Lake Merritt Transformation/Love Our Lake Day on June 9th

May 23, 2013

History, Outdoors, Politics, Streets


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 councilmembers encouraged us; we convinced the mayor; and the tide slowly turned.  A councilmember proposed a bond measure. In 2002 Ballot Measure DD passed by a big margin—a 200-million-dollar 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.


Oaklavia group plans for June 9th

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 6-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. On Sunday, June 9, 11 to 4, we’re closing the streets for Love Our Lake Day,DSC_0006 and inviting everybody to come enjoy what’s happening. Help us celebrate a civic win-win-win that will make you feel great about your neighbors and the places we share.

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About Naomi Schiff

Naomi is a longtime activist in Oakland, a member of the board of Oakland Heritage Alliance, owns a business in the downtown area of Oakland, and lives close by Lake Merritt.

View all posts by Naomi Schiff

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