Fox Uptown Parking Garage: Terrible car onslaught or necessary amenity?

Sunfield Sustainable Development (“Sunfield”, “SSD”) plans to build a massive parking garage for the corner of San Pablo Avenue and 18th Street. Figure A. (click for large view)

Note that the currently green-fenced “empty uptown lot” between FOX Theater and the Uptown Apartments is empty, unlike in the illustration.

How the area looks now:

Google map.

Backgrounder: Where this came from

Back in late 2009, the city put out a request for proposals to developers to remake vacant, underutilized land. Thirteen proposals came back.

There were 10 sites in the notice of opportunity. Six received proposals:
1. 905 66th Ave.
2. Foothill Blvd. and Seminary Ave.
3. 73rd St. and Foothill Blvd.
4. 6775 Oakport St.
5. 606 Clara St. and 9418 Edes Ave.
6. San Pablo Ave. and 19th St.

Those that didn’t receive proposals
7. 2777 Foothill Blvd.
8. 3566 Foothill Blvd.
9. 3600 Foothill Blvd.
10. 10451 MacArthur Blvd.

Read more: Oakland retail sites spark 13 proposals | San Francisco Business Times

Question 1:

Is this planned development another terrible mechanized assault on the Uptown pedestrian experience in a long line of car-happy developments, or is it much-needed infill redevelopment retail therapy? SunField Development does include bowling in one of their schematics… oh boy, bowling!

You all know I’ve yammered forever about Oakland needing its own classy bowling establishment.  If they throw in a pinball arcade for V Smoothe and don’t lower the height of the thing for Becks this might be fait accompli… but probably not.

More below, here’s the dirty details:

What’s there right now?

An empty eyesore of gray concrete pavement. Once in a while it is used by skateboarders and BMX trick bikers.  Surrounded by chain link fence. Anything would be better — or would it? (click for larger view)

Google map.

Who benefits?

  • Car drivers and businesses (all of the below)
  • Uptown and Downtown residents, if alluded to bowling alley and other non-drinking non-music commercial activity centers are actually built
  • Oakland Ice patrons
  • FOX Theater patrons
  • Restaurants: Flora, Xolo, Hibiscus patrons
  • Nightlife: The New Parish, Bench and Bar, Somar Bar, Cafe Van Cleef patrons (some of these are indirect beneficiaries from having more parking available to their own patrons from spillover from the businesses most affected)
  • Sears, or whoever uses the Sears building later
  • Potentially: Uptown residents, Fox Court residents
  • Sun Field Development (tax breaks and other kickbacks in return for a trifling amount of lobbying dollars, if any)
  • City Councilwoman Nancy Nadel who represents District 3, which this is part of. (something constructive happening in D3 which isn’t directly crime- or poverty-related)
  • Auto maker, auto maintenance, oil and gas, pavement and construction industries – temporarily through 2030 (specifically: Chevron gas station at 18th and Castro)
  • Benefits: security of closer night-time parking in crime-ridden Oaktown; increased (?) tax base for City of Oakland; closer proximity to Uptown businesses for people who refuse to take non-car transportation to get here

Who doesn’t benefit?

  • Uptown and Downtown residents, workers and visitors who must contend with more car-related noise (road noise, engine noise, car alarms, the rare screeching tire)
  • Local workers, residents of all types who walk or bike to work
  • Local people who enjoy a quiet night in — especially Uptown Apartment/601 William Building and Fox Court Apartment residents
  • Local people who enjoy walking about without having to worry too much about speeding car drivers
  • AC Transit drivers and commuters — must contend with more traffic
  • Taxi drivers — fewer people will take transit and need a taxi (exception: it’s raining and lazy people need a ride back to the garage)
  • Hard to answer this without seeing the project’s Environmental Impact Report (EIR)… okay here are some EIR links

Question 2.

Are there any parking garages you like? The only one I like is the Kaiser Garage, and it’s solely because of the rooftop garden!

Question 3.

Should City of Oakland Planning department (CEDA) and Planning Commission demand (require) an enforceable list of PUBLIC AMENITIES in return for this low-cost or free public (taxpayer) land? If so, what? Here’s my list.

  • Urban Forestry: Rainwater-fed green roof garden on top, not parking, to mitigate urban heat island effect of street pavement;
  • Urban Forestry: Full greenery application to building shell;
  • Green Building: LEED Gold or Platinum certification (the irony right?);
  • Multi-modal transportation planning: Add minimum 200 [was 250] properly constructed BICYCLE parking spaces (to match their up-to 525 car parking spaces!) including bicycle amenities: a small fix it shop stand run by Bay Area Bikes (small stand, NYC or Tokyo style);
  • Public Art: paint select walls, floors and ceilings (lo and behold, Michaelangelo!) inside the garage as well as some outside;
  • contribute $1 million to AC Transit for their Bus Rapid Transit program;
  • contribute $1 million to BART for 19th Street Station upgrades; and
  • finally, contribute $2 million to Oakland’s General Fund earmarked for repaving roads — and perhaps for upgrading traffic lights and upgrading car- and human-scale wayfinding signage downtown.

Yes, it’s an extreme list of demands. Sunfield “Sustainable” Development’s team would never go for this. I admit it. But it’s a starting point for discussion and cities are now very well known to be economic crucibles of wealth generation. Oakland should expect no less in terms of build quality from private concerns. If SF has LEED Gold hotels and free pedestrian street redesigns paid for by Audi, why shouldn’t Oakland have some classy urban experiences too?

City of Oakland is in no position (unless it largely axes pensions) to offer huge tax breaks, gold-plated subsidies or too many incentives to Sunfield as it did for the Jerry Brown green-lighted Uptown re-development project. Cash is king.

SSD reps minimal green creds after having built out many many subdivisions and CRE projects and also has a couple other Oakland developments up its sleeve. They’re on the LEED bandwagon, which while watered down is better than nothing.

On the plus side, this isn’t suburban “SSDD” — it’s infill development, which is what California needs. And if the garage lives up to the promises outlined in Sunfield’s slideshow, it’ll play nicely with the current Central District Urban Renewal Plan.

9 responses to “Fox Uptown Parking Garage: Terrible car onslaught or necessary amenity?

  1. I love the idea of a roof garden like the one at Kaiser. Not only does it reduce the heat island effect from a block of pavement exposed to the sun, but plants absorb carbon dioxide, produce oxygen, and the right ones even do some cleaning of the air. Add to that the un-fun nature of parking on the roof on a sunny day and returning to a baking hot car or on a rainy day and having to negotiate keys + brolly, and I think a roof garden would be a much better use of the space.

    I tend to bike or use transit to downtown and uptown, but I generally don’t have a problem finding parking when I drive. That said, if more spaces are needed, I’d much prefer something like they described (with a roof garden added, of course):

    would not look like a typical garage, but rather as an attractive articulated building with punched openings, awnings, and architectural detail that would complement the recently constructed building surrounding it.

    If it’s that or a traditional garage (i.e., no ground-level retail) or a surface lot (ugh), I’ll take their proposal.

  2. Yeah, if they actually do the proposal they say they’ll do, it’ll be a mix of Mission & 5th Garage meets Kaiser Garage plus my over-idealized list above.

  3. I generally dislike autocentric developments but I somewhat favor this one so long as the ground floor is retail.

    First and foremost, I’ve walked past the Fox on show nights and there is no shortage of out of town people. It would be nice in there were nice parking nearby. But wait you say there is plenty of street parking and lot parking available. Yes and no, on triple threat nights (Fox, Uptown, and Paramount) parking can get tight. Throw in the diners or a first Friday and it becomes parking pandemonium.

    Second, while this parking appears to be incremental today, it is actually replacement parking for when current structures on Telegraph and 17th are torn down for new development.

    Third, not all downtown residences have guest parking or parking period. This would be a welcomed addition for some DTO dwellers (if some spaces were set available for monthlies). Yeah, I know most of us choose DTO because of the many transit options. Reality is a fair number of people still have 2 cars.

    I would love for the developer to make some type of contribution to improved pedestrian safety. Telegraph and 19th comes to mind.

  4. Hometown thank you for your thoughts. As long as the rich(er) in this country use autos, we will need to pander to them in downtown areas. It is the same worldwide. On the other hand, like other countries worldwide plus NYC we can expensively discourage casual plebian parking, so as to make remaining parking even more “elite status” feeling.

    Regarding point one. If we had adequate public safety staffing and back-lit SIGNAGE to our parking lots which are all rather close to the Arts & Entertainment district, people would use them more. What we lack is coordination and professional upkeep and marketing of late-hours garages. Agree that another couldn’t hurt, placed closer to the action… the denture and stiletto sets do not walk far for pleasure.

    Also re: point 1, if the walking experience between existing parking garages and current attractions were pleasant then there would be no argument to build more parking. The streets of 17th, 18th, 19th, 20th are ghost-towns at most hours and at night are quite dark. More lighting and commercial activity needed. 19th Street BART, Sears and the other spaces surrounding Fox-Uptown becoming a rejuvenated will go a long way toward improving the out of towner’s user experience. I’m conjuring Shibuya, Aoyama near Ginza, or Harajuku in the park, station and shopping areas… or much of mid-Manhattan.

    Regarding point two, that parking you speak of served the large US cars of the 60s, and to a lesser extent 70s. It also “served” Sears and its oil-change station which no longer exists. That is a bygone era. Just because we had lots of parking around suburban BART stations doesn’t mean it was a great idea. Excess surface parking inevitably creates a sea of blight, bland nothingness and visual ennui. It’s also the past.

    The future begs bicycle parking, pedestrian, canine and equestrian amenity. Downtownishness without the big box. I don’t mind this garage if it is built such that later, less car-dominated uses can be rolled in quickly and easily.

    I have in mind: a garage that can be easily converted to offices, residences, retail, light manufacturing, barracks, “indoor grows” of the trimmed persuasion, indoor gun range, go-kart racing, a floor of just playpen balls, pachinko parlour, 3-story korean bbq grill, lanes of my requisite bowling fetish, laundromat, etc.

    This just means it needs to be built for…
    — drop-in wall/window additions (places to attach framing)
    — overhangs/eaves to mitigate sun/rain
    — plumbing and electric/gas conduits per floor
    — multiple stairwells, elevators

    The ONE good thing in theory about a potential car garage is that it will have insane structural stability due to the heavy weight of our automobile prostheses. (Gundam happened and no one noticed! 😛 )

    These can all be added later though at great cost. In our union-driven cost-conscious “capitalist” free marketplace I doubt Sunfield’s Sid Afshar, his offshoring experts or top-rung corporate bean counters will factor these in. If I am correct in my assumptions (could be off-base, or out in the bleachers), one of Sunfield “Sustainable” Development’s projects is now quite a failure, when formerly it was meant to bet yet another cookie cutter greenfield quick-flip.

    Fig A: “Stanley Klementson is the CEO of Klementson Engineering LLC, and our lead engineer on Lumsden Ranch.”

    Fig B: “Lumsden Ranch, Wiltse Rd. & La Vista Dr., Placerville, CA 95667
    # Property Type: Land
    # Property Sub-type: Residential (land)
    # Distressed: Yes
    Reminds one of the Black Knight. So was this originally in Sunfield’s court or are they joining?

    Fig C: (404) — this tends to support my thesis of the project being mothballed.

    I did note your third point under “who benefits?” Agreed!

  5. So what’s the status of Sunfield’s proposal? Will there be any public meetings to debate the merits of their proposal?

  6. Honestly no idea. One way to find out would be to contact District 3 councilwoman Nancy Nadel’s office and ask.

    I don’t see any EIR for it on CEDA’s website.

    Asking local developers like CCIG might work.

  7. @Matt. Update from Eric Angstadt, Interim Deputy Director, CEDA at City of Oakland, 2/18/11:

    “I don’t believe they have filed a formal application yet for the project. I am not aware of an EIR or other CEQA document and would not expect one to be started until after they have filed a formal application.”

    Nothing to see yet.

  8. Pingback: San Pablo/18-19th St. Parking Lot Construction |

  9. I would add the following to your list of demands:

    For every 10 parking spots built, the city must add 1 mile of bike lanes.

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