What makes sense for the Army Base?

This afternoon, the Council’s Community and Economic Development Committee will consider several options for development of the former Oakland Army Base, which I wrote about for Novometro today. The Trib also has a story on the matter.

Working on the article over the weekend, I was able to answer all my questions about Dellums’s 10,000 jobs plan. Unfortunately, the answers were pretty disappointing. The key to my confusion was realizing that the Trib was wrong in saying he called for industrial development – the recommended proposal that anticipates 8,300 jobs rests on a large number of retail positions, as well as the construction of office towers as high as 30 stories on the West Gateway, which is, well…stupid.

For starters, the General Plan explicitly forbids high rise office development anywhere outside of downtown. And while I’m not necessarily opposed to amending the General Plan ever, I think that any decision to do so should come at the end of a long discussion about why that vision is no longer relevant. The DC&E report (PDF!) offers four options assuming that the General Plan will have to be ignored no matter what, but provides zero explanation why, offering only “It is expected that the General Plan and zoning will be amended to accommodate the preferred site plan for the Gateway Development Area, and thus there is no constraint to development.” Why?

It seems so crystal clear to me that the mixed use plan for the Army Base is a terrible idea. Staff doesn’t seem to like it much either, since they provide absolutely no rationale for the selection in their report (PDF!).

Instead, they note the importance of the logistics industry, saying that encouraging maritime support services “offers significant opportunities to support Port expansion and create high-quality jobs. Yet currently, the logistics sector in Oakland is operating far below its ideal capacity, which results in missed economic opportunities and revenue for the Port.”

But rather than recommending the Council move forward with the “Eco-Oakland” proposal, which would provide space for logistics, trucking, and maritime support services, the report suggests mixed use development that devotes minimal space to logistics and includes film production, big box retail, R&D, office space, and a luxury hotel.

How does it make sense to plan development next to the Port that is only “moderately compatible” with the Port? The answer is that it doesn’t, but what’s logical for the area doesn’t matter – this is what Dellums wants:

“My constant refrain has been we need to have a comprehensive vision of where we’re trying to go,” he said. “When you’re only moving on the basis of one project at a time, you’re never taking the long-term view of where you want to go.” Dellums said he believes any development effort should be environmentally friendly, create close to 10,000 jobs and provide the city with at least $10 million in annual revenue.

It’s unclear to me how locating high intensity development in an area completely isolated from public transit and existing neighborhoods is “environmentally friendly.” The mixed-use option is simply an attempt to cram every last thing Oakland is seeking to attract into one large space, regardless of whether or not it is the best location for them.

Part of the problem is the DC&E study, which, rather than focusing on what the most appropriate use for the space is, worries about what might be prettiest, stating over and over again that the Gateway Development Area should “be developed with stunning architectural design.”

But what I find most surprising about Dellums’s preferred option is that it completely ignores the needs of the West Oakland community. We have a chance here to get trucks and recycling centers out of West Oakland’s streets, making it a more liveable neighborhood, and instead Dellums would prefer to create an entirely new office district, isolated from public transit, that will compete directly with downtown Oakland.

I’ll write more about this tomorrow, after seeing what the Committee has to say.

Related posts: