Category: Northern News

How Old Oakland’s historic buildings survived decay (and demolition)

By Ryan Levi, Bay Curious, KQED, May 9, 2019

“Walking along Oakland’s Broadway or Washington Street between Eighth and 10th Streets can feel a little like walking back in time: The neighborhood of Old Oakland has brick-lined sidewalks leading into grand Victorians that date back to the late 1800s.

Gladstone Building, 9th Street. Photo: Tom Holub

“Today’s Old Oakland was the heart of downtown Oakland in the 1870s. Before then, Oakland was a small town.

“But in 1869, Oakland became the western terminus of the First Transcontinental Railroad, bringing a flood of new residents. The city’s population more than tripled from 1870 to 1880, including a large number of African Americans who had recently been freed from slavery.

“To support its growing population, a thriving downtown built up along Washington Street and Broadway, in what is now Old Oakland, with residential hotels occupying the upper stories of the neighborhood’s grand Victorians.

Nicholl Block, 9th Street. Photo: Tom Holub

“After World War II, people started moving out to the suburbs. By the 1960s this area was largely Skid Row, and there weren’t very many retail businesses. But many of the original buildings from the 19th century remained. The buildings caught the eye of Glenn Storek, an architecture student from UC Berkeley, when he first visited the old downtown for one of his classes.

C.H. Ratto Co. Deli. Photo: Tom Holub

“In the mid-1970s, Storek worked with city leaders, including the head of the Oakland Redevelopment Agency, and Oakland’s first black mayor, to get the city to designate the proposed restoration as an official redevelopment project: the city would use eminent domain to purchase all of the buildings in the neighborhood and sell them to Storek for restoration. It also allowed the city to sell bonds, backed by Storek, to pay for the project.

“Several of the businesses that were being bought out pushed back against the project, and it wasn’t until the mid-1980s that all the original tenants had left and the restoration was able to begin in earnest.

“When the Loma Prieta earthquake struck on Oct. 17, 1989, none of the Old Oakland buildings restored and retrofitted by the Storeks fell.

“But a few months before the earthquake, the Storeks took out an $8.9 million loan from Citicorp, and a year later the bank foreclosed on the project.

“The bank took over and eventually sold the project to a new developer in 2001 (who sold it to another developer in 2015).

“Progress was slow, but Old Oakland is thriving now with trendy stores, hip restaurants and bars, a popular Friday farmers market, and even a Steph Curry pop-up shop. But none of that might exist if Glenn Storek hadn’t stumbled upon those forgotten Victorians more than 50 years ago.”

Benchmark Oakland restaurant, 9th and Washington. Photo: Tom Holub

This is an excerpt. You can read the full article here.



Re: May issue and demise of the PDFs

Kudos to you all for your hard work in preparing those beloved PDFs. They were a joy to read! Thanks again for keeping us entertained over all these years.

Chandler Lee, San Francisco

Thanks for the entertaining and informative Northern News PDF obituary. You continue to set a standard for effective communication!

H. Pike Oliver, Seattle

Northern Section 2019 Awards announced

Northern Section 2019 Awards announced

The results are in! Come celebrate the best of Northern California planning at our annual Awards Gala on Friday, June 7, at the Starline Social Club. To purchase tickets or find our more information regarding the benefits of sponsorship, visit our Awards webpage.

Our jurors were: Martin Alkire, Principal Planner, City of Mountain View; Hanson Hom, AICP, planning consultant and APA California Chapter Board Vice-President of Conferences; Rebecca Kohlstrand, AICP, Vice President, Parsons Brinckerhoff; and Aaron Welsh, Senior Associate, Raimi + Associates.

And here are our 2019 award winners!

Awards of Excellence

Advancing Diversity and Social Change in Honor of Paul Davidoff

L. Robert Ulibarri, AICP

Best Practices

San Mateo County Second Unit Center —21 Elements | Home for All | San Mateo County

Comprehensive Plan, Large Jurisdiction

Central SoMa Plan —San Francisco Planning Department

Comprehensive Plan, Small Jurisdiction

Vallco Town Center Specific Plan —City of Cupertino | Opticos Design

Hard Won Victory and Planning Agency

City of Santa Rosa Resilient City Development Measures Ordinance —City of Santa Rosa, Planning Division

Innovation in Green Community Planning

Santa Clara Valley Agricultural Plan —County of Santa Clara | Santa Clara Valley Open Space Authority

Public Outreach

Housing Voices Community Outreach Process —City of Santa Cruz

Transportation Planning

Elimination of Minimum Parking Requirements Citywide —Office of San Francisco Supervisor Jane Kim | San Francisco Planning Department

Urban Design

Pier 70 Project —Brookfield Properties | Port of San Francisco | SITELAB urban studio

Awards of Merit

Best Practices

Albany Residential Design Guidelines —Albany Planning & Zoning Commission | Albany Planning Department

Comprehensive Plan, Small Jurisdiction

Alameda Marina Master Plan (above) —KTGY Architecture + Planning | Alameda Marina Development | Bay West Group

Bayfair TOD Specific Plan (below) —City of San Leandro | Raimi + Associates | VWMP | Strategic Economics | Kittleson & Associates |Rincon Consultants| Wood Rodgers

Economic Planning and Development

Priority Area 1 Specific Plan (above) —City of Brentwood | De Novo Planning Group

Zoning Ordinance Modifications to Support Small Businesses (below) —City of Berkeley

Hard Won Victory

Mill Valley Lumber Yard Adaptive Reuse Project —Matt and Jan Mathews |Christopher Raker | Mark Rhoades | Michael Heacock| David Parisi

Innovation in Green Community Planning

Midpeninsula Regional Open Space District Climate Action Plan (above) —Midpeninsula Regional Open Space District

Santa Clara Agrihood (below) —City of Santa Clara | Core Companies | Steinberg Hart

Public Outreach

Downtown Livermore Facilitation Project (above) —City of Livermore | PlaceWorks

Last Chance Grade Project (below) —Caltrans District 1|MIG, Inc.

Transportation Planning

Safe Routes to Schools Safety Assessments —City of Fremont | Fremont Unified School District | Alta Planning + Design

Urban Design

Windsor Civic Center Visioning Plan —City of Windsor, WRT

Section-only Awards

Great Places

San Pedro Square, San Jose, California —San Jose Downtown Association | San Jose Downtown Property-Based Improvement District | City of San Jose

Special Recognition Award: Accomplished Planner

Hanson Hom, AICP, ASLA


Special Recognition Award: Mid-Career Planner

Miroo Desai, AICP


Special Recognition Award: Emerging Planner

Veronica Flores



Neighboring Peninsula cities see housing actions differently

By Gennady Sheyner, Palo Alto Weekly, May 7, 2019

“The city councils of Palo Alto, East Palo Alto and Menlo Park met in a joint session in Palo Alto on May 6 for an update on and a discussion of the various housing bills going through Sacramento. Most of the council members focused on Senate Bill 50.

“The only thing they agreed on is that each community would benefit from greater collaboration and, if possible, coordination in addressing the regional housing shortage.

Unlike its prior iteration, [the bill, now in limbo] distinguishes between counties with populations that have more than 600,000 residents and those that have less.

“East Palo Alto Councilman Larry Moody challenged cities that oppose the proposed legislation to offer their own plans to address the humanitarian crisis, as evidenced by people living in RVs and sleeping under bridges and highways. The scope of the problem, he argued, creates an imperative for city leaders to take strong action.

“ ‘If they’re not going to be supporting SB 50, tell us what you’re doing. What’s the plan in Menlo Park? What’s the plan in Burlingame? What’s the plan in San Carlos?’ Moody asked. ‘East Palo Alto can’t be the dormitory of the tech industry and for the job growth taking place. We can’t and we shouldn’t have to be the only city that has an active strategy around affordable housing.’

“Both East Palo Alto Vice Mayor Regina Wallace-Jones and East Palo Alto Councilman Ruben Abrica urged opponents of SB 50 to propose alternative solutions. Rather than fight the state, Abrica said, cities should make suggestions to the Legislature to address the problem.

“ ‘Housing will continue to be a top issue in our state,’ Abrica said. ‘Why? Millions of people … cannot afford a place to live. It’s just an undeniable fact.’

“Menlo Park remains by and large agnostic. Vice Mayor Cecilia Taylor said the council will be discussing SB 50 independently and that the council does not have a unified voice on the legislation. ‘I believe SB 50 exists because we didn’t take care of our own city,’ Taylor said.”

Read the full article here.

Perth councillors support 27-storey affordable housing tower despite planners’ objections

By Editorial Desk, Architecture AU, May 6, 2019

“Perth, Western Australia, councillors have voted in support of a 27-storey mixed-use development containing 30 percent social and affordable housing, despite a recommendation that the proposal be rejected due to an excessive plot ratio, [and with the] additional floor space (bulk and scale) benefiting the development without providing sufficient community benefits or facilities.

“The proposed building will contain 184 apartments, a café or restaurant, and a community shared space. The landowner and project developer is the state government’s Department of Communities.

195 Pier Street, Perth. Design and image by Klopper and Davis Architects.

“[City of Perth] Commissioner Andrew Hammond, moving that council support the development, argued that the provision of social housing met the ‘community benefits’ benchmark, [as] 15 percent of the apartments would be for social housing and another 15 percent for affordable housing. More than 142,500 Australians are on the waiting list for social housing.

“ ‘Australia and WA have a significant problem in meeting social and affordable housing needs,’ he said. ‘The city is currently experiencing many challenges with homelessness and rough sleeping, and while social housing is definitely not a quick fix for this difficult and pressing issue, it sits at both ends of the homelessness continuum.’

“The Western Australian Planning Commission is the body responsible for the final approval.”

Read the full article here. 

On Amazon’s decision to move to New York City, then cancel

By J. David Goodman, The New York Times, May 1, 2019

Goodman is a metro reporter covering New York.

“People who don’t live in New York City sometimes fail to appreciate how big it really is. Even some who live here don’t realize how easy it is for the city to absorb change. Take Google: It moved into Chelsea without many people there even noticing.

“Technology companies locating here are not always obvious or easily separated from fashion, advertising, or finance, especially when you’re talking about Chelsea and Lower Manhattan. Are new coffee shops sprouting up because of new tech companies? How much can we blame them for skyrocketing rents? Hard to say.

“Amazon would have been different because it was going to an area that is not a tech hub, [and] 25,000 Amazon workers would have been more obvious — and the changes that followed more easily ascribed to them.

“But those changes are happening anyway. Multiple residential towers have sprouted only blocks away from where Amazon was going to build.

“And Amazon already has a few thousand employees scattered around other areas of New York, including 34th Street in Midtown. Most people who pass by have no idea the company is even there.

Midtown, looking north from the World Trade Center, May 2017. Photo: Naphtali H. Knox, FAICP

“Q. Many venture capitalists like to think of New York as the next Silicon Valley. Is it getting there?

“Yes, but the cultures are not the same. You saw that dramatically with Amazon’s flat-footed rollout. The company thought it would be welcomed because it was bringing so many jobs. [But] the Amazon team was surprised by the onslaught of questions from reporters. Many New Yorkers were equally baffled that the company could be so naïve and so unprepared.

“Amazon’s decision to cancel struck fear in a lot of business and political leaders that other tech companies would decide New York City is not where they want to be. But nothing like that has happened. Google is expanding in New York, as is Facebook.”

Read the full article here.

Exploring Oakland by bike
Phoenix discussing Cycles of Change and the Oakland bike plan. The author is in the center (in shorts). Photo: Sarah Iannarone

Exploring Oakland by bike

By Tom Holub, May 3, 2019 

I love how cycling changes my experience of moving through the city, and I love sharing that experience with others, which is why I’ve been organizing and leading urban geography rides for Walk Oakland, Bike Oakland (WOBO). Stories of urban investment and disinvestment, advantage and disadvantage, come to light as you ride through the neighborhoods.

WOBO recently gave me the opportunity to lead a group of officials and planners from Portland, OR, who were in town to meet with local groups to learn about best practices in the Bay Area. Right up my alley. They had requested a mobility tour, so we planned to do one loop on Ford GoBikes, and another on Lime scooters. With help from Kerby Olsen — City of Oakland, Department of Transportation (OakDOT) — and Chris Hwang of WOBO, we obtained discounted passes, and headed into the city.

Oakland really showed up for the day. On the way to the starting point, I saw Fantastic Negrito being filmed in front of the Paramount, and there was an International Worker’s Day protest in Frank Ogawa Plaza (photo below).

May Day ILWU protest on Broadway in OaklandSarah Iannarone (Portland State University), the Portland group’s organizer, also practices urban field geography. She appreciated the itinerary I’d prepared, which focused on the challenges of planning in a deeply unequal city like Oakland.

A number of folks from OakDOT came along, including Lily Brown (head of the bike plan process), Hank Pham, Ahmed Ali Bob, David Pene, and Mikaela Hiatt. We started by talking about the bike plan. Phoenix Mangrum (Cycles of Change) contributed his generally positive impressions of how the bike plan had allowed his organization to provide leadership in their community engagement. Then we headed off along Telegraph and into West Oakland.

Phoenix Mangrum discussing Cycles of Change and the Oakland bike plan. The author is in the center (in shorts). Photo: Sarah Iannarone @sarahforpdx

The idea of an urban geography tour is to help participants gain greater understanding of the city. Planning issues become more visible when observed at human speeds. This tour began by riding on Oakland’s first protected bike lanes through the energetic Uptown district, then into the less affluent West Oakland neighborhoods on the other side of the freeway. Along the way, we observed the Tuff Shed Shelter village at 27th and Northgate, the Paint the Town mural at the California Hotel, the abandoned but still dramatic 16th Street Station, and the Mandela Parkway “linear park” that replaced the former alignment of Interstate 880 and the Cypress Structure which collapsed in the 1989 Loma Prieta earthquake.

At each stop, we discussed people’s observations of the neighborhoods we had ridden through, and I provided a talk about the location — illustrated by handouts highlighting its history — and current planning issues. For example, the poster below discusses how the California Hotel once sat at an important transportation hub, but became isolated by freeway development. The street mural project there addresses a significant safety issue at what had been a very long crosswalk, with art honoring the site’s history as a venue for Black musicians and travelers.

Poster presenting the history of the California Hotel, and the recent Paint the Town mural project there

When we stopped adjacent to the 980 freeway and some of the West Oakland federal housing projects, I talked about how the neighborhood had been disadvantaged by infrastructure and urban renewal projects. Oakland has floated a proposal to remove 980, but I challenged the planners to consider this: If  980 goes, how can we ensure that its removal will benefit the disadvantaged community?

The author pointing out our location on a map of historical redlining
Pointing out our location on the Oakland redlining map. Photo: Sarah Iannarone @sarahforpdx

We were running late, mostly because “new mobility” services aren’t designed for  large groups. So by the time we got on the scooters, we were down to a handful who had a good time scooting around Lake Merritt, passing both a serious-looking scooter crash on Broadway, and a serious Gig car-share crash on Grand. Then two of our scooters quit and we doubled up for a while. The lake was beautiful, and we returned to Frank Ogawa Plaza without further incident.

As an introduction to new mobility, the tour was real. The logistical and technical issues, and vendors’ tendencies to avoid dealing with those, are a real part of the mobility landscape.

If you are looking for experiential learning about the city, highlighted by real-world locations, illustrated by data and history, and a perspective rooted in social justice, please contact me.

New York Times on CA housing crisis

By the Editorial Board, The New York Times, April 28, 2019.

“California finally is beginning to consider solutions to its housing crisis that are on the same scale as the problem. …

“Precisely because [SB50] rewrites the rules for so much California land, it is likely to facilitate development at a wide range of price points. But even if the new construction is disproportionately upscale, it could serve to reduce development pressures on communities outside the rezoned areas.

“It is not, to be sure, a silver bullet. Even if the state can reduce rents and home prices by greatly increasing the amount of new housing, California still needs to find the means and will to subsidize housing for those who cannot afford market-rate units. But it would be a mistake to preserve some affordable housing by preventing the construction of more affordable housing.

“It is time to rewrite the rules: The solution to California’s housing crisis is more housing.”

Read the full article here. If you hit a paywall, go here.