Public Comment

As Art Schools go the Way of Plant Stores in the 70s, CCA Launches Plans to Sell Off Oakland Campus for High Rise Development

Robert Brokl, Alfred Crofts
Friday October 11, 2019 - 04:21:00 PM

The historic California College of Art (the Crafts part of the name was excised years back) in Rockridge, on a 4+ acre wooded site, is threatened by sale, for a high rise housing development. The CCA board, chaired by artist Stephen Beal, is initiating an EIR process, to gain approval for entitlements for the project, before the sale to Emerald Fund and Equity Community Builders. CCA would shrink to a San Francisco campus only.

As an artist, who has regularly visited CCA over the years, both to see and participate in exhibits there, this potential loss affects me personally. Worse, loss of this arts school, where nationally and internationally-known artists like Viola Frey, Robert Arneson, Manuel Neri, Peter Voulkos, Raymond Saunders, David Ireland, Robert Bechtel, Squeak Carnwath, and M. Louise Stanley were alumni, would be devastating blow to Oakland's cultural heritage and patrimony.

The proposed project is also a terrible blow to the physical setting of the campus, with its mature landscaping, where the school has existed for 93 years. Nearly all the trees would be removed—some oaks will be “transplanted,” and only historic Mackey and Carnegie Halls, and some of the distinctive grand staircase and portion of adjoining wall along Broadway, would be saved.

The proposed project is environmentally disastrous: demolishing eminently repurposable buildings, some of relatively recent vintage, for a mammoth, high rise housing project is an incredible waste.  

The proposal for one 19 story building and five more buildings 6 to 14 stories in height, 586 apartments in total, is dramatically out of scale for the area. This latest eruption of skyscraper-itis underscores our concerns expressed in person to BART representatives and Dist. 1 Rockridge Councilperson Kalb at a public meeting about the MacArthur BART 24 story building. We suggested the BART tower would be precedent for other high-rises nearby. Kalb vociferously denied the claim, saying the tower there was a “one-off.” Of course it wasn’t. 

Cement production is responsible for 8% of the world’s man-made carbon dioxide emissions, and is therefore a major cause of climate change. The loss of mature landscaping, including protected trees, is another blow to efforts to stem climate change, and blunt the worst consequences. The problem and solution is not just protecting the Amazon, with self-righteous finger-pointing, but saving significant trees here, too. We all have a role to play. 

A general rule of thumb is that when architectural drawings for projects prominently feature distractions like pretty new trees, strolling pedestrians, gamboling dogs, and plein-air painters even—a cruel joke, then the actual project must be hidden from inspection and description.  

Promoting a project with 24,000 s.f. of “affordable art space and live/work space,” and 6,300 s.f. of “affordable” art-related office space, is simply lipstick on a pig for a huge, costly, and presumably very remunerative project such as the one being proposed here, with 586 apartments. Art organizations, in any economic climate, are not revenue generators, but require subsidies, in addition to low, or no, rent. And what exactly does “affordable” mean here? 

Nearby Berkeley loosens height and other restrictions on buildings with a “cultural component” such as for the Gaia Building, or the Fine Arts Apartments replacing the Berkeley Cinema/Fine Arts Theaters. Whether or not the promised culture component even pans out is problematic, but, after the fact, it’s too late. 

A better way to approach adaptive reuse of the campus, if an art school cannot exist there any longer—a tragedy in itself, would be to initiate a planning process similar to what unfolded for the Presidio in San Francisco, after the base was decommissioned. This process included blue ribbon panels and a Presidio Trust governing body with many stakeholders included, public hearings, and an extensive visioning process for the former base. The results have been spectacular. 

The same process needs to be intiated here, on this most important site while the still controlled by CCA, before a particular developer with his own plans for the most lucrative project for the moment is selected. 

We must also express our disappointment that developer Oz Erickson with Emerald Fund is the developer of record for the project. We remember Erickson for his brave role in promoting adaptive reuse for the old Montgomery Ward Building in the Fruitvale.  

Erickson proposed reusing the seismically sound, National Register-listed, Ward Building for housing, only a short walking distance from the Fruitvale BART station. It was environmental, preservation, and land-use disaster of monstrous proportions when that building was demolished—it’s leveling done on the fly, toxic lead paint tossed to winds and waters, in order to construct two low-rise elementary schools, on contaminated soil and next to a busy freeway, with attendant problems of air quality for children. 

A once-fashionable, short-of-demolition, but not really “preservation” either alternative to total demolition and scraping a site, was a facadomy. The proposal for CCA is a site facadomy, demolition in all but name. A sacrilege. White knight Erickson has evidently learned his Oakland lesson well: When in Chinatown…. 

The Oakland Planning Commission will hold a hearing 6 p.m., Oct. 16, at Oakland City Hall, as part of the EIR process. For more info: Upper Broadway Advocates,, The group is actively fundraising.  



Longtime residents of North Oakland, we have been active in land use/preservation efforts to redevelop and restore such local landmarks as the Old Merritt College Building (now UCSF Benioff Children’s Hospital Oakland Research Institute) and the Termescal Library (both designed by noted architect Charles Dickey). As founders of NorthOakland Voters Alliance and STAND (Standing Together for Accountable Neighborhood Development), we have weighed in on land-use and neighborhood issues for decades. Robert was also a board member of Oakland Heritage Alliance.