When he was in China earlier this month, Gov. Jerry Brown announced something that was very important to a handful of residents on a fairly obscure stretch of Oakland's waterfront. The governor said that a Chinese real estate firm would bankroll a $1.5 billion development on the Oakland Estuary, just beyond the Lake Merritt Channel and south and east of Jack London Square.
The development, now called Brooklyn Basin, would be immense. The plan calls for five high-rise apartment buildings and several mid-rise apartment blocks that would contain a total of 3,100 units. The development would also include office and retail space, marinas and parks.
The plan, which used to be called Oak to 9th (describing the waterfront from Oak Street to 9th Avenue), has been around for years. The missing ingredient was money. Now that's taken care of and work on improving infrastructure in the area can start. If all goes according to plan -- and in Oakland, we think it's fair to say that's a relatively big "if" -- the first buildings will start to rise in 2015.
Just glancing at the drawings depicting life in the future community, you think of San Francisco's South Beach—the big apartment and townhouse community that stretches south along the Embarcadero between the Bay Bridge and Phone Company Park (you know—where the Giants play). Things will be hip and trim and cleanly colorful in the new community. The parallel with South Beach would be complete if Oakland ever manages to convince the A's to go along with building a new ballpark next to the Jack London area (hopefully, your children's children will see the resolution of that one.)
But if you look more closely at the beautiful aerial view of the remade Oakland waterfront, you might notice that there's a tiny finger of low-rise property amid the shiny new apartment blocks. A 2006 design document describes that little area as "private land -- not part of project." You have to actually go down and visit the area, which runs along Fifth Avenue between the estuary and the Nimitz Freeway, to find a small community of artists and artisans there. Unlike the dream sketched out by the Brooklyn Basin promoters, this community actually exists and has for some time.
Residents wonder how much longer their good fortune—the affordable digs, the bohemian atmosphere, their intimate view of the estuary's weirdly juxtaposed natural splendor and bruised industrial waterscape—can last.
Zack Parkes is a musician who recently rented a cottage in the neighborhood. He loves it. "It’s as pure down here as it get," he said. "This place really hasn’t been changed and altered. I think it still embodies a lot of the tradition of what makes Oakland Oakland."
He said he also wonders how thousands of new residents are going to fit into an area that has limited access. "You can’t move the water," he said. "You can’t move the train tracks. It’s going to be tough to fit everyone in between."
Robert Schultz has lived in the Fifth Avenue community since the late 1970s. He said the neighborhood has successfully resisted development efforts before, but this time he thinks things are different.
"We’re just art types down here," Schultz said. "We can fight as hard as we want with sticks and stones, but they’ve got the big guns. The government does what they want to do when they want to do it."
Here's a gallery of the Fifth Avenue community and some of its residents:
An artisan community of residents, businesses and boat owners lives at the end of Fifth Avenue in Oakland. The community would be virtually enclosed by the massive new Brooklyn Basin development. (Deborah Svoboda/KQED)
Residents of a small artists' community on the Oakland waterfront, near Jack London Square, are pondering what their future holds as the city moves ahead with a massive new development in their backyard. Robert Schultz collects art -- and whatever other artifacts come his way -- and has lived in the Fifth Avenue community for about 34 years. (Deborah Svoboda/KQED)
Here two pieces from Schultz's collection sit side by side: a toy car and a vintage Studebaker. (Deborah Svoboda/KQED)
Schultz has lived in the Fifth Avenue community for about 34 years. He has rescued everything from trees to antiques and cars, and he sells some of it from his space and shop. Here Mike Hill (left) a military item collector, Schultz (center) and Jay Kline (right) talk about some of the stuff that Schultz has to offer. (Deborah Svoboda/KQED)
Musician Zach Parkes has had a recording studio and been a part of the community on Fifth Avenue for about six months. (Deborah Svoboda/KQED)
Dawn Whitaker takes a few minutes to relax and watch the birds. She's been a part of the Fith Avenue community for a couple of months. (Deborah Svoboda/KQED)
A spaceship that used to be a part of a playground at Lake Merritt now lives as part of a fence, with a bunch of other art, on Fifth Avenue. (Deborah Svoboda/KQED)
Kevin Manning has had an office overlooking the Fifth Avenue Marina for 22 years. He demonstrates one of his inventions, the "Pump-Hub," which self-inflates bike tires as you ride. (Deborah Svoboda/KQED)