Waterfront plan stirs controversy over industrial land
on January 21, 2010
Controversy erupted last night over a city effort to guide waterfront redevelopment, with property owners, residents and planning officials squaring off over the future of Oakland’s dwindling industrial land base.
The debate arose as the Planning Commission considered a new document known as the Central Estuary Plan, which details specific uses for more than 400 acres of waterfront land. The plan, which is still under development and pending City Council approval, encompasses the swath of shoreline between 19th and 54th Avenues, stretching inland to Interstate 880.
A draft version, developed by planners after six community meetings last year, would convert the zoning on more than a million square feet of industrial land, setting it aside for housing, parkland, and retail and office space. That vision pleased park advocates, as well as some property owners whose land would gain value if converted for non-industrial uses.
One such owner, Bob Lawlor, has an industrial property on Tidewater Avenue and leases part of it to a trucking company. He said he has struggled to find other tenants for the last 20 years, as heavy industry has declined and nearby properties have been abandoned. “That area, that view, could be used for something much more valuable than containers and trucks,” Lawlor said.
The estuary plan would not ban existing industrial uses; it would change land use policies to encourage other types of development, particularly mixed-use, in the future. But fearing that a pattern of de-industrialization is spreading south from Jack London Square, some property owners said the plan would spell an end to Oakland’s industrial core.
“Once housing is in, it’s the beginning of the end,” said Mike Bishop, marine operations manager for Hanson Aggregates, a mining company that uses the waterfront to offload gravel and sand for construction. “Residents will eventually start to complain about truck traffic or noise or other inconveniences.”
The seven planning commissioners all appeared conflicted, voicing support for the plan’s increased parkland, public waterfront access, and more than 2,400 new housing units. The plan is also projected to yield the city a net gain of $1.3 million in new taxes once the development is complete. But commissioners also feared the plan would do little to replace the hundreds of high-paying industrial jobs that are expected to be lost. The plan is projected to net the city a total of 372 new jobs, but many of those would be in retail.
“Philosophically, I just don’t agree with moving…toward retail and jobs that create working poor that can’t live in the city,” said Blake Huntsman, chairman of the commission.
Commissioner Sandra Galvez said she shared Huntsman’s concern, but hoped the plan’s housing component would make up for the lost industrial jobs. “If we can’t create more jobs out of this, then at least we could lower the burden of owning a home,” Galvez said.
Huntsman ultimately joined his colleagues in a 7-0 vote to support the plan, but the commission recommended that the final version include greater provisions for jobs and community benefits such as below-market housing. The plan will go before the City Council’s Community & Economic Development Committee on January 26, and will then move to the full council. If approved it will be subject to a detailed environmental review.
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