East Bay, Oakland, Parking, Project Proposals

In Uptown Grows … A Parking Lot?

telegraph_fox3When Westfield Centre opened in Downtown San Francisco in September 2006, no new parking structure was built to accommodate the approximately 25 million people that were expected to visit the mall each year. Instead, the basement level food court was physically connected to the concourse mezzanine of Powell Street Station, to emphasize that transit was the most natural travel mode to access the mall; and nearby parking garages, such as Fifth and Mission, have proven sufficient to absorb additional motorists. Oakland’s Uptown District boasts a similarly extensive list of transit options that reach both locally and regionally. So why does the Revelopment Agency, along with Oakland City Councilmembers Brunner, Kernighan, and Reid, support, of all things, a new surface parking lot next to the recently-opened Fox Theater? Especially when there is already ample (in fact, probably excessive) parking in the surrounding area, and when the proposed parking lot will not even prove lucrative during the span of time it takes for Forest City to ready itself for construction of the mixed-use development that will eventually occupy this vacant parcel? Given plans to develop the site in the year 2011 with about 220 housing units and 20,000 square feet of retail, it does not really make sense to spend money to construct and maintain a use that will only have to be dismantled in a couple years, especially if people grow attached to that particular use. The provision of any additional open space ought to be coordinated in conjunction with the planned development, and there is open space nearby in any case, built as a component of the first phase of Forest City’s Uptown project. But that does not justify resorting to a parking lot — even one billed as “temporary” — whose presence will disrupt the pedestrian experience and damage an urban fabric that is in the process of being made whole. Uptown has become increasingly vibrant in recent months, so perhaps the City Council has already forgotten the blighting effect of the vacant lots that existed in years prior. Our humble advice to planners, councilmembers, supervisors, and the like? When in doubt, turn to Ms. Jacobs. She remarked: ” … parking lots … are powerful and insistent instruments of city destruction.” Any Oaklanders reading this post who happen to feel perturbed by this flash of 1950s-era suburban planning transported to the East Bay’s urban core are encouraged to write to their Councilmember, or to speak against the parking lot proposal at this week’s City Council meeting.



18 thoughts on “In Uptown Grows … A Parking Lot?

  1. I mostly just go to Sears. Parking may be ample in the surrounding area but Sears needs a parking lot. It used to be a lot easier. The one downtown was my number one Sears destination until they dumped the parking lot. Now there is only time-limited spaces blocks away. That’s annoying. I’m not parking around the corner or up the street. I’ve been going to the ones in Hayward and Richmond instead. Why not make it “more” convenient for shoppers?

    Posted by Russell | 3 May 2009, 2:46 pm
  2. This is why you should never lay grass on a vacant parcel or lay a trail on a rail line that will be used again in the future. When people get used to the use that exists, it will be a hard fight to take it away.

    Posted by The Overhead Wire | 3 May 2009, 3:25 pm
  3. I’m sorry to hear you have a tough time parking at Sears, Russell. There are, however, two city-owned parking lots within two blocks of Sears, and ample street parking. Addition of street parking across from Sears may help Sears, in the short run. But it’s overall effect on the neighborhood will be to have more people just come to their destination in Uptown, park 2 feet from the door, and then drive away when finished. Where what the area needs is more life, which is provided by you, Russell, walking 50 feet from your car to the door. During the walk, you may notice how nice Uptown is becoming, how there are two excellent clubs next door to Sears, or how there is a beautiful new restaurant which you may wish to patronize.

    It is the city’s obligation and duty to think of the city as a whole, and in this case, it is extraordinarily clear. A parking lot is a serious detriment to the area and to the burgeoning successes it is enjoying.

    Posted by Jim | 3 May 2009, 5:05 pm
  4. I completely agree with this post. Surface parking lots are the number one obstacle preventing Downtown Oakland from forming one cohesive district. They are a complete waste of space (even though they make up about half the lots downtown, they don’t even account for 15% of the parking) and are a blight to the rest of the area. The worst example of this is the stretch of Harrison St. between 14th and Snow Park which has no less than 8 surface lots (as well as a couple of private garages I think) which completely separates the Gold Coast from the rest of the 17th St.-19th St. area.

    Posted by Daniel Jacobson | 3 May 2009, 8:09 pm
  5. If people want parking, then they can go to Walnut Creek to shop. Unfortunately for Oakland, they are.

    Posted by jackbdazzle | 4 May 2009, 7:51 am
  6. @jackbdazzle I would hazard the guess that Oakland residents shopping in Walnut Creek is less related to parking availability (which, after all, downtown Oakland has in abundance) than to the fact that Walnut Creek has a well-developed shopping district that includes several major department stores — something Oakland really ought to have as well.

    Posted by Eric | 4 May 2009, 8:52 am
  7. unfortunately, Oakland will not have major department stores without parking.
    San Francisco has the density and the tourists to fill stores without parking. I am afraid that Oakland does not.

    don’t get me wrong, it is not that I prefer cars, I just think that we should be practical about what we can and can’t accomplish with our down town. Clubs, restaurants, shows all can work without parking. Retail shopping does not.

    Walnut creek works because it is convenient, has shops people want to shop at, and is safe.

    Maybe we should forget about retail, and try to keep oakland as an entertainment mecca, rather than a shopping mecca.

    Posted by jackbdazzle | 4 May 2009, 10:28 am
  8. @jackbdazzle I think we’re moving a bit off point. This post concerns a vacant lot that will be developed. In the interim, it could host at most 120 parking spaces, for only a two-year period. On its face, it doesn’t make sense to spend money to build a parking lot that will only last two years — even if surface parking were desirable! But surface parking is far from desirable. It poses a danger to pedestrians, and it incentivizes driving to a maximally transit-friendly location. For this proposal, it’s a double whammy. This is a very different question from the question you raised of permanent parking that can be used by department store visitors.

    San Francisco has the density and the tourists to fill stores without parking. I am afraid that Oakland does not.
    Well, increasing Oakland’s density is another part of the picture, to make better use of transit that serves the area. Another part of the picture is marketing transit as the best way to get downtown. An abundance of surface parking conveys the exact opposite impression.

    Also, San Francisco has lots of parking downtown. In fact, it has too much — the major garages are mostly not at capacity. Oakland has more than enough parking to support both its current downtown uses and, really, much denser use than it now has. There should be a formal investigation of how much parking downtown might be needed, and how it can be managed. However, just based on observation, two things are quite clear: (1) that additional parking is in no way needed, and (2) that surface parking downtown should be completely eliminated, because of its blighting effect. Additionally, existing parking is plentiful; but it needs to be better managed. A single parking facility can serve different populations of users at different times of the day. There’s no need for each and every store to have its own dedicated parking within 20 feet of the front door. This is outdated suburban thinking that is inappropriate for Oakland’s urban context. Unfortunately, it is this same outdated mode of thinking that the proposed Uptown surface lot emulates.

    Maybe we should forget about retail, and try to keep oakland as an entertainment mecca, rather than a shopping mecca.
    The Conley report discusses the potential to turn Auto Row into a retail destination. Personally, I think this sort of development would be excellent. Oakland’s lack of a major retail district is very conspicuous for a city of its size, and it’s a shame that so much retail has leaked to Emeryville and other suburbs, where it is mostly disconnected from transit. Uptown used to be Oakland’s retail center — it’s now becoming a hub of night and entertainment venues, which is great. Uptown could connect into a retail/mixed use hub further up Broadway, basically extending the “downtown feel” north to about 27th or so.

    Posted by Eric | 4 May 2009, 11:28 am
  9. Eric,

    Retail shopping did not leak into Emeryville. We in Oakland have pushed retail and our tax base there.

    For the record, I hope that you are right. I fully support your vision. I just fear that Oakland will go through another 10 years without retail shopping and a tax base.

    Posted by jackbdazzle | 4 May 2009, 12:00 pm
  10. I also disagree that retail shopping is incompatible with transit use. I’m 100% car-free and I have absolutely no problem doing plenty of shopping all over SF. If you’re talking about a furniture store or costco, you can make an argument that some amount of parking is necessary for moving newly-bought large items. But most of what most people buy on most days fits easily in a shopping bad on one’s lap on BART/Muni/ACtrans

    Posted by Josh | 4 May 2009, 1:35 pm
  11. Oakland is in a really interesting position right now. Despite the recession, there’s more investment and activity downtown. With more people visiting, there’s a sort of gut reflex that kicks in, to make sure that more people still will visit. So it’s easy to fall back on the notion that there needs to be enough parking for everyone, in order to have a successful shopping district. You know, I don’t really begrudge people that feeling. It’s a shame how much our region has neglected downtown Oakland. Ultimately, we all want to hold fast to these recent successes and ensure that the area continues to prosper moving forward. But different people will have different ideas about how that should be done.

    It may be more important now than ever before to remember sound urbanist principles, and to allow them to guide the direction of downtown as it evolves. Ultimately, it will make Oakland more successful as an urban space.

    Posted by Eric | 4 May 2009, 1:56 pm
  12. Thanks for the excellent post on this issue Eric.

    I did some research before emailing the council about this issue and found this out:

    The CED committee expressed concern that the public will latch on to any use besides a parking lot and would complain once the art was removed. However, San Francisco and several other cities have successfully hosted temporary large scale arts installations. The public greatly appreciated these art pieces, but there was no revolt when they were taken away. Here are some examples, with photos, of these successful projects:

    Passage, Pier 14, San Francisco: http://blackrockarts.org/projects/passage.html
    Hayes Green Temple, Hayes Green, San Francisco: http://blackrockarts.org/projects/david_best.html
    The Dreamer, Golden Gate Park, San Francisco: http://blackrockarts.org/projects/dreamer.html
    Homouroboros, San Jose: http://blackrockarts.org/projects/homouroboros/homouroboros
    The Mangrove, Reno, NV: http://blackrockarts.org/projects/mangrove/mangrove
    Detroit Temple, Detroit, MI: http://blackrockarts.org/projects/detroit-temple-project

    Wouldn’t you rather look at beautiful art like this, rather than a bunch of cars on pavement?

    Posted by Becks | 4 May 2009, 4:42 pm
  13. Thanks for providing those links, Becks. A temporary art display would be a much better use for this lot until Forest City is ready to start in on the second phase.

    Posted by Eric | 4 May 2009, 5:59 pm
  14. Good point, Josh. I’m car-free too (although MUNI is pushing my buttons to get behind the wheel, but that’s another hot topic to be debated at another time).

    When I moved to the Bay Area in 2000 I lived at 17th/Madison. Having lived in DC and Arlington, VA I expected downtown Oakland to have a vibrant shopping district. Boy, was I in for a shock. Sure, there are cute enclaves in Oakland, but nothing really in walking distance from 12th St. or 19th St. stations. Quite a shame. Another shame is the ped-unfriendly retail monstrosities in Emeryville. Chain store after chain store, all of which focus on using the auto to get around.

    What I dislike about major developers is their lack of uniqueness. Auto Row/downtown will probably turn into any other commercial/housing development with boring architecture, chain stores and quick-service/local chain restaurants. Will this be better than empty lots? Of course. But, will it become a destination for people who don’t live there? Not likely.

    Posted by Mark | 5 May 2009, 2:15 pm
  15. It’s worth mentioning that the idea of turning Auto Row into a retail hub is very much in a conceptual phase, and planning is getting underway. The report looked at creating just such a destination retail hub and found it would make sense. The point isn’t to just create another commercial strip, but to actually create the central retail district that Oakland has lacked. It’s important to jump into the project with that frame of mind.

    I suspect that the public will very much want to be involved with deciding to what extent chain stores can be there, as well as the design. The recent saga of the College Avenue Safeway is a case study for that, and the design of that (while it could still use some tweaking) noticeably improved after starting with a plain, cookie-cutter suburban sort of building.

    Posted by Eric | 6 May 2009, 8:30 am


  1. Pingback: Open Thread and Early May News Roundup « Transbay Blog - 6 May 2009

  2. Pingback: Becks and dto510, my heroes. | A Better Oakland - 6 May 2009

  3. Pingback: Let them have parking lots « Transbay Blog - 15 February 2011

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