Proposed Coliseum City project receives mixed public reaction
on October 13, 2014
At a workshop hosted by the city on Thursday, Oakland residents expressed mixed reactions to the city’s latest waterfront development plans. The Coliseum City project—a proposal for new retail, residential, hotel, office and convention space, as well as new sporting and entertainment venues—is a behemoth development proposal facing many challenges, including public skepticism. City officials released formal draft plans and an environmental impact report (EIR) in late August; at the workshop, locals could review the documents, ask questions and provide feedback on a project that could drastically alter much of East Oakland.
About three dozen members of the public turned out for the workshop, held in a conference room at the 81st Branch Library in East Oakland where Devan Reiff, of the city’s Strategic Planning Division, outlined the main points of the plan and EIR. Reiff used a Power Point presentation, some display boards illustrating site plans and artist renderings of the proposed project, and copies of the draft plan and EIR, followed by an hour-long question and answer session. “I think one of the main concerns is that there hasn’t been enough outreach to East Oakland residents, and that’s one of the reasons we have tonight’s workshop,” said Reiff.
The Coliseum City project is located in what the city calls “the center of the Bay Area” and has many selling points for developers, including waterfront views, proximity to major transit hubs like BART and the Oakland International Airport, as well as easy access to freeways. On the planning and zoning page of the city’s website, staffers state that the project is an opportunity to “revitalize some of Oakland’s most important physical assets and transform these assets into a center for long-term economic growth.”
But the major impetus behind it for the city is the possibility of losing its sports teams, which have all, over the last few years, considered moving away. The Golden State Warriors have already purchased land in San Francisco and released plans for a new stadium at Mission Bay. In an effort to keep teams from relocating, Oakland city officials drafted plans for the Coliseum City project, which will include scenarios if one, two or—they hope—all three teams stay in Oakland. Two years ago, when Oakland first announced the project, Mayor Jean Quan assured the public that the plan would have major economic benefits for the greater good of the city. “The projections are, if we get the hotels and the convention center and the offices we want, we will produce up to 30,000 jobs,” said Quan during the “Oakland Loves Its Sports Teams” spirit week in 2012. Listen to the story here.
But today, a slew of challenges are obstructing the project’s progress. Plans call for development of the O.co stadium location as well as a plot of land just west of I-880, most of which is currently privately owned. Funding for Coliseum City is another major concern. The city is working with developer JRDV Urban International, but has failed to secure investors. With no definite plan approved or guarantee of which teams will stay in Oakland, the city has not yet set dates for construction.
And Thursday’s meeting showed that garnering public support for the massive development plan, particularly among the many low-income residents currently living in the area, could be difficult. Many attendees agreed that developing retail space and entertainment venues is a nice idea, but said they worry that many local residents will be excluded from taking part in the expensive events, high-end housing options or highly skilled jobs the project is expected to produce. “We want to make sure that those things and [the] opportunities to work are things that people in Oakland, who live here now, are able to participate in,” said Nicole Lee, a lifelong Oakland resident.
The project plans include office space for the tech industry, which has some locals worried about gentrification. Oakland native Mary Forte said she would like to see tech companies that come to East Oakland invest in local young people by supporting training programs for skilled jobs. “If we’re going to bring in these kinds of technology companies, schools right here—Highland, Lockwood, Elmhurst, Castlemont—should be adopted by tech companies,” she said.
Reiff said the city will consider ways that incoming companies can support local young people and hiring, but said development would also automatically contribute to local education. “Anytime you build housing, there is a fee that is generated that goes right to the school district as part of their budget,” said Reiff. “So more housing means more money for OUSD to hopefully allocate to schools here.”
Howard Dyckoff is a volunteer for the Oakland Merchant’s Leadership Forum, which promotes business activities in underdeveloped areas of Oakland. He would like to see a project plan that addresses the current needs and concerns of businesses and residents in District 6 and 7, where the Coliseum site is located. “I’m not opposed to having the city develop a comprehensive plan, but it does need to be more than just a property development plan,” he said. Dyckoff said it’s too early for him to throw full support behind the project because there are still many questions to be answered about the proposal, particularly in regards to which teams will remain in Oakland. “It’s partly a pig in a poke because they have to plan for unknown realities,” he said. “Everything is contingent upon which sports stadiums are built where, for whom and for how long.”
Attendees pointed out that crime and poverty rates in the area are high, many public spaces are unsafe for children, and many sections of East Oakland have infrastructure problems, like potholes, that need to be addressed. Some residents worry what effect such a massive development project will have on such a fragile community. “I think overall it will be good for Oakland, but only if there is something in there for the existing neighbors,” said Angie Tam. “Or at least not something that affects them adversely.”
A Zoning Update Committee meeting and hearings at the Landmarks Board and Planning Commission are expected to take place before the end of the year. Oakland City Council meetings on the project plans and EIR are expected in early 2015.
Details about the Coliseum City project and copies of the draft plan are available at www.oaklandnet.com/coliseumcity. The environmental impact report is available here. The city is accepting public comment on the project, which officials say will be considered in the final project decisions. Public comments must be received by 4pm on Friday, October 17 and can be sent in writing to Devan Reiff, Planning and Building Department, Strategic Planning Division, 250 Frank Ogawa Plaza, Suite 3315, Oakland, CA 94612; faxed to (510) 238-6538; or emailed to email@example.com.
Image: A rendering of one development proposal for Coliseum City. Image courtesy of JRDV Urban International
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