Oakland Nears Major Rezoning Of Commercial And Residential Areas

In 1965, Oakland adopted its zoning regulations, which control land use and development throughout the city. 45 years later, many of those same regulations are still in effect. Needless to say, the city has changed dramatically since then, leaving the existing regulations out of date. The regulations do not reflect best zoning practices, such as encouraging high density housing near public transit and pedestrian-friendly design in retail corridors, they are unclear and subject to interpretation, and, most importantly, they are inconsistent with the city’s general plan.

In 1998, Oakland adopted a new Land Use and Transportation element to its General Plan, providing a vision for development for the 21st century. However, the city’s zoning regulations were not updated along with the general plan. Numerous inconsistencies exist between the two documents, which has led to a lack of clarity of land use regulation for residents, property owners, businesses and developers. As a result, the Planning and Zoning Department began a process of analyzing and rewriting the zoning regulations. New zoning regulations for open space were adopted in 1999, for housing/business mix districts in 2005, for industrial districts in 2008 and the central business district in 2009.
The next round of rezoning, covering the city’s residential and commercial zoning districts, covers the largest area of the city yet. The department has been holding public meetings since 2008. Wednesday night, the Zoning Update Committee, a sub-committee of the Planning Commission, held the first of a series of public hearings that will ultimately result with the rezoning of these districts.

The department’s rezoning proposal currently consists of the following significant changes:

New zoning districts. The general plan currently identifies 4 residential zoning districts and 3 commercial zoning districts while the existing zoning regulations identify 12 residential and 12 commercial districts. Each of the districts in the zoning regulations are currently matched with a “best fit” general plan zoning district, which controls uses and development. The proposed zoning regulations would create new zoning districts that will parallel the zoning districts in the general plan, thereby eliminating the need to crosscheck the two documents to determine the land use controls for a property. Each new zoning district is broken down further into different density categories. This simple revision will go a long way in making the zoning regulations more comprehensible.

Increased density in “growth and change” areas. The general plan identifies certain neighborhoods and corridors as “growth and change” areas, where increased density and intensity of uses will encourage future growth. The rezoning proposal attempts to lay the groundwork by increasing the permitted density and the uses in some of these areas.

Height limits along major corridors. Areas along commercial and transportation corridors will now be regulated by a new height and intensity map rather than the zoning district they are located in. The purpose of this was to control the size and scale of development in a way that more closely takes into account the surrounding building context.

Design standards. In various new residential and commercial districts, the rezoning proposal includes new design standards. Examples of standards include minimum ground floors of 15 feet, restrictions on parking egress and ingress along the front of a building, and required amounts of transparency on the ground floor façade.

The hearing on Wednesday was mostly informational, with department staff presenting an overview of the rezoning and a short public comment session. One issue that will likely be contentious during this process is the rezoning of the area around Broadway and 51st Street, where the Safeway and Rockridge Shopping Center are located. The rezoning proposes to cap height limits a 75 feet at the corners of the intersection, tapering down to 60 feet and below heading north and south on Broadway. Several neighborhood groups commented at the hearing and at a public meeting the department conducted that this rezoning would be out of line with the character of the neighborhood. This will likely be just one of a number of specific areas that will get a closer look at the Zoning Update Committee’s upcoming meetings.

Department staff announced future hearings on the rezoning at the committee on June 23 and July 14. There will likely be 3 to 5 hearings at the committee before it goes to the full Planning Commission and on to the full City Council. The entire process is expected to take from 3 to 5 months to complete.

San Francisco Supervisors Seek to Reorganize Rent Board

Meanwhile, back across the Bay, eight members of the Board of Supervisors introduced a charter amendment that would reorganize the structure of the Rent Board. The Rent Board has the authority to interpret the Rent and Eviction Control Ordinance, conduct rental arbitration hearings and mediations and investigate reports of wrongful eviction. The Rent Board’s legally-required membership includes two landlords, two tenants, and one member who is neither a landlord or tenant. All are appointed by the Mayor.

The charter amendment would change the makeup of the Board to include three tenants, two landlords, and two neutral members. The Board of Supervisors would appoint three members, the Mayor would appoint three members, and the Mayor and Board President would have to agree on the final member.

Over the past year, several members of the Board of Supervisors, most visibly Supervisor Avalos, pushed for a reform of the rent control ordinance that would have significantly altered the ordinance in a pro-tenant direction, at the expense of landlords. The Board passed the ordinance, only to be sent to the Mayor’s desk to be vetoed. This new charter amendment appears to be another attempt to wrest some control over the Rent Board, and therefore the application of the rent control law, from the Mayor. If approved the Board of Supervisors, the amendment would be on the November 2, 2010 ballot.

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