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Council committee to determine fate of live/work

As reported by V Smoothe in NovoMetro, the CED Committee will today hear a new zoning proposal for industrial areas of Oakland. Most of the details of the zoning are uncontroversial, and the Council passed a resolution declaring industrial lands a “scarce resource” by a lopsided vote last Tuesday. But, as with all other debates over complex zoning codes, the devil is in the details. And the details of this code reveal that Oakland’s planners and Planning Commissioners are utterly divorced from reality.

The basic premise of “industrial preservation” is that a few years of residential development in industrial areas (there have been only two General Plan Amendments permitting conversions since 2003) are responsible for the decades-long decline of Oakland’s industrial base. By this logic, competition from residential developers, rather than from, say, China, is the biggest hurdle facing Oakland industry. Stunningly, not a single Planning Commissioner disagreed with these assumptions, and, even in the absence of anything approaching an industrial revitalization plan, unanimously approved strict and inflexible zoning rules over industrial lands. To be determined in the future is a “checklist” of criteria, prioritizing “community benefits” over planning, to determine conversions in the future.

Embracing the broad and abstract goal of revitalizing industry, the City Council and the Planning Commission were unconcerned with the details of the measure. Two elements of the new zoning code are sharply at odds with existing land-use patterns in Oakland: the industrial lines and the live/work code. The industrial lines encompass residential neighborhoods, particularly around 24th and Adeline. Though a representative of the neighborhood has been to every public meeting on the topic, his inconvenient point that the lines are wrong has been  ignored by everyone from planning staff to the Planning Commission to his Councilmember, Nancy Nadel. Now the Council is poised to approve the zoning law, rendering his entire neighborhood of single-family homes “legally non-conforming,” ruling out infill residential development and greatly complicating simple tasks like renovating homes.

Perhaps even worse, the live/work code harshly restricts live/work in the industrial areas. The planning staff seems entirely unaware that there are already hundreds of live/work residences within the industrial zones, legal and otherwise, which would be placed in limbo. And the provisions for establishing new live/work developments are written so that all of Oakland’s current live/work developments would be excluded, including the West Oakland’s Peralta Studios and Noodle Factory.

I understand that Mayor Dellums won the election and gets to set planning policy, even though “industrial preservation” (and for that matter, a radical downzoning of downtown) was never part of his platform. But the city for years has actively encouraged artists to move into underutilized buildings in Oakland’s industrial areas. Everyone from former Mayor Brown to the mass media has praised artists and their conversions as cutting-edge and culturally vibrant. But the radical shift in planning policy embodied in “industrial preservation” is more than just yanking away the welcome mat – it raises the very real prospect of artists losing their homes.

It is simply wrong to encourage people to move to your city for a decade and then abruptly tell them that what their doing is illegal and, in Councilmember Nadel’s words, irresponsible. In fact, it is the city decision-makers and the planning staff who are irresponsible: by ignoring the reality of West Oakland’s neighborhoods and live/work projects, by reversing years of tolerance to artists, and by placing artists’ homes in sudden legal jeopardy. This willful ignorance of economic and social reality will have very real consequences to the artists and homeowners who, by a stroke of Dan Lindheim’s pen, find themselves in illegal housing.

UDPATE: With Ignacio de la Fuente telling artists and their supporters “you are right,” the CED Committee did not send the zoning ordinance to Council, and will instead discuss changing it to include live/work at their April meeting. The Oakland Metropolitan Chamber of Commerce and the West Oakland Commerce Association spoke in favor of moving the ordinance forward without changes.

Posted in citycouncil, dellums, housing, oakland, planningcommission.

3 Responses

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  1. Claudia Cappio says

    Short sighted, myopic — zoning regulations that are 30 years behind — a search for boundaries creating purity – I don’t get it. Neighborhoods like W.O., organically grown over a long period just don’t suddenly change ’cause there’s some new rules. It should be about integration of uses (save the heavy industrial stuff) – that helps to build and create community. Ann Markusen of the University of Mn. has done some fascinating research on the role of an artistic community in urban development -she leads the Project on Regional and Industrial Economics ( In particular — “Artists’ Centers Evolution and Impact on Careers, Neighborhoods and Economies” 2006; and “Urban Development and Politics of a Creative Class: Evidence from the Study of Artists” (2006). Both of these point to live/work spaces being a vital part of networking, building linkages, etc. Flexibility, co-existence and tolerance should be the primary values here – not restriction and prohibitions. Oh, what a wonderful city it could be ———–

  2. dto510 says

    Thanks for your insight, Ms. Cappio. I was also disappointed that the staff and Planning Commission and business community were more concerned with pushing their narrow economic vision without concern for the different people that would be affected. But the CED Committee gave the artists an excellent reception and are committed to reaching accomodation.

Continuing the Discussion

  1. The buffer zone is stupid | A Better Oakland linked to this post on March 11, 2008

    [...] dto510 points out just how unfair this sudden shift in policy [...]