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Zoning direction tonight?

Despite what the Trib says, the most important decision the City Council will make tonight is not an outdoor smoking ban (which probably will require yet another vote anyway) or a resolution against invading Iran, but instead the extension of an Interim Zoning Ordinance (pdf). This ordinance, renewed repeatedly since it was first passed in May 1998, allows the Planning Commission to approve projects in line with the Land Use and Transportation Element (LUTE) of the General Plan despite incompatible zoning. It will be renewed for another two years as the staff works on the Zoning Update.

In anticipation of the Council revisiting the Interim Zoning Controls and the effort to craft a new Zoning Ordinance based on the LUTE, I’ve written a series of blogs explaining the planning process and the zoning ordinance. Oakland’s zoning is overly complicated and hopelessly outdated, and, as the LUTE directs, should be completely replaced with a new approach that integrates the best practices of twenty-first century city planning in an easily understood and straightforward set of regulations. Those regulations should be based on the fifteen land-use designations created by the LUTE (p. 159).

Unfortunately, after the drawn-out process of crafting the HBX zone (admittedly, the most complicated new designation, applied to transitioning industrial areas in East and West Oakland), the staff seems to have abandoned a serious zoning overhaul. In their disastrous proposal for Temescal (now on indefinite hold), the staff simply rezoned the area using old commercial zoning categories, and added a new overlay zone to ensure a pleasant street appearance. That is backwards, and indeed adds complexity to the overall code by adding, rather than replacing, zones.

The LUTE (pp. 169-171), characterizing the zoning as “cumbersome” and inconsistent with its vision, calls for “establishing” a new “user-friendly” code that “reduces … discretionary review.” Like HBX, the staff needs to focus on “developing new zoning districts,” ideally using a new approach like Form-Based Zoning, which aids the goal of “improving urban design.” This is also an opportunity to eliminate exclusionary zoning, like arbitrary setbacks and parking or open-space requirements, meeting the goal of “minimizing the complexity of regulations.” I sincerely hope the City Council, while of course renewing the controls, clearly directs the planning department to return to creating a new zoning code based on the General Plan. They also could look at forming the Implementation Committee as the LUTE requests (though, of course, I’d prefer they not restrict its membership to former members of the General Plan Congress).

Posted in citycouncil, housing, oakland, planningcommission.