A number of community members spoke at a public hearing last week at the Planning Commission, raising concerns about how East Oakland neighborhoods and businesses will be impacted by a city proposal to clear the way for the massive development, called Coliseum City.
This development seems like a “formularic corporate development…this is like an alien space city” dropped into East Oakland, said Nehanda Imara, a community organizer for Communities for a Better Environment (CBE) who lives about a mile from the proposed development.
“It’s a beautiful project, but it doesn’t seem like it includes the people who live on the outside,” she said. “We’d like some of the benefits surrounding the project,” including jobs, better air quality and affordable housing.
The development project has the potential to go in different directions, Imara said. “It could be connected to the community, or it could be disconnected from the community.”
The city’s proposal, contained in the Coliseum Area Specific Plan and several volumes of documents in an Environmental Impact Report, is designed to establish new land use and zoning regulations that will guide development in the area around the Oakland Coliseum and the Oakland International Airport for the next 25 years.
The draft plan was released on Aug. 28 and the final plan was released on Jan. 30, developed by city staff and consulting firms over the past few years.
The timeline calls for the specific plan to be discussed at a couple more community meetings and then approved by the Planning Commission and forwarded to the City Council for approval in March or April.
The plan has been kept purposely “flexible”, or indeterminate, because the content of the project ultimately will depend to a large extent on who the developers will be and what they will want to build on the 800 plus acres that include the Coliseum and its parking lots, the Oakland Airport Business Park across the freeway from the Coliseum and the waterfront area along the Bay.
A number of community members complained that public input has been inadequate.
“I attended one of the library meeting to which this document refers. There was no planning done by the community. Staff simply made presentations and answered a few questions,” said Fred Ellis, who represented OaklandWorks Alliance.
“This is unlike the lengthy process which took place in West Oakland,” Ellis continued. “Few East Oakland residents are even aware of these zoning changes or their implications.”
Robert Schwartz, who owns a company at the business park, said he had submitted a letter with his objections to the proposal in October, but city staff never responded.
He said the proposed zoning changes that would allow residential development where the business park is located would cause the market values of the properties to skyrocket, effectively ending the business park.
Local industries and the jobs they produce can only exist if the city is committed to protecting the industrial zoning designation of the area, Schwartz said.
“This is not a good idea. This is the only business park we have (in Oakland),” he said.
Schwartz asked why the city was in such a hurry to pass the plan and is seemingly reluctant to involve community and business people in the planning process. “You’re talking about a 25-year (development) plan, and all of sudden it has to be passed in 25 days,” he said.
Senior citizen Carolyn Holloway said the people she knows are concerned they will be forced to move away.
“They feel they will be displaced. They feel they will have to move to Stockton or Sacramento,” she said.
“We don’t really see many benefits for residents,” she said. “What about sidewalks? Or trees?”
Theola Polk said that she and other senior citizens are feeling that Coliseum City offers nothing to people who live in East Oakland.
“We’d like to know if you’ve forgotten us,” she said. “Have we been overlooked? When will our area get a facelift?”