Most New Year’s resolutions are solemn commitments to self-improvement. We vow to be more disciplined, less indulgent, better citizens or lovers or fathers. Not me. This year, I resolve to kill something.
Make that five things. Ever since the dawn of mankind, the East Bay has been humiliated by comparisons to San Francisco. Sure, the West Bay has hills and views and nightlife and architecture and whatever, but we haven’t exactly done ourselves any favors. Time after time, we’ve built ugly, useless, tacky megaliths that disrupt the organic rhythm of urban life, plunge our cities millions into debt, and demean our lives by their sheer proximity. We’re surrounded by canker sores masquerading as buildings or public spaces. They retard our potential and blight our landscape. From strip malls and multiplexes in the ‘burbs to every major construction project from the 1960s, our very souls are corrupted by these monstrosities.
No more, I say. It’s time to lance these boils and remake the East Bay into something worthy of its people. By the end of 2006, the following buildings, institutions, or landscapes must be destroyed. Read on. Consider the facts. Then rise up and wipe them off the face of the earth.
The McAfee Coliseum. Three words: Fuck Al Davis. When the Oakland Raiders owner left town in 1982, he didn’t just abandon the town that loved him — he triggered a plague of team owners playing one midsize city off another and extorting hundreds of millions in publicly funded stadium construction. When he returned to the Coliseum in 1995, his price was that the city and Alameda County build a new wall of additional bleachers, known as “Mount Davis,” at a cost of roughly $180 million, much of which fell into the laps of Davis’ cronies at contractor Tudor-Saliba. And let’s not forget the lawsuits — we sued him, he sued us, and the whole project became a ghastly mess. When the Raiders’ contract to play in Oakland ends in 2011, does anyone really think Davis will stick around unless we sweeten the pot yet again?
It’s time to kick this gangster to the curb, and the Coliseum with it. In the best-case scenario, the Oakland A’s will play in a new stadium somewhere else in town and we’ll be stuck with a facility that hosts a football team just eight days a year. Lewis Wolff, the A’s new owner, wants the city to buy land for a new baseball stadium, but why look for a site when you already have a perfect candidate? Tear down the Coliseum, build a new ballpark and housing/retail complex next to BART and the freeway, and secure baseball in Oakland for good. Plus, we get the added benefit of saying … what was that phrase again? Oh yeah: Fuck Al Davis.
On to the California Department of Health Services laboratory, at the corner of Shattuck Avenue and Berkeley Way. On one end, you have the Gourmet Ghetto. On the other end, you have downtown Berkeley’s movie theaters, restaurants, and nightclubs. But for some reason, there’s an eerie no-man’s-land that keeps the two from becoming one grand boulevard of eateries and nightlife. That’d be the intervening parking lot and hideous eight-story monolith, where worker bees once toiled in research laboratories run by the state Department of Health Services.
The building is gray, appallingly modernist, and vacant — the state has moved almost all its research activities to a new Richmond facility, and is required by law to cede control of the property to UC Berkeley thanks to a 1995 law sponsored by then-Assemblyman Tom Bates. According to Jeff Bond, a senior planner with the university’s Capital Projects Department, Cal will probably use the property for academic research. However, he added, “There is a provision in the Bates legislation that would designate the Shattuck frontage for uses that would generate revenue for the city.”
In other words, we could finally link the two retail corridors together. Unfortunately, negotiations over price have dragged on since 2004, even though Bates’ law mandates that the state hand over the site for peanuts. The longer state officials hold onto the fiction that they have the legal right to squeeze the UC system, the longer we have to put up with this big wart.
Blackhawk Plaza. Shopping malls are a fact of life. And since downtowns gave up the ghost decades ago, suburban residents rely on them for groceries, consumer goods, and clothes. But no one needs the pustulating sore known as Blackhawk Plaza shopping center, Danville’s vile, faux-Italianate retail manifestation of the East Bay’s McMansion craze. Gutting this perfumed corpse would be a work of art. The plaza is an oval portico of Doric columns that surround a terraced collection of lagoons and whitewater rapids. Shoppers can choose from the finest plastic surgery, Ann Taylor outlets, Maxfield Parrish prints, and Lancôme microdermabrasion creams. Look, sprawl development is essentially the only way working-class residents can afford a house in the East Bay, and malls are their inevitable adjuncts. But anyone who goes to Blackhawk’s spa to get a “Maha Experience” featuring “special Thai healing herbs” should be shot on the spot.
The South Shore of Alameda. You’d think islands would have plenty of, you know, shores. But you’d be dead wrong in the case of Alameda, which turned its south shore from a pristine wetland into a nightmare of squat, tacky apartments that must die now. Right at the top of the list are the South Shore Beach and Tennis Club condominiums, a haven for hot tubs and coked-up dentists if ever there was one. As local architect Kirk Peterson says, this stain has got to go. “The whole things should be nuked, and it should be a wetland again,” he says. “And really smart-growth, dense urban housing should be built on the Naval Air Station to house all those people. And no cars; if you wanna live in the Naval Air Station, you can’t own a car. Take the ferry or something.”
The Kaiser Convention Center. Last summer, the Oakland City Council barely managed to balance its budget by closing both the city jail and Lake Merritt’s Henry Kaiser convention center. Both moves were blessings in disguise. The police station and jail complex is a nasty piece of institutional depression, and seismically unsafe to boot. Moving the cop shop elsewhere would free up land that could help link downtown Oakland with Jack London Square, the city’s only real nightlife scene. And ripping down the Kaiser auditorium would do wonders for the city. A wall of institutional space — including the Oakland Museum, the school district headquarters, Laney College, and the auditorium — separates the working-class bungalows of the lower Eastlake district from downtown, and transforming the old auditorium into middle-class and affordable housing would finally link the two districts. The auditorium and the Calvin Simmons Theater have underperformed for years, and demand for housing by the lake and the estuary is raging. With this budget crisis, we finally get a chance to transform a gray block of institutions into something more human. But we’d better do it fast, before someone turns the auditorium into a megachurch.