Oakland, California 2005

Introduction to West Oakland Workshop

By Nathan Randall
AICP Special Projects Associate

The AICP Community Planning Workshop, sponsored by the AICP Community Action Program, involves planners from around the country who will create specific design guidelines for the Seventh Street neighborhood in West Oakland. The Seventh Street neighborhood was once a vibrant residential, shopping and entertainment district near the terminus of the Transcontinental Railroad. Few traces of the neighborhood's lively history exist today, due to a variety of factors including neglect, the poor placement of transportation infrastructure, and incongruous land uses. Entire neighborhood blocks were demolished for the US Postal Service mail-sorting building and for Cypress Freeway (I-880), which also divided the community into two parts.

Nevertheless, the Seventh Street community possesses many assets with great promise for revitalization. The rerouting of Cypress Freeway away from the neighborhood core has physically reunited the community and offered new development opportunities. The West Oakland BART (Bay Area Rapid Transit) station, located in the heart of the Seventh Street neighborhood, offers exciting possibilities for transit-oriented, mixed-use development. Several organizations have initiated projects in the area, including the California Department of Transportation (CalTrans), the Bay Area Blues Society, BART, the Oakland Housing Authority, and the West Oakland Alliance. Additionally, a newly formed Redevelopment Area adds financial tools to plan for implementation.

Previously completed revitalization plans, including the West Oakland Transit Village Action Plan and the Seventh Street Concept and Urban Design Plan have identified either specific redevelopment sites or offered neighborhood streetscape recommendations. For this workshop, participants will be tasked with crafting preferred commercial uses and actual design guidelines, with accompanying illustrations, of preferred building envelopes for multiple vacant lots in the area. They will begin their day touring the Seventh Street neighborhood with community leaders and activists. The workshop team of guest planners and community leaders will focus on six specific issues in breakout groups.

  • Housing/Density: The area is currently zoned to allow a density of 450 square feet (of total land area) per unit (apartment level density), with potentially more permitted in the TOD area around BART. However, the adjoining neighborhood is comprised generally of one and two story Victorian-era residential structures, with height of no more than 35 ft and most at the 25-30 ft in height. Many are built on small (2,500 sf) lots that do not allow for driveways and off-street parking. What is the appropriate density for this area and how can massing guidelines steer additional units without impact on the existing neighborhood?
  • Preferred Land Uses: The zoning for the area is a combination of TOD (transit-oriented zoning) and C-35 District Shopping Zone", which allows a variety of retail establishments serving both short and long term needs in compact locations" (Muni Code Sect 17.50). Nevertheless, West Oakland lacks basic shopping amenities and has no pharmacy, hardware store, video rental store, and one a single grocery store. What are the best commercial options for Seventh Street, which may be viable for local small business development or development by existing retailers?
  • Site Specific Development Standards: The West Oakland Transit Village Action Study identified several key opportunity sites, including a large state-owned vacant parcel across from the Mandela Gateway and The Crucible site, and a key corner vacant lot at Wood and Seventh Sts, across from the US Postal Service mail processing facility. What would the most appropriate massing guidelines and preferred mixed-use configurations for these as yet unplanned sites?
  • Parking and Creation of a BID: The enforcement of limitations on the use of street parking by Bay Area commuters taking BART is of key concern throughout the project area, but especially relative to the viability of new retail ventures. Can a BID be formed that will both serve to limit commuter parking, allow customer access to the existing and future businesses along Seventh, and which will contribute revenue for the maintenance of the streetscape and merchant façade improvement programs? How will residential parking be accommodated?
  • Architectural Form and Urban Design: Seventh Street is a historical district and recently a portion was overlaid with the S-7 Historic Overlay Zoning District, but without design guidelines for new development on vacant lots, or substantial additions to existing buildings. What will the guidelines be to allow compatible design compatible to the historic buildings, while giving license for new exciting architecture?
  • Capacity Building for Implementation: How will the products of today's workshop be implemented by the City of Oakland in a six-month timeframe, subsequent to the City's current effort to update the Zoning Code? What tool will be most effective: earmarking with street as a new "TOD" district in its entirety; creating a zoning overlay to the existing designation; adopting Design Guidelines and mapping the street with a Design Review Zone Overlay District?

The result from the workshop will be tangible, specific guidelines the City of Oakland will use, in addition to its zoning regulations, in judging future redevelopment applications for private and semi-public properties in the Seventh Street community.