Oakland: Lake Merritt BART

TransForm is working with local stakeholders and the City of Oakland to unlock the Lake Merritt station area's strong potential as a new model for a high density,  transit-oriented, walkable community in the region. The Lake Merritt BART Station area currently hosts moderate density housing but has little in the way of character and identity.

The Great Communities Collaborative and the Oakland Chinatown Coalition recently completed the video below to provide background on the Lake Merritt Station Area Plan and how community members feel about this opportunity to shape the future of their neighborhood.

For more information about APEN and the efforts of the Oakland Chinatown Coalition, please see APEN's webpage for this campaign and sign  their petition to tell BART and Oakland City Council that the community’s needs should be met within future redevelopment efforts


  • We continue to urge staff and key elected officials  to adopt policies that will help Oakland grow without displacing current residents.
  • We are reaching out to key stakeholders, staff and elected officials to facilitate the creation of a Parking Benefits District in the Oakland Chinatown Community that will lead to more accessible parking while creating a new revenue stream to meet community identified needs.

Click here to see details about the Lake Merritt BART Station Area Plan and to see the latest "Draft Preferred Plan" for the area on the City of Oakland's website.

Economic study suggests "trigger" to capture benefits for residents

Findings from a Strategic Economics Study Suggest High-Rise Development Not Likely Around the Lake Meritt BART Station Area for the Next 10-15 Years; Lower Trigger for Density Bonus Suggested to Capture Benefits from Viable Low-Rise Development in Area  (Report Attached Below)

A report commissioned by the Great Communities Collaborative shows that, despite all of our dreams of creating as much high-density as possible around the Lake Merritt BART Station, the market will most likely not allow for sufficient returns on anything much higher than low-rise buildings for another 10-15 years. In summary, the exhorbitant costs of building concrete and steel buildings (required infrastructure for anything over 5 stories) and the relatively lower rents in the vicinity simply won't provide a significant enough return on the investment to build anything much higher than 4-5 stories tall.

As a result of this analysis, and to ensure that developers can provide benefits to the community in return for the right to build higher than 2 stories in the area, TransForm, the Chinatown Coalition and others are suggesting that a "trigger" be set for the requirement of connected community benefits to be provided by any new development over 2.5 stories.

TransForm and our allies are currently working with City staff and key stakeholders to help identify the best possible policy that will encourage responsible, high-density development that provides a benefit to the existing community that will be impacted by the new development. The report is attached below. The City of Oakland is now building on this report by funding their own analysis through AECOM, which is expected to be released on Sept. 1st, 2013.

February 2012: Oakland City Council Directs Staff
to Include a Mechanism for Community Benefits!

APEN, Asian Health Services, the East Bay Asian Local Development Corporation, TransForm, the Chinatown Chamber of Commerce, Alameda County Building Trades Council and others succeed in conveying the need for community benefits at the last meeting of the Oakland City Council!

We need you to join us in continuing to stand with local residents in ensuring that future development supports the needs of Oakland residents and brings economic growth to the neighborhood!



The City and BART are designing a 25-year plan that will guide future development in and around the Lake Merritt BART station and Oakland Chinatown. Over the next 25 years, the current plan proposes to almost double the population, construct thousands of new units, and give away development entitlements for unlimited heights in some areas with no contributions for community benefits and no requirements for affordable housing.

At the February 25, 2012 Oakland Planning Commission hearing, the Commissioners agreed with the community members that development should be linked to contributions for community benefits.  However, the plan that is being discussed does not yet contain these policies.

As part of this planning process, BART is seeking to develop the 2 blocks around the Lake Merritt BART station.  It was only a little over 40 years ago that the construction of the BART station there displaced 75 families, a former orphanage, and a church.  Chinatown is no stranger to displacement as it was forced to move several times throughout the years.

Without policies to support community benefits and affordable housing, the project will inevitably lead to the displacement of existing low-income residents.  We need policies that require community benefits to build strong neighborhoods and take advantage of a once-in-a-generation opportunity to build a thriving Chinatown and Oakland for everyone.  

Join Us!

Ø  Tell Oakland city council members to revise the plan and make it reflect the current diversity of incomes in the neighborhood

·         Require policies for heights and density to provide community benefits, such as affordable housing;

·         Create a requirement in the Plan where 30% of new units developed on publicly owned land are made affordable (including for extremely low and very low-income families) through a housing overlay zone (such as increased density, increased height, reduced parking requirements, unbundled parking, etc., in exchange for affordable housing).

Ø  Development should strengthen and enhance the existing community

·         Chinatown is a vibrant neighborhood that is desirable and transit-rich, but development should not be done at the expense of the existing community.   Community members have prioritized mixed-income & family housing, two-way streets, support for small businesses, additional active park space, new community / youth centers, and strategies to address air pollution from car traffic.

·         There are successful cities and neighborhoods around the country, such as Berkely, San Leandro, San Diego and Seattle, which have adopted policies for heights and density to provide critical community benefits.

Ø  Oakland and the region benefits from mixed-income housing for working families

·         While market-priced housing makes up 70% of the housing in the neighborhood now, affordable housing represents 30%.  The plan should include mechanisms to preserve this ratio that supports current small businesses and allows workers to live close to their jobs.

·         Almost 90% of families in the neighborhood earn less than $75,000, which would qualify them for affordable housing.  An astounding two-thirds of Oakland residents are earning less than $75,000 and would not be able to live in this neighborhood without affordable housing.

·         Currently, a majority of workers are in the service employment and retail sectors, and typically cannot afford market-rate housing. With most job creation in the planning area anticipated to be office and retail, housing needs to be made affordable for these future workers, whether they are waiting on tables, cleaning offices, or selling merchandise.

Ø  Chinatown is a vibrant neighborhood that must be protected, not displaced and destroyed

·         More than 80% of the neighborhood’s residents are renters, who are highly susceptible to in-direct displacement (through gradual market-rate rental increases) if affordable housing is not preserved and developed.   Almost all rental apartments that are not subsidized or are exempt from the city’s rent control ordinance are near the BART station, the area most likely to see the greatest price appreciation as a result of development on the BART blocks.

·         The development of affordable housing is critical for protecting against displacement.  There is already a mismatch between the low incomes of neighborhood residents and the average cost of existing housing.  A significant need for more affordable housing already exists in the area now, even before planning for the future. 

Ø  Oakland doesn’t achieve environmental sustainability without affordable housing near transit

·         Oakland has adopted a goal of reducing greenhouse gas emissions 36% by 2020 and 85% by 2050. One strategy for the City to achieve both its greenhouse gas reduction and housing goals is to maximize the number of affordable housing units in transit-oriented development.

·         Low-income households are more likely to engage in practices that promote sustainability – they are less likely to own a car, more likely to carpool or take transit, more likely to walk, and generally make shorter trips than households of middle to high-income levels. Locating housing for people of lower incomes closer to transit doesn't just make economic sense, but is more environmentally sustainable by facilitating greater transit use.

·         Development targeted to high-income households means core transit users, such as renters and low-income households, can be displaced by higher income, car-owning, non-transit riders, defeating the goal of transit-oriented development.

Ø  Without affordable housing and anti-displacement policies, regional funding is at risk

·         MTC and ABAG have adopted a goal to “House 100% of the region’s projected 25-year growth by income level (very-low, low, moderate, above-moderate) without displacing current low-income residents.” 

·         As part of the regional Sustainable Communities Strategy, the Lake Merritt BART Station Area is slated as a potential Priority Development Area.  Regional agencies are calling for affordable housing and other anti-displacement policies as a criteria for securing regional transportation investment and funding. Ensuring affordable housing in the Lake Merritt Station Area Plan will help to acquire that funding for the area.

TransForm and the Great Communities Collaborative's Goal in the Planning Process

TransForm's goal is to maximize community involvement by helping local stakeholders identify their own community needs and assets, helping them to understand the potential of transit oriented development, and to help facilitate as much local resident, merchant and worker participation in the planning process as possible.

Some links to the websites of key stakeholders we're working with include the following: 

TransForm has been focusing our work with our Great Communities Collaborative Partners (APEN, AHS, and EBALDC) in making sure the Station Area Plan includes mechanisms  and policies that will help to meet the community's needs (as determined in an earlier survey we worked with the community on), including;

  • Affordable & family housing
  • Support for small businesses
  • Improved and additional active park space
  • Community and youth centers
  • Safer streets with two-way streets and lighting
  • Strategies to address traffic and air pollution

The Great Communities Collaborative is now helping the above stakeholders and their members in the development of and advocacy for key policies to be included in the plan that will help win the aforementioned community benefits, giving developers the time-sensative certainty they need, and the local community the confidance in future redevelopment efforts within their community.

The end result of our combined efforts will be to have assisted key stakeholders and the City in creating a Specific Plan to guide redevelopment in meeting the community's needs while making the surrounding neighborhoods more livable and walkable, and better connecting the Lake Merritt BART Station area to the surrounding neighborhoods, and to the region as a whole. The Lake Merritt Station Area Plan will seek to better connect all the neighborhoods within a 10 minute walk or bike ride to the BART station.

To learn more and get involved in our Great Communities Collaborative efforts, please contact TransForm staffer Joél Ramos or APEN staffer Vivian Huang at 510-834-8920 x304 or vivianh@apen4ej.org.

Strategic Economics Development Feasibility Analysis of the LMBSAP164.83 KB