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26 March 2005

Estuary Site Overview

The Oak-to-Ninth Estuary area is a unique site. It's one of the last undeveloped, urbanized waterfront areas on the West Coast. Because of its development potential, civic and community leaders have been keen to make sure it doesn't become overly privatized or densely developed. In 1999, the City of Oakland and the Port of Oakland put together a set of development guidelines called the Estuary Policy Plan. The EPP isn't overly specific about what should be built on the 60 acres the area covers, but it does insist on the creation of open spaces with recreational uses.

Signature Properties has the exclusive option to build on the Oak-to-Ninth site. Its plan calls for 3,100 apartments and condominiums, along with commercial uses and parking. Slightly less than half of the acreage will be devoted to open space. There are concerns about the plan and whether it provides the most benefit for Oakland residents. That and a completed environmental impact report are factors in delaying any possible groundbreaking for perhaps a year.

In the HOK study, two options were presented for a ballpark development. The West plan put the ballpark on the smaller 5th Ave Terminal/Marina site. This would've caused conflict with property owner J.W. Silveira, who owns the only privately-held parcel in the area and has a thriving artist colony on it. Silveira is already suing Oakland because of a lack of disclosure, and it's possible the same sort of thing would happen with a ballpark on his property.

The East plan put the ballpark on the large 9th Ave Terminal site, where it would've run into fewer ownership issues since it's owned entirely by the Port. Instead, it would've run afoul of community interests, would would've noted the more than 3,000+ parking spaces and wondered if someone was trying to pass them for open space. There's also the issue of the 9th Ave Terminal building, which preservationists claim has some historic value and should be preserved. The plan calls for the building to be restored and converted, which wouldn't be a bad thing considering the success of SF's Ferry Building conversion.

Unfortunately, it appears that the City and Port have settled on Signature's proposal. If they hadn't, they probably would've updated the EPP, which definitely needs revision considering the economic changes the Bay Area has gone through. It's possible that major changes to the plan (which could come from community actions, the Silveira case, or the next District 2 councilmember's support) could occur. If Signature were forced to pare down its development by 10-15 percent or make a large number of units fit under affordable housing guidelines, they may very well scrap the deal. The next post shows a compromise alternative plan that could satisfy the majority of interests.

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