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Army base options

At tomorrow’s Oakland City Council Community and Economic Development Committee hearing, the city staff is asking for final direction on what should be done with the Oakland Army Base. The much-ballyhooed Wayans Brothers studio/amusement park development is on the rocks, with only one week left in their negotiating agreement. The staff report (warning: huge PDF!) outlines the options that are available. I will summarize them here, with my commentary.

Trucking: The city and Port are obligated to address West Oakland’s truck traffic problem and to provide some maritime support. Unfortunately, it is unclear whether building a trucking center at the Army Base would actually take trucks off of West Oakland streets. The staff report points out that the city cannot directly force trucks to change their routes or force trucking businesses to move. The long-term solution, as the McKinsey study says (and a senior Port official assures me the Port has been working on for a long time), is to build something analogous to LA’s Alameda Corridor, to shift Port traffic from truck to rail.

Retail: There’s already a freeway auto mall set aside, which will allow for redevelopment of mid-Broadway, hopefully including retail there. From a Smart Growth perspective, lifestyle retail at the Army Base would be unacceptably car-oriented, and would compete with Oakland’s existing and up-and-coming retail districts. Big-box retail has plenty of other options in Oakland, especially in lower East Oakland or on Mandela Parkway. The staff report does not make a case for retail development.

Biotech: Yes, biotech is trendy, and the McKinsey report recommended chasing biotech and healthcare (albeit less enthusiastically than in their first draft obtained by the SF Business Times). There are many, many sites available in Oakland for large-scale office development, including the airport, waterfront East Oakland, and Auto Row / Pill Hill. And it’s not like downtown is out of room. Without public transit, office, biotech, or other high-end employment is a poor use of this land.

Produce Market: The produce market is a refreshing treat when stumbling out of Merchant’s on Second Street. It’s certainly worthwhile for Oakland to keep the market and its 300 jobs, and relocation would allow substantial new 10k-area development. However, the market could probably go somewhere in West Oakland, since it’s not very big.

There is also a very long report on the historic value of the Army’s ugly WWII megawarehouses. The staff recommends setting aside 15 acres of the lower East Gateway for trucking, and to move on that immediately. That leaves a portion of the East Gateway abutting the Auto Mall. The city should make it a part of the Auto Mall. If the Wayans answer Ignacio de la Fuente’s call to put up or shut up, they can have the Central Gateway. The West Gateway seems useful only to the port. Whatever’s left over can go for an RFP if it’s not suitable for auto sales.

My dismissal of the sexier options, and call for maximizing the auto mall, might seem defeatist or unambitious. But the army base is freeway-oriented and very isolated. Large-scale job-creating development should be near public transportation and use existing infrastructure. And don’t forget how lucrative auto sales taxes are! The catalytic effect of retail or office/biotech development in West Oakland proper or waterfront East Oakland would help strengthen communities and allow more Oaklanders to enjoy the benefits.

Posted in armybase, breakingnews, citycouncil.

2 Responses

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  1. Scott Law says

    Pretty much agree with everything here, good
    summary analysis. However, waiting for the
    Wayans is a complete waste of time…

    Economic Development is very interesting topic. However, the fundamentals remain… Core small/medium investment that drives a thriving city will never really happen until violent crime is reduced and the schools become at least mediocre. Given the improbability of that happening, the city could at least reduce business taxes substantially or replace them by fixed fee.

  2. dto510 says

    Thanks, and I agree that we should not wait for the Wayanses. It could be time to look at restructuring the business tax, which seems to discourage corporate HQs. I increasingly think that reducing crime, by maintaining a minimal police presence, would be the best thing the city could do to encourage economic growth (which of course reduces crime). I doubt Brunner’s Ambassadors will be a suitable solution.