Saturday, May 17, 2008

What blight ordinance?

Why does the City of Oakland allow developers and government agencies to buy land, then leave it vacant, crumbling, blighted, litter-strewn for months, even years?

Take 989 41st Street, for example. From the 1850’s until 1888, this was likely part of the Lusk farm. Then, according to the Sanborn map of 1903, it became a large greenhouse. More recently, it was the California Linen Supply, founded circa 1920, which employed 112 people. California Linen was run by Don Miller until the boom in neighboring Emeryville made the property too valuable. In June 2006 Charles Miller, trustee, planned to build 48 town homes on the site. The real estate market crashed and, two project proposals later, the building lies vacant, with the windows smashed out; the jobs are gone. The California Linen website, like a ghost, is still up and running ( but the phone number is disconnected.

This developer has cost the community over a hundred jobs and left us with an eyesore. Why should this be tolerated?

How about 1025 West MacArthur. It housed a martial arts studio until, again, the Emeryville boom made developers see green. On January 16, 2008, owners Mark Migdal and Marsha Levinson went before the Oakland Planning Commission with a proposal to turn this and an adjoining parcel in Emeryville into 94 units of housing, of which 29 would be on the Oakland side. Now, the building is covered with graffiti, a dumping ground for trash, and weed-strewn. On a recent weekend I saw six workers cleaning the Emeryville side, which now looks tidy. What about the Oakland side? The developers stand to make millions, eventually. Why is this blight tolerated?

Private parties are not the only ones contributing to neighborhood decline. Let’s look at 3924 Martin Luther King, and the adjacent parcel at 645 40th Street. In the 1980’s, an independent service station stood on the corner, with a duplex behind it. BART bought the property, which is next to the MacArthur BART station, demolished the service station, and dug up the tank. The duplex stood vacant for several years, gathering trash, until squatters took it over and eventually set it on fire. Then it too was torn down. The lot has sat vacant and weed-strewn for a decade now, occupying a corner lot next to a major transit center. BART is supposedly saving it to use as a staging area for the proposed transit village. Is this the highest and best use of the property?

Blighted property defined (excerpt from the blight ordinance):
3. Buildings or structures with broken or missing windows or doors which constitute a hazardous condition or a potential attraction to trespassers. For purposes of this chapter “window” shall include any glazed opening, including glazed doors, which upon a yard, court, or vent shaft open unobstructed to the sky,4. Buildings or structures including, but not limited to, walls, windows, fences, signs, retaining walls, driveways, or walkways which are obsolete, broken, deteriorated, or substantially defaced to the extent that the disrepair visually impacts on neighboring property or presents a risk to public safety. For purposes of this chapter “defaced” includes, but is not limited to, writings, inscriptions, figures, scratches, or other markings commonly referred to as “graffiti” and peeling, flaking, blistering, or otherwise deteriorated paint.

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