Monday, March 7, 2011

Lake Merrit Station Area Plan Meeting

Last Saturday (Feb. 26), a few of us stopped by Laney College to attend the Lake Merritt Station Area Plan for a variety of reasons. Some of us live very near that area and are always interested in the city's urban planning. Also, the Victory Court ballpark site is located within this area.

We thought it would be a presentation where we would sit and learn about the city's plans. Instead, citizens were asked to sit down and share their thoughts at different tables. And -- reflecting the area's diversity -- the tables were divided into the neighborhood's most prominent languages: Vietnamese, Chinese, English.
There were about 10 tables with around six to eight residents at each one. Our table was a classically diverse Oakland group, representing just about every race, religion, ethnicity, and sexual orientation under the sun. At each table sat one or two city employees to guide the discussion. The city of Oakland was basically asking for feedback on what residents want built in the neighborhood over the next 20 years. They asked questions like:

How can we make the Lake Merritt area more pedestrian and bike friendly? What streets need more high density housing? Retail? Restaurants/bars? Parking? What streets need improved aesthetic touches, such as trees and lamps? Which streets need to be widened or shortened? How can we better connect the Jack London district to the Lake Merritt BART area? What areas could use more green space and parks?

And so on. And so on. They basically were looking for an urban planning wish list for the area. One of the things residents had told the city, for example, was a desire to expand the Chinatown neighborhood in the planning district, and to honor the area's history and its rich Asian American history.

At our table, the city employees informally referred to the Victory Court parcel as "the ballpark area." The vast majority of everyone at our table didn't bat an eye at that.

A BART employee came over at one point and suggested pretty strongly that he liked the idea of building high-density housing and commercial retail right next to the Lake Merritt BART station, which is a five-minute stroll away from 4th & Oak streets, where the entrance to the Victory Court ballpark might be. One resident said, "I hope you're not talking eight stories high or something." And he replied, "Oh, I'm talking about well above eight stories." That one resident was the lone person who balked at that vision. One other person strongly agreed with the high-density vision, and the rest of the table sat and listened.

We also discussed improving bike access in the area, as well as some of the pedestrian crossings. Also mentioned was changing around some of the one way streets to two-way.

We all agreed that the area -- which contains Laney College, the Oakland Museum, Lake Merritt BART, Chinatown, the Estuary, the Oakland-Alameda County Courthouse, County office buildings, Lake Merritt, the Oakland Main Library, the unused Kaiser Pavilion (not to mention a future ballpark) -- should and could have more restaurants, bars, caf's, and retail to serve all the people that currently use all of those facilities but don't have many options to go to afterwards.

The city employees mentioned in passing that there are plans to expand the estuary, which was exciting to hear. Everyone at our table said they wanted to have a multi-story parking complex on the Laney College parking lot by 880, which would fit right into the ballpark plans. We also talked about ways to improve the current parks in the area to make them more welcoming and to attract residents, and we talked of the idea of putting in a rooftop restaurant/bar on any of the new multi-story housing buildings that are built near the lake in the future to take advantage of the dramatic views near the lake and the estuary, with the Oakland Hills and downtown skyscape in the background.

Well, that was the summary of my table's experience. Once the meeting ended shortly after 12 noon, each table's representative took turns announcing to the entire gathering what their table's consensus was.

All in all, it was way more interactive and opinionated than the last meeting we attended. Another meeting was held this past weekend (March 5). If anyone attended that one, please feel free to share your experience. Either way, it looks like there are many exciting plans for redevelopment that are moving forward in the Lake Merritt area.

No comments:

Post a Comment