Live in Oakland long enough and you start to notice a few things are awry in terms of getting access to the kinds of services a typical middle class Bay Area family expects to find.
Let's say you want to go to Costco to buy some food for the next week. Well, your choices are to drive to San Leandro, Walnut Creek or up to Richmond. Strangely, there's no Costco in Oakland, even though it would seem the retailer has a big base of customers right here. Costco even has a store in San Francisco, indicating they're not afraid of urban settings.
For years, the only Wal Mart around was down in San Leandro, alongside the Costco. Now one has opened near the airport, but that still takes you pretty far from the heart of the city.
Suppose instead you want to go to a hardware store to buy some tools. There's Home Depot nearby, which is sort of in Oakland, but really it's pretty much in Emeryville. Recently, another Home Depot opened up alongside the 880 freeway, so that's an improvement. But there's no Lowe's to be found, and the Orchard Supply is in Berkeley.
Everyone knows that Emeryville has managed to snatch away from Oakland virtually all the valuable retail opportunities that have arisen in recent memory. They got the Ikea and the Emery Bay shopping mall -- all this in spite of having zero mass transit accessibility.
The situation with the former Oakland Army Base gives you a glimpse of why this has happened.
In most cities throughout California, a major issue is City Councils putting too much emphasis on retail, because it gives them a way to bloat the government through sales-tax receipts. Because of Proposition 13, property taxes are far less lucrative, so residential development is often less favored.
Not so in Oakland. We spurned the a new downtown stadium for the Oakland A's for a set of foreclosure-ready instaslums. And our fearless leaders are about to do the same thing with the Army Base.
First, the city decided to waste more than a year of planning time fooling around with an idiotic proposal from the Wayans brothers to build a film studio on the property. So far as I can tell, no consideration was given to the fact that the average Oakland resident would receive no benefits whatsoever from such a proposal. The government likely wouldn't have reaped any tax dollars from it either.
Now, according to various sources, the choice is down to two proposals.
The first would focus on the sort of retail that Oakland is sorely lacking. Recent articles have suggested that Costco might be interested in the location, so that would be at least one anchor tenant for the property. The proposal also includes a hotel and conference center, which makes sense given the property's access to the freeway.
Sadly, the second proposal sounds a lot more likely, given Oakland's terrible track record for city planning. That proposal would focus on office space and "industrial" uses which go along with the port of Oakland.
I have no idea why some people are obsessed with retaining industrial land use in Oakland. My only guess is that it's the result of some sort of collusion between the unions and some sort of socialist desire to keep as many blue-collar jobs around as possible.
Office space also seems a bizarre way to use the land. Shouldn't we at least try to cluster office space around mass transit? If so, wouldn't it make sense to put that near the West Oakland Bart station, a neighborhood of burned-out graffiti-covered buildings?
To me it's a no-brainer. Bring in a set of retail businesses which will bring the kind of upper-middle-income shoppers Oakland needs to eliminate its image as a city of poverty. And, it will provide residents one more reasonable destination within the city, so we can stop driving to Walnut Creek to shop.
We'll keep an eye on this as it develops. I am not optimistic.