Neighborhood Groups Speak

*Updated from the original April 14 story. Scroll down to see new answers from the Dimond Improvement Association. 

How people feel about real-estate development in Oakland can vary, based on their neighborhoods, socio-economic circumstances and political beliefs. The Oakland Conduit wanted to know how people’s thoughts about Oakland’s real-estate development boom varied from neighborhood to neighborhood. Our staff compiled a list of community groups across the city and asked their members a few questions. 

While we’re still compiling answers, here are some of the initial thoughts we compiled from members of the groups. 

Grizzly Peak Homeowners Association

Stephen Mende is a member of the Grizzly Peak Homeowners Association.

Conduit: What do you think are the top development concerns of your neighborhood? What do you think are the top concerns of your neighborhood in general?

Mende: Traffic. Because of the overcrowding of the main arteries such as [Highway] 24 and the Caldecott Tunnel, drivers are trying to circumnavigate the freeways and tunnels and use our streets to drive through, often at high speed and [with] general recklessness. So far, we have received very little help from the city to mitigate the impact of this through traffic. There could be speed bumps or live speed signs to help. Other neighborhoods have been given such devices, but so far our neighborhood has not received any help in this regard.

Conduit: Is there development in your neighborhood that people are really excited about? Concerned about?

Mende: There are a couple of houses being built or substantially re-modeled in our area. We would like them finished and occupied as soon as possible. One has been under construction for almost two years. 

DMV Neighbors Association

Leonora Sea is a member of the DMV Neighbors Association.

Conduit: What do you think are the top development concerns of your neighborhood? What do you think are the top concerns of your neighborhood in general?

Sea: Development concerns: increased traffic on neighborhood streets not designed for it, more cars requiring on street parking. Other top concern is public safety.

Conduit: Is there development in your neighborhood that people are really excited about? Concerned about?

Sea:  There are three large apartment complexes within a mile of each other under construction or about to break ground. Neighbors [feel] positive that vacant sites are being used—they were unsightly—but concerned about additional cars, traffic, loss of sunlight. 

Conduit: Are there areas in your neighborhood that are ripe for development? An empty lot? An existing building that could be torn down that could be bigger?  What would you like to see in these areas? 

Sea: There are virtually no parcels left for larger developments. The neighborhood already has many secondary units and could absorb more. 

Tremont Neighborhood Association

Julie Twichell is a member of the Tremont Neighborhood Association.

Conduit: What do you think are the top development concerns of your neighborhood? What do you think are the top concerns of your neighborhood in general?

Twichell: The need for affordable housing. Our South Berkeley/North Oakland neighborhood has experienced a high rate of gentrification and people who have lived here a long time are concerned about the loss of diversity and affordability. Note: Causa Justa in their report on “Development without Displacement” named North Oakland as an area that is in one of the most advanced stages of gentrification.     https://cjjc.org/wp-content/uploads/2015/11/development-without-displacement.pdf 

Conduit: Is there development in your neighborhood that people are really excited about? Concerned about? 

Twichell: See above. A number of property owners are raising their houses to add units [underneath]. In-fill housing has some support among development-concerned neighbors (vs. direct neighbors who lose sunlight). There has been much opposition to the idea of closing or moving the Ashby Flea market in order to build on the BART parking lot it uses on the weekends and there are concerns about tall-story apartment buildings in a neighborhood primarily of one- and two-story single-family homes. Congestion is also a concern. 

With many families with young children moving into the neighborhood, more parks where kids can play would be highly valued. Lighting is also a concern due to street muggings. Some residents strongly believe that the designs of any new buildings need to fit the neighborhood, including setbacks from the sidewalk. The proposed apartment building at 65th and Shattuck in Oakland has received opposition due to the lack of affordable units, a poor reputation of the property owner and the lack of setbacks. But this empty lot has been an eyesore for years. 

Conduit: Are there areas in your neighborhood that are ripe for development? An empty lot? An existing building that could be torn down that could be bigger?  What would you like to see in these areas? 

Twichell: A note on my perspective:  I retired last year from 25 years with the Alameda County Healthy Homes Department. I have seen a lot of housing in very poor condition in Oakland, so bad that it causes children to be lead-poisoned, have no relief from asthma symptoms, and/or subjects the residents to serious injuries from unsafe conditions. With the growing housing crisis, we found that substandard housing conditions had become the only affordable housing option for many families. In discussions about housing, people often go right to the need for development of new housing as the only solution. But, as the public tragically learned from the Ghost Ship fire, our existing housing is in dire need of safety improvements. There are proven solutions, including expertise and currently very limited funding (which needs to be greatly expanded) to assist those small “mom and pop” property owners who need assistance to bring their buildings up to code, and to enforce on those who refuse to comply.

Golden Gate Community Association

Angela Gennino is a member of the Golden Gate Community Association.

Gennino chose to respond to the Conduit’s questions via an emailed letter.

Golden Gate [Community Association] is primarily comprised of small residential homes. The biggest condos and apartment complexes were built on San Pablo Avenue more than 10 years ago. Since the recent market upswing, we’ve been seeing a significant surge of smaller, multi-unit complexes that are taking advantage of the underutilized lots in the commercial (San Pablo Avenue) and mixed-use corridors (Lowell Street).  

However, if the real estate market stays hot, the few remaining large parcels (mainly auto parts and light manufacturing businesses) will eventually be converted to high-density housing. Neighbors have been trying to keep an eye on these properties but we have no visibility into the owners’ plans. 

Right now the community’s biggest concern is the loss of affordable housing.  Most of the rental units here are old single-family homes, which have been increasingly flipped and sold to higher-income buyers at the cost of our community’s racial and economic diversity. 

This trend has been fueled by the city’s bias toward development, especially since the “housing crisis,” and the absence of a policy for preserving diversity in neighborhoods like ours that lack the usual opportunities (public land) for affordable housing construction.

The city should be getting more innovative on joint ventures with developers to build affordable units here, rather than abandoning neighborhoods like ours to the market. Golden Gate is a borderline neighborhood—Berkeley and Emeryville to the north and west—that the city should try extra hard to preserve rather than ignore. 

A very critical local story, however, is the dramatic increase of the live/work rentals coupled with home-flipping. In the Lowell Street corridor alone, the number of live/work units has gone from zero to 40+ in just the last three years.  That number is expected to keep climbing to 50+ in the next two years and perhaps 100 in the next five years.

This has created a huge problem regarding the city’s antiquated zoning codes and substandard enforcement of those codes for our rapidly changing land use. The result is an ongoing legal battle between the city, residents and businesses. It’s ugly and a terrible waste of taxpayers’ money. 

Longfellow Community Association

The Longfellow Community Association did not wish to take part in the Conduit survey this week, but it suggested we reach out to two neighborhood residents, Julio Rios and Brandie Albright, to get their take on development in the neighborhood.

The below responses are a summary (for brevity’s sake) of Rios’ and Albright’s answers.

Conduit: What do you think are the top development concerns of your neighborhood? What do you think are top concerns of your neighborhood in general?

Rios: “My main concern is about displacement, generally. I think that is what drives most of my opinions.” Rios says he understands that there is a need for housing in the neighborhood and he’d like to prioritize using land that hasn’t been developed yet for higher density housing.

Rios believes that crime is still a top worry among his neighbors. He’s not sure if crime is too much of problem, or if it’s just being perceived as a problem, but he does hear stories about his neighbors’ mail getting stolen, people being mugged, or residents’ home burglaries. 

Rios worries that newer residents seem to be suspicious of older residents. He’s concerned that the new folks have less empathy for those who have been in the neighborhood awhile. Rios admits that he has been in the neighborhood just about four years.

Albright: “Oakland, as it stands now, its development isn’t inclusive. I think it can be and that inclusivity of development has to come from the top down, i.e. the city telling developers what they expect from them.” 

Albright says that the longtime residents she’s spoken to, people who have been in the neighborhood for 40 years or more, say the area used be very diverse, with people from many different stripes and backgrounds. She says the neighborhood hit a real rocky period in the 1980s and lost a lot of its diversity, so longtime residents want development that makes the area more inclusive and diverse, with more places for kids to play and safer streets.

People who have been in the neighborhood a short time, and who paid an exorbitant amount of money for their houses, are more concerned about why there isn’t a heavy police force in the area, or why things aren’t perfectly clean. Albright says these concerns usually cause two reactions among newcomers: Get involved and fix things, or move away.

Conduit: Is there development in your neighborhood that people are really excited about? Concerned about?

Albright: The MacArthur Transit Village. She says the tower portion of the project is very polarizing, and has caused a mix of emotions among residents. Some people are really excited about it, while others are very concerned about what it will do to the neighborhood’s culture.

Rios: He says that there has been a good amount of development around MacArthur and Market streets, and that new shops, such as a beer garden, have recently opened and have been a draw to people.

Conduit: Are there areas in your neighborhood that are ripe for development? An empty lot? An existing building that could be torn down that could be bigger?  What would you like to see in these areas? 

Rios: There is a plot of land on the northeast corner of MacArthur and Market streets, across the street for Easy Liquor, and another space on MacArthur and MLK that Rios feels are ripe for development. On these spots, he’d like to see housing that construction workers, those building the city’s housing, could afford themselves. 

Albright: There’s a lot on 40th and MLK she thinks would be great for housing. She’d also like to see the space at MacArthur and MLK be used.

Adams Point Neighborhood Association

The Conduit asked the same questions of the Adams Point Neighborhood Association; Barbara Azad of the association’s Leadership Council responded with the below statement:

Our Adams Point Neighborhood Group’s mission is to enhance our neighborhood’s safety and beautification projects. We have found funding for over 30 mosaic trashcans in anti-graffiti projects and have street banners on Grand Avenue that create neighborhood identity. Adams Point has the highest population density not only in Oakland, but Alameda County. Our concerns additionally are related to maintenance and repair—especially our poor road conditions—potholes, and reconstruction and parking.

Rockridge Community Planning Council

Stuart Flashman is a member of the Rockridge Community Planning Council. He wanted to make clear that his answers were not necessarily the council’s beliefs.  His answers are summarized for brevity. 

Conduit: What do you think are the top development concerns of your neighborhood? What do you think are top concerns of your neighborhood in general?

Flashman:  “Rockridge is suffering from problems it didn’t create.” Flashman says that the rise of Silicon Valley, and the high salaries it has created, has caused a bidding war for housing in Rockridge and the surrounding area. 

Conduit: Is there development in your neighborhood that people are really excited about? Concerned about?

Flashman:  Most of the new housing being built near Rockridge has been either 100 percent market rate, or close to it. There is one project being built on Telegraph that will be 90 percent market rate. He’d like to see more housing being built at affordable rates.

Piedmont Pines Neighborhood Association (Added April 21, 2017)

Robbie Neely is the Executive Director of the Piedmont Pines Neighborhood Association. He responded to the Conduit’s questions via an emailed response:

Here are some issues that incited neighborhood protests over recent development proposals. Developments:

1.     Are out of scale.

2.     Are out of character with our woodsy environment.

3.     Impede waterways and interfere with storm protection.

4.     Would destabilize our precarious hillsides.

5.     Present traffic and parking hazards.

6.     Conflict with our vision: “Piedmont Pines will be a scenically beautiful, diverse, community dedicated to quality schools, neighborhood safety and living in harmony with our natural environment.”

Are you a member of an Oakland community group? The Oakland Conduit is interested in hearing from you about your thoughts on development.  Contact us on our site or on our Facebook page.  

Dimond Improvement Association (Added April 28, 2017) 

Joey Smith is the co-chair of the Dimond Improvement Association, and the head of the neighborhood’s Real Estate and Economic Development committee. Her answers are summarized for brevity. 

Conduit: What do you think are the top development concerns of your neighborhood? What do you think are the top concerns of your neighborhood in general?

Smith: “There are some cool anchors to the neighborhood, but it would be nice to have a few more luxury items and more variety.” Smith explains that while the median home prices have steadily increased in the neighborhood, the quality of the commercial spaces has not caught up. The contrast between high quality residential spaces and low quality of commercial spaces is the primary concern of the neighborhood. The business district is ripe for improvement. “It just needs a little push,” Smith says.

Conduit: Is there development in your neighborhood that people are really excited about? Concerned about?

Smith: There are five new developments the community is hoping will revitalize the neighborhood’s commercial presence:

  • 3525 Fruitvale Avenue was renovated into a mixed-use residential space with top-floor lofts and 6,700 square feet of ground-floor retail space. 
  • 2114 MacArthur Boulevard’s 6,100 square feet of retail space that is tentatively scheduled to be listed in May.
  • Across the street from 2114 MacArthur Boulevard is a lot owned by Bank of America taking up more than half of an acre, where the community hopes a massive mixed-use residential development could bridge the lot with the available space across the street. 
  • 2024 MacArthur Boulevard is seeking a tenant to occupy 5,700 square feet of restaurant space, and the Champion Street firehouse is in the process of being redeveloped. 

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