We may be reaching the end of the City Walk saga!

City Walk, in case you’ve forgotten, is that big abandoned half-built condo building on 14th and Jefferson downtown, right behind the Federal Building. Construction started in March 2005, and was supposed to be completed by the end of 2007, but instead, just stopped in July 2007. The City extended the developer’s deadline to complete the project several times, and finally, Olson just gave up on ever getting it together to finish the damn building and started looking for someone else to buy the project.

Back then, Olson was supposed to sell the property to Simpson Housing Corporation, who would complete construction and then rent out the units as apartments. So that the sale could go through, Oakland amended the development agreement (PDF) to extend the deadline again last February. The new extension said construction must recommence by May of this year, and had a final completion deadline of the end of 2010.

So, of course, that sale didn’t pan out, just like everything else that anyone has tried to do with this damn lot forever. Now, Olson has found themselves a new developer to sell the project to, Wood Partners, and to facilitate that sale, we have to extend the agreement (PDF) again, with a new deadline to restart construction by the end of next May and complete the project by December 2011. The new buyer will also be renting the property as apartments rather than selling it as condos, which means we lose out on the $1.6 million in transfer tax we were expecting from the project. But on the plus side, we’ll get $75k in transfer tax for the building if Olson can ever successfully complete a sale. That’ll save like, half a job.

Let’s cross our fingers and hope the sale goes through this time. It looks promising. Last I heard, they were hoping to close on July 22nd, the day after the City Council gives the extension their stamp of approval.

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25 thoughts on “We may be reaching the end of the City Walk saga!

  1. TheBoss

    As I see it, the bummer here isn’t the loss of the transfer tax. That’s just a one-time bump, and frankly all it does is go to Oakland’s semi-corrupt government.

    The real loss is the shift from owned condos to rented apartments. That attracts people with less incentive to improve the city, since they don’t have the same tie owners have.

  2. Ralph

    Another issue with eventually turning that bldg into apts is the potential loss for future owner occupied bldgs. For the reasons stated above owners like to be around other owners. If we create more rental units what builder will want to build owner occupied housing if the potential for selling it is low.

  3. DD

    Can I just say how much I hate hearing the same old refrain that renters don’t care about making the city they live in a better place? I am a Bay Area native and I have been a proud Rockridge resident for the past 4.5 years. Yes, I am a renter, but I am also a voter and active in community issues. Unfortunately, I feel like my opinion does not get treated equally with home-owners in the neighborhood, even when some of them bought their houses just to flip them and make a fast buck. (Nevermind the fact that In the process, those transient folks help jack up property values so high that there is no hope that I can ever afford to become an owner, ugh!) But, thank goodness there are rental units in this neighborhood, or I could never afford to live here at all! So, my two cents it to please treat renters with respect–we care a lot more than you realize.

  4. len

    DD, you and many of the contributors to ABO are the exception to the general rule that renters usually are less (and that’s a very low standard in Oakland) civic minded than owner occupants. some part of that is that the pols take renters less seriously than owner occupants. part of it is class/economic based stuff. but part of it is just that many people are tennants because they don’t want to deal with the hassles of maintaining property, including fighting city hall, and want the freedom to move without high transaction costs.

    -len raphael

  5. Kipper

    I heard the lot is haunted and therefore doomed to failure. The soul of an errant transgendered prostitute from MLK wanders there. Nuetralize the ghost and you can have the xfer tax. Simple.

  6. Naomi Schiff

    A lot of renters seem smarter than some of our overstretched homeowners, not having paid inflated prices for houses. I reject the false commonplace that homeowners are more responsible citizens. In the Oakland neighborhoods I’ve lived in (since 1974), that has not proven true. Renters have made up a sizable proportion of our neighborhood organizations, and have been responsible for endless hours of neighborhood cleanup, crimefighting, tree planting, derelict car removal, engagement with traffic issues (we live on a busy street) and maintenance.

    On the other hand, the homeowner who used to live next door to me was a nightmare, made loud racket all night long, for years, did much substandard work without permits, and degraded the appearance and the value of his home considerably.

    We might scrutinize some of Oakland’s absentee landlords, who allow properties to run down, and stick their tenants with the resultant problems–sometimes without ever setting foot in the city of Oakland. At least, that’s been the biggest problem on our street.

    The most egregious example I can remember is the Walnut Creek guy who showed up to meet with a prospective renter, wearing sweatpants with dollar signs painted on them. He was the same one who would not deal with weeds, leaks, deteriorating fencing, trash problems. A handsome blond with a lousy attitude. And he wasn’t charging low rents.

  7. Ralph

    I don’t know if renters are smarter. I have to imagine that some of today’s overstretched owners were former renters. Some renters and some buyers stayed put. They recognized what they could afford financially. So in that regard renters and owners are really on the same footing.

    Those of you who think renters behave similar to owners please talk to the FHA who has some strict rules regarding lending to potential condo owners.

    All I know is what my moms taught me when I was a young lad, when apartments and pawn shop start to become the norm, it is time to ride the white horse to a better place. (Now, if the rents are sufficiently high and the renters aren’t spoiled college age (or just beyond college age), then it might be possible to avoid the ills of the hoi polloi.)

  8. len

    Naomi, you’ve been blessed. in my area, last june when i knocked on doors several people got rid of me at the onset with “i’m just a renter”. i asked what difference that should make and they’re reply was something to the effect they weren’t planning to stick around.

  9. Dave B.

    In general terms, it is better to have homeowners instead of renters. A lot depends on who the landlord rents to and how well they enforce the rules. I’m surprised OHA didn’t try to get their greedy hands on this project. Then the could have put subsidized renters in here which usually cause the most problems. To witness this, just drive down to MLK near 30th St. where there are two OHA properties. Rampant drug dealing and crime is 24/7 – don’t stay there long!

  10. Dave B.

    A similar fate may happen if developer Trammel Crow gets their way and demolishes the historic Courthouse building on Telegraph & 30th. They are proceeding with demolition as if they are going to build their market rate condos (the same plan before their OHA deal fell through). Problem is, they probably don’t have the money to build the project as their company is on financial shaky ground (this was revealed in a document search of OHA). TC will probably demolish the building, then leave it as a vacant lot as a gift to the struggling Telegraph corridor. Maybe they think they can shop the property easier as building ready? The city of Oakland should be encouraged to deny their building permit and help save the structure as it can be used for community use in the years ahead. It’s obvious the area is overbuilt with too much inventory plus we would lose one more piece of the unique character of this town.

  11. Chris Kidd

    Dave, you do realize you have your own blog to talk about non-related issues, right?

    Back to City Walk – whatever makes that project more financially viable (and thus given a greater chance of completion) is fine by me. I mean really, what would you rather have: renters in a completed building, or that nasty white sheet covering a black eye in the middle of downtown? What’s more, a healthy mix of renters and condo owners will help downtown maintain a richer economic diversity than just condos.

  12. David

    You know, your blog is 1) awesome and 2) an example of the kind of, I don’t know, “journalism” that someone might actually pay for and keep the Oak Tribune or Chron alive. Actually asking relevant questions and finding out stuff. what a concept.

  13. VivekB

    I’d agree that a healthy blend of renters & owners is a good thing for neighborhoods with stuff that appeals to renters. I.E., nice restaurants, bars, used CD stores, bookstores. When I was single and had the 1BR studio for <$1000/month, my friends & I each dumped $1000/month on bars, (?$TBD?) on food, and wasted the rest of our money. We thought nothing of dropping $100-$200 in books & cds.

    Now that I have a mortgage, I can't afford to do a tenth of whatI used to do. But, i'd be happy if my renter neighbors could, and local businesses could stay in business as they had enough customers.

    Maybe someone will open a used CD store in downtown after the renters move in, and i can stop going to berkely/telegraph for my fix. But oy – parking is until 8pm now :-)

  14. gem s

    You all know that Bayview-Hunters Point is the neighborhood with the highest rate of home ownership in the City, right?

    There’s a very strong correlation between education level and civic-mindedness. Stronger than home ownership vs. renting, actually. 40 year olds are more active in community groups than 20 year olds or 60 year olds. Renters that like their housing and their schools are very stable, and stability is a strong indicator of investment in community.

  15. Patrick

    Well good for Bayview – Hunters Point. What do high levels of ownership in the least expensive part of a different city have anything to do with Oakland? Smells like a sentence written by a renter.

    I’d love to see some sources showing that there is “a very strong correlation between education level and civic-mindedness”. I’d also appreciate an illustrative graph, where the y-axis represents “homeownership vs. renting”.

    Renters also like rent control and the ability to tax others, via vote, to improve their financial/living situation.

    Furthermore, here at ABO, we like to think that OAKLAND is “the City”.

  16. Naomi Schiff

    I’m a homeowner but like many or perhaps most homeowners, I have been a renter. Both my daughters are renters. Some of the most civic-minded neighbors in my extremely mixed-income neighborhood are renters. I think it is a ridiculous, closed-minded and prejudiced view that makes assumptions about someone’s sense of civic responsibility based upon income or living circumstances and I think it does not serve society well to erect such walls between people. There are isolated clueless folks who own homes, and active participatory people who do not.

    I don’t know how a sentence can “smell” of being a tenant but consider being more openminded; it could even be that your favorite poster on ABO is a renter.

  17. dave o

    I’ve been a home owner, apartment dweller, and squatter. Squatting leaves all of your discretionary income for local restaurants, clubs, museums, transportation, and so on. And you don’t have to spend all of your time working just to keep a roof over your head. If you are disciplined about how you go about it, keep a very low profile, and don’t create the horrible social problems that many of the homeless people do, I would vote for squatting.

    From the standpoint of someone rather enjoying the collapse of capitalism and the end of the folly and exploitation that these condos represent, City Walk stands as a monument to the end of capitalist domination of the economy. Maybe the future holds greater connection to nature and fewer hierarchical and exploitative economic and social relationships between people.

  18. Hayden

    As someone who spends days and many evenings in downtown Oakland, I’d be happy to see City Walk completed (assuming the reported bad welding is brought up to standard). It could help restaurants and cafes in the vicinity of Jefferson St. and might help reduce the post-Jerry Brown return of prostitutes to the MLK blocks between 14th and 16th.

  19. Dave B.

    Chris K. My comment is quite related. City Walk was an underfunded project that resulted in an unfinished project, a project that turned out different that what was promised by the developers and has impacted the community. This was a project that was approved by this rubber stamp committee known as the Planning Commission which has proven doesn’t do its homework. This is what is happening with Tramell Crow and it’s Courthouse property on 30th & Telegraph. I’m trying to make people aware of this situation before this building is demolished and becomes a different project than what the developer promised. Most likely, it will be a vacant lot. I’m quite amazed that this story has not received greater coverage in the local press and other local blogs.

  20. len

    Dave B: have only seen the posting by brokl re the OHA goal for low income housing at The Courthouse. I emailed two of the OHA board members to confirm or deny that, and one board responded in effect that there’s no reason for OHA to respond because only brokl seemed to be concerned. I like that approach :)

    Correct me if wrong, but my impression of the surrounding area is that it was clear cut of residents in the late 50′s and early 60′s when the freeways went in and Pill Hill expanded. Other than the few residents of a few often chopped up exquisite single family homes left, and some interesting old apartment buildings, there just aren’t enough residents to raise a stink about any historical preservation or design review or plan to bring more poor people in.

    it is time and thought consuming to demand expanded EIR’s, and question demolition permits. Those permits get issued, and once the asbestos clearances are ready, game over, fait accompli.

    So does the Courthouse have official historical status, or pending or propose?

    What’s the background and what are the issues? (what kind of courthouse was it and when?)

    -len raphael

  21. Naomi Schiff

    People have been commenting on the Trammell Crow project for a couple of years. Courthouse Athletic Club was not a courthouse. It was for many years one of several funeral homes in the area. Several are still operating. Then for 2 or 3 decades, it was a popular athletic club. When the owners wanted to give up the business, they made the deal with Trammell Crow. The athletic club was much mourned, and a lot of people wanted to find a way to keep it going. But the owner thought he could do better by selling to TC (not sure how that is working out).

    The old building does have some historic merit, and I believe a B rating in the city’s historic survey. Some people advocated for incorporating it into project, which might have been feasible if seriously considered. TC was reluctant to do this kind of hybrid project, although the lot is certainly large enough. Much was made of “toxics” and that may have some basis. But the main argument TC made was that potential tenants might be creeped out that it had once been a funeral home–even though some very lively exercisers had been using the place for a long time.

    Neighbors had concerns about having a tall blank parking garage podium abutting them, right on lot lines. There are some quite nice houses around there, and it is across the street from a historic church. So minor design modifications were made after some conversation with the immediate neighbors.

    The Planning Commission required a contribution to the Facade Improvement Fund in mitigation for demolishing the old building, and required all permits to be paid for and approved before demolition could occur. A long string of agendized hearings were cancelled, as TC dragged out the process for months while the economy cratered.

    Subsequently TC made the deal with the housing authority. Now the housing authority says the deal is off. There was loud neighborhood opposition (some neighbors would like to retain the old building and have a market-rate housing development incorporate it; some just want the market-rate housing). Many people suspect that once TC finally jumps through the various hoops, the old building will be cleared away and we’ll get:
    a) a vacant lot or
    b) housing authority will miraculously return with a housing project or maybe, possibly
    c) TC will build a bunch of condos, try to rent them for awhile and pray for the market to cheer up.

    It seems like really bad timing and quite possible that they will do something unexpected after this demolition occurs. Easy to imagine another twist in the story.

    Oakland Heritage Alliance has repeatedly made the argument that TC should seriously look into incorporating the old building, but we have not, I must admit, made the kind of intense effort that we expend on the most greatly valued edifices.

    We are very concerned, though, about the issue of premature demolition, for these reasons: a) it leads to vacant lots which become ugly or surface parking lots, and b) can cause the needless loss of historically or otherwise valuable buildings, when the project gets cancelled or the proponent is financially weak.

    We don’t feel Trammell Crow has been entirely clear about their intentions. We also feel that the Housing Authority did not take speak with and work with the community and neighbors when they could have, if they really wanted to prove that the new project would be better built, better run, and a better neighbor than some of the old terrible projects nearby. They have a reputation to overcome.

    I have the historic information on the building, if you want it, but am not going into it here as have gone on too long already. It is probably also available on the city’s website from the LPAB and Planning Commission hearings.

  22. len

    NS, what are the rules/procedures for approving a demolition? normally, isn’t it just a building dept approval of the safety of your demolition methods and inspection afterwards to make sure the land has been “restored to it’s original state’ eg big holes in the ground or debris? don’t think there is even a grading requirement unless needed to restore the original contours to the lot.

    In berkeley and sf you can’t demo buildings over a certain size until you’ve gotten approved plan for development?

  23. Naomi Schiff

    Demolition procedure is, approximately, and I’m not expert: generally an administrative procedure, as you say, with the departmental approvals and review as required by whatever the controlling zoning and building regs. are. However, this project and other sizable projects often have Conditions of Approval which are part of the Planning Commission approvals. These are sometimes recommended and forwarded by staff, sometimes the result of negotiation with neighbors or community groups, sometimes attached by the commissioners after hearings on the project.

    Condo projects are subdivisions and have more hoops to jump through than rental apartments with no subdivision plans. Projects subject to EIRs (there are a number of ways this can be triggered) may be subject to additional requirements, often called “mitigations,” in hopes of lessening environmental effects. This is more or less at the discretion of planning commission and city council, in the end.

    In recent times both Oakland Heritage Alliance and staff have tried to attach conditions that connect demolition to actual steps toward doing the project, because we have seen too many cases of demolition followed by nothing.

    Currently, the staff is drafting and commission will be reviewing a more comprehensive set of rules for demolition of historic resources. We have been hoping this will clarify things both for developers and for the community, so we don’t have to expend so much energy negotiating on a case by case basis.

  24. Naomi Schiff

    By the way, absolutely not true that Bob Brokl is the only person who called the housing authority! I know personally of three people, including myself. Oakland Heritage Alliance was not objecting to the housing auth. plan, just trying to find out what it was, and to urge them to speak with community people to try to head off a conflict. I am certain others called as well. I didn’t call the board, though, I called the administrative staff. The staff is probably not required to report each phone call to the board.