Residents, city employees and anyone interested in the future of the Broadway-Valdez district, which is located just north of downtown, gathered to ask questions of a panel of local experts at Temple Sinai on Monday night for an event called “Catalyzing Change: Revitalizing the Broadway-Valdez District in a Post-Redevelopment Era.”
Would a big department store like Macy’s, or even smaller retail companies, set up shop along the Broadway Corridor? Can cars, pedestrians, bicyclists, shoppers, public transit and auto dealerships coexist in an area known for years as Broadway Auto Row? And as the area develops, will the City of Oakland be able to provide an adequate amount of affordable housing, even with the demise of its previous main funder, the city’s Redevelopment Agency?
The panelists tackling these questions included Fred Blackwell, the assistant city administrator; Vien Truong, the chair of the Oakland Planning Commission; economist Alexander Quinn of AECOM, a professional technical and management support services firm; and Andres Cluver, the secretary-treasurer of the Oakland Building Trades Council. Councilmember Rebecca Kaplan (at-large) and Mayor Jean Quan were also present and addressed the audience of about 80 people. The Better Broadway Coalition, a network of community groups and organized labor concerned with land use, and improving the area, put on the event.
“The Valdez area is in the heart of the Broadway Corridor, and the Broadway Corridor is on a renaissance,” Quan told the audience, adding the area is “in the heart” of the city and a “critical” part of the city’s revitalization plan.
After years of planning, the city appears to be moving ahead with a specific strategy for developing the area. In 2011, city staff held workshops about the area, and in December the city released a draft of its plan for the area. The report identifies the Broadway-Valdez district as the “best opportunity for re-establishing a core with the type of comparison shopping that once served Oakland and nearby communities, and that the city currently lacks.”
According to the report, there are 400,000 residents who live within a 10-minute drive in the area and spend $1.6 billion elsewhere on goods they could buy on Broadway if retail was added to the area. Capturing 12 percent of those expenditures would be enough to support a major retail development in the city, according to the report, which deemed that goal “very reasonable.”
But with the loss of the Redevelopment Agency last year, the source of not only affordable housing but also funds for alleviating blight and improving the conditions of economically depressed urban areas, there are concerns the city may not have the funds to transform the area. As a result, many think the city and developers would have to choose between priorities, like either creating more affordable housing, retail or improved access for pedestrians, bicyclists and public transit.
All of that needs to happen, Blackwell told the audience, and can with a solid plan for the area presented to possible developers by the city. “The loss of redevelopment and the financing associated with it makes the planning process we’re engaged in right now all the more important,” Blackwell said. “I think without those kinds of financing tools to provide incentives to invest in infrastructure and things like that, cities like Oakland absolutely have to think about how we can use our regulatory and planning tools to advance the kinds of agendas we want.”
Drawing a large department store to the area would be challenging, though, Blackwell added, a sentiment echoed by Quinn. Those large stores prefer locations near freeway exits, he said, and the city should focus more on what has succeeded so far in developing nearby areas—the Art Murmur and new businesses and restaurants that are re-using existing buildings.
“What’s changed in this wonderful area is fantastic, and I think building on the assets that have already existed here is the way to go,” Quinn said. “I think the idea of injecting large-windfall type projects is an urban myth—that you’re actually going to get a Macy’s in the Broadway-Valdez Corridor is a fallacy.”
The city’s report also laid out transportation-oriented goals for the area—that the retail should be “pedestrian-oriented” and not be infringed upon by too many parking spaces, that the area be developed with “complete streets” with safe access for pedestrians and bicyclists as well.
These additions would cost the city more money, Truong said, which would necessitate more funding from new and different sources. Truong mentioned Measure B, which will be on the ballot in November in Alameda County [link to your story], which would double the existing transportation sales tax in order to fund more transportation projects. Truong said employees of the Planning Commission have been looking into the state’s cap-and-trade law, which would help the city get money back in return for limiting carbon emissions, to see if that money can be used by cities on development projects like in the Broadway-Valdez District.
“We’ve been looking into making sure that money is invested in local areas, like Oakland, making sure it’s supporting the development of jobs, supporting affordable housing near transit-oriented development,” Truong said.
Truong also outlined the immediate steps next for development in the area. A draft of the Environmental Impact Report for the Broadway Valdez plan should come out in the fall, followed by a comment period, followed by the final EIR coming out in 2013, he said.
Aaron Reaven, a resident who lives nearby, said he attended the discussion to get a better idea of the plan and to see what the organizations that make up the Better Broadway Coalition—including the Greenbelt Alliance, Walk Oakland Bike Oakland and the Sierra Club—had to say about developing the district. Reaven said he learned a few things, including a tidbit from Quinn that an area that is “dense with economic activity can generate as much as a high-gaining single business like auto sales.”
“That’s worthwhile,” Reaven said. “That’s an interesting insight. We’ll have to see what happens.”