RCPC Projects, Rockridge Today, the Area's Emerging Future

Tuesday, December 22, 2015

Rockridge today is a long way from its near-undoing when construction of the Grove-Shafter freeway - Highway 24 - in the late 1960s wiped out more than 3,000 homes and many area commercial buildings, crippling businesses and leaving significant College Avenue storefronts boarded up. Was the evolution due to community involvement? Mere chance? Market action? The answer: all three, in that order.

Community Involvement
North Oakland, including the area we now call Rockridge, has always had community organizations with one purpose or another, be it protection and assistance for new immigrants, a banding together of neighbors to respond to community concerns, or general social clubs.

Examples from the past are the Colombo Club, which served the then-widespread Italian-American community, and the Rockridge Community Club, once headquartered in the building now occupied by Ye Olde Hut, which organized neighborhood gatherings and various forms of support for neighbors.

By the 1950s and '60s, neighborhood groups such as the Ayala Block Club, the Telegraph Avenue Neighborhood Group (TANG), the Colby Park Group, and others working in support of their area residents, were proliferating.

In the early 1970s, zoning changes proposed for College Avenue and for Rockridge's residential areas would have permitted high-rise apartment buildings, fast-food restaurants and parking structures, similar to the transit centers now being built around some BART stations.

Area residents, determined to have a say in their community's future, formed a coalition of concerned neighborhood groups to challenge the city's plans with a vision of a more appealing environment. That coalition, the Rockridge Community Planning Council (RCPC), drew upon the expertise of the many residents who, by chance, were professional planners and architects. The group designed an alternative area zoning plan that the city eventually adopted. The zoning's core philosophy was "to enhance the pedestrian-friendly experience" of a shopping area with limited building heights, storefront windows, and ground-floor retail located in an area of single-family homes. The plan, and Rockridge, persist to this day.

Market Action
Business on College Avenue began its recovery as merchants and developers realized the attraction of small-scale commerce. College Avenue today is a healthy combination of commercial development with some housing above retail store fronts, and a popular mix of businesses and service providers. It has not all been smooth, of course. RCPC has worked throughout the years to maintain the ideals of the zoning developed so long ago, without inhibiting commercial interests.

RCPC further endeavors to enhance the neighborhood in general by supporting projects that improve urban life. Frog Park, the Rockridge Branch Library, the Rockridge DVD Project, and BART Plaza are examples of RCPC's successful works.