What Changes Matter In Hills Zoning

Although this seems like a snooze subject, the City of Oakland’s planners have been studying zoning refinements for years and hope to implement some improvements by 2011.  We’re at a stage where some adjustments to their proposals are still possible.

Our planners thoughtfully and patiently shared proposed changes for residential and commercial districts in the hills, at this Tuesday’s public meeting.  As a community service, let us attempt to shake down which parts mattered most for renovators and builders.

Adding Hills Regulations

The Oakland Hills would receive “Residential – Hillside” codes based on lot size.  The smallest zone, RH-4 (nee R-30), was redefined from lots under 5,000 square feet to lots under 6,500 (<20 percent slope) or 8,000 (>20 percent slope) square feet.  Although many lots and homes would become non-conforming, they get grandfathered status here – so no worries.

One new regulation would control Floor Area Ratios or FARs – the home’s total square feet vs. total lot size.  To prevent McMansion problems, the city proposed ratios and the smallest one might need work.  For lots under 5,000 square feet, the proposed caps were 2,000 square feet or .55 (55 percent) FARs – though Montclarions recommended .50 based on what other Bay Area cities do.

Another zoning addition would relate to Lot Coverage for homes with 20 percent-plus slopes.  For RH-4 lots, this regulation translated to 40 percent.  And for lots under 5,000 square feet, homes would be permitted up to 2,000 square feet as well.  While Montclarions applauded this footprint zoning, the 2,000 square foot exception was raised as a red flag.

Fixing Hills Regulations

Some proposed changes made good sense, including the newly-proposed Lot Height regulations.  In upslope lots, there’s a max height of 24 feet above the edge of the property line.  So if your home were built, say, 12 feet uphill, that prevented you from building a two-story home.  This change would measure from grade, which means the base of the home rather than property line below.

Downsloping homes needed some attention as well, because of many variances approved on homes constructed during this past decade.  The zoning changes would officially add two feet to wall and roof heights as the hills steepen, for homes built on 20-39, 40-59 and 60+ percent slopes.  This fix made sense to Montclarions hearing the details, last Tuesday.

Altering Village Zoning

Montclair Village has been considered an established commercial district, with a selective range of pedestrian-oriented retail.  Most of our central core was zoned “C-27,” while other shopping districts like Dimond, Rockridge and Lakeshore were “C-31” instead.  There were no cries for Village zoning changes.

Still, city planners wanted to create a new “CN-1” zone in the proposed update.  We asked the planners why and they didn’t have a direct response, but explained the minor differences.  Our take is that planners just wanted to eliminate our outlier zone and create consistency among pedestrian districts.

This new zoning would allow conditional use permits for additional business types like custom manufacturing or research services, possibly triggering unintended consequences down the line.  The Montclair Village Association (MVA) continues to provide oversight in our faire village, so no concerns were raised by Montclarions last Tuesday.

Speaking Up And More

Okay, we applaud you if you read this far.  Now how can you learn more or be heard?  First, there’s an “Area 1 meeting” on Monday, April 26th at North Oakland Senior Center (map) starting at 6:30 pm.  This gathering addresses a full-third of the city, including the hills.

You don’t have to wait until there’s a meeting next month.  City planners have also encouraged the public to email them right now, with any specific questions or opinions you might want to share – at zoningupdate@oaklandnet.com.

If you’re interested in diving into zoning materials, then brew a little coffee and visit the planning web site – and we suggest reading this update, residential zoning changes and hillside changes.  Last but not least, feel free to call the city planners at their update line, 510-238-7299.

Police Chief Takes To The Airwaves

This morning, Oakland Police Chief Anthony Batts appeared on KQED Forum, with Host Scott Shafer.  Some of this interview amplified what Batts has discussed at recent strategic plan meetings.  While the Chief pointed out the recent double-digit declines in crime, he didn’t sugar-coat the challenges ahead.

Plenty was covered in the radio interview, so we selected and interpreted these points of interest:

  • Priorities – The Police Department is going to staff to address the highest crime-ridden areas.  Everyone deserves to live in safe neighborhoods.   Hard to argue here, tough to achieve.
  • Beats Matter – Beat officers will be assigned to their beats, full time.  When there’s crime, they might leave their posts to attend to emergencies.   Local focus with some interruptions seems reasonable.
  • Volunteers – Like Long Beach, Oakland expects to develop a volunteer force in the hundreds.  We need to get things set up to manage these citizen volunteers.   What are incentives to work well?
  • Interface – When you want to report a crime, we won’t make it as tough to file as today.  It shouldn’t even require a visit to police station in the future.  This is something we have to fix.   Yes, doesn’t this all cost real money?
  • City Budget – There are obviously not enough cops on the street.  Our $35 million shortfall next year (2010-2011) is creating a challenge, to say the least.   To us, this is Everest challenge!

Finally, the honeymoon period is drawing to a close for Police Chief Batts.  We have the right leader in place, who signed up to the job knowing he would be jumping over many hurdles here.  He still approaches the role with plenty of focused energy.

If you haven’t been at any live meetings with the Chief, then we encourage you to listen to his archived interview now.

Montclair Restaurant Walk, Going Once

The Montclair Restaurant Walk is one hot ticket.  We suggest you act now, or else miss out on this great excuse to graze around the Village and contribute to a good cause or two.

Tickets cost $25/person, and you’ll receive a ticket book filled with coupons for each restaurant.  Buy yours today at Montclair Book Tree, Pacific National Bank, Raimondi’s Paint & Wallpaper or Viewpoint Optometric in the Village.

From what we have learned, the confirmed participants include these sixteen places:

Amba Colonial Donuts Crogan’s Montclair – El Agavero Mexican Cuisine & Bar – Farmstead Cheeses and Wines – Flavors India Bistro – Grille OneItalian Colors Ristorante – Kakui SushiMetro Cafe & Bar – Montclair Baking – Montclair Malt Shop – Pararung Thai Cuisine – Taqueria Las Comadres – Toshi Sushi – Yogafina

After the inaugural events last year, the Restaurant Walk has become a proven success for the Lions Club.  Proceeds go to Lions Blind Center of Oakland; Oakland Fund for the Arts; Montera, Skyline and Oakland Tech Schools; Fred Finch Youth Center; Lincoln Child Center; Local Boy Scout Troops  and other Lions Foundations.

Going once, twice, three times.  Remember to buy your ticket and then pencil in the Restaurant Walk date:  Tuesday, April 20th, from 6:00 – 8:30 pm.

Still Defined By A Van

Yes, we live in a time-stands-still bubble in Northern California.  At least when tourists think about Berkeley, it’s all tie-dyed dreams they imagine.  While we’re less brandished than our neighbors to the immediate north, visitors can’t seem to resist fulfilling their fantasies.

One LA-based photographer snapped this spiffy Volkswagen van during his visit to the Montclair District, as an iconic description of place.  While this VW is a nice specimen and all, it’s tiresome to still get defined by a van.

We would like to drop out as much as the next guy, but this yellow beauty isn’t resonating with your faithful blogger.  (However a white and blue-striped model triggers fond memories of my kindergarten transportation, but I digress.)

Nowadays, Montclarions move in and roots start to form pretty quickly.  We live in a place where you stay, invest and grow up.  Those yellow vans are a vanishing species, yet our wanderlust might be hidden somewhere.

More Acres For Zoo Or Not

There are some tough choices ahead for Knowland Park.  The Oakland Zoo leadership needs more space and would like to expand their acreage in the park.  Yet many locals, including the Friends of Knowland Park, want to ensure that undeveloped parkland remains untouched.

Knowland Pro-Development

Zoo administrators want room to grow, period.  They have an educational mission to accomplish, and want to improve their offerings to more than a half-million visitors annually.  One notable plan includes new exhibits featuring California species on their native turf, putting creatures who might (theoretically) run free behind fences.

In the map below, you see the expansion would add the orange outlined area to the current green area – another 40 acres or so.  Within the perimeter fence, you would find one veterinary hospital, the aforementioned California exhibits, a new service road and plenty of open space.

Knowland Anti-Development

What’s at issue in developing this area?  Well, the City of Oakland’s General Plan says, “the substantial portion of Knowland Park above the zoo and picnic grounds…is to remain in its natural state.”  This open space was supposed to stay completely undeveloped as a green corridor, leading to the East Bay Regional Parks next door.

Recently, the Chronicle published an urban outings report on hiking in the park.  We decided to take a quick trip this afternoon, and can confirm that it’s a little muddy and also dressed in green, spring finery now.  It’s nicer than we remembered.

Two Sides Meet

At this point, the train is revving up but hasn’t left the metaphorical station.  There have been all kinds of reviews and discussions taking place during the past year.

Next up?  The Oakland Zoo is holding a meeting this Thursday, from 6:30-8:30pm at the Zoo’s Marian Zimmer Auditorium (map), to obtain public comments and proceed forward.

More info:  Please read latest plans from the Oakland Zoo, as well as archived maps and documents from the Friends of Knowland Park.  To reach the Zoo, email communityinput@oaklandzoo.org.  To reach the Friends, email info@friendsofknowlandpark.org.