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Oakland City Council meets to debate issues of planning, transit

on March 2, 2011

With key city planning issues up for public comment, Tuesday’s city council meeting offered heated debate over public transportation, zoning, and cutting greenhouse gas emissions.

The first item to raise contention among both the council and constituents was the Transit Oriented Development plan for a six-mile segment of International Boulevard. The plan, described by the city administrator’s report as “a development pattern designed to maximize access to and use of public transportation” sets goals for increasing pedestrian, bicycle and bus access in the region.

According to the report, the plan encourages “compact, walkable, mixed-use developments that are centered on and within an easy walk of transit stations.” But several people affiliated with the Allen Temple Baptist Church, which is on part of the six-mile segment of International that would be affected by the development plan, spoke out against the plan.  Many speakers said it would pave the way for Bus Rapid Transportation, an AC Transit plan meant to link San Leandro to Berkeley using high speed bus lines with fewer stops.

Many speakers voiced fear that both plans would lead to high-speed bus traffic on International Boulevard, with parking decreased and bus stops spread out too far. “That will almost be a highway,” said Roosevelt Mosby, a long time activist who is currently affiliated with the Allen Temple Research Institute. Roosevelt spoke at the meeting against the transit plan and described the plan to the council as “dangerous, dangerous, dangerous, dangerous.”

Joanne McClinden, a member of Allen Temple Baptist Church expressed concern over potentially decreased amenities for seniors, a group she said would be less able to walk to rapid bus stops if they were too far away, and that relies on accessible parking spaces to reach community services. “A reduction in spaces for seniors impairs their ability to move about,” McClinden told the council.

The rapid bus plan has taken heat in Berkeley and San Leandro, and as a result is “an evolving proposal,” said at-large councilmember Rebecca Kaplan’s communications director, Jason Overman, in a separate interview. Kaplan told the speakers that Transit Oriented Development for International Boulevard wouldn’t necessarily usher in the rapid transit plan, though some loudly protested at her remarks.

“The suggested changes to the [Bus Rapid Transit] plan that have been made I think are excellent,” Kaplan said after the public comment period. “I’m completely committed to working with you.” Overman said in the interview that Kaplan would like to work with community members to create a “tangible list of demands that can be made to AC transit” regarding the plan.

After voting to send the Transit Oriented Development plan back to city staff for environmental review, the council moved on to discuss extensive revisions to Oakland’s zoning ordinance. Public debate flared over height limits on buildings on Broadway in North Oakland, which affect several properties that previously had no height restrictions. The height limits would vary block by block, and sometimes by individual parcel. Brunner said that the height restrictions were meant to keep taller buildings at major intersections, and lower buildings near single-family residences.

Noah Friedman, who said he owns property on Broadway that the new law would affect, said he and other affected property owners found out about the height restrictions less than a month before this vote. “We the property owners believe that the planning process was not participatory and has been fundamentally weighted against our interests,” Friedman told the council.

While some speakers commented that height restrictions promote a closer-knit, residential feeling neighborhood, Friedman said that building up creates a denser community where people walk and use public transit more. Friedman said he and other investors have been planning to purchase property and build up on it; the zoning amendments would require a variance, according to city staff.

District one councilmember Jane Brunner said she regretted that the city didn’t properly notify Friedman and other Broadway property owners of the proposed changes. Noting that the changes came after two years of study and public comment, Brunner agreed to a proposal by Kaplan to look at the Broadway issue again, saying this time she would see that the city notifies all parties involved. “I really don’t want to do this again, but I think it’s a fair decision,” Brunner said.

After approving a general zoning plan affecting the entire city, the council looked at individual pieces of these changes that dealt with zoning in regions that come within 500 feet of a councilmember’s residence; councilmembers recused themselves when their property was in question, resulting in five rounds of voting. While District 3 councilmember Nancy Nadel didn’t vote on the section affecting her home, she did address the council as a constituent, asking them to change the zoning designation back to mixed residential housing as city staff had originally proposed.

The council also approved the current draft of the city’s Energy and Climate Action Plan for environmental review. The plan, a work in progress since late 2008, sets the goal of reducing greenhouse gas emissions in Oakland to 36 percent of 2005 levels by 2020. Several members of the Oakland Climate Action Committee addressed the council, asking them to consider three additional actions not listed in the 150 that comprise the action plan: energy efficiency, local food production, and renter protections.

Kirstin Schwind of Bay Localize supported the idea of Oakland taking control of public goods charges currently collected by PG&E, which the company currently uses for energy efficiency programs. Saying the utilities company doesn’t use the funds well in any city, Schwind said, “Oakland needs to do better than the status quo.”

Dawn Phillips of Causa Justa/Just Cause said that stronger renter protections would keep low-income families in housing that is already affordable, preventing residents from moving further away from public transit and traveling more in cars. Phillips said this made sense in terms of lowering greenhouse gas emissions, and as a strategy for keeping affordable housing in Oakland even with the current threat of cuts redevelopment funds from governor Jerry Brown. “This is a concrete step you can take today to protect housing affordability,” Phillips said.

Though Nadel proposed a plan to set aside between 600 and 1,000 acres of city land for local food, the change was not made to the action plan before the council approved it for environmental review. The council agreed to discuss addressing energy efficiency and renter protections at a later date.

1 Comment

  1. len raphael on March 15, 2011 at 10:38 am

    Rezoning Telegraph and Bway and all of Oakland: action needed

    After more than two years of city planning staff work, public meetings and technical working groups consisting of ULTRA, STAND, PANIL, RCPC, Oakland Builders Alliance, various local architects etc., a final version as proposed by Councilmember Jane Brunner was approved by the City Council at the last meeting in February. Law requires a second vote at a subesquent meeting for adoption.

    Jane Brunner’s proposed height and setback rules for Bway and Tele, were 60 feet
    at major street intersections, mostly 45 feet in between major intersections
    where lower density residential is immediately adjacent/behind commercial zones.

    A few sections of Telegraph were limited to lower heights for historical reasons.

    Considering that most new commercial building would be required to have 15 foot
    high retail first floors, and the subsequent stories would normally be about 10 feet each, 45 feet = 4 stories; 60 feet =5.5 stories etc.

    State mandated density bonuses for affordable housing would add to that. If
    Oakland adopts density bonus for market rate buildings as was discussed by Rebecca Kaplan at last meeting, then effective limits would be 60 to 75 feet, depending. 75 would be similar to the building at Bway and Grand with Ozumo.

    No one was thrilled by the final proposal: ULTRA and some developers/owners
    wanted 60 and 75 feet over much of the affected area, STAND and PANIL wanted 45
    and 30 feet.

    A month ago, before the first council vote, some of my neighbors collected 70 signatures from residents close to Bway in a couple of afternoons on a petition supporting 45 foot limits on Bway.

    Sometime after the first council vote, pressure was brought to bear on city
    council members to reject Brunner’s compromise proposal and send Bway and
    Telegraph back to staff and assumedly more community meetings.

    While my neighbors and I preferred somewhat lower limits, especially along 49th
    where there are shade issues, we can live with the proposal.

    Our expectation is because of density bonuses, practical heights could easily
    turn out to be 60 feet in many locations, but if we start with 60 the final heights could be oppressive 75 foot heights on the shallow Bway and Tele lots.

    My understanding is that the city council has to vote yea or nay on the entire
    city rezoning as a package tonight. If it votes nay, then Bway and or Tele can be broken out separately for more meetings, staff time, council votes etc. The approval vote process would start anew on the resulting two or more packages. So two more voting sessions for each package.

    If you support Jane Brunner’s proposal, please go online to the city website and
    fill out a “speaker’s card” and mark it as “in favor”. If you’re like most of us, you don’t have the time or energy to go to the meeting and sit for hours waiting to speak. So check the box on the online card “decline to speak”

    If oppose her proposal and want much higher density and heights than proposed, you will have plenty of opportunity to get that by supporting Rebecca Kaplan’s density bonuses for all new construction. to go right to the card.

    Or for a full explanation of the speaker card (worth skipping)\

    Agenda item = 10.

    Comm/Council Name = council member name
    Comm/council date = Tuesday 3/15/2011.
    In favor

    Chose speak or do not wish to speak.

    Then hit “select”. You will get a confirmation. Print that out or copy and
    paste it where you can find it if you go to the meeting to prove you registered.

    This item will start at 630pm at the earliest. If you can’t get there till
    later, most likely you can still speak.

    See the agenda at

    -len raphael,

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