Sunday, October 5, 2008

City to update neighborhood zoning

The City of Oakland is updating zoning to conform to the General Plan adopted in 1998. This provides the opportunity to align zoning with the actual current uses on existing parcels, as well as to steer streets and neighborhoods toward optimal future uses, depending upon their location and needs. Public meetings were held on September 25th and October 4th to explain what the rezoning is and why it is being conducted now.

With the exception of quasi-commercial streets like Martin Luther King Jr Way, West MacArthur and parts of Market Street, our neighborhood is largely zoned currently as “R40 – Garden Apartment Residential”. This is a denser designation than would be the case for, say, single-family detached homes in the hills, but still allows only two dwellings per parcel. Should the neighborhood strive to preserve private open space (back yards), or should we aim to create more housing by increasing density?

In the 1940’s and early 1950’s, the City advertised itself nationwide as an “industrial garden”—where contented workers could live happily in modest bungalows, near plentiful jobs, enjoying beautiful weather in their backyard gardens. That dream quickly soured when wartime jobs evaporated, freeways and government subsidies drew skilled whites to the suburbs, property values declined and inner cities like Oakland became containment zones for the poor. In our neighborhood, many gardens have been paved over or lost to second (or third) units as absentee landlords attempt to squeeze additional income out of their investments. Shouldn’t we attempt to preserve what we have left?

Per a study by the Trust for Public Land, Oakland has 9.5 acres of parks and public land per 1,000 residents. By comparison, San Francisco has only 6.7 acres per 1,000.

The JAMMI neighborhood (Census Tract 4010), with less than seven acres of parks and public space for 5,709 residents, has about 1.22 acres per 1,000. We need to preserve our backyards to augment this open space.

Affordable housing advocates would point to the Association of Bay Area Governments’ affordable housing allocation for Oakland of 3,998 units affordable to low or very low income families to be created between 2007 and 2014. They might argue that higher density is needed to achieve affordable housing goals, regardless of the impact on our quality of life. They might point out that people today have more indoor recreational opportunities (cable, computers) and need parks less.

The R40 designation appears to have been widely abused. Many lots in the area have three or more units. When asked how zoning restrictions are enforced, Eric Angstadt acknowledged that there is only one inspector for the entire city, and legal actions take a long time. As additional units, legal or not, fill in the neighborhood year after year, more on-street parking is needed to support these units. If left unchecked, congestion increases and quality of life decreases.

Should we press for zoning that limits build-out, or should we encourage higher, denser residential properties? What types of commercial and retail should we encourage, and at what locations? Leave a comment here with your opinion. Let’s make our voices heard or others will decide the future of our neighborhood for us.

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