Last Tuesday, the City Council’s Community and Economic Development Committee ordered city staff to being the process of soliciting developers for the city’s portion of the former Army Base. V Smoothe covered the meeting on her blog, but I want to share some more observations. It is clear that West Oakland residents and businesses, downtown interests, and the unions all want logistical and industrial uses on the Army Base site. Only the politicians mentioned retail (and only two of the five at the that). I like Jane Brunner’s suggestion of an outlet mall, because that does not compete with the DTO (or at least I hope not). I was disappointed that nobody advocated creating a second auto mall, and the film industry was noticeably absent (maybe they realized the Port is a noisy neighbor). Issuing the RFQ/RFP will be the city’s next challenge.
Before Oakland can look at all sorts of sexy and lucrative proposals for this site, the staff has to create documents that will inform potential developers about the cost, constraints, and context of the site, a process called RFP. Fox Theater developer Phil Tagami, a member of the former Base Reuse Authority, stressed the importance of providing thorough documentation in a centralized, accessible place, and also suggested the RFP include the Port’s reuse plans. Nancy Nadel asked the council to have a Closed Session discussion to determine how the cost of the site will be presented. The city could buy OaklandArmyBaseRFP.com to provide information. I’m particularly curious to examine the already-completed EIR; if proposals can abide by its vision, reuse would be greatly eased.
Perhaps because expectations have been lowered, city leaders and interest groups strongly agree on a basic overall approach focused on maritime support, including a willingness to work with the market and hasten delivery. A complicating factor for this land is that it’s raw and in Oakland, but not really infill. There are limited transit possibilities, and no real opportunities for spillover economic benefit to West Oakland from office or retail development. As proponents of BRT, Central Waterfront, and Temescal projects point out, there are two sides to Smart Growth: limiting greenfield sprawl, and building up inner-city sites. The broad agreement that this isolated site is most appropriately used for dirty, noisy, and transportation purposes reflects a sophisticated understanding of Smart Growth on the part of both the City Council and, more importantly, local interest groups. Now if only Stuart Flashman would realize that stopping sprawl along the Pacheco Pass would be eased by permitting development in North Oakland!
By rejecting all of the consultant’s four reuse concepts, the City Council explicitly asked to see market-driven, project-specific proposals. The discussion began with Councilmembers Nadel and de la Fuente endorsing Eco-Oakland, but ended with a motion for the broadest RFQ/RFP. This decision rejects Mayor Dellums’ recent statement publicly endorsing the “Mixed-Use Oakland” scheme, when he said that we shouldn’t plan project-by-project. Though I personally favor Henry Chang’s take-the-money-and-run plan to sell the whole thing to the Port, a superb due-diligence package, distributed internationally, could result in some “spectacular” proposals.
Next week, V Smoothe and I will write a series of blogs about affordable housing. The unworkable Inclusionary Zoning proposal has unfortunately squelched discussion of other ways to address housing supply and affordability, both market-rate and subsidized. Oakland will soon update its Housing Element, and Inclusionary Zoning is set to rear its tiresome head. We hope to provide other ideas that can have a place at the table.