Oakland Local

The corner of Piedmont Avenue and West MacArthur Boulevard has been under construction for years. At 35,000 square feet, or roughly half the size of a football field, the triangular parcel was originally slated for a medical administrative building, according to the 2006 Kaiser Permanente Master Plan, the guiding document of the phased redevelopment of the Kaiser medical center campus.

Now, the corner remains in limbo, caught in the middle of a conflict involving neighborhood residents and landowner Kaiser Permanente, which now seeks to develop the corner into a private, fenced-off garden.

Community residents launched an online petition against the landscape design plans, specifically objecting to the 7-foot height of a planned “zig-zag” fence around the perimeter of the garden that will bar entrance to the area for everyone except maintenance workers. Residents are asking for the fence to go no higher than 6 feet and for the garden to be open to the public during the day. The online petition seeks to organize support for an appeal to the Oakland City Planning Commission.

Lucia Hwang, a Richmond Boulevard resident who has been involved in the medical center building process as a community member, said, “Our discussions with Kaiser and their own project drawings have always led us neighbors to believe that space would be publicly accessible, so we were pretty shocked to learn that they were going to put up this towering fence around a humongous garden and not allow anybody inside.”

Hwang described her confusion when told that neither Kaiser staff, patients, nor the public would be allowed to use the landscaped space. “At the community meeting on July 25, a Kaiser rep told us that ‘only gardeners’ would get to go into the garden,” Hwang said.

As of press time, the online petition received over 400 signatures and numerous public comments in support of the appeal, with many claiming that the plans for a private garden are both contrary to the goals of the Kaiser Permanente Master Plan and insulting to the neighborhood.

Sarah Cohen, a local resident and the author of the online petition, said, “Kaiser exists in a vibrant urban community. We love what we have worked hard to preserve—a neighborhood of unique strength, character and vitality. Kaiser’s proposal to fence off the garden to everyone but gardeners is antithetical to the spirit of our community.”

Jim Kautz, Senior Project Manager at Kaiser Permanente National Facilities Services, says that Kaiser has worked with the neighborhood in the development of the garden plans and feels that residents unhappy with the plans are more vocal than those in favor of the fence and closed garden. According to Kautz, some residents fear that “vagrants might start to use the property and that illegal activities might occur, so [some residents] welcomed and encouraged that the property be fenced.”

“Kaiser has been on that corner site for over 70 years,” Kautz said. “We have been dealing with our neighbors for over 70 years and we are very careful that we make promises to our neighbors that we can keep. We are very concerned that if we make [the garden] accessible that we can’t promise that we can make it safe for people.” Kautz cited increased maintenance and security costs as barriers to maintaining safety on the corner. Kautz said that the corner will have roughly 7,000 feet of public open space, with landscaping along the set-back fence, security lights and cameras, as well as an emergency call box.

That isn’t enough for Sarah Cohen however, who seeks a different compromise. “Oakland is not a city of us versus them. It is a city that rolls up its sleeves to solve its problems with creativity and vision. In a conversation about whatever problem Kaiser thinks it will be solving by keeping those of us who support Kaiser and are members, employees or neighbors of Kaiser on the other side of a fence, we say let’s create a community asset, not an anti-community barrier,” Cohen said.

The short URL for this post is http://oak.lc/lwlgD.

21 thoughts on “Community residents battle plans for private Kaiser garden

  1. Many thanks to Oakland Local for covering this story. We neighbors just wanted to add a few key details that didn’t make it into the article.

    First, neighbors are not opposing the fence entirely. While many of us wished Kaiser had been more creative with their landscape architects in designing a space that could be visible and secure without a fence, we were willing to compromise and accept some kind of fencing.

    If you read our petition, our main requests are that Kaiser make the garden accessible to the public DURING THE DAY, and that it limits the height of fencing to six feet tall.

    We believe these are reasonable requests and actually improves security at that site — a benefit all the urban planning experts and literature confirm. By cutting off active uses of that land, Kaiser is creating a big dead zone at an important city intersection, potentially inviting, not deterring, crime.

    There are many other arguments supporting our position, which I can’t explain in detail here. But I’ll leave you with this:

    Wouldn’t it be wonderful for Kaiser staff, patients and their families, members waiting for appointments or prescriptions, nearby residents, and pedestrians to be able to sit in the garden and be in nature? To us, that’s the meaning of “thrive.”

    If you agree, please sign our petition!

  2. Just to clarify, neighbors think the fence should be *behind* the row of trees (not that weird zig-zag in front of them), and open during the day, closed at night. It’s a rational and moderate position.

  3. Many thanks to Oakland Local for covering this story. We neighbors wanted to add a few key points that didn’t make it into the article.

    First, the neighborhoods are not opposing the fence entirely. Though many of us wished that Kaiser had been more creative with its landscape architects to design a space that could have been visible and secure without the need for fences, we compromised and are accepting that there will be a fence.

    If you read our petition, you will see that what we are specifically asking is that the garden inside the fencing be accessible to the public DURING THE DAY, and that the fence be no more than six feet tall.

    We believe these are completely reasonable requests and not only help the project fulfill the city’s planning and design goals for the entire hospital complex, but will actually IMPROVE security at the site. By cutting off all active use of that space, Kaiser is creating a big dead zone at that important city intersection. According to the city’s own planning documents and urban planning experts, these dead zones can invite crime. By having staff, patients, and the community use the garden, there will be many, many people watching that space. And, by the way, the business papers reported that Kaiser Permanente made $2.6 billion in “net income” (e.g. profit) in 2012, so we think it can afford to provide maintenance and a little security for this space.

    There are many other arguments in favor of a publicly accessible garden during the day, but not enough space to make them here. We’ll just leave you with this last thought: Wouldn’t it be wonderful for Kaiser hospital workers, patients and family members, Kaiser members waiting for appointments or prescriptions, nearby residents, and city pedestrians to be able to sit in the garden and be in nature? To us, that’s the true meaning of “thrive.” If you agree, please sign our petition!

  4. Since Kaiser Permanente has only been in existence since October 1, 1945, it is unlikely that Kaiser has been on that corner for 70 years.

    http://share.kaiserpermanente.org/article/history-of-kaiser-permanente/

    This is yet another example of the false and misleading statements that representatives from Kaiser have used to bully surrounding neighborhoods and the City of Oakland into doing whatever Kaiser wants during the entire development process.

    Let’s not forget that Kaiser attempted to move their medical center out of Oakland and into Emeryville back around 2000. The citizens sent Kaiser resounding message when the voted down Kaiser’s proposal. The only way Kaiser could comply with the seismic upgrades required by California law for the MacArthur/Broadway hospital was to locate it at it’s current location.

    Thrive indeed.

  5. It’s a rational and moderate position to believe that Kaiser should provide, maintain, and police a park at no cost to you? It’s amazing what some people can convince themselves is rational and moderate.

  6. Our family have lived here as neighbors as well as health plan members of Kaiser Oakland for 19 years. We do not understand why Kaiser would want this garden in the middle of a thriving and vital community to be closed to all but the gardeners. Visiting a garden is good for your physical, mental and emotional health! Why not have the garden open during the day for use by all – members, staff and the general public?

  7. Albert, please understand: it’s not a park. It’s a garden. Several years ago, when Kaiser decided, during the course of gaining approval for the entire hospital project, that they would delay building a Medical Office Building at the site for approximately 15 or more years, they were required, as a condition of approval by the City of Oakland, to landscape the 35,000 square foot lot. The fact that they intended to close it off with an 8 foot tall iron fence wasn’t announced to the community until this past April, though earlier renderings of the corner never included a fence. Discussions with staff who work at the complex have shown that they, too, were under the impression that the garden would be open.

  8. “If you read our petition, our main requests are that Kaiser make the garden accessible to the public DURING THE DAY, and that it limits the height of fencing to six feet tall.

    We believe these are reasonable requests and actually improves security at that site — a benefit all the urban planning experts and literature confirm. By cutting off active uses of that land, Kaiser is creating a big dead zone at an important city intersection, potentially inviting, not deterring, crime. ”
    +++++++
    Forgive my ignorance, but how is prohibiting people from being in the garden going to invite crime? Isn’t it easier to see who is trespassing if no one is suppose to be there? Also, isn’t a 8 foot fence harder to scale than a 6 foot fence?

    If you allow people there during the day it’s pretty naive to think that vagrants and homeless people would not be attracted to hangout there since it’s open to everyone. If people are gathering at that spot, how is crime going to go down? I would think that with the uptick in robberies, it would be a heck of a lot easier to invite crime than prevent it. Will OPD have enough resources to now watch that area?

    I’m FAR from a Kaiser fan as I always decline to use them and would rather pay more than to be seen there, however, I can recognize that it’s there space. It’s pretty presumptuous to think what a non-government company can or can not do with it’s own building/land and it’s profits for your own benefit.

  9. Actually, law enforcement officials and urban planning experts consistently confirm that having responsible users of a space like this garden deters crime. The thinking is that If Kaiser staff, members, and neighbors are present, many eyes will be watching what happens there, versus everybody avoiding that area because nobody wants to hang around a tall fence. And yes, of course it’s Kaiser’s land, nobody is disputing that. But property owners develop their land in accordance with rules and standards set by the city’s planning department. In this case, the Kaiser Oakland Medical Center Master Plan requires Kaiser to activate its property’s bordering streets, connect with neighborhoods, promote pedestrian activity, and create inviting outdoor spaces. There is a link to the Master Plan in this article if you would like to read it for yourself.

  10. I think all of the residents who sign the Change.org petition should be required to open their private front and back yards to the public and they have to pay for the upkeep themselves. See how that works?

    It is Kaiser’s property, they can do with it what they please in my opinion.

  11. For the people who think it’s Kaiser’s property to do anything they want with and neighbors should open their own years to the public:

    1. The city’s zoning code does not allow neighbors to have such high front yard fences.

    2. The garden would undoubtedly be used primarily by Kaiser staff and by the 1.5 million patients and visitors to the facility who were anticipated in the Environmental Impact Report for the project. A friend who used to work as a ward clerk at Children’s Hospital said a hospital is a very high-stress environment, and she used to be desperate to get outside for a break to clear her head.

    3. “Kaiser” is actually a complex collection of for-profit and non-profit entities, depending upon which structure is to their financial advantage. So the doctors’ group is for-profit, but the property is held by a non-profit which pays *no* property taxes and avoids a number of other taxes levied on most businesses. I don’t see a little public benefit–which will actually mostly benefit their own staff and patients–as a significant burden.

  12. “Actually, law enforcement officials and urban planning experts consistently confirm that having responsible users of a space like this garden deters crime. The thinking is that If Kaiser staff, members, and neighbors are present, many eyes will be watching what happens there, versus everybody avoiding that area because nobody wants to hang around a tall fence.
    +++++++++
    You still didn’t answer my question on how it would deter crime versus invite crime. Wouldn’t Kaiser staff members, security cameras, and neighbors be able to spot illegal activity since no one is suppose to be there?

    Robberies in Oakland are way up. People are getting held up by gun point in broad day light in nice areas and in groups of people at alarming rates. Wouldn’t an open area where anyone can hangout be a more target rich environment than an area that no one is hanging out at?

    Also, who is going to enforce people not being there at night? Again, does OPD all of the sudden now have more money and LEO’s to enforce the law at that location?

    You mentioned ” And yes, of course it’s Kaiser’s land, nobody is disputing that. But property owners develop their land in accordance with rules and standards set by the city’s planning department. ”

    Kaiser has been approved by the city planning department which means that they are in compliance with the rules and standards.

  13. 1. forget about the “gardeners’” only garden, which eliminates the need for the fence. Make it an open area with benches, planters, some trees so that people can be allowed on Kaiser property. I do like a garden but it’s like putting it in a cage in a zoo.
    2. yes, it’s Kaiser property but it got humungous with some millions of dollars from members like myself. yes, it’s Kaiser property and it’s infringing upon this community, its traffic, snarling around the area, it employees driving daily through the streets along with patients on their way to appointments via our communities side streets. The roads up and down Richmond, Piedmont and MacA Blvd are showing signs of wear and tear, cracking and NEED REPAIR. Being Kaiser property, Kaiser shouldn’t take the surrounding area and people for granted- we are not Kaiser property

  14. Hi there, “A”:

    I am not a robber, but if I were, I would target someone walking along a long stretch of sidewalk by his or herself with no one else around, not someone surrounded by lots of people. That way, when I am robbing that someone walking along this long stretch of sidewalk by his or herself, there won’t be many people around to witness my crime or to help. According to all of the police officers I have talked with, crime prevention trainings I have attended, and cop shows I have watched on TV, robbers prefer to do their robbing when there are few people around.

    Again, we are not asking for the garden to be open at night. Just during daylight hours. Kaiser can close up the gates at night if it wants.

    I am not usually this paranoid, but are you affiliated with Kaiser? Would you mind sharing your real name?

    Thank you for the opportunity to answer your insightful questions.

  15. Thanks for publishing this. I’m not an immediate neighbor, so perhaps that’s why I’m only hearing about this mid-November. I think it’s really sad that Kaiser would pass up the opportunity to create a publicly usable civic space at a prominent intersection like Piedmont and MacArthur. If the space is welcoming and usable, safety issues – particularly crime – would be ameliorated.

    I just have to say, what a big, ugly monstrosity of a building the new hospital is! I know they were going for efficiency, or why would they look to Soviet-era architecture for a model. The LEAST they can do, after inflicting this on the Oakland environment, is provide a green space for us.

  16. Instead of whining and complaining – residents should be thanking Kaiser for renovating the surrounding buildings and neighborhood. 4-5 years ago this area was a piece with drug dealers and prostitutes walking the street – now look at it! Thank you Kaiser for pumping money into the community. Now no longer am I afraid that my car is going to get broken into when I go to dinner along piedmont or hang out in Mosswood park. How many millions/billions of dollars does Kaiser need to pump into the community to make them happy?

    Remember the MB Center Mall? Before there was NO garden, no trees, no anything – and now Kaiser is going to build an expansive green space and the residents are complaining? Mosswood park full of syringes and homeless people. Kasier renovated the basketball courts and added two kid playgrounds as well as a state of the art medical facility across the street Providing jobs to the destitute city of Oakland.

    More thanking less whining!

  17. At the public hearing, the City Planning Commissioners voted unanimously to direct Kaiser to design the corner space to be open to the public in the daytime. They also pointed out that the design submitted to the commission was very passive, and encouraged Kaiser to think of ways to alter the design to “activate the space,” as that would encourage greater use and therefor greater public safety in the area.

    As part of their testimony, neighbors showed the Commission minutes of a 2008 community meeting in which Kaiser told the neighbors the green space on the corner would be publicly accessible. Neighbors also showed a rendering of the space Kaiser had presented to the community at the time, showing happy crowds of people sitting at patio tables with umbrellas on the corner. The tables and umbrellas are not required, but it was abundantly clear that whatever the final design, the intent and promise in the plans presented by Kaiser during the permitting process and approved by the city was that the space would be publicly accessible until Kaiser needs to build the medical office building approved for the site. This was not something the neighbors thought up on a recent whim.

  18. Kyle, just for your own safety, you should be aware–though not afraid–that this is still an urban area. Police tell us at our neighborhood meetings that car break-ins *are* an ongoing problem in this beat, in spite of Kaiser’s construction to comply with state seismic standards. Do not leave valuables visible. Also, this beat has been part of the state-wide wave of street robberies, 75% of which involve cell phones. OPD recommends that you not walk down the street texting–and advertising that you have a nice smart phone.

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