Oakland's newest downtown plaza keeps getting smaller, and bicycle and pedestrian advocates aren't happy about it.
In July, the city blocked off the intersection of Telegraph Avenue at Broadway and turned it into a temporary pocket park, hopeful that it would bring some of the energy of Oakland's Uptown Arts District closer to the grittier city center.
But with a few merchants on Telegraph Avenue upset over lost business, the city quickly opened up one lane of traffic on Telegraph feeding into Broadway. Now, as Oakland considers a permanent plaza design, city planners are proposing to shrink the plaza again and restore two-way traffic between Broadway and Telegraph.
Planning Director Rachel Flynn said the proposal submitted to the City Council on Friday is a compromise that will satisfy merchant concerns and nearly quadruple the original Latham Square -- a triangular-shaped nook on the intersection of the two thoroughfares -- into a 9,500 square foot plaza.
But opponents said the city is giving up on what had been a successful project.
"This is a unique opportunity to create a safe pedestrian-only space," said Jonathan Bair of Walk Oakland Bike Oakland. "Instead it is being spurned for the same old car-first planning that has not served Oakland well in the past."
The council's four-member Public Works Committee will consider the issue Dec. 17 and the full council will take it up next month. If a community meeting about the plaza last week is any indication, there will be lots of public input. That meeting at City Hall was standing room only, Bair said, "And it wasn't because a whole lot of angry drivers showed up."
San Leandro leader testifies in fraud trial
San Leandro City Councilwoman Diana Souza took the witness stand this week in a public corruption trial involving an Alameda County agency she was once supposed to oversee.
The Alameda County District Attorney's Office called in Souza as a witness to talk about her role as chairwoman of the governing board of the Alameda County Associated Community Action Program, or ACAP.
The agency's former leader, Nanette Dillard, and Dillard's husband, Paul Daniels, who was grants manager, are now on trial for charges they defrauded Alameda County and the federal government of nearly $500,000.
Prosecutors have spent weeks trying to make a case to jurors that Dillard and Daniels knowingly misused county money, but defense attorneys -- led by Tom Mesereau, who helped get singer Michael Jackson acquitted of molestation charges in 2005 -- are arguing the couple is being scapegoated for deeper problems with Alameda County's finances and governance.
Souza was grilled under cross-examination this week about the five years she served on the 13-member board of elected officials that governed the agency. Other public officials who have testified in the trial include former Albany Mayor Robert Lieber, who was chairman of the ACAP board before Souza took the role.
Alameda County fire chief to retire at 42
Alameda County Fire Chief Demetrious Shaffer is retiring just a year after he was appointed to the job. Shaffer was unable to be reached for comment Friday afternoon after county officials made the announcement, but he is leaving to spend time with his family, according to a county statement.
The chief, who turns 42 this month, has been considered a rising star in California firefighting. He is president of the California Fire Chiefs Association and was fire chief in Newark for five years until that city's fire department consolidated with the county in 2010. He began his career in Campbell and Mountain View.
The Alameda County Board of Supervisors appointed Shaffer in December 2012 after he had already been leading the department in an interim role for six months after the departure of Sheldon Gilbert, who went to work as a lobbyist for Paramedics Plus. Gilbert is also a past president of the California Fire Chiefs Association.
Newark to consider updated general plan
The two-year process to update Newark's general plan and its environmental impact report is scheduled to reach its final destination at a City Council meeting Thursday night.
There, the five-member council will consider approving the planning documents after a formal public hearing.
Newark's updated general plan, which crafts the city's 20-year vision for land-use decisions, has drawn criticism from local environmentalists and regional agencies. Drawing the most ire has been Area 4, a 560-acre parcel on the southwestern edge of the city where plans call for building 500 homes and a golf course.
The Planning Commission's vote on the issue was delayed throughout October, as the panel granted residents' requests to give the public more time to respond to the final draft.
City officials, meanwhile, have emphasized that a vote for the new general plan is not necessarily a vote for a specific project. Newark Community Development Director Terrence Grindall has said that individual developments, including Area 4, will undergo their own public approval processes, separate from that of the general plan.
A draft of the updated plan and its environmental impact report is available to the community at the Newark Public Library and at City Hall. It also is available online at www.newark.org.