Two young girls run up a grassy hill under an industrial structure. A waterfront is visible in the background.
Children frolic at Township Commons, 10 acres of public park at the Brooklyn Basin development. Credit: Amir Aziz

Brooklyn Basin, the neighborhood-sized development on the Oakland Estuary, could add even more housing under a revised plan the city is considering.

Developers Zarsion and Signature Development Group want to add 600 apartments on top of the 3,100 already approved for the site, where the first residences opened in 2020. The expansion plan has earned the support of city staff and several councilmembers, in part because of an agreement by the developers to give a land trust $9 million to create affordable housing in nearby neighborhoods.

The 60-acre Brooklyn Basin project has been in the works for some 23 years, receiving initial approval in 2006. 

So far, there are 823 apartments up and running, spread among several buildings and including 341 units of affordable housing, according to the city. There are nearly 900 more apartments under construction and another 800 awaiting permits. 

The new Township Commons on a converted shipping pier is part of 30 acres of public parks planned for the area. The park has “wildly exceeded the utilization we anticipated,” Signature’s Eric Harrison told the City Council’s Community and Economic Development Committee this week.

Signature is petitioning the council to increase density at Brooklyn Basin, allowing for 600 additional apartments, bringing the total to 3,700. Harrison said this is the number of extra units that fit within the already approved building size.

The proposed expansion would also relocate an apartment tower from a previous plan, reduce the number of parking spaces required at the site, and create a public boat launch for kayaks and paddleboards, which could eventually be used for a water taxi as well.

Brooklyn Basin
So far 823 apartments, both market-rate and affordable, have opened at Brooklyn Basin, and thousands more are coming up. Credit: Amir Aziz

A large marina included in the original expansion plan has been scrapped. Planning commissioners and community members had complained that the development would block waterfront views and public access to the estuary.

If the 600-unit boost is approved, the developers have agreed to pay $9 million to the Oakland Community Land Trust, for the preservation or acquisition of affordable housing in Chinatown, Eastlake, and San Antonio, which are all across I-880 from Brooklyn Basin. This is on top of the “impact fees,” they’re required to pay the city, which can also be used for affordable housing projects. 

Zarsion and Signature have agreed to a goal of hiring 20% local workers for the expansion, and to give $350,000 to the West Oakland Jobs Resource Center for employment training in surrounding areas.

“We’ve been at this game for 20 years,” said David Kakishiba, executive director of EBAYC, one of the key organizations that negotiated the community benefit deal with the developers. “It’s been a journey of both tension as well as real partnership,” he said at the committee meeting.

Overall, Brooklyn Basin will have 450 units of affordable housing, about 14.5% of the total residences. Most of those apartments, developed by MidPen Housing, have already opened. 

“It’s a lot better than living on the streets,” said John Via, who moved into the subsidized Foon Lok West building when it opened last year. He was homeless for 15 years before that, living in tents in Oakland and Berkeley where there were “rats the size of chihuahuas,” until LifeLong Medical set him up with an apartment at Brooklyn Basin.

“I’m a lot healthier than I was and I’m back in school,” said Via, who spoke with The Oaklandside on Thursday while relaxing at Township Commons across from his apartment. “When it’s not raining, I get to come outside and see the water and smell the breeze.” 

Brooklyn Basin
John Via said living at Foon Lok West, one of the affordable housing buildings at Brooklyn Basin, has improved his health after years on the streets. Credit: Amir Aziz

“But you might see glass all over the place, because it’s still Oakland,” he quipped.

Via said he’d prefer if the low-income residents weren’t all clustered together in a few visibly distinct buildings that lack the flashy amenities of the market-rate housing. Separating them out like that, often a necessity for the financing of affordable development, makes Via feel like “they’re keeping an eye on us.” 

Tushar Badlani, another Brooklyn Basin resident strolling the park that morning, told The Oaklandside he’s also happy living there. Badlani moved to Oakland from the East Coast in early 2020, becoming one of the first residents at the market-rate Orion building. 

Badlani chose the property for its “connectivity” to Jack London Square, Alameda Beach, and San Francisco, where he works. “Then COVID came into the picture” right after his move. Brooklyn Basin was a “peaceful” place to spend the lockdown, Badlani said, and he now uses the shuttle service offered to residents to get to BART. 

The one thing missing, he said, is a nearby grocery store. 

For two years, Rocky’s Market had an outpost at Brooklyn Basin, but the grocery store and restaurant shuttered last summer. The closure also put the kibosh on a series of popular outdoor music and comedy performances there.

Brooklyn Basin
Township Commons at dusk. Credit: Amir Aziz

At this week’s committee meeting, Councilmember Carroll Fife asked Harrison about plans to bring back a grocery store, and the developer said he’s hoping to include one in the retail space beneath a building that’s under construction.

Fife also questioned the decision to reduce parking at Brooklyn Basin, saying her West Oakland district experiences congestion when buildings are developed without parking, causing overflow on city streets. Harrison said Brooklyn Basin operates a parking lot under the freeway nearby, and offers public street parking as well as the shuttle to transit for residents who don’t have cars. 

The committee voted to send the proposed expansion to the full council for a vote next Tuesday.

“It’s a wonderful space,” said Fife about Brooklyn Basin. “There are a few questions I have, but overall it’s been in the works for two decades and it’s given us time to tighten it up.”

Natalie Orenstein covers housing and homelessness for The Oaklandside. She was previously on staff at Berkeleyside, where her extensive reporting on the legacy of school desegregation received recognition from the Society of Professional Journalists NorCal and the Education Writers Association. Natalie’s reporting has also appeared in The J Weekly, The San Francisco Chronicle and elsewhere, and she’s written about public policy for a number of research institutes and think tanks. Natalie lives in Oakland, grew up in Berkeley, and has only left her beloved East Bay once, to attend Pomona College.