Saturday, May 3, 2008

Our Local Treasures -- and how they were squandered

JAMMI is easily defined on three sides by man-made boundaries: the Emeryville city line, highway 580 and highway 24. The northern boundary, Temescal Creek, is not as obvious. Many people don’t even realize it is there, but they can be forgiven, because our predecessors decided to bury the creek in a culvert 30 feet below the surface.

Once a beautiful seasonal stream, lined by huge trees and fed by run-off from the East Bay hills, Temescal Creek was a defining local landmark where the Ohlone Indians built a sweat lodge, so they could bathe in the cool creek after taking their sauna. Vicente Peralta, son of the original Spanish land grantee, built his adobe near its banks. The creek was an important local water source for early settlers, and was dammed in 1868 by Anthony Chabot to form Oakland’s first municipal water supply (Lake Temescal). Renowned landscape architect Frederick Law Olmstead urged Oaklanders in 1863 to preserve the creek banks as public parklands; his suggestions were ignored.

But the creek also acted as the sewer for early settlers. The roaring waters of the rainy season dry to a trickle in the dry season, and there was quite a stench in the later 1800’s from the raw sewage of private dwellings and from the waste dumped by major industry (Lusk Cannery). The creek became an embarrassing eyesore because, like many of Oakland’s parks today, it was not properly maintained.

A flood in 1962 sealed the fate of the creek. A deep trench was dug and the creek was entombed in a concrete culvert far below ground level, where it runs today. The stretch of the creek through JAMMI was the last to be covered, in the 1980’s. But you can still glimpse its waters 30 feet down through a metal grating in the Temescal Creek Park off of 47th Street west of Adeline, on the Oakland/Emeryville border. I occasionally go there to reflect. To me, it’s like visiting a shrine, where someone prominent in the area now lies buried. I always feel sad when I see the ugly asphalt and concrete, and even buildings, covering what was once a sparkling jewel of fresh water and green trees.

A second treasure that was lost is open space. The Sanborn map of 1903 suggests that much of the former Lusk farm, south of 44th, was not yet subdivided by that date. We could have had a beautiful park, had anyone in office cared to act. But the 1906 earthquake brought an influx of residents and now all we have is Marcus Garvey Park, under the roar of the freeway, Linden Park, the Temescal Community Garden on 47th, and the Temescal Creek Park, which appears to be maintained by Emeryville.

The lesson to be learned is that, once land is subdivided and residences built, it is lost forever to any common use. Eminent domain has been too often misused, is too expensive, and is politically on the outs. And small parcels are too hard to assemble, even if anyone had the money to try.

Not only has public open space been lost, but private open space is rapidly shrinking. In the 1940’s and ‘50s, the Metropolitan Oakland Area Plan advertised Oakland nationwide as an “industrial garden,” whose idealistic vision was one where contented workers lived in modest bungalows with backyard gardens, conveniently close to jobs provided by small and medium sized industry. JAMMI would have been a poster child for working class bungalows with back yards and beautiful weather. Over the years, however, owners have build second units in the back yards, converted garages to in-law apartments, and owner-occupied properties with gardens are now the exception, not the norm.

Density, density, density. We have heard the mantra that “we need affordable housing” so much, we forget to question it anymore. But, as Bob B. recently put it, “isn’t 400,000 enough?” How many people can crowd into Motel Oakland before we turn on the “No Vacancy” sign? How many dry winters must we have before we realize there isn’t enough water for a limitless population? As we crowd closer and closer together, our quality of life erodes.

The third local treasure that is soon to be lost is adequate parking. We have come to assume that, if we drive to the store and back, we will find street parking near our residence. But, with each illegal in-law apartment that is built without an additional parking space, our pool of available parking gets tapped. Now, the MacArthur BART transit village is going to replace a 600-car parking lot with a 300-car garage. The community is expected to absorb the additional parking demand. The reality will be that BART patrons will grab spots in the neighborhood around the station and local residents will have to park farther away, lugging their groceries home through the rain.

Can we agree that our small single-family bungalows and low-rise ambiance is a treasure that we should not trade for cheaply built low-income rental high-rises and (Jane Brunner’s latest suggestion) more triplexes?

1 comment:

Oaklandkev65 said...

This was truly fascinating!Thanks.