Thursday, November 27, 2008

Fall Musings

To start this beautiful fall day, several of us rode through North Oakland. From the Berkeley border through Temescal, into Piedmont and looping into lower Rockridge. As we rode at a slow, but steady pace, we took notice of the area between the Berkeley border at Woolsey, Shattuck Avenue, MLK and 51st Street. The housing stock is not unlike that in the tonier parts of Rockridge, Piedmont and Temescal. California Bungalows, Craftsman, Colonial Revivals all weave a rich historic tapestry.

What is amazing about this area of North Oakland is that it is so close to the highly desirable commercial districts of Elmwood, Rockridge, Temescal and Piedmont. It is also bordered to the west by the ever-changing Emeryville. It has great accessibility to public transportation being close to three Bart Stations--Ashby, Rockridge and McArthur. It also has great accessibility to Highway 24 and 80. Many of the streets are tree-lined, though their canopies not as mature as Rockridge. The thriving Nomad Cafe sits as a beacon on Shattuck calling hipsters and aging hippies.

Even in this down market, it is clear that there is investment in this neighborhood with several deteriorated and blighted homes being completely refurbished and renovated as rentals or put up for sale. Along Shattuck Avenue at the corner of 56th and Shattuck a small art gallery has opened. Further up the street, a book publishing company is expanding its facility and completely renovating a dilapidated warehouse. The east parking lot of the Asbhy Bart Station is slowly being transformed into the Ed Robert's Campus. BART is contemplating a modernization of the Ashby BART Station and Children's Hospital is moving forward with a revised and downscoped expansion.

Because of the work of the We Fight Blight Team, abandoned and inoperable vehicles have been removed, dilapidated homes are being repaired and the City of Berkeley is repaving portions of Shattuck Avenue near Woolsey. The efforts of the Shattuck Crime Prevention Council and its Problem Solving Officers are showing good progress in making this area safer and addressing problem houses. With every house that goes up for sale, young families are moving into this neighborhood and revitalizing it with their enthusiasm and desire.

This North Oakland neighborhood is changing in many positive ways. Once the economy recovers, we think this North Oakland neighborhood will boom like Temescal. With the correction in housing prices, this area is incredibly affordable at the moment, yet offers all of the same amenities that tonier and more expensive neighborhoods offer. Most importantly, its proximity to the best and most vibrant commercial areas Oakland has to offer has not been fully recognized.

Just watch. We think people will be amazed by the changes and will wonder, why didn't we think to buy in that neighborhood.

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Paint or Gunshots

I came across this website by accident and it had an interesting little post about remedying blight in Temescal...the fixed window out it is contagious.

October 30, 2008

I can tell you about the gunshots we heard the other night, it was a car jacking on MLK. But I’d rather show you that our North Oakland/Temescal neighborhood is truly getting better. Above, was the worst house on the block (before pic: it was abandoned, burned out, windows boarded up) and now it’s one of the better houses on the block. All new everything — roof, interior, exterior, landscaping, garage, windows and it’s 3 bedroom 2 bath. This upgrade may have prompted the neighbors across the street to finally paint their house (a nice warm green). The fixed window effect. Even in this market, this house will fetch between $525k to $625k.

North Oakland is an historic neighborhood, it’s where the Black Panthers were founded. Our part of town was also upended for many years because of the MacArthur maze or the intersection of highway 24, 580, and 880. So there’s a ways to go to get the North Oakland/Temescal community of Oakland going again.

There’s a lot of “urban infill” projects that are happening and it’s great to see. I’ll take some pictures of Bushrod park and post them up too.

Also, the Oakland North blog and A Better Oakland blog trump the Oakland Tribune, and I care more about what V Smoothe has to say than Chip Johnson. Seems like we’re organizing ourselves online as well.

Monday, November 17, 2008

Planning Commission Hearing on Creekside Project

While I do not often report on development projects, I wanted to plagiarize the post below from Becks and her blog, Living in the O. This is not necessarily an issue of blight as much as an issue of positive change and turning a development more fitting for a suburban community into one of an urban village. The development and growth in Temescal has been nothing short of successful and its spin-off effects in dealing with blight in North Oakland very positive. Because of the many new restaurants and condominiums in Temescal we are beginning to see positive changes in the neighborhood west of Highway 24 towards Emeryville.

Living in the O--Becks

Wednesday, November 19th: Planning Commission Hearing on Creekside Project

Over a year ago, I wrote a blog post arguing that the North Oakland portion of Telegraph is ready to grow:

last night, as I walked down Telegraph from the bus stop, I realized just how odd the 1-2 story buildings looked. The disproportionality of the building heights to the size of the street is astounding.

Beyond aesthetics, Temescal’s businesses are rapidly growing, and Telegraph has become a major transit corridor, thanks to the new rapid bus line. This is only going to increase, once Bus Rapid Transit (BRT) is developed. If Oakland wants to become a more environmentally sustainable city, it makes so much sense to build dense housing in neighborhoods with established services and transit.

The arguments I wrote then are even more compelling today, as business booms in Temescal and we’re even closer to making BRT a reality. The Creekside project, which would be located on the lot of the closed Global Video and its huge parking lot, fits well into this vision for a denser, more lively North Oakland. The project is a mixed-use development with units for sale and for rent, coupled with retail on the ground floor. V Smoothe wrote a post about this project in January complete with renderings and maps, which I encourage you to check out if you’re interested in this project.

Since January, the project has been downsized from 120 to 102 units, mostly because of the opposition to the project by STAND, a group that would be happier if the the project was not built at all. STAND sent an email out today encouraging its membership to attending the planning commission meeting to speak out against this project. ULTRA, on the other hand, is encouraging its membership to attend the meeting to speak out in support of the project.

This project reminds me a lot of the Safeway rebuild. We have two options here - we can be left with this ugly building with a huge parking lot or we can look forward to a much needed project that improves the pedestrian experience and enlivens the neighborhood.

If you agree that Telegraph is ready to grow, please attend this meeting and voice your support for this important project.

Wednesday, November 19th at 6:00pm
Oakland City Hall
One Frank H. Ogawa Plaza
Hearing Room No. 1
Oakland, CA 94612
See the agenda here.

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Berkeley to Repave Shattuck Avenue from Woolsey to Ward

Great news. We just noticed a large electronic sign on Shattuck Avenue which states that the section of Shattuck between Woolsey (Oakland border) and Ward will be repaved starting on November 16. We, as well as others, have been advocating for this portion of Shattuck to be repaved for many months. We are happy to see that the City of Berkeley has finally responded to citizen complaints about these third world conditions and is moving forward with the work even though Shattuck was not on the current maintenance schedule. Why it was not on the maintenance schedule when it is a major City roadway used by a large number of motorists and bicyclists and was in such terrible condition is well, troubling.

What is so frustrating about this situation is the effort it takes the City of Berkeley to address an obvious problem, the amount of time it takes residents to push the City to actually do the right thing, and the lack of communication and secrecy the City maintains. Although the Public Works Director indicated they would let the affected residents know when the work would be done and the scope of the work, we have gotten no information other than the electronic sign. Is that good government? We think not. When will government agencies and bureaucrats begin understanding that their jobs are fundamentally to serve the public. The public are the clients and we deserve to be treated with respect, honesty and transparency. This begins with communication.

Who got it done: Claudette Ford, Public Works Director, and Max Anderson, City Councilman for South Berkeley.

Now we can focus our efforts on getting Oakland to do the same for that section of Shattuck between the Berkeley border and Temescal...

Sunday, November 2, 2008

City of Berkeley Continues to Perpetuate Blight on Shattuck Avenue

If you recall, in late July we reported on the status of Shattuck Avenue between Ashby and the Oakland City border. We reported that this section of roadway had severely deteriorated to the point where it represents a public safety problem and detracts from the community, creating an appearance of neglect and blight. This section of the road is filled with so many ruts and potholes, that it is a significant public safety concern for bicyclists and motorists. In fact, it presents a significant liability for the City of Berkeley to maintain an unsafe roadway and it costs taxpayers in the form of additional maintenance on their motor vehicles/bicycles.

This issue was brought to the attention of the Berkeley Public Works Director, Claudette Ford. Ms. Ford stated, "The Public Works Department has...been investigating what could be done... We are in total agreement that the section of Shattuck that you refer in your email is in bad shape, but given the other pressing needs it was not on our scheduled repair list at this time...we feel fairly confident that we will be able to do something to improve the overall condition of the street. As we get closer to the actual work date, you and others on the street will be getting notification from the city/contractor".

So what has the City done in the last three months since this issue was brought to their attention? Apparently very little. In the last week or so a disgruntled resident fed up with these third world conditions has highlighted most of the potholes with bright orange paint. The intention appears to be a warning for motorists and bicyclists so they can take evasive action or perhpas to mark the potholes for the Berkeley Public Works Staff. Shortly after the markings appeared, the potholes were filled in with asphalt. We assume this was done by the City of Berkeley. While this might be a reason to cheer, it really signals a rather pathetic effort on the part of the City of Berkeley. The filled potholes simply add to the rough and distressed performance of the road. The real solution is to grind the asphalt and repave.

Who has the responsibility for addressing this problem:

  • Claudette Ford, City Manager
  • Lisa Carona, Deputy City Manger
  • Max Anderson, City Councilman

The big question remains; how on earth can the City let such a major thoroughfare, such as Shattuck Avenue, crumble into endless potholes as if we lived in a third world country while other less significant surface street that are in better condition are routinely resurfaced?

While Ms. Ford promised that the City would do something, she has yet to deliver on her promise. Ms. Ford, the community is still waiting. But that seems to be a common theme with South Berkeley and City services.