The City of Oakland has had a long-running affair with the idea of protected view corridors across Lake Merritt. What exactly are view corridors?

Below is a rendering the City of Oakland produced during 2010 Planning Commission discussions about protected view corridors, illustrating the most likely locations of such corridors.

This image is showing five possible view corridors. Their purpose is to preserve the views of the Tribune Tower and City Hall from selected points along the east side of Lake Merritt. If you’ve ever been out walking or biking around Lake Merrit you’ve maybe been able to squint and see these views from across the lake. View corridor supporters argue that being able to see the Tribune Tower and City Hall is an key part of the Lake Merritt experience, more important than new homes. And it is true that if you’re out walking or biking around Lake Merritt and you know what you are looking for, you can the Tribune Tower and City Hall among the dozen other highrises making up the downtown Oakland skyline. However, more likely than not you were focusing on the drum performances, picnics, fire spinners, kayaking, dancing, and  all the other people-powered activities around the lake, rather than the view of two particular buildings.

View corridors are not people. In fact, they are  just the opposite—they exclude people by reducing the number of new homes that can built in much of downtown Oakland.  This reduction in housing capacity will increase upward pressure on both rents downtown, and rents in the rest of Oakland. If downtown neighborhoods such as Lakeside can’t absorb population growth, that growth will continue to be pushed into vulnerable communities in West Oakland, Eastlake, San Antonio, and neighborhoods even further east, neighborhoods which are already struggling with skyrocketing rents and displacement. It makes no sense to ‘protect’ downtown surface parking lots while people are being forced out of their homes by a housing shortage.

They also make housing at the edges and ends of the view corridor a luxury item, as those homes along the lake are then given an exclusive legal right to those views. When the cost of housing is the highest its ever been, making housing even more expensive is the wrong way to go.

The good news is that the city of Oakland forgot about view corridors sometime around 2012 and they never made it to the full city council. The bad news is that they’ve remembered them and pro-gentrification special interests are lobbying the city to bring them back.

On Wednesday the 27th, the Oakland Planning Commission will again address the issue of “protected view corridors.” Although opponents of new downtown housing have tried to use view corridors as a reason to block new buildings, such corridors have never been formally adopted by the planning commission. They do not legally exist and yet city staff are treating them as a possibility. If they were to be legalized, the process would take another 2-5 years and we don’t have that sort of time when dozens of families are being evicted and displaced from their homes in Oakland every month.

Unfortunately, many of those anti-housing, pro-gentrification groups are again are lobbying Oakland to such adopt protected view corridors. If they succeed, it will drastically reduce the number of homes that can be built in downtown Oakland, especially the Lakeside neighborhood by Lake Merritt.

We can stop the adoption of protected view corridors, but only if we get organized. Next Wednesday, September 27th is a regular meeting of the Oakland Planning Commission. A housing project with 179 homes at 1344 Webster is proposed which, if successful, would place a high-rise tower smack in the middle of two of these proposed corridors, killing them for at least a generation.

East Bay for Everyone will be putting out another call to action soon with more information about 1344 Webster. In the meantime, save the date! Mark your calendar! Plan to Show Up for housing!

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