Saturday, March 12, 2011

Time to Roll Up the Tents...

It's time to roll up the tents and move on to other endeavors. After much thought and deliberation, We Fight Blight has decided to shut down its blog...

For the past several years we have dedicated a significant amount of time to fighting blight in North Oakland and South Berkeley and empowering residents with the tools and information to address blight on their street, block or in their neighborhood. We have worked with the City of Oakland to remove 127 abandoned and inoperable vehicles, clean up 87 blighted houses and commercial sites, and publicize the tough battle over the Nic Nak Liquor Store. With 117 postings, our stories covered many topics including litter, drug houses, potholes, graffiti, liquor stores, crime, community murals, Caltrans' right-of-way, BART, street trees, and the mismanagement of Oakland Public Works. Perhaps no other story garnered so many comments, interest and controversy as did the fight against the Nic Nak liquor store. Change is difficult and sometimes tumultuous.

We operated on the basis of the "broken window theory" and attempted to fight crime by reducing and eliminating blight. Along the way, we encountered many articulate and passionate members of the community who are striving to make Oakland safer for all residents.

Oakland has a tremendous amount of potential that is being realized in fits and starts. North Oakland and South Berkeley are seeing significant rejuvenation and reinvestment fueled by demographic and socio-economic changes, as well as location. These trends will only continue into the foreseeable future. We have been pleased to report on these trends in the 94609/94608/94703 zip codes, which we affectionately term the "donut hole".

In fighting blight, we could not avoid weighing in on larger political issues--such as the City's budget morass and the decided lack of support for the Oakland Police Department. As we have consistently noted, the City of Oakland cannot be all things to all people. Rather, the City must focus only on core services--police, fire, infrastructure and economic development. If the City wishes to reduce the reality and perception of crime and provide fuel for economic growth and revitalizing Oakland, it must provide far more police and work far more diligently to address the high cost of blight. It must also address the problems of transparency and accountability among its elected Officials and City staff.

For those who write blogs, you know the power of the Internet and the ability to make your voice heard on issues that you are passionate about. But you also know this is really hard work and it takes a lot of time and effort. We respect those, such as V. Smoothe at A Better Oakland, who have been at it a long time and continue to put out insightful, relevant, and uniquely Oakland stories. Thank you.

While this is goodbye, it is not farewell. Those of us who have labored over the We Fight Blight Blog will continue to be invested in making our communities safer and more livable for everyone.

Thank you all for indulging us and listening to our stories.

Saturday, February 26, 2011

Is South Berkeley the New Temescal?

Historic Lorin District
 Many of you may remember a day when Temescal was not the bustling, lively, regional destination that it has become. There was a time when Temescal was populated with fast food restaurants, liquor stores, mini-marts, check cashing outlets, pawn shops, seedy bars, vacant store fronts and even a porn theater. Street crime and hustling was commonplace. Back then the common wisdom in real estate circles was that you did not buy below 51st Street.

All of that changed during the boom. And it changed dramatically. Those priced out of the hot San Francisco market decided to head East to Temescal. Here, they found a relatively under priced neighborhood at the foot of Rockridge and Piedmont Avenue with a BART station and easy accessibility to the City.  With charming turn of the century craftsman bungalows and colonial revivals, and location, one wonders what took Temescal so long to explode.
Sweet Adeline Bakery

With the infusion of young and hip residents came a significant change to the commercial district along Telegraph Avenue. One of the first to recognize the attendant opportunities along Telegraph was Thomas Schnetz and Dona Savitsky who opened Dona Tomas. They were truly urban pioneers. Setting up where others only saw neglect and disrepair, they became the first in a plethora of trendy restaurants to settle in and create a truly dynamic and energetic commercial district. Now Temescal is a regional food destination with Dona Tomas, Pizzaiola, Bake Sale Betty, Burma Superstar, Barlata, the Mixing Bowl, Aunt Mary's Cafe, Marc 49, LaneSplitter, SR 24, Genova Delicatessen, and Scream Sorbet among others.
So, it is not surprising that Tom Schnetz of Dona Tomas has opened up Addies Pizza in South Berkeley with Jennifer Miller of Sweet Adeline. For south Berkeley, Sweet Adeline was the true urban pioneer and Jennifer Miller has long recognized the importance of neighborhood serving businesses that act as gathering places for the community. Sweet Adeline has indeed softened the hard edge of the the Historic Lorin District. Most weekends you can see young parents with kids in tow and urban hipsters noshing on the delectable sweets Jennifer and her crew dishes out.

As we have previously reported, the 94608/94609/94703 zip codes are hot and there have been significant socio-economic changes in the North Oakland and South Berkeley neighborhoods surrounding the South Berkeley commercial strip, known as the Historic Lorin District. Like Temescal in the early 2000s, young, hip residents, with income are finding relative bargains in this centrally located and transit rich area. With an infusion of new residents, the Historic Lorin District is now seeing new commercial ventures. The opening of Addies Pizza is highly symbolic of that change given Tom Schnetz' prescient role in revitalizing Temescal.

With wide sidewalks, historic storefronts, and plenty of driveby traffic, the Historic Lorin District is ripe with opportunity. Like Temescal it has seen its share of a troubled past, with crime, drug dealing, liquor stores, and fast food outlets. However, it is now surrounded by a rapidly changing area in high demand by young, hip consumers and families demanding craftsman bungalows and colonial revivals with high walkability scores. At the cross-roads of Adeline/Martin Luther King Jr. Way and Alcatraz, the Historic Lorin District has the Ashby BART station, AC Transit and major connections to Highways 24 and 80. Unlike Temescal, South Berkeley has an abundance of parking. All roads lead to the Historic Lorin District.

In addition to Sweet Adeline and Addies Pizza, the Other Change of Hobbit Bookstore has just relocated to South Berkeley, a new record store, Ear Peace, is in the process of improving its space, and the Golden Gate School of Feng Shui has set recently set up shop on Adeline Street. The larger South Berkeley area has the Ashby Arts District with the Shotgun Player's Ashby Stage, La Pena, the Starry Plough and the Black Repertory Theater, as well as Emilias Pizzeria, Flacos Tacos, Casa Vino, and numerous antique stores. While the neighborhood defining Nomad Cafe has changed ownership, it still provides an important neighborhood gathering place for the East Lorin Neighborhood. Nick's Lounge is currently for sale and would be a great opportunity to refashion as a hipster lounge. You can see the change. Existing businesses are taking the initiative to improve their facades, BART has created a new kiss and ride drop off zone along Adeline, and the Ed Roberts Campus has just opened.

Neighborhood and community groups are strong and organized as evidenced by the East Lorin Neighborhood Association and the Shattuck Crime Prevention Council's recent efforts to prevent more liquor stores. The Lorin Neighborhood Association has rallied to keep south Berkeley clean and free of litter, graffiti and blight and brightening it up with new landscaping. And the Halcyon Neighborhood Association has long been active in South Berkeley. The City of Berkeley also recently installed crosswalk signals to make the Lorin District more pedestrian friendly.

South Berkeley's time has indeed come.