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Part I.

General Plan of Oakland

Reflecting the size and complexity of the city, Oakland’s general plan is a

document of well over 1000 pages, including text, photographs, diagrams, charts,

and maps. The General Plan of Oakland consists of ten parts: land use and

transportation element; estuary policy plan; open space, conservation and

recreation element; historic preservation element; bicycle master plan; pedestrian

master plan; housing element; noise element; safety element; and scenic

highways element. The elements possess all three levels of consistency (among

general plan elements, within elements, and between text and visuals) and

employ such devices as cross-references to other elements and summaries of

general plan and other elements.

In the General Plan vision, Oakland is seen as a “City that can lead the

country into the new Century with a record of success.” In order to achieve this

success, “human, natural, architectural, historic, and economic resources must

be layered, linked and channeled to reap the greatest reward: to attract the

investment resources of the Region, the country, and the Pacific Rim, to reinforce

the City’s distinctive neighborhoods, to invest in transportation hand in hand with

commerce and industry, and to preserve and restore the beauty of the water’s

edge, the hills, the forests, and the creeks, and give them back to the citizens of

Oakland for all to enjoy.”

As described in the Land Use and Transportation Element of the General

Plan,

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“In the year 2015, Oakland will be a safe, healthy, and vital city offering a high

quality of life through:

• dynamic economy that taps into Oakland’s great economic potential and

capitalizes on its physical and cultural assets

• clean and attractive neighborhoods rich in character and diversity, each

with its own distinctive identity, yet well integrated into a cohesive urban

fabric

• a diverse and vibrant downtown with around-the-clock activity

• an active and accessible waterfront that is linked to downtown and the

neighborhoods, and that promotes Oakland ‘s position as a leading United

States Port and a primary regional and international airport

• an efficient transportation system that serves the needs of all its citizens

and that promotes Oakland’s primacy as a transportation hub connecting

the Bay Area with the Pacific Rim and the rest of the United States

• awareness and enjoyment of Oakland’s magnificent physical setting-hills,

views, water, estuary – in every district and neighborhood.”

Throughout the General Plan, the problems, or “challenges” existing in a

specific category are defined and responses to them (i.e. policies) are

formulated. Most elements also stress the importance of practical implementation

of the policies, and so pay significant attention to funding, as well as breaking

general visions down into specific short-term projects. The Plan recognizes that

the City of Oakland is in a state of transition, since most of the city is built out,

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and there is relatively little vacant land or space that does not require

improvements to suit for future development.

To meet both current and future city challenges related to economic

development, housing and neighborhoods, and the environment, the Plan

“establishes an agenda for change where it is needed and conservation for areas

that are thriving”. The General Plan is centered around five principal themes that

define the unique attributes of Oakland: Industry and Commerce, Transportation,

Downtown, Waterfront, and Neighborhoods.

Part II. Land Use and Transportation Element

The Land Use and Transportation Element (LUTE) of the Oakland General

Plan combines two mandatory elements (land use element and transportation

element) into one document. The transportation element is also supplemented by

separate Pedestrian and Bicycle Master Plans. LUTE is organized into four

chapters: Planning Context, Policy Framework, Policies into Action, and

Implementation Program.

LUTE is the core element of the General Plan, setting the physical

framework for the change, growth and development of the City. In accordance

with the overarching principle of balancing the citywide and the neighborhood

scales, LUTE sets general direction for the City’s development as well as focuses

on neighborhood-specific recommendations. One of the major concepts of the

current General Plan of Oakland is the commitment to sustainability. The LUTE

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strategies encourage economic development for industries that respect human

and natural environment and support the creation of TODs (transit-oriented

districts) around the City’s eight BART stations.

A key visual element of LUTE is the City Structure Diagram.

Superimposed on the map of Oakland, it identifies five “showcase districts”

(Downtown, Seaport, Waterfront, Coliseum Area, and Airport); outlines freeway

and BART lines; locates major corridors, TODs and activity centers. The

Showcase districts are seen as centers of future transformation and thriving

economy. The city corridors that serve as a link between different areas of the

city and partially replaced by regional freeways, are the target of the General

Plan strategies to bring them back into use. These corridors are envisioned as

mixed-use urban environments with concentration of commercial and civic uses

linked by segments of multi-family housing. The neighborhood activity centers

have also become somewhat obsolete, and the LUTE strategies are committed

to reintroducing the activity centers as identifiers of more than sixty Oakland

neighborhoods, as well as to preserving and enhancing the unique character of

each neighborhood.

I like Oakland’s dedication to its vision as a major American city with

powerful potential and bright future, but even more than that, I respect the fact

that the General Plan of Oakland also pays significant attention to the particular

challenges that the diverse neighborhood of the City are facing and recognizes

these smaller urban entities as important parts of the whole. I think this is a very

wise approach given the large scale and complexity of the City of Oakland.

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Part III. Planning Commission Meeting

On July 25, 2007, I attended a meeting of the Design Review Committee

(DRC) of the Oakland City Planning Commission. Of the two items on the

agenda (see attachment), one has been removed and the meeting lasted for

about two hours. The meeting was dedicated to the review of “Uptown Parcel 4.”

This site is part of the Uptown Oakland project, which also includes parcels 1, 2,

and 3. The Parcel 4 site is located on Telegraph Avenue between 19th and

William Streets and shares a rear property line with Fox Square (a future City

park). The proposed Uptown Parcel 4 project is a fourteen-story residential

mixed-use building with ground-floor retail spaces, parking, and useable open

space.

Out of the seven City Planning Commissioners, this meeting attended only

two: Michael Lighty and Madeleine Zayas-Mart. Members of Staff were

represented by Catherine Payne. There were also three people attending on

behalf of the applicant, including the architect of the proposed project Mr.

Johnson of Johnson Fain International. About ten members of the public

attended the meeting.

The meeting opened with the announcement about the removal of item 2

from the agenda. Before starting on item 1, Commissioner Ms Zayas-Mart asked

the Staff if it is true that the general design review guidelines have not been

updated for a while. She also inquired about current guidelines and standards

that are being used in DRC’s decisions, especially what concerns architectural

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quality of the proposals. Mr Lighty commented that residential guidelines have

been updated recently, but commercial ones are out of date. Ms Payne recorded

the questions for further consideration.

After that, the Staff proceeded with presenting the item. Ms Payne

provided brief background information on the Parcel 4 proposal and outlined the

main points of the project in the Staff report. She concluded with a list of design

issues to be reviewed at the meeting and Staff recommendations pertaining to

those issues. More specifically, the Staff expressed concern with the 19th Street

façade of the proposed building. According to the site plan, the project garage is

located on the 19th Street side, as well as parking access and a large courtyard

on top of the six-floor podium. This “utilitarian” and blank façade is directly across

from the north side of the historic Fox Theater. The design proposal includes a

large-scale art piece panel (or series of panels) to be placed on the 19th Street

side of the building, as well as an extensive display area.

Ms. Payne brought up an issue that has not been stressed in the Staff

report but often appeared in the public comments that followed: the location of

the “Fox Square” (a future City park) on the site and its relationship to the

proposed development. Currently, the park is proposed to be between 19th Street

and William Street, on the side of Parcel 4 adjacent to Parcel 2 (see site plan,

sheet A1.01). The construction of the park is scheduled to start at the end of

August this year.

Following the Staff, the architect Mr. Johnson briefly went over the

features of the design and changes that it overcame since last hearing. In his

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presentation, Mr. Johnson relied on the design proposal boards that were put up

in the hearing room. (Other speakers also referred to these boards often in the

process of the meeting). The architect pointed out the devices used to tie the

building to its historic surrounding (such as 3 feet setback from the side of the

street, brick finishes, architectural details), as well as those promoting modern

urban image (glassy bottom floors).

At this point, Ms. Payne invited the “speakers” – members of the public

who expressed their desire to speak regarding the proposal and turned in a

corresponding speaker card. Among the speakers, there was a representative of

the Oakland Heritage Alliance (OHA), a Landscape architect, the president of the

Friends of the Fox Theater, a city planner, and two residents of Oakland.

The OHA representative furiously expressed their concern about historic

buildings (Fox Theater and the Flower Depot); interest in calming down the

façade of the proposed building in order to make older art deco structures more

visible; contempt about the lack of originality in the design; stressed the

importance of compatibility about the new and old buildings; and suggested that

the flat 19th Street façade will pose a significant acoustic problem (in her words,

“exciting acoustic issues across from the arts school”). She also pointed out that

the tall fourteen-story building will cast shadow on the adjacent park in the

morning, and that it might be undesirable for residents with children.

Christopher Buckley, a city planner who has also been involved in the

preparation of the General Plan of Oakland, commented on the design of the

proposed building that he finds too modernistic in relation to the surrounding

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historic buildings. He made several suggestions on how to modify the design and

submitted perspective sketches of his ideas. His major emphasis was on a

distinct tri-partite composition with a base, a shaft, and a capital.

Oakland resident Joyce Roy was concerned with the consequences of

placing a high-rise building right next to the Fox Theater: “It’s unfriendly now; it’s

going to be even unfriendlier.” She said that the people of the neighborhood have

wanted a high-rise, and welcome a high-rise, but not right next to the Fox

Theater. At the least, Ms. Roy asked to have the building stepped back, so as to

not be so overwhelming. She also expressed the wish of the neighborhood

people to have a public plaza on the corner of Telegraph Avenue and 19th Street.

The proposed park, enclosed within the residential units, is not desirable since it

would be much less accessible and would create significant security and safety

issues. Another Oakland resident, Andrew Oldridge, supported the idea of the

Fox Theater plaza on the corner of 19th and Telegraph and shared the concern

about the City park’s location. He talked about the negative emotional impact of

“a project that turns its back on the city.” Landscape architect Derek Schubert

also advocated re-siting the building away from Telegraph Avenue and creating

an open plaza on the corner instead.

Having listened to everyone, the Commissioners expressed their opinion

on the issue. The design has not been approved. The Staff arranged the date of

the next hearing, with another workshop-type meeting between the applicant and

the DRC in-between. The Commissioners also requested opinions of the City

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Attorney and Planning Director on the constraints of the site plan and open space

location.

I was under the impression that the Staff member served as a mediator

between the sides involved in the case. Her other functions were to take care of

administrative matters, provide adequate information about the case to the

Commission, take questions for further research, and ensure overall order of the

meeting. Ms. Payne also seemed to be the only objective and un-biased person

in the room. Members of the DRC, the gods of this judgment day, seemed to pay

much more attention and respect to the public than they did to the applicants.

Overall, I found this DRC meeting to be very interesting. I appreciated a

more in-depth analysis of one case instead of a brief look on multiple issues. In

fact, this was one of the reasons that I picked this specific meeting of the City

Planning Commission. I remained very engaged through the whole meeting.

During the two hours that I spent inside the Oakland City Hall, I looked at the

proposed project from the point of view of several different people, most of whom

represented larger interest groups.

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