Monday night saw the first community meeting for the Area Specific Plan for the Central Embarcadero area. The area stretches from Coast Guard Island to the Martin Luther King Regional Shoreway. The Area Specific Plan will build on the prior Estuary Policy Plan (PDF) and will set the framework for re-zoning the area. It also sets the vision for how the area should be twenty or forty years from now.
Except for the Jingletown area, the area was entirely industrial until about twenty years ago. Now much of it is mixed use transitioning from industrial. It is home to a number of industrial artists. However, heavy industry does remain, including manufacture of glass, aggregate and concrete.
Visions for the area followed two divergent paths, one focused on keeping as much as possible, preserving existing buildings, protecting industry, while the other drew examples from West Berkeley and more frequently Portland, Seattle and Vancouver. The guiding question in the first path is what sort of urban development is compatible with industry. The second path asks what sort of industry is compatible with intense urban development.
People would like the intense and vibrant waterfronts of our neighbors to the north, without facing how this transformation would take place.
Since the Area Specific Plan takes a long-term visionary approach, I suggest that the second path is well worth considering. Can Oakland develop and preserve neighborhoods that really are mixed use yet with a density that recognizes the value of this highly desirable location? Can we integrate business, commercial and residential activity with the waterfront, making the Estuary not simply a backdrop but an integral part? Can we create public space that gives complementary relief to a higher density and makes the area inviting for people throughout the region? Can we do it in a way that benefits not just a few existing vested interests, or a few developers, but the city that Oakland will be in twenty or forty years?
The next meeting will be April 22, place to be announced, but the Unity Council’s Senior Center in the Fruitvale Transit Village is the leading candidate.
Tom Thurston is an East Oakland resident and Chair of the Central City East Redevelopment Area PAC.