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Council committee meeting reveals selfish agenda

As our blog has been gaining readership steadily since the election, and other local blogs flourish, we are recently joined in the blogosphere by the Grand Lake Guardian. This represents a welcome increase in the fora for debate over Oakland’s future. Oakland Heritage Alliance President Naomi Schiff’s posting on the Guardian agitates against a 420-foot skyscraper planned for the lake, because it “would destroy historic Schilling Garden.” A thorough discussion of this private garden is in our last post. This debate culminated in a Public Works Committee (of the City Council) meeting this afternoon to discuss the “park,” which was once offered to the city as a donation.

I am disappointed that Councilmember Nadel devotes time and energy to Schilling Garden while the Bordertown Skatepark, in an under-parked, teen-heavy part of West Oakland, merely limps along. Naomi Schiff and other Grand Lake residents at the Guardian argue that public monies are needed to, one, preserve this piece of the city’s history, and two, stop the planned skyscraper (which is 16 feet taller than the neighboring Ordway Building). Concerns about public access voiced by my blogging partners have been ignored, and the meeting reveals why.

Virtually every speaker who wanted the city to buy the garden (for $8m) lived in the adjoining Regillus condos or Bechtel Building (the building whose property once included the garden), a 13-story, 22-unit exclusive apartment building. They are asking the city to use public money to maintain their private garden. One speaker asked, “unless the use of the garden is truly public, it should not receive public funds.” He was hissed for his pro-public-access comments, demonstrating that the residents of the apartments have no interest in the garden being anything but their own private backyard. One neighbor spoke against buying the garden for this reason (she didn’t want public access right outside her window).

The city staff outlined problems with semipublic (“high-end corporate events”) use of the garden that went beyond the cost and accessibility concerns discussed before. One staffer noted that there is no parking, no structural facilities (precluding a wedding, for example), and that events would be restricted to before 5pm to avoid upsetting the immediate residents. Councilmember Quan noted that the city is cutting gardener positions even as the amount of parkland has grown substantially. The infeasibility, and undesirability, of making this garden even semipublic was presented quite clearly.

The speakers’ comments revealed more than just an attempt to grab public money for the enjoyment of a handful of residents. One speaker thanked the council for this “opportunity to say ‘no.’” Another asserted that “it’s time for Oakland to restrict buildings on Lake Merritt. Buildings over four stories block our views.” (emphasis mine) Basically, the residents are saying, “we have our luxury lakeside apartment home. We don’t want anyone else to have that opportunity.”

The agenda of the speakers is selfish in the extreme. They want public money to pay for their private garden, even hissing a speaker who suggested making the use more public. They are opposed to any lakeside development, even though it means more housing and more tax revenue for the city (tax revenue that could be used for public safety, low-income housing, and Lake Merritt maintenance). There is no intention of enabling the public to enjoy this garden (which one speaker pointed out “could be replanted elsewhere”). Instead, the residents of these luxury lakeside apartments want to exclude new neighbors and the public from their huge backyard, and use public money and city staff time to do it.

UPDATE: The Trib and the Chronicle have articles in which they completely ignore the three neighbors who spoke against the city buying the garden. Naomi Schiff has her own take on the meeting.

Posted in california, citycouncil, housing, nadel, oakland.


2 Responses

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  1. Anonymous says

    I haven’t had a chance to look at the garden yet, but this location is clearly “downtown” and would be appropriate for high-density housing–which we should be encouraging in California cities. This may also be a beautiful garden, but Oakland’s track record for maintaining parks (including near-by Snow Park) is pretty dismal, and I can say that as someone who has a view (from a high-rise!) of neglected Lakeside Park. The Cleveland Cascades hasn’t had the funds to move forward, the Lake Merritt Master Plan now seems to cover only 2/3 of the Lake (I’ve seen no plans for the area from 19th to Lakeside Park), how can Oakland take on another park?

Continuing the Discussion

  1. Great Expectations » What land swap? linked to this post on July 31, 2007

    [...] It contains the usual nonsensical babblings from anti-growth zealots who have somehow failed to notice that Lake Merrit is actually already surrounded by tall buildings. As for this “historic garden” nonsense, I addressed that issue last year in a post on Future Oakland, as did dto510. [...]