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.
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.