Skyscraper a Disaster for Oakland, Alameda

Oakland’s most beautiful, wild stretch of waterfront is about to go under the bulldozer. Notices have been posted around the neighborhood which warn that Signature Properties is applying for special permits to begin development on the land, without actually calling it development; so they can get around the restrictions in the environmental impact reports that have been filed for this contaminated, yet beautiful spot on the Oakland Estuary.

There is a short window for public commentary on whether to build these 28-story skyscrapers and parking structures which are planned for the currently protected wetland, dog park and open space on the 5th Avenue Point.

This area has a number of strategic advantages which could make it Oakland’s most celebrated park; and a couple of nasty side-effects that will happen if, instead, it gets turned into skyscrapers.

The Bad News
The proposed development is environmentally unsafe because the land has been used for the last 150 years as a major industrial shipping yard. The area is wetlands and 
landfill; when you dig down two feet, groundwater seeps in. Signature Properties will have to pound and drill very deep into the earth to lay the foundations for these 200-foot-tall commercial/residential/parking structure mega-buildings. This activity will disturb tons of contaminants which lie in the soil.

To compound the potential problems, a major sewage line lies roughly 100 feet away from the site. This serene and semi-wild area is a home to snowy egrets, cormorants, coots, pelicans, pipits, ducks, crows and hundreds of songbirds who will be at risk when the groundbreaking begins. This heavy construction on the estuary is counteractive to recent efforts to widen the waterway and improve the smell and ecosystem of Lake Merritt.

The construction activity and road blockages will create huge backups on the already awkward I-980 to I-880 interchange; affecting commuters who need to travel from San Francisco to Oakland, Alameda, Hayward and parts further south for the next 15 years. This condensed traffic pattern will worsen the air quality for East Bay residents. Oakland will begin to feel like downtown Los Angeles with the new heavy traffic and smog.

The Good News
On the other hand, if we turn the area into a park, the San Francisco Bay Trail and the future pedestrian bridge from Lake Merritt will intersect right at the 5th Avenue Point. There will be easy, safe access for families to come enjoy the Oakland waterfront; which will have wild muddy banks and new boat slips for recreational use.

Dogs are welcome off leash here; and some locals even go swimming on warm days. Despite the toxic leftovers of 150 years of industrial shipping, birds, plants, and bees do well here in the sunny, beach-studded tidelands. The original Estuary Policy Plan, published by the City of Oakland and the Port of Oakland in 1998, called for a preservation of the local artist and artisan community at the Fifth Avenue Point; and expanded parkland. In the words of the 1998 Estuary Policy Plan:
“To complement Estuary Park to the West, the [Fifth Avenue Point] should be converted into a major park suitable for passive recreation. Promenading, viewing and other contemplative activities should be emphasized. Shoreline areas should be restored to tidal wetlands.”

The new proposed Brooklyn Basin development could not be farther from this recommendation. Major remediation (toxic cleanup, laying of roads, electricity and sewage lines) is planned to start soon. The parkland will be reduced to a 100-foot wide strip along the water.

The big investor for this project is the Zarsion Corporation from Shanghai, China; which is putting up $1.5 billion. Clearly, the investor lives nowhere near here; because the new development proposal creates problems which would prevent most sane locals from carrying out a plan like this. Somewhere, someone is making a lot of money; and they don’t care much about the needs of the people or the wildlife or even the investors. The final problem is a real coup; the whole area is at risk of being underwater soon with global warming. This project has trouble, stink and strife written all over it.

Concerned readers have until Monday, April 7, to contact Oakland City Planning Department officials and ask them to endorse the 1998 Estuary Policy Plan instead of the new skyscrapers: Cesar Quiteves, City of Oakland Department of Planning and Building: 238-6343 clquiteves@oaklandnet.com or Catherine Payne, City of Oakland Planning and Zoning Division: 238-6168 cpayne@oaklandnet.com

Renée de la Prade is a resident of 5th Ave. Point in Oakland.