Your Chance to Help Build a Downtown Oakland for Everyone
July 27, 2017

Broadway and 21st in Oakland. Photo by Sergio Ruiz for SPUR.

Oakland's Downtown Specific Plan process has restarted with a full calendar of public workshops and events. The city has added social equity consultants to its consulting team to help analyze the impacts of policy decisions on social and racial equity and to broaden citizen engagement in the planning process.  

Downtown is poised to take on a more important role in the region — but the future is not guaranteed. Though residential construction is underway downtown, commercial construction is still lagging — and neither type is yet happening at the level necessary to mitigate displacement.  

As a result, downtown Oakland has begun suffering from displacement without development: The shortage of housing and office space means that it’s too easy for long-time tenants to get priced out by those who can pay more. SPUR believes that the best way to maintain Oakland’s cultural dynamism and diversity is to plan for growth — and to shape that growth to make downtown Oakland a great place that provides benefits to all.

The new downtown plan process offers many opportunities for SPUR members to get involved and to help shape the future of our downtown. Here’s a look what’s coming up, plus resources to learn more.

July- August: Equity Working Group Meetings 

This summer the city is holding four public working group sessions focused on analyzing downtown through the lens of social and racial equity. The city is asking that Oaklanders RSVP if they want to attend the following:

Monday, July 31: Housing, Affordability, Jobs, Training and Economic Opportunity

Tuesday, August 1: Arts and Culture 

Wednesday, August 2: Streets, Traffic Circulation, Connectivity and the Built Environment

Thursday, August 3: Sustainability, Health, Safety, Recreation and Open Spac

September-October: Technical Analysis Meetings and Neighborhood Design Meetings

Four technical working group sessions held this fall will build on goals generated at the equity working groups. There will be a technical sessions for each of the equity working groups: Housing, Affordability, Jobs, Training and Economic Opportunity; Arts and Culture; Streets, Traffic Circulation, Connectivity and the Built Environment; and Sustainability, Health, Safety, Recreation and Open Space.

The equity team will present analyses of technical data, best practices and recommendations, which will be followed by discussions about possible policies to achieve the identified outcomes.

There will also be three neighborhood design sessions to discuss urban design concepts for the central business area, Uptown and KONO, and Old Oakland and Chinatown.

Details about these events will be forthcoming on the Equity in Downtown Oakland website.

Background on Downtown Oakland and the Downtown Specific Plan

SPUR’s report A Downtown for Everyone:  Shaping the Future of Downtown Oakland recommends five big ideas for the future of downtown:

1: Grow 50,000 more jobs in downtown and create pathways to get people into them. 

2: Bring 25,000 more residents to downtown at a range of incomes, and enable existing residents to remain. 

3: Set clear and consistent rules for growth to make downtown a better place for everyone. 

4: Create inviting public spaces and streets as part of an active public realm. 

5: Make it easy to get to and around downtown through an expanded transportation network.

We believe downtown Oakland is in a promising but precarious position: It is growing and beginning to thrive, but there are still dozens of vacant lots and empty storefronts, and commercial development continues to lag. Downtown is on the cusp of becoming the sort of place that many of us have hoped it can be, and it’s important now to keep the momentum going. 

Released to the public in February 2016, the city’s Downtown Oakland Plan Alternatives report outlines two proposed visions of development in Downtown Oakland. SPUR is believes that both of these alternatives are too timid and amount to a major downzoning of Downtown Oakland.  

SPUR provided comments and recommendations on the report. Here are some highlights:

Bring more people and more jobs downtown

  • Provide scenarios that will help bring a lot more residents and a lot more jobs downtown
  • Ensure that empty parcels greater than 20,000 square feet are reserved for commercial uses. This is particularly important for sites near BART and/or within existing employment areas such as within City Center, along Broadway or in the Lake Merritt Office District. This will stop downtown Oakland from becoming a bedroom community of downtown San Francisco.

Keep downtown safe and attractive

  • Ensure that downtown is comfortable, clean and safe
  • Strengthen urban design guidelines so that buildings are more inviting at the street level
  • Invest in new and exciting public spaces that work well for all

Improve the transportation network

  • Adopt Vision Zero policies to eliminate traffic-related deaths and injuries
  • Rethink the downtown bus routes
  • Improve cycling infrastructure
  • Close or remove some freeway off-ramps to regain land downtown

Community Benefits

  • Focus on increasing the tax base of downtown and don’t get distracted by one-off, ad hoc negotiations with developers of individual projects — especially if those agreements might make the project less likely to happen. 
  • Investigate creative financing strategies, such as enhanced infrastructure finance districts, that could generate tax increment revenue to finance much-needed infrastructure projects.

As the planning process continues, SPUR will be hosting sessions at 1544 Broadway to give you maximum opportunity to get involved. Now is the time. We hope to see you soon. 

Read SPUR’s past writing on downtown Oakland:

The Best Equity Plan for Downtown Oakland: Grow for Everyone’s Sake

Who Benefits From Oakland’s “Community Benefits” Negotiations?

Keep Building Oakland

Four Plans That Shaped Downtown Oakland’s First 100 Years

Time to Plan Big for the Future of Downtown Oakland

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