Developer presents plans for CCA Oakland campus redevelopment

Audience discussion reveals widely divergent views on project
Saturday, January 19, 2019

At RCPC's January 2019 Town Hall Meeting, an overflow crowd of over 100 listened intently as Marc Babsin of Emerald Fund showed,described, and explained current plans for redevelopment of the Oakland campus of California College of Arts (CCA).  The campus, located on the east side of Broadway just north of the half-constructed "Shops at the Ridge" project (currently being rethought by Southern California developer TRC, Inc.) presently serves incoming CCA students before they "graduate" to CCA's expanding San Francisco campus.  Two years ago, CCA announced plans to relocate all its operations to San Francisco and redevelop its Oakland Campus.

In the Fall of 2017, CCA introduced its development team, made up of Emerald Fund and Equity Community Builders, at an RCPC Town Hall.  That team presented preliminary plans for the redevelopment and reuse of the campus.  The plans included preserving three historic buildings and the Broadway entry gate; providing an arts-oriented area along Clifton Street at the campus' northern end that would include permanently affordable housing and studio space for Oakland artists; opening up approximately an acre of the four acre campus to the public for park use; and building between 500 and 600 new residential units.  They promised to return later with more details.

In September 2018, the development team previewed those details to the RCPC Land Use Committee, which provided some initial feedback.  A follow-up Town Hall was planned for November, but was delayed due to poor air quality resulting from the Camp Fire west of Chico. It was delayed again in December because of a scheduling conflict .The January 17th Town Hall, however, proceeded on schedule.

The plans presented at the January Town Hall fleshed out the earlier designs shown at the 2017 presentation.  There were no major revisions, but the new details included a nineteen-story high-rise residential tower near the northern end of the campus - on the other side of the new park area from the historic Treadwell Mansion.  Other added details included: the total number of residential units (589); the number of affordable units (35); the amount of affordable artist studio/live-work space (24,500 sq.ft.); the size of the park (1.5 acres); the amount of off-street parking spaces (374-449); the amount of bike parking (590 spaces); the height of perimeter buildings (65-85 ft); and the height of the high-rise tower (190 ft.).

The developers explained that a lot of market-rate housing was needed to offset the costs of preserving the historic buildings, providing the public open space, below market rate artist housing, and office space for local nonprofits, as well as the other proposed public amenities. The only way to fit all that housing on the site was a high-rise structure.  They pointed out that they had not yet submitted a formal development application to the City.  Once submitted, the project would require a general plan amendment and rezoning, as well as a full environmental impact report (EIR) to evaluate the project's visual, traffic, and other effects.  The public approval process would require two to three years, and there would be many opportunities for public input during that process.  [The next formal opportunity for public participation will be in determining the scope of the EIR.  The City's Planning and Building Dept. ought to announce when that scoping process starts.  Unfortunately, the department's web page is under construction and unavailable.  You can call the City's Planning and Building Department (238-3941) to try to get more info.]  The developers said they do not expect actual occupancy until 2024, and acknowledged that changed conditions between now and then might result in changed plans.

There followed a half-hour of questions from the audience, ranging from technical questions about the project design and architecture to queries about traffic and parking issues, which Mr. Babsin said would be fully addressed in the EIR for the project.

The last ten minute before the meeting's nine PM close were devoted to getting a general sense of where the audience was from (the majority lived within 1/2 mile of the campus) and how they felt about the project (divergent views ranging from strong support to strong opposition), followed by rapid-fire short comments.  Those comments also spanned a wide range.  A comment on the need for more housing drew applause, as did a comment on the need to focus on affordability.  A representatative of Council Member Dan Kalb's office said that the Council Member had not taken a position on the project, but that he hoped to see it contain more affordable housing than currently proposed.

Video of the presentation and discussion has been posted on RCPC's YouTube channel, along with a short presentation on a technical RCPC bylaw amendment voted on at the meeting.  Find the videos at this link.  The slides from the developer's presentation can be found on the developer's project website here.