Oakland, California 2005

West Oakland Workshop Summary of Events

By Sudish Verma
Texas A&M University

The AICP Community Action Program sponsored a community planning workshop that provided an opportunity for planners from around the country to create specific design guidelines for the Seventh Street neighborhood in West Oakland.

The Community Planning Team traveled on March 19 to the Seventh Street neighborhood that used to be a prosperous commercial district with famed blues music and supper club corridors. However, introduction of the Southern Pacific railyard and the Cypress freeway proved detrimental to the vitality and liveliness of the street. Recently, a BART station replaced the railyard and the Cypress freeway moved to the edge of the community. The result was a more diverse community with Asian and Caucasian populations sharing the neighborhood with African Americans. The workshop attempted to bring back the lost "character" of the area and mitigate the negative impacts of transportation infrastructure on the community residents.

The exercise started with a presentation by workshop convener Walter Hood, who has prepared the West Oakland Transit Village Design Development Plan. Hood introduced the participants to the history and culture of the community and talked about the existing conditions of the physical, social, and transportation infrastructure in the area. The local residents expressed their concerns and perceived problems with BART's high noise levels and the acceptability of the proposed high density development in the neighborhood. The walking tour of the neighborhood and informal interaction with the residents of the community assisted the team in developing an understanding about various issues being faced by the community.

Following the tour, breakout groups consisting of participating professional planners and community leaders were formed to discuss the following six specific issues:

  • Architectural Form and Urban Design: The Victorian houses in the community were once the largest agglomeration of their kind in the country. This "architectural treasure" of historic importance was losing its glitter because of lack of systematic guidelines for conservation of existing buildings. One breakout group attempted to develop urban design guidelines to ensure that new development was compatible with historic buildings and to adopt standards encouraging people to visit and occupy public spaces and promote social interaction.
  • Housing / Density: The lots along Seventh Street were sized for worker housing 25 to 30 feet wide and 100 feet deep. The team analyzed the potential impacts of proposed transit oriented development around BART and recommended various ways to mandate mix of uses. A variety of other issues such as sound attenuation, bulk — height, and size — scale were also important factors in developing guidelines for housing/density.
  • Land Use / Zoning: The TOD zoning allowed for any local neighborhood-serving retail, commercial, and medium-to high-density residential units. A coordinated retail development strategy in conjunction with land-use guidelines was suggested to appreciate the role of the neighborhood at a regional level. Presence of many artists and nonprofit establishments in the neighborhood stimulated a proposal to create a regional crafts district.
  • Parking and Creation of BID: The BART station has amplified the demand for commuter near the station. The developments proposed by other breakout groups also called for street parking catering to proposed retail developments. Besides, most of the Victorian houses in the area do not have any parking provisions. Parking garages, free parking near the BART station, and provisions for off-street parking were recommended to meet the demand.
  • Site Specific Development Standards: Previous studies of the West Oakland area identified three large state-owned sites with promising potential for new development. The group dealing with these sites proposed development of a transit village near the BART station and a historic district near the post office. Development of a blues walk of fame, facade improvements, and parking garages were proposed to address distinct issues such as recreation, noise attenuation, and parking requirements.
  • Capacity Building for Implementation: Success of all the above proposals could be achieved by a coordinated effort of various agencies involved in the area. One of the teams identified a need for establishment of an independent organization, a special purpose vehicle, to prepare an action plan and lead all future efforts to revitalize the area. A bottom-up approach accommodating the views of the community, making an optimal use of available resources, was found apt for completion of the project.

A brief discussion of proposals by breakout groups invited local community leaders to express their views regarding the entire exercise and its outcomes. The proposals of the workshop will be compiled as a brief report to be used by the City of Oakland to judge future redevelopment applications for private and semi-public properties in the Seventh Street community.