Brown's Plan Starts to Pay Off in Oakland
CHIP JOHNSON On the East Bay
If you build it, they will come. That was the promise — and the pledge — made in 1999 by then-Mayor Jerry Brown when he took office and promptly launched an economic push to revitalize downtown Oakland.
Now, 15 years later, that effort is about to pay a large dividend. We’re way past 10K now — Brown’s plan to revive downtown Oakland with shops and restaurants and new housing units for 10,000 residents.
That plan set the stage — with housing and upgraded entertainment and dining venues to greet new arrivals — for the economic boom Oakland is now seeing, one that could change the face — and the perception — of this hard-luck city.
“There have been times when the economy around Oakland has done well but Oakland has not been able to capitalize on it,” said Fred Blackwell Jr., an assistant city administrator and the chief architect of the city’s development efforts.
“This is one of those times when the city is prospering from the return of good economic times.”
Across Oakland, there are more than 1,000 units of housing — with an investment value of more than $100 million — under construction. Another 7,500 units, including Brooklyn Basin — a transformative project on the Oakland waterfront with housing, retail and new parks planned — are in the approval process.
On the commercial side, investors have pumped more than $2.4 billion into projects that will produce 3 million square feet of office, retail and commercial space.
In the approval pipeline are building projects representing an additional 4 million square feet of retail and commercial space across the city. The city, also, has launched the first phase of a massive expansion project at the Port of Oakland.
Economic indicators are also giving city leaders a reason to smile. Revenue from business, sales, hotel and property taxes rose in 2013 to levels not seen since before the recession, Blackwell said. And with the dissolution of redevelopment agencies, the proceeds are now added to the city’s general fund budget.
One of the obstacles to Oakland’s economic growth has been the overarching presence of violent crime, a problem that has tarnished the city’s reputation. The city’s approach to the problem
— which historically has been part law enforcement, part social service
— has divided the city and its political leaders.
But in the second half of last year, the frequency of violent crime around the city began to ebb. There are still huge challenges ahead, but crime statistics suggest things are slowly getting better.
Crime remains a persistent problem on the city’s east side, but it has begun to subside in other parts of the city. Of the nine homicides recorded last month, six of them occurred east of Lake Merritt, authorities said. Those figures include two separate fatal shootings involving officers from the California Highway Patrol.
“It’s changing little by little, but it’s too early in the year to draw conclusions,” said interim Oakland Police Chief Sean Whent.
Shootings are down by 30 percent this year from this time last year and robberies have dropped 26 percent from last year’s “astronomical numbers,” he said. “Our strategies are working, and there is still a lot to do, but it’s trending in the right direction.”
I don’t usually buy government-generated buzz about renaissance and revitalization, and this is an election year, but there’s something different at work here. If you consider sheer construction volume alone and the investment it represents, it carries an unfamiliar ring of credibility.
“This is not by accident— we’re reaping the benefits of the 10K initiative, the benefits of art and culture,” Blackwell said.
“The city’s investment in the Uptown — the Fox (Theater) and tenant improvement work — the improvements around the lake, the cultivation around the art scene and a restaurant explosion has made Oakland a lot more attractive to people.”
Chip Johnson is a San Francisco Chronicle columnist. His column runs on Tuesday and Friday.
E-mail: chjohnson@ sfchronicle.com Twitter: @chjohnson