Oakland Tribune

Spotlight on Oakland Waterfront.

March 30, 2000

By Laura Counts

OAKLAND -- Compared to Seattle, Baltimore or Oakland's flashier neighbor across the Bay, the post-industrial waterfront here would hardly seem to be a showcase of urban shorelines.

But in the eyes of the activists and planners who have worked for years on a vision of the Oakland Estuary as a people-friendly playland, it's a diamond in the rough.

Oakland will have the chance to showcase that potential to the country's top architects, planners and thinkers who specialize in waterfronts at an Oct. 16-28 conference here called "Urban Waterfronts 18: Oakland 2000."

The conference, organized by Washington nonprofit The Waterfront Center, is usually held in cities that already have developed the shores along their lakes, rivers, canals, oceans or bays. But estuary activist Sandra Threlfall, one of the driving forces behind Oakland's new Estuary Policy Plan, persuaded the group to hold the international meeting here.

"San Diego would have been wonderful, but it's already all developed," Threlfall said. "It's affordable here, and they can also see the waterfronts in San Francisco and Richmond. I'm sure there will be lots of ideas for Oakland."

Councilmember Nate Miley (Eastmont-Seminary) on Tuesday asked a council committee to match the $13,500 the Port of Oakland has already committed to the event. The committee forwarded the recommendation to the council.

Of that contribution, $7,500 would go toward a Waterfront Forum the day before the conference to highlight the plan for local residents and visitors.

"The eyes of the world will be on Oakland's waterfront," Miley told the council's Community and Economic Development Committee. "We hope to educate people and get people excited about the waterfront."

The conference will be rounded out by a weekend of related activities. Oakland will celebrate the opening of the new Jack London Aquatic on Oct. 28. The $2 million public project will be an extension of the Lake Merritt boat house, and will rent out canoes, kayaks and other boats and provide classes for young people.

On Oct. 29, rowers will be in town to compete in the annual Head of the Oakland Estuary Rowing Regatta.

The hope is that all the activity will help jump-start waterfront redevelopment. There already is a lot going on along the estuary: Jack London Square is thriving and the port plans $200 million in new development, the boat that will be turned into the floating arts and educational center ArtShip is being renovated, and the Fruitvale community is moving forward with a park at Union Point.

But there is an estimated $154 million in public improvements envisioned in the Estuary Policy Plan, which lays the blueprint for a string of parks, paths, restaurants, offices and housing and entertainment venues along the waterway. Open space plans are the toughest to fund.

"We've come a long way on the estuary, but it is still just a plan," Councilmember Jane Brunner (North Oakland) said this week. "How are we going to implement it so six years from now we actually have a waterfront like Seattle or Portland?"

Planning and zoning director Leslie Gould has analyzed the costs and suggested a citywide parcel tax and developer fees as possible funding mechanisms.

Councilmember John Russo has another idea. He wants the port to dedicate a percentage of its gross revenues to cleaning up the estuary and building parks, and has proposed a City Charter amendment for the November ballot.

Now that container ships have gotten so big and don't venture as far up the estuary as they used to, much of the land on the six-mile stretch is no longer needed for port operations. Russo argues that the port and its related industries have left their toxic mark along the water, and therefore should help clean it up now that the land is not needed for port operations.

He will propose his idea to the City-Port Liaison Committee in April and to the full council May 2.

Threlfall, who has worked to improve the waterfront for more than half a dozen years already, said she is not daunted by the huge amount of funding needed to turn the dream of an accessible waterfront into reality.

"It's a 20-year project," she said. "In Baltimore, it was a 30-year project. Ultimately, if the community wants it, it will be our waterfront."

Spotlight on Oakland Waterfront