Noodle Factory. Neither conform to the design review rules in the new code.
Some would argue that preventing dubious live/work housing from encroaching on industrial areas is so important that it’s necessary to adopt ridiculously stringent requirements in the interim before we can write better rules. I’m not entirely sold on that, and I think that these rules could be much less stringent and still preclude fake live/work, but hell, I don’t live there, so I’m willing to cede that point for now. Besides, planning staff promises to revisit this language next year after further study, although I’m dubious that will actually happen.
So fine. Keep the super strict work/live code. I’m okay with that. But, if you’re going to do that, then why on God’s green earth would you on top of that find its necessary to ban work/live in 80% of CIX? Why? I don’t get this part at all.
The proposal to restrict work/live to a buffer area completely misses the point of work/live. Suggesting this should be a buffering use presumes that users of work/live space do not have legitimate business in industrial areas. But this ignores the fact that we are, in large part, talking about industrial uses that present all the exact same problems for neighbors as they would if nobody was sleeping there – carpentry, stonework, and metalworking may be less annoying to neighbors than, say, a scrap metal recycler. But they smell and they make noise and make for generally unpleasant neighbors – certainly a lot more so than some permitted CIX uses, like, oh…I don’t know, say, a chocolate factory?
The Planning Commission just doesn’t seem to get this. Although half a dozen speakers asked the Planning Commission to allow work/live throughout CIX-1 & 2 at the January 16th meeting, they made no changes. Then, when a dozen artists and live/work residents came to the following meeting to complain about the live/work situation and asking them to make allowances for it in the industrial land use policy, the Commissioners, instead of listening to their concerns, condescended and basically told them they didn’t know what they were talking about. Anne Mudge patronizingly informed them that “We love our artists” and “we just expanded work/live,” failing, of course, to understand the plan she voted for at all. They didn’t expand it – they banned it from 93.5% of Oakland’s industrial areas!
Now it’s the Council’s turn. Of course, nobody at this point is even really asking to eliminate this buffer zone. Work/live residents are reduced to begging for a grandfather clause that would allow them to keep their current homes. I guess we’ll find out this afternoon if the CED members have any more respect for artists than the Planning Commission.
And don’t even get me started on the poor people who live around 24th and Adeline who just got their existing mixed use community and single family homes zoned CIX with no hope of even live/work development. The Planning Commissioners couldn’t be bothered with their objections enough to even make a condescending comment about how they didn’t know anything. Sigh.
Related: dto510 points out just how unfair this sudden shift in policy is.