It is possible to feel discouraged and powerless, but sometimes the good guys win. Once in a while, everyone turns out to be a good guy.
Twelve years ago in Oakland, a confrontation was intensifying: Some wanted to sell off public land for a new cathedral looming over Lake Merritt, and others wanted to preserve the park. I was one of the grumpy objectors. We were fighting an uphill battle, with moments of suspicion, despair and anger. But we collected signatures, researched in the library, held meetings and begged the press to cover the dastardly giveaway.
City officials requested formal proposals for development, but we troublemakers had no funds for fancy consultants. Then our volunteer team of architects came up with a visionary plan. Some city council members encouraged us; we convinced the mayor, and the tide slowly turned. A council member proposed a bond measure. In 2002 Ballot Measure DD passed by a big margin — a $200 million program for park improvements around town and at the lake. And soon after, the Diocese found another site for its cathedral.
Ambitious Measure DD undertakings included restoring and improving North Oakland's Studio One Art Center. A beautiful neighborhood sports facility rose in East Oakland. At the lake, the Pergola was rehabilitated, and at the 1909 boathouse, shabby park offices made way for a waterside restaurant.
Since 1949, a half-mile long proto-freeway, 12 lanes wide, with complex ramps and slimy pedestrian tunnels had blocked off a deteriorated beach. Now, the six-lane Lake Merritt Boulevard curves around a welcoming lake-edge park. An elegant pedestrian and bicyclist bridge encourages a diverse crowd of all ages to walk, skate or pedal a continuous path around the lake and to cross the road comfortably at traffic signals. The tides flow more vigorously through a widened channel to the estuary. A curving path along a bird marsh extends to Laney College.
There are still projects to finish. But already the taxpayers of Oakland have pulled off an amazing success. At Love Our Lake Day this weekend, we're celebrating a civic win-win-win that will make everyone feel great about their neighbors and the places we share.
With a Perspective, I'm Naomi Schiff.
Naomi Schiff represents Oakland Heritage Alliance on the Measure DD Coalition.