Public Comment

Commentary: Greedy Development Threatens Oakland By Pamela A. Drake

Friday March 24, 2006

I have traveled to far-off places just to visit quaint waterfronts where industrial detritus is turned into quirky outdoor art and the artists live in cohesive communities that also welcome strangers and wayfarers. In these funky enclaves, artisans, bohemians, working-class artists, students, and professionals live comfortably on the leftovers of former times-where recycle and reuse come naturally and beautifully. How does this sort of “organic” development grow and can you still find it in Oakland? You’d better look quickly before it is gentrified, calcified, and homogenized away leaving no open spaces, no gathering places, no real studios or workshops-only darkened patches of private yards. 

Have you ever seen those cartoon maps of San Francisco or Manhattan in which outsized buildings are squeezed together onto an small piece of land and loom grotesquely over their surroundings? This, my friends, is what the City Council of Oakland in conjunction with the Oakland School District, aka Randy Ward, are planning for the area from Lake Merritt to the estuary. Is this what Oakland voters demanded when they supported Measure DD to improve the lake ? Did they mean to clean up the estuary by destroying a unique artisan community on the waterfront? Did they want to take an old Oakland building, the Ninth Avenue Terminal, where one can picnic in the sun next to the calm water of the estuary (a scene similar to that at San Francisco’s Ferry Building) and destroy it? 

Whether that was the aim of the measure or not, what happened was that the public investment of monies from DD and rapid gentrification coupled with corruption in City Hall, will result in a completely different city being built. When Oaklanders voted for Jerry Brown and his “elegant density” downtown, did they expect that the waterfront, the lakefront, and the estuary would all succumb to skyscrapers? Did they want to abandon the taxpayer, city and voter-approved study painstakingly put together by a community process called the Estuary Policy Plan? Are we acquiescing because we don’t understand the enormity of the changes planned for our city, because we’ve given up expecting our leaders to listen to us, or because none of our current leaders is capable of articulating a vision for an inclusive Oakland? 

It should also go without saying that we receive public benefits for public land! What a joke local democracy has become when we have to remind our leaders of their basic contract with us. Beyond the necessity of affordable housing and jobs for the surrounding neighborhoods which will be impacted by this bedroom community of garish skyscrapers; who will “preserve” (much less “expand”) the “neighborhood of artists and artisan studios, small businesses, and water dependent activities” (as stated in Item 4.1 of the Estuary Policy Plan) while protecting the remaining industrial spaces in which our entrepreneurial and creative elements not only survive but thrive. Oakland is special because it is a city of neighborhoods, each with its own architecture, celebrations, and dedicated small businesses. 

The Oak to Ninth proposal, along with Randy Ward’s plans for our public school lands, will change our city in ways we have not envisioned nor, I think, in ways we as a city might have chosen if anyone were listening to us. Contact your council members and then work for change! 


Pamela A. Drake is an Oakland resident.