The City of Oakland has been preparing what it calls the Coliseum Area Specific Plan to guide the transformation of the area surrounding the Oakland-Alameda County Coliseum [and Arena] into a sports, entertainment, residential and job-generating business district.
The plan covers 155 acres, including areas on the West side of the 880 freeway, and will create new parks and restored natural habitat. At an information meeting held last week at the 81st Avenue Library, presenters set the stage before the City begins formal public hearings on the plan.
Some 50 Oaklanders showed up for the presentation and asked questions, some heated. Their demographic ranged from youth and young adults to aging seniors, many being long-time residents and homeowners in areas adjacent to future development. While the exchanges were polite and informative, there was an underlying tension about the possible negative impacts on current residents. These included increased traffic, pollution, and the possibility of soaring property values leading to higher rents and higher taxes.
The vision for the area is vast: 1 to 3 new sports venues, up to 3 new hotels, 4,000 residential units, BART station improvements, and the creation of a large center for science and technology. That led to questions about the funding. The planners propose that all infrastructure improvements will be covered by regular taxes and business fees based on projected growth in future revenues from new housing and new business.
The ghost of Prop 13
In the controversial world of property taxes in California under Prop 13, long term homeowners pay taxes based on their original purchase price of the home, plus a small annual adjustment. This mixed blessing, compliments of Howard Jarvis and his tax revolt agitators in the 1970s, sets up neighbors to pay vastly different amounts to the county tax collector. It helps keep seniors in their homes but their tax bills increase at less than the rate of inflation, and starves the counties of revenues needed to serve all residents, including the very seniors benefiting from Prop 13. In the case of the Jarvis tax revolt, preventing local governments from getting more resources was part of the agenda.
This is one of the reasons that counties and cities favor new developments — when the projects finish, they are assessed at current market value. Then those new owners will protected by Prop 13 and their tax assessment may increase only by a maximum of 2% per year.
The vision for Coliseum City includes 4000 new homes and new retail businesses in addition to having flagship sports arenas. The planners assume that secondary businesses – like dry cleaners and supermarkets – will develop in nearby communities, as a sort of trickle-down development strategy. But the residents commenting and asking questions were not convinced of that outcome.
The Coliseum City plan calls for over 400,000 square feet of new retail space, half near the new areas and half in the nearby neighborhoods. One questioner asked what businesses were planned for the neighborhoods and wondered how these business would succeed in an era of ecommerce with on-line purchases, even groceries, being delivered directly to people’s homes by Amazon and Google.
The plan also calls for developing up to 20,000 new jobs with new retail and a campus-like environment for tech companies along the waterfront. In asking for details about the proposed jobs, another resident voiced skepticism and noted that West Oakland plans for developing the area were supposed to net several thousand jobs, but so far only a few hundred jobs have been created.
While residents were looking forward for detailed plans, the organizers explained that such detail could only come later, after negotiations with interested developers. First, they needed to develop over-lapping plans for the different cases one or two or all three of the Oakland sports teams staying and agreeing to developing an arena in Coliseum City. They also need to complete an Environmental Impact Report [EIR] based on those plans. Then they need to get approval from the Planning Commission and the necessary zoning changes, all before negotiating specific projects with individual developers.
But the bottom line to all this planning, and the upcoming hearings, is to have a project plan ready to allow construction to begin on a new Raiders stadium in early 2015. The new stadium could then be completed and ready in 2017, a drop dead date that the Raiders organization has been pushing for some time now, according to the planners. That would serve as the first piece in a multi-project development scheme.
Said Scott McFarlan, one of the team of planners, “Whether it is specifically like those beautiful images you’ve seen or not will be dependent on future development applications.” Later he added that they were working to have, “…As many of the planning tools that the city has at its disposal ready and available and complete throughout that process at the point that development agreements are set and new developers come forward with specific development projects. This is the best step forward for the City.”
The specific plan, as it is called and the EIR will be completed after considering the questions and concerns raised at this and other workshops on the plan. During the summer, there will be a short public comment period including hearings at the Planning Commission and other public boards. Then, in the last fall or early winter, the proposal will be sent to the City Council.
All the while, the deadline for a new Raiders stadium is looming.