NovoMetro

Education in Oakland

Loving Las Vegas

Posted by novometro on September 25, 2006

In an article published this month in Democracy Journal, Joel Kotkin takes another swipe at the “condo and coffeehouse” school of urban planning. Mr. Kotkin blasts Boston, San Francisco, and Seattle for promoting “boutique” downtowns that cater to the cultural whims of well-heeled elites, but quash the aspirations of the middle class. He’s right. Cities do need to encourage and promote the strivings of the middle class (such as we still exist).

But Phoenix, Las Vegas, and Houston, three cities Mr. Kotkin points to as examples of places where newcomers can flourish largely because of affordable housing and good business conditions, grow on unsustainable models. Both Houston and Phoenix sprawl across more square miles than Oakland, San Francisco, and San Jose combined. In Phoenix and Las Vegas, water is a problem. Houston struggles with pollution and traffic congestion.

In Oakland’s case, its long-term prosperity hinges more on its ability to lure and keep immigrants than on its selling points as a temperate, reasonably cosmopolitan place to dwell without children. The ongoing debate in the Oakland City Council about the possible rezoning of certain quarters from industrial to a housing/business mix goes to the heart of this question. Should land that might incubate businesses that could create wealth for hundreds be turned into homes for hundreds of the wealthy?

Oakland Native offers his/her take Monday on what inclusionary zoning would mean for the future of Oakland’s middle class at Oakland’s Future: An Optimistic Perspective.

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5 Responses to “Loving Las Vegas”

  1. I dont’t think that Oakland is really part of the “boutique city” movement. 70% of downtown condo buyers are first-time homeowners, and beyond that, prices are far more middle-class than most of the rest of the Bay Area. It is policies like inclusionary zoning, that push huge costs onto condobuyers, that have kept San Francisco so expensive (in the name of providing “affordable” housing). Given that land costs are incredibly steep, high-density development is the most cost-effective way to provide much-needed housing, not a concerted strategy to lure the well-heeled.

    As for the zoning issues sparked by demand for living in Oakland and the decline of our manufacturing base, I fear that nobody is attempting to pass a well-crafted policy, and instead we may end up like Portland OR, with a disastrous regulation that we’ll eventually repeal. Cecily Burt of the Trib simply dismisses the contributions of service-sector workers to our local economy, even though waiters make more than the granola factory workers the city is trying to lure. Nancy Nadel’s opposition to innovative mixing of housing and industry indicates to me that she’s more concerned with keeping non-lefty voters out of her district before 2008 than creating jobs. If noise complaints are the problem, why not modify the noise ordinance? Why has nobody pointed out that planned office buildings downtown will add more jobs than the entire job totals of the areas affected by rezoning? This debate is driven by the hills representatives with little information on economic reality, Trib writers with an agenda to push, and greedy factory owners who expect the city to impose some back-handed form of commercial rent control.

  2. novometro said

    Only by the standards of Bay Area housing prices could Oakland be considered middle class. Ask any police officer or teacher if they can afford to buy a house here.

    When you say that office buildings planned for downtown will add more jobs than the job totals predicted for the areas slated for rezoning, do you mean jobs generated by the construction?

  3. Perhaps, but our new condos are strikingly cheaper than our neighborhing cities, and far less expensive than most of the existing housing stock. At least we’re moving in the right direciton. Singling our teachers and cops seems rather arbitrary, but at $80k+ starting salaries for the police, they certainly can afford a condo. The study praises conservative Sunbelt city’s for their light regulatory touch, and Oakland is here looking at imposing giant new regulations on our growth.

    I mean the long-term office jobs. Office buildings generally fit one employee for every 200 square feet. A 100,000sf office building, like Center 21 now under construction, will permanently employ 500 people, let alone any retail employment in the ground floor or generated by the office workers, and of course, the construction jobs. So, downtown will add about 2000 long-term jobs as things are going right now, Many of the jobs there will be the medium-skilled logistics jobs that replaced medium-skilled manufacturing jobs in our trade-oriented economy. And, as Cecily Burt failed to point out, retail sales taxes and office payroll taxes are better sources of city revenue than the taxes manufacturers pay.

  4. novometro said

    It’s $69,000 for the cops. And perhaps a single cop can buy a one-bedroom condo. A cop with a family might find it harder to stay. And while I allow that there is an element of pandering when one mentions the cops and the teachers in this context, there are practical reasons why first-responders should be inside city limits.

    As for the office jobs. Simply because office space is created does not mean the jobs will follow. One doesn’t have to look far to see empty office space in the Bay Area. According to Grubb and Ellis, Oakland has a vacancy rate of 11.2 percent. The sort of jobs that you are talking about often follow affordable housing. Bakersfield, for example, boasts a commercial vacancy rate of less than 5 percent.

  5. Bakersfield is the Port of Oakland’s inland hub. 11% ain’t bad (that’s a pretty healthy vacancy rate), but the high-end office space has a sharply lower vacancy rate (the small historic office buildings cluttering downtown Oakland have little demand, at least as office space), probably 8%.

    Only by building more housing can we have lots of housing, obviously. By federal law, units CANNOT be set aside for any group of people based on anything other than income. So, the city cannot use an “inclusionary” requirement to house municipal employees, since the price-capped units will be distributed by an occupation-blind lottery. Creative financing is an option the city can use to help certain groups, as Ignacio proposed during the election, but massive condo fees on the market-rate units (which are the only ones the firefighters can buy) will just make that harder.

    My point is not that industrial jobs are undesirable, but that the City Council (and those awful series of Cecily Burt articles in the Trib) isn’t hearing all sides of the issue, and seems to be dismissing housing in industrial areas without any attempt to integrate the uses. I find Burt and others’ denigration of service-sector jobs quite insulting. I am very suspicious of Councilmember Nadel, who is actively looking to shrink the population of her district before she runs for re-election. And what happens to the artists living in warehouses when residential uses are banned? This complex issue is being handled like a pro-union soundbite (save our high-paying jobs!) with no regard for the facts.

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