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League of Women Voters of Oakland
Waterfront Study

Chapter 7: The Estuary Shore: A Mixture or A Recipe

This study has divided Oakland's nineteen miles of shoreline into three areas, each having a distinct character and function. The northern Waterfront is the Intermodal Gateway, with massive ocean, rail and truck terminals. The southern Waterfront, the Airport Complex, is an air passenger and cargo center, including two airports and distribution, hotel and other related services. The area between Jack London Square and the Coliseum is referred to as the Estuary Shore.

Unlike the other two areas, the Estuary Shore has limited utility for air or marine terminals. Instead, it contains an array of activities unrelated to transportation and largely unrelated to the water. It is comprised of neighborhoods which mirror their inland counterparts, though cut off by Highway 880.

The Oakland/ Alameda estuary is probably the most vibrant waterway in the Bay Area. Its narrowness concentrates water crafts, fishing and water sports on an ever changing "water highway". The visual experience from the shore is comparable to the urban river fronts of cities like New Orleans, St. Louis and Pittsburgh.

The Estuary Shore offers great potential as Oakland's threshold on the bay. T o realize that goal requires a vision and coordination between the City government and the Port of Oakland.

 Recently, the Port and City have begun to collaborate on issues of mutual concern, including land use. This is especially important in the Estuary Shore, since it is nearly evenly divided between Port and City jurisdiction. The Estuary Shore has wonderful ingredients, but the City and Port have yet to combine them into a recipe which features the best qualities of Oakland's Waterfront.

The Ingredients: The Neighborhoods of the Estuary Shore

Map One (Ch7)As shown on Map One, the Estuary Shore is a patchwork of industrial, commercial and residential activities. They are organized in three distinct neighborhoods:

  • Jack London Square/Produce Market District

    The northern section of the Estuary Shore is an important mixed-use district. The most prominent feature is Jack London Square. It is surrounded by the hardware and discount retail stores along Second and Third Streets, the thriving Oakland Produce Market and a growing office and live/work district containing many small businesses, as well as the international headquarters of Safeway Stores. Given the type and variety of uses, as a whole the district is closely related to the downtown.

  • Embarcadero Crescent

    The crescent of shoreline across from Coast Guard Island, from the mouth of Lake Merritt Channel to Embarcadero Cove, is undergoing a slow transition. Fifth Avenue and Seabreeze Marinas, situated south of Lake Merritt Channel, are in disrepair. The Ninth Avenue Terminal is the only cargo facility remaining in the area, its use restricted by the shallow depth of Webster Street Tube. South of the terminals are three restaurants, marine supply stores and an aging dry-dock. Between Executive Inn and Park Street (29th Street) Bridge, the Port has developed Estuary Cove, consisting of several restaurants, a marina and more than one hundred thousand square feet of offices.

  • High Street/Fruitvale Avenue

    From Park Street Bridge to the Coliseum is a mixture of heavy and light industries; including a recycling plant, a lumber mill, cargo container repair and storage facilities and processing installations. Distribution and other small businesses are scattered throughout the area. The vacant acreage across from the Coliseum is being considered by the City for a major retail center. Tucked among these commercial uses are an active residential neighborhood, containing single family houses and live/work studios.

Although these areas mirror inland neighborhoods of Oakland they are treated differently because planning authority in this area is split between the City government and the Port of Oakland.

The Chefs: The City and the Port

In 1926, the City Charter was amended to create the Port of Oakland, an independent department responsible for administering the City's tideland area. Among the powers granted to the Port was the regulation of land use.

Today the Port exercises planning and zoning control over those portions of the Estuary Shore which were formerly tidelands. The balance - roughly half of the area - is within City jurisdiction. The Port Commission decides land use issues in the Port area, while the City Planning Commission or City Council regulates the rest.

The City and Port exercise their planning powers quite differently. This accounts for some of the development patterns and is the primary reason for the lack of a master plan for the area.

  • Traditional zoning: The City follows traditional zoning practices by classifying land into General Plan and  zoning categories. This method is intended to separate incompatible land uses and establish patterns of future development.

  • Opportunity-driven zoning: The Port uses an opportunity-driven model of zoning, leaving land unzoned and allowing the marketplace to dictate its ultimate use.

This divided jurisdiction also exists in other areas of the Waterfront. For example, the south side of Hegenberger Road is within City jurisdiction while the north side is under the Port's authority. However, the impact of the agencies' differing approaches is most apparent in the Estuary Shore, due to its mixture of land uses and its nearly even division between the City and Port jurisdiction.

Each part of the Estuary Shore is affected differently by the division of authority between the City and Port. For example:

  • Jack London Square/Produce Market District

    The newly redesigned Jack London Square stands as an island, visually distinct: from its surrounding neighborhood and physically isolated from downtown convention and regional transportation facilities. Coordination is needed between the City and the Port in the promotion of Jack London Square as a destination and in the development of the surrounding non-Port land.

    For example, the Oakland Produce Market is one of the city's most active and unique market areas, but its future is clouded by a change of ownership and congestion. In addition, with two new live-work projects presently under consideration, this area is gaining a significant residential population. The future direction of the marketplace, the developing new night life on lower Broadway and the growing small business and live/work community in the area - all within City jurisdiction - can attract: new activity into this area and help overcome the isolation imposed by the freeway.

  • Embarcadero Crescent

    The shoreline between Lake Merritt Channel and Embarcadero Cove offers excellent views of the waterway, but the area remains isolated and lacking an overall plan for taking advantage of this important amenity.

    The Port has developed an attractive: water-oriented center at Embarcadero Cove, but other sections have been developed without an overall plan. For example, although restaurants on the northern part of the crescent have been required to install public access on their bay frontages, the boardwalks have been constructed on an ad hoc basis and are not connected to one another except through parking lots or along public roadways.

  • High Street/Fruitvale Avenue

    This area is an important part of East Oakland's employment base. However, past economic development efforts have sometimes been stymied by an apparent reluctance by the Port to participate in area-wide economic development efforts. Traffic circulation and other improvements and the buffering of the residential neighborhood require cooperation between the Port and the City.

Recently, the City and Port have begun to work more closely on issues of mutual concern. The respective planning staffs of the City and Port began meeting regularly last summer. In early December subcommittees of the City Planning Commission and Port Commission will begin meeting to improve coordination of land use decision-making. In recent years the Port has also played a more active role in economic development issues, especially in the Coliseum and airport areas.

Besides creating new vehicles for City/Port collaboration, two important planning efforts offer the potential of defining a new vision for the Waterfront:

  • Land Use Element Update: Beginning next year, the City will begin updating the Land Use Element of the General Plan. The present General Plan designates virtually all of the land within Port jurisdiction as "Industrial". Clearly, this is not an accurate description of the present or potential uses of much of the Waterfront, especially within the Estuary Shore.

  • "OSCAR" (Open Space Conservation and Recreation Element of the General Plan): The City also is currently revising the Open Space and Conservation Element of the General Plan. This will help define important shoreline recreational, ecological and visual resources which should be preserved or emphasized in future development of the area.

Searching for a Recipe

Map Two (Ch 7)The Estuary Shore can become an amenity equal to other famous river fronts and urban shorelines. Map Two was prepared by the architectural firm of Van Meter Williams Pollack to illustrate methods of strengthening the identity of the Estuary Shore and its relationship with inland Oakland. The illustration emphasizes three important elements:

  • Linkages: Physical connections between the shore and inland Oakland can help overcome the formidable physical barrier that Highway 880 presents. Internal linkages can strengthen the identity of the area with the waterway. Several roadways, including Broadway, Twenty-Ninth Avenue, Fruitvale Avenue and High Street provide important links with inland neighborhoods. Pedestrian/bike pathways between Lake Merritt and Estuary Park and north and south along the shoreline would also invigorate the area.

  • Gathering Points: Major access points, such as Estuary Park, Jack London Square and Estuary Cove and mini-parks and shoreline trails provide important focal points for the area. The ferries and future Amtrak station at Jack London Square also are important means of attracting people to the Waterfront and making the shoreline a vital part of Oakland.

  • Commercial and residential revitalization: Improving the vitality of commercial and residential neighborhoods within the Waterfront is also critical. Opportunities include the Produce Market, live/work and other residential opportunities and improving traffic circulation within the Fruitvale and High Street areas.

The Estuary Shore is Oakland's threshold to the water. Here, perhaps more than in any other part of the Waterfront, vision and City-Port cooperation is essential. Hopefully, the recent Port/City cooperative efforts and new planning processes will lead to a recipe for reconnecting Oakland to its shoreline.

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