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If you know your history, you would know that the makeup of the Oakland Planning Commission has been dominated by real estate developers, architects, land use attorneys, economic and urban design professionals at least since the 1970's, if not longer.This did not start with Libby Schaaf and that inference is really unfair. More importantly, the lack of commission membership historically and currently, from the flat lands of East Oakland or West Oakland is overwhelming. There is no question that having some kind of background in economics, architecture, land development or urban design is an advantage. Planning commissioners are tasked with reviewing complex technical reports from applicants and city staff in order to arrive at decisions on development projects and policy. This is not an easy job and many lay citizens would, at least initially, be overwhelmed with the volume and detail of the information expected to be absorbed. With that being said, when the work of the commission is compromised because of conflicts of interest, there is a problem. Without a doubt, members of the commission not working in the development industry will always bring a much needed community perspective and reality check to the public debate. A healthy representative balance of community members is the ideal mix. We should not forget that Planning Commissioners are unpaid volunteers who spend many, many hours reading reports, visiting sites and talking to the public about planning issues. This job requires the type of personal commitment of time and energy that many across the city are not ready to make. It should be no surprise that those who are educated and experienced in related areas of work tend to be the folks most interested. That is true in most cities. The Mayor and the City Council need to make a better effort in reaching out to all communities to identify those that would provide the balanced perspective that the commission needs. It is especially important now, when Oakland is going through an aggressive bubble of land use and demographic changes.
Once again we have an illustration of a massively dysfunctional organizational culture. It doesn't matter what department or function you choose. There is no competent qualified leadership, the staff lacks experience and is poorly trained. People are promoted and given positions based on time served and relationships. It's almost like a big family where cousins routinely marry each other. After a few generations, every kid born has blue eyes.There are many basic city services and processes that most cities routinely complete on a daily basis that Oakland just can't figure out. Fire Inspectors communicating with the Building Inspectors to flag and resolve life safety issues in order to save lives is NOT a computer system problem. The distractions and excuses coming from the Mayor and City Administrators office are just not true. People are dying because of incompetence and a culture of people not understanding how to do their jobs and more importantly, not understanding how they fit into the larger organizational structure. Many are there to get paid the most they can, do the least they can and don't make waves. When your core mission is to provide public service, that kind of organizational mentality, left unchecked by incompetent leadership, can only end badly.
It is not surprising in the current national climate that such ignorance and fear exists in Dublin. It exists in many other places, even in this liberal bastion of northern California. Look at the false narrative coming from the President. "We are going to get the really bad guys" and all of the drug problems are coming from those "other" people south of the border. The reality is that they are destroying families by rounding up working tax paying dads, grandmothers and single moms. Kids should not be traumatized fearing disappearance of a parent as a result of them running a stop sign on the way to work.The fact is that the opioid crisis is driven by greedy big pharma and the health care system, not immigrants or people from the hood named Jamal. Those people south of the border are the ones who are the silent exploited engine that makes the economy work for you. The cost of fruits and vegetables on your table, the price you pay when you go out to dinner, the reason you get those ten dollar tee shirts at WalMart. It is all because the system exploits immigrants for our benefit. Now we as a nation want to punish them when many are just hard working folks trying to have a better life for their kids, just like you. There are 30,000 acres of flat undeveloped land adjacent to Dublin in N. Livermore. The reason it is undeveloped is because of the same hate and fear described in this article. The people of Livermore believe that if developed, much of it would be affordable housing and that would bring an influx of those scary and dangerous "others". The people of Dublin should realize that being a sanctuary city makes your community safer not more dangerous. Stop being stupid.
Over and over again, it is the same old story. The City of Oakland illustrates it's incompetence and a determination to go to great lengths to deal with shady characters. Jabari Herbert is a decent guy, but has been around about 20 years, always promising development deals with the City of Oakland, but never putting anything in the ground. His only role appears to be as a middle man using his relationships and the process to maintain a permanent income source. Again, Council member McElheney appears to have no ethical boundaries. Her apparent relationship with Kim, a man previously convicted of insider trading and other questionable financial deals is shameful. This time folks, while she focused on interceding in a questionable real estate deal with Kim and her friends, people who lived in his substandard and knowingly dangerous property died. When will this madness stop?
There is no question that this historically significant building should not be demolished. A concrete cap as a solution to site contamination is a 50 year old, cheap fix that should not be an option in this case. If any company in America has the resources to save the building and clean up the site, it is General Electric. In addition, the potential importance of this building's retention to a long neglected neighborhood is also significant. Given new investment by AC Transit of the BRT project along International Blvd, adaptive reuse of this iconic building is a rare opportunity. Beyond that, I am confused by the City process and question why this is before the Planning Commission without any replacement project to consider. In order to demolish the building, I believe that local codes require that the replacement use of the site is a factor to be considered prior to issuance of a demolition permit. Beyond that, demolition of this important building would be a significant impact under CEQA. In order to approve the EIR, the city will need to adopt an SOC (Statement of Overriding Consideration). In order to adopt the SOC, the city will need to find that the public benefit of approving the "project" (demolition of the building) outweighs the benefit of retaining the resource. I don't know how you can make that finding without evaluating some reuse of the site. Without a replacement project to consider, the city and GE would be open to legal challenge of the environmental document.
No doubt this is a bad look for the developer (Madison Park). On it's face, it looks like the developer or demolition contractor tried to skirt the fees and the required permit process. At the same time, it is not unbelievable that a demolition contractor might have had to scramble to get barriers to block sidewalks and streets. Also believable is that those barriers came from another job site and the crew failed to remove the signs. My question has more to do with why the City of Oakland Building Department did not review a plan and require the permits for sidewalk and street closures when they initially issued the demolition permit? Additionally, if there is ongoing work on the site (grading, demolition) under permit, why was it that it was neighbors who noticed the signs and not city building inspectors? It may just be been another example of the lack of coordination between city departments (Building and Public Works).
This article could have expanded the conversation about concrete architecture and it's place in the context of the broader american culture. Post war america was all about racism, white privilege and the celebration of engineering as the solution to everything. The booming companies were Bechtel and Kaiser engineering.The architecture had no sensitivity to the natural environment or the experience of people in or around these buildings. Design was seemingly an afterthought. Even Safeway stores were trademarked by the expansive concrete panels around the perimeter. Similarly, in those times, America was building massive concrete freeways that both served the new all white suburbs and destroyed urban communities all across the country to get those folks to work. The TV shows of the day (Leave it to Beaver, Dick Van Dyke, Ozzie and Harriet) were reflective of a world filled with comfortable happy white people. People of color in America were invisible or at least an afterthought. That is not the America of today, whose culture is a mosaic of ethnicity in food, music, fashion and language. I doubt that this type of a design approach to architecture would ever again be embraced or even tolerated.
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