Questions raised about proposed high-rise at Temescal Neighbor Council meeting
on September 23, 2016
A proposed high-rise tower loomed large over the discussion at the Temescal Neighborhood Council meeting on Wednesday night. Along with a police recommendation for more security cameras, it provided ample fare for tension.
Some 30 neighborhood residents clustered themselves into allied groups at Faith Presbyterian Church USA. Long-time residents, many with gray hair, sat in front. Young tech workers, with pink hair and video-game t-shirts, sat in the back. Business representatives sat alongside the neighborhood council members.
These groups quickly jumped in to the discussion after hearing that a proposed building right next to the MacArthur BART station had just gone from a planned 8 stories to 24 stories. Terry McGrath of McGrath Properties presented this vision of the Parcel B Macarthur Station Project, which is expected to go before the Oakland planning committee early next year.
“How tall is this tower?” asked Beth Cohen, a long-time neighborhood resident, after McGrath presented a slide projecting that the shadow cast by the tower would stretch three or four blocks into the neighborhood.
McGrath said the proposed height of the tower would reach 260 feet, but said that given the location of the tower near the freeway, people nearby would not really be able to see the tower.
“You’ll see it for miles around!” exclaimed Cohen. “What makes people think that a 24-story building in a neighborhood where the tallest building is seven stories a good idea?”
“We need the housing!” was the response heard from the cluster of tech workers.
As attendees started talking among themselves, McGrath broke in, saying he believes that problems like traffic congestion can only be solved by a high-density tower.
Not everyone agreed. Many attendees had questions for McGrath, but council co-chair Ron Edelman cut-off the discussion to allow Officer Anthony Hutzol of the Oakland Police Department to present the local crime report.
There was some good news: Although robberies, like muggings and smash-and-grabs, were up 6 percent this year, major burglaries were down 43 percent.
Hutzol credited increased use of security cameras, and he encouraged residents to install more. “We actually see criminal activity shifting away from the areas where cameras are installed,” said Hutzol.
Shifra de Benedictis-Kessner, executive director of the Temescal Telegraph Business Improvement District, said that she was weighing the possibility of installing and supporting more security cameras at intersections along Telegraph Avenue.
“But we’re a residential community,” said Kathy Jessen, long-time neighborhood resident. “We have crime in the neighborhood, not just in the commercial spaces.”
“Are you suggesting that there be a surveillance system on every street?” asked Edelman.
Jessen responded that she was not advocating for cameras on every street—she was pointing out that there was crime throughout the neighborhood, which would not necessarily be improved by cameras on Telegraph.
“Nothing gets past you,” quipped Tommaso Sciortino. Sciortino, a Google employee who does not live in the neighborhood but came to support the tower development, spoke about security products made by Google-affiliated companies.
Hutzol agreed that these systems could be helpful, and encouraged neighborhood members to install such systems to protect their own property.
Edelman again cut-off the tête-à-tête and moved things along. The meeting also covered topics related to pedestrian safety and upcoming events on Telegraph Avenue.
Scattered applause and loud conversation erupted as the meeting ended. Local resident Eden Brukman shouted over the din, inviting people to talk with her about her group which opposes the tower. Sciortino shouted after Brukman about his own group, which supports the tower.
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