by Christopher Kidd
Preparations are being made in Oakland and Berkeley to capture the next wave of development. Across from San Francisco, the cities on the "sunny side of the bay" are in the midst of a series of planning efforts to promote sustainable development and improve transit options. Some efforts are complete, some are in process, while others are just getting started. Taken cumulatively, they could significantly change the fabric of these cities' urban cores. But the results--so far--have been decidedly mixed.
Building new development near transit in the Bay Area will become ever more important in the decades to come. One Bay Area, the regional planning effort launched by the Association of Bay Area Governments (ABAG) and the Metropolitan Transportation Commission (MTC), is designating Priority Development Areas (PDAs) where they hope to concentrate future growth. While the dictates of the One Bay Area plan are non-binding, cities will need to play by the rules if they hope to be eligible for future transportation funding.
Rendering courtesy of Oakland CEDA via SFist
More than four years later, things haven't turned out exactly as he envisioned. The recovery has lagged, going in fits and starts; and the dismantling of redevelopment agencies took many planners by surprise, robbing cities of tools they had relied on for over half a century to stimulate economic development. But in one way, he was absolutely right: cities were freed up to lay the planning groundwork that will guide development for decades to come.
In the City of Oakland, the name of the game is Transit Oriented Development. In 2009, Oakland embarked upon an update of its residential commercial zoning code (which, embarrasingly, had 1960s planning language so archaic that it was no longer within the modern planner's lexicon), finally completing and adopting it in 2011. The update focused growth along the many transit corridors of the City, ensuring that new residents would have the ability to live car-free, while leaving the residential (and less transit-accessible) areas of the city unchanged. Even so, the City went through a series of downzonings in these transit corridors to satisfy the Chicken Little prophesying of anti-growth groups.
Subsequent projects in Oakland have focused on the under-utilized and transit-rich areas of the City. The MacArthur BART transit village has finally broken ground and will transform a massive surface parking lot into a vibrant mix of housing and commercial uses served by mass transit. But…the first stage of this project, disappointingly, is the construction of a multi-story parking structure to replace the auto spaces in the surface parking lot. BART, it seems, still has a ways to go.
Photo by Spiral-A photography, courtesy of The Monthly
The Broadway Valdez Specific Plan, currently in the works, is located just beyond the new (and wildly successful) Uptown district of downtown Oakland. The plan area lies adjacent to another of the city's BART stations, and envisions transforming the moribund Broadway Auto Row into a vibrant mixed-use retail district. This plan has also seen its problems. We are now seeing the second iteration of the Broadway Valdez Plan, as the first was sent back to the drawing board by the public in large part because of the plan's projected parking requirements--verging on the level of the most suburban of malls.
Image courtesy of Derek Remsberg, Daily Californian
This old guard/new guard conflict was never more in view than in the fight over Bus Rapid Transit in Berkeley. Originally, the East Bay's first BRT line was meant to travel across three cities from the San Leandro BART station and through Oakland, ending at the UC Berkeley campus. The majority of the BRT line would run in dedicated lanes, bringing improvements in travel time and bus schedule reliability, and making bus ridership more competitive with driving.
Image courtesy of TransForm
Berkeley's old guard, however, sprang into action opposing the program, claiming that loss of street parking and increased congestion would ruin the Berkeley neighborhoods which the BRT line would run through. Berkeley's political leadership bowed to the protest and opted out of the BRT project. The line has subsequently shrunk back from the Berkeley border all the way to downtown Oakland. The anti-BRT zeal in Berkeley overflowed into ballot measure KK, which would have forced a city-wide referendum any time the City wanted to reduce the number of vehicle lanes on any street in the City. Thankfully, this anti-transit measure was defeated at the polls. It still casts a long shadow over transit issues in the East Bay, however, and BRT is still not out of the woods yet.
Despite some setbacks, observers should make no mistake about it: the future of growth in the Bay Area will be in the urban cores. How well we plan for that growth will determine the success of our cities for decades to come. So far, the scorecard is mixed for how the East Bay is preparing to meet its future.
Christopher Kidd works as a planner for Alta Planning + Design, Inc.. Christopher previously worked for the Los Angeles Deepartment of Transportation Bike Program where he, among other projects, created their award-winning social media strategy, founded the LADOT Bike Blog, and co-managed the media campaign for the nation's first Bicyclist Anti-Harassment Ordinance. He currently resides in Oakland, California.