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Letters for the Week of February 29, 2012

Readers sound off on redevelopment, Occupy Oakland, and foie gras.


"Death of a Retail Plan," Feature, 2/15

Not Dead Yet

I was troubled to see your cover story with a tombstone proclaiming the City of Oakland's retail ambitions for Broadway "dead." The article lures the reader in with an attention-grabbing headline and photo, but about ten paragraphs into the story confesses that the process is still alive and kicking. The City of Oakland is, in fact, doing something we should all applaud: molding the plan into something that may actually work, given the many constraints, which existed before but have only intensified with the loss of redevelopment. Let's give credit where it's due.

Without a doubt, the loss of redevelopment dealt a major blow to Oakland. But if there is a silver lining, it's that the city has wisely shifted to a plan most members of the community find more attuned to reality, and also closer to what local residents have been requesting all along.

Greenbelt Alliance, along with the Better Broadway Coalition, released our vision for the Broadway-Valdez Plan last year. We want a walkable, bike-friendly neighborhood with a variety of new retail, tree-lined streets and plazas, and homes affordable to the full range of local workers. We want high-quality jobs for Oakland's capable workforce. In short, we've been encouraging the city to use the plan to build on what's already working nearby: Art Murmur, the Fox Theater, and the flourishing restaurant and entertainment scene. We believe that the city's renaissance won't come from imitating Emeryville, as the story seemed to suggest, but from creating a district that is authentically Oaktown.

We have been working with the Better Broadway Coalition — a group of nine environmental, labor, housing, social justice, and local resident organizations — to pursue this vision. It enjoys support from several Oakland decision-makers and a wide swath of the community. Fortunately, the City of Oakland now agrees with us that we need a plan that is both ambitious and achievable. The recently released draft plan concept looks pretty good. With a bit more fine-tuning, this plan can actually lead to real revitalization on the ground, change that builds on our strengths rather than hinders recent progress.

Don't write Oakland's epitaph quite yet. Oakland's revival, including retail and more, remains within reach if the city makes a smart plan for the future of Broadway, its "Main Street." That means we must resist the temptation to dwell on what's "dead," and focus instead on what's alive that we can nurture and grow.

Marla Wilson

Sustainable Development Associate,

Greenbelt Alliance

Redevelopment Is a Red Herring

"Without redevelopment, the city's plan for a major shopping district ... may be history." Perhaps, but the same would most likely be true even with redevelopment. What this misty-eyed tribute to seeking retail El Dorado conveniently failed to mention was that, beginning in the mid-1960s, the city spent more than thirty years — yes, a full third of a century — pursuing various plans similar to this one (first at City Center, then at the same "Uptown" location that is now fodder for The New York Times' "to-do" list). That Oakland "failed to use redevelopment funds to build one or more major retail destinations in the city before redevelopment was eliminated" certainly wasn't for lack of trying. Rather, retail has failed because neither developers nor potential anchors would commit to such schemes — or at least not without hefty subsidies that obliterated any gains from increased tax revenues. With potential anchors having since been eliminated through consolidation, and with Oakland's image as an under-served but overly-dangerous place now augmented with a reputation as being frequently "occupied" by various malcontents — something the Express just can't seem to say enough good things about — the outlook is even bleaker, and no amount of access to bus routes or (even more laughably) bike lanes will change that.

Craig Sundstrom, Oakland

Oakland Isn't Emeryville

Redevelopment as it existed in 2011 is dead. It's gone. It's time to move on.

California's Redevelopment Agencies were good for creating projects like Bay Street, and Bay Street was good for Emeryville. But why should Oakland compete with Bay Street and build a better Bay Street? Emeryville's small population enjoys a high tax base, but our more diverse population needs more than national chains and parking garages.

It's time to start designing redevelopment's replacement from the ample tools we still have. Broadway is still going to get its bike lanes in the next few years without redevelopment money. Neighborhoods all over the country, including Oakland, use Business Improvement Districts and Community Benefit Districts to tax themselves to pay for their own neighborhood services and transit. There's no reason that programs like the Tenant Improvement Programs can only ever be funded by redevelopment. We can use our existing zoning and other regulatory tools to ensure that future development in Broadway-Valdez will be walkable, have affordable housing, and look and feel like a desirable place to be. Pop-up retail in Old Oakland is turning out to be more successful than anyone imagined. Art Murmur infused a large area with activity and economic value. There are several ways to assemble land and incentivize developers to redevelop large areas.

Three of the top ten city planning schools in the US are in California. It wouldn't hurt anything but our pride to look for new inspiration. If we all wanted to live next to Bay Street, we would live in Emeryville.