The new and improved Kaiser

November 21, 2008

Last night, Kaiser Permanente finally got their brand new Oakland hospital approved by the Oakland Planning Commission. (For more on the design review process, check out V Smoothe’s OakBook post on it.) It’s right down the street from us, so I figured it warranted a post and a little love after a looooong planning process. (The seven community workshops and four Planning Commission hearings began in September 2007—while they didn’t exactly integrate all of the neighborhood concerns into the plan, they did address some of the big ones, including lighting, Piedmont street frontage, ambulance paths, local businesses, and more. Yay.) The hospital is Phase 2 of the Oakland Medical Center rebuilding plan; Phase 1 is the big building currently under construction at the corner of Broadway and West MacArthur. Phase 3 will follow in a few years, and includes demolition of the existing hospital and a new office building on its site. (Kaiser has said this construction may not be possible immediately following demolition since the latter is on a tight time frame and money may not be lined up, but they have committed to creating a pocket park in the interim if construction of Phase 3 is delayed.)

Kaiser's new plan

Kaiser's new plan

When this project first went through design review in September, a lot of people were up in arms about the design of the building and its relation to the street. I’m not in love with the new design either, but it is an improvement—and it is a hospital, after all, which means form is constrained by function (or more specifically, by state and federal guidelines regulating said function). Generally, I think the new hospital will be good news for Westlake and Uptown, since it moves the main building a bit closer to us as an anchor for Auto Row businesses, but it’s still within spitting distance of the main Piedmont Avenue strip, so those businesses won’t lose out. (Side note: when I was in Babyalula on Lower Piedmont the other day, the owner mentioned that in spite of dire times, their sales are up 40 percent. Not sure if this is a result of the crazy number of babies in the ‘hood these days or of more people choosing Oakland-grown shops, but either way, good job guys!)

The new and improved Lower Piedmont

The new and improved Lower Piedmont

The approved building includes some interesting features, including:

  • A stormwater management system that reduces runoff and minimizes impervious surfaces;
  • Solar panels on both the hospital and the parking garage;
  • A PVC- and mercury-free environment (find out why this matters);
  • A Dolphin chemical-free water treatment system that distinguishes between potable and non-potable uses and treats accordingly; and
  • Recycled construction materials, including steel and concrete.

Kaiser also must provide some nice neighborhood benefits, including:

  • More pedestrian paths and crosswalks along Broadway, Piedmont, and West MacArthur;
  • New street trees along Lower Piedmont;
  • Funding for restoration of Glen Echo Creek (though I’m fuzzy on details here); and
  • Improvements to Mosswood Park, potentially including a new tot lot and new basketball courts (and the Labradane says he would also please like a dog path next to the Mosswood MSB, some decomposed granite in the big dog run, and a water fountain at Moosewood, his dog park of choice!)

Not to mention the very, very big benefit of reactivating Piedmont and Broadway below West MacArthur, which the current Kaiser campus does terribly with its walls of parking garages and offices. The one thing I’m worried about, oddly enough, is all the new residential parking zones proposed as part of the Kaiser expansion. I actually think residential parking zones are terrific—and I wish Westlake and Adams Point had them. But we don’t, and I’m a bit concerned that when every block in Temescal and Mosswood does and the hospital is that much closer to us, even more people will be coming to park on our block. And blocking our driveway. And running over our drainpipes even though the curb is red there. And keeping our neighbors without garages from being able to find street spots when they get home. *sigh*

Kaiser has also bandied about other ideas over the course of the development process, including outdoor physical activity classes and an expanded farmer’s market. (They have one now, but it’s tiny—can North Oakland really support a third large market to compete with Temescal and Grand Lake? Hard to say, but it would certainly be exciting if so! Maybe a mid-week market has potential, a la Berkeley’s Tuesday market.) So we’ll see what other fun things the new campus may bring.

Anyway, I imagine the construction process won’t be much fun, but hopefully the end result will be worth it. I can’t wait to see the wrecking balls take out the crappy 60s Kaiser buildings and the M/B Center—woohoo! It might even be worth becoming Kaiser members once the renovations are all done, since D. has that as an option at work. Not like we’re far from Alta Bates Summit and our current Pill Hill doctors, but still. Hmm….


  1. Cool! Thanks for the update. I was just down there the other day for a Kaiser visit and was checking out the progress on their newest building on Broadway.

  2. Nice post! Kaiser is my employer. If you want some biased advice, choose Kaiser and not Summit! I have heard many complaints about their billing practices. But no system is perfect, including ours, I will be first to admit.

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