By Peter Snarr---After briefly pausing work on its Downtown Specific Plan, the Oakland city government announced on July 20 that it is resuming work on the plan and will assemble a series of working groups and neighborhood meetings in the coming months to get further input on it.
The Downtown Specific Plan will set guidelines and goals for implementing development in the city’s economic heart. It will essentially be a roadmap created by the community and the city government that will state what they want to see built in the area and how they’d like it to be developed.
The city began developing the specific plan in the Fall of 2015. It then paused the process to hire a local consulting team of local specialists adept at social equity and community engagement to make sure the specific plan would address issues regarding displacement and racial disparity.
In February, the City Council approved a contract with the Institute for Sustainable and Economic Educational and Environmental Design (I-SEEED), “a national research, education, and technology institute working to ensure racial justice, equitable development, and just sustainability for all,” according to iseed.org. The institute works to make sure communities have a voice in issues impacting their lives.
Using funds approved by the City Council, I-SEEED has assembled a team comprised of local community groups---including Policy Link and Asian Health Services---local artists and other community members to engage members of the public that often get overlooked in development---such as communities of color, immigrants, the homeless and the LGBTQ community---in getting their takes on the specific plan.
“The process will allow [the city] to make better decisions,” said Joanna Winter, an urban planner with the city’s Planning and Building Department. “We will understand who will benefit and who will be harmed and [we can] better address conscious development that gets overlooked.”
Starting on July 31 and running through Aug. 3, I-SEEED and the city will hold the first meetings of their social equity working groups. The groups will gain input from community members on how certain social justice issues can be addressed in the specific plan.
The four working groups holding meetings during the first week of August:
- Housing, Affordability, Jobs, Training & Economic Opportunity Working Group (July 31)
- Arts & Culture Working Group (Aug. 1)
- Streets, Connectivity & Built Environment Working Group (Aug. 2)
- Sustainability, Health, Safety, Recreation & Open Space Working Group (Aug. 3)
The early August meetings of the working groups will focus on social equity issues, while future meetings will focus on technical analysis as well as implementation and prioritization.
Residents can RSVP to participate in working groups here.
For those not interested in participating in working groups, the city will hold neighborhood design meetings in October as well as public workshops in late 2017 and early 2018.
In addition, the city is also looking to add new members to the specific plan’s community advisory board (which is separate from the working groups), including representatives from unions, according to Strategic Planning Manager Ed Manasse.
“The concerns of the unions are definitely going to be on the table,” Manasse said. “We want to make sure they are adequately represented.”
Some residents are concerned with the amount of input the city is collecting for the specific plan. Bryan Grunwald, an Oakland-based urban designer and planner, is worried that too many ideas will be taken into account and that the city won’t have the funds to implement the plan’s strategies effectively.
“The specific plan is becoming its own visioning document. It’s got a life of its own,” Grunwald said. “The specific plan [is missing] an implementation element which says how much things cost and how they are going to be paid for. What you’re asking for is very specific policy adoption with no idea how to get there.”
After the city sorts through all the information it collects from stakeholders, working group meetings and neighborhood design sessions, it expects to have a Draft Specific Plan by July 2018 and adoption of it and the Environmental Impact Report for Downtown by July 2019.
“It’s been quiet the past couple months, but we’re looking forward to reengaging with the public,” Winter said.
Learn more about the outreach efforts for the Downtown Plan at https://www.eqtdto.com/.