Oakland experiments with giving walkers, bicyclists free rein

by on August 20, 2013 in Urban Nature

Photo: George Kelly.

At the junction of two of Oakland’s major thoroughfares, traffic has come to a stop. Auto traffic, that is. The Latham Square Public Plaza opened on August 16th directly in the middle of Telegraph and Broadway as an experimental design to reenvision urban streets as space for all kinds of traffic.

With grant funding and an area of road already set for redesign, the city of Oakland, the Downtown Oakland Association, and the San Francisco-based design firm Rebar, seized the unique opportunity to create a public space that, according to the city, “enhances the pedestrian environment; increases economic development potential; saves existing trees; improves private automobile and transit operations.”

The $170,000 project is part of the growing movement to rethink public space, which is taking off in major urban hubs around the world. Unlike “parklets,” mini-parks built in parking spaces, which have become established in San Francisco and other cities, this plaza converts the roadway itself into a unified public space.

Photo: Jaquelyn Davis.

Photo: Jaquelyn Davis.

“Like many cities, Oakland is one-fourth public right-of-ways,” said Jamie Parks, Oakland’s Complete Streets program manager.

Parks said there are many unused pavements that can and should be used for more than just automobile traffic. The Latham Square Public Plaza is part of the new Complete Streets policy, which requires that all forms of transportation — including bicycle and pedestrian traffic — be considered when planning roadways.

Blocked off from the flow of traffic by repurposed lamp posts and a giant “Latham” sign made of old road signs, the Latham Square Public Plaza is comprised of artfully designed planters and benches resting on pavement painted in the sweeping blue and green stripes pattern of the Downtown Oakland logo. But the paint on the road is the most permanent facet of the park. All of the other pieces can be picked up and moved as the city and the public see fit.

“[In public planning], we are usually afraid of trying something and failing,” Parks explained.

This project, however, defies this norm and is all about trial and error. The plaza experiment will last at least until the end of the year, and even as long as until next summer, when a permanent design for the intersection of Telegraph and Broadway will begin construction.

Until then, city officials will monitor the activity of the plaza to evaluate its success. Beginning in September, Popuphood will install mobile retail stalls in the plaza through the holiday season to attract foot traffic, and in October, southbound Telegraph will be reopened to see how the plaza functions with one direction of traffic going by it.

Parks and others who have worked on the plaza are optimistic about the future of Latham Square, despite concerns that the plaza may cause congestion on the surrounding roadways or add to vandalism in the area. As the park is being used as a living lab of sorts, there will be plenty of opportunities to move things around to determine what works best in the plaza.

“We’re testing and experimenting,” Parks said.

Jaquelyn Davis is a Bay Nature editorial intern.

Bay Area Real Estate Sale Highest Since 2005

Thursday, Aug 15, 2013  |  Updated 2:41 PM PDT

Bay Area Real Estate Sale Highest Since 2005

AP

Real estate signs posted at a housing complex in Walnut Creek, Calif.,

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If you’re planning on purchasing a home in the Bay Area soon, you may be up against steep competition.

According to San Diego-based company DataQuick, house and condo sales throughout the Bay Area in July were the highest since 2005.

A total of 9,339 sales were finalized, up 13.3 percent from July 2012, when 8,241 homes were sold, according to DataQuick.

The sales were at its highest since 12,538 homes sold in July 2005, the data company stated.

The spike in sales was most evident in Santa Clara County, where 2,244 homes were sold, 26.1 percent more than the 1,779 from July last year. In San Francisco, 718 homes sold last month, up 31.3 percent from last July’s 547 sales.

Solano County was the only Bay Area county that recorded fewer sales this July from last, totaling a 0.8 percent decrease, from 610 last year to 605 last month. With the rise in sales, the median price of homes in the Bay Area has also increased, reaching its highest price in more than five and a half years.

In July, the median price was $562,000, the highest since December 2007 when homes were averaging a price tag of roughly $587,500, according to DataQuick.

Twelve months ago, the median price of homes in the nine-county region was 33.5 percent less, averaging roughly $421,000 per sale.

All counties throughout the Bay Area recorded an increase in median sale prices, but none more than in Contra Costa County, which had its median sale price rise nearly 43 percent from $308,000 to $440,000, according to DataQuick.

Copyright Bay City News

Apartment amenities go ultraluxury

Amy Hoak’s Home Economics

Aug. 21, 2013, 6:02 a.m. EDT

Dog care and pantry service lure high-end renters to buildings


By Amy Hoak, MarketWatch

Love your dog? Rent an apartment unit in MiMA in New York, and you’ll have access to Dog City, the building’s haven for canines, complete with indoor and outdoor play areas and people to walk, groom, shampoo, massage and train your dog. Vet appointments and doggy play dates also are available.

Hate shopping for groceries? Lease at 8500 Burton Way in Los Angeles, and the staff there will do your grocery shopping for you, a feature called “pantry service.” Or just order room service instead.

Fed up with your humdrum in-home gym? K2 in Chicago has an indoor basketball court and a massage room. NEMA, under construction in San Francisco, has a Jay Wright-designed gym and an energy solarium for yoga.

It isn’t new for apartment buildings to be customized with common areas including pools, gyms and game rooms. But some high-end buildings are outdoing each other with services and features that rival the most upscale hotels. And residents are willing to pay a premium to live there.


Related Companies

Dog City in One MiMA Tower in New York.

The trend of constructing high-amenity buildings started about a decade ago, said Leslie Piper, consumer housing specialist with Realtor.com and a real-estate agent in the San Francisco market.

“We really started seeing the shift in the past 10 years with people working from home and doing a lot more traveling,” she said. “Buildings are being built with a lot more services or amenities than people were looking for,” perks that frequent travelers are used to from staying in luxury hotels.

These aren’t your average renters. These are high earners, people who could easily afford to buy a beautiful home instead of rent an apartment.

A big reason they’re renting comes down to flexibility it affords them.

Maybe they’re new to town and aren’t sure where they want to buy a home. Perhaps they are anticipating work will move them in a year.

In some cases, they’re affluent empty nesters considering a move from the suburbs to a city’s downtown, yet are unsure whether they’ll like it—and where exactly they’d buy their eventual retirement home.

But renting doesn’t mean they’ll skimp on their lifestyle.

Aside from the pools and cabanas, screening rooms and catering kitchens, there is often a sizable service component to these buildings.

A technology concierge at MiMA in New York can help residents connect all their electronics, said Daria Salusbury, senior vice president of luxury leasing operation for Related Companies, the developer behind MiMA, where a studio apartment rents for $3,495 a month and a two-bedroom rents for $6,350. The top floors, called One MiMA Tower, have a separate entrance and rents go up to more than $20,000 for a penthouse.

At 8500 Burton Way, a building where rents start at $5,000 for a one-bedroom, concierges have done everything from planning a bachelor party to shipping vehicles around the world for residents.

Many of the buildings also try and promote a sense of community, offering events where residents can socialize and get to know their neighbors—something that people don’t always have time to do on their own.

A new attitude on renting

Developers say that interest in these new buildings may signal a greater trend: A post-housing-crash disinterest for owning, even among the elite.


Caruso Affiliated

8500 Burton Way, Los Angeles.

“People aren’t consumed with owning,” said Randy Fifield, vice chairman and principal of Fifield Companies, a co-developer of K2 in Chicago, where rents start at $1,650 for a 481-square-foot studio and go up to as much as $8,500 for a 2,010-square-foot penthouse. “Cars, clothing, places to live, these are all fungible things today,” she added.

So they lease their Mercedes-Benz and borrow their upscale clothes through the website Rent the Runway, she said.

And they rent their homes.

Competition to lease higher-end homes in Los Angeles is fierce—especially as the for-sale market improves and fewer private homes are listed for sale instead of rented out, said Rick Caruso, founder and chief executive officer of Caruso Affiliated.

“To lease an upscale home in L.A. is almost impossible,” Caruso said. Caruso Affiliated is the developer behind 8500 Burton Way in L.A.

After the housing bust, more people of all means view owning a home as a long-term proposition, Piper said.

When today’s home buyers do make a purchase, they’re often planning on staying in the home for 10 or 20 years—a plan that will help them take advantage of low mortgage interest rates they can secure today for decades into the future, Piper added. It is a different mentality than years past, when it was typical for people to buy a condo apartment, then upgrade to a bigger single-family home, and then perhaps a bigger home than that—sometimes without much concern for how long they’d stay.

New attitudes about owning are showing up in the numbers: The homeownership rate was 65% in the second quarter, according to the U.S. Census Bureau. In the second quarter of 2004, the rate was 69.2%.

To be sure, reduced home buying is also—and probably more so—a result of tighter mortgage underwriting since the housing crash. Plus, many Americans took hits to their credit scores and earnings during the recession.

But it’s also probable that those capable of buying have shifted their attitudes about the minimum time they’d need to live in a home for a purchase to make sense. And developers are banking on the fact that Americans will remain conservative about buying homes for the foreseeable future, opting to rent for a spell instead.

“People have taken a greater look at [renting] since 2008 when the whole downturn occurred. This is here to stay,” Fifield said.

Amy Hoak is a MarketWatch editor and columnist based in Chicago. Follow her on Twitter @amyhoak.

Bay Area rental pendulum swings to condos

Carolyn Said
Updated 9:19 am, Sunday, August 18, 2013
Mike Wilkes, left, and his husband Grant Barth, right, troubleshoot a computer problem in the condominium they bought in Oakland, Calif. on August 14, 2013. Photo: Ian C. Bates, The ChronicleMike Wilkes, left, and his husband Grant Barth, right, troubleshoot a computer problem in the condominium they bought in Oakland, Calif. on August 14, 2013.
Photo: Ian C. Bates, The Chronicle
Some condominium complexes opened at the worst possible time – in the depths of the real estate downturn when home buyers were few and far between. They coped by becoming for-rent apartment buildings instead. But now, as the housing recovery accelerates, several East Bay and South Bay developments are switching back to for-sale condos.

“The pendulum has shifted,” said Michael Reynolds, managing partner of developer Embarcadero Pacific, which specializes in high-density urban infill projects.

In 2009, his firm opened The Bond, a 101-unit complex in Oakland’s Jack London Square area, as rental apartments. Now it’s switching the building over to condos, taking advantage of buyers’ avid appetites for real estate and the dearth of for-sale inventory. About a quarter of the units have sold in less than three months.

“Rents are rising too quickly that if you can make a down payment, the cost of ownership is lower than leasing,” Reynolds said. With a boutique hotel feel, the building has units ranging from $350,000 for a one-bedroom to $1.25 million for a top-floor galleria penthouse.

The Bond was always intended to start off as rentals and then switch to condos when the time was right. But other complexes that opened during the downturn intending to be for-sale had no choice but to become rentals “when the music stopped,” as Reynolds put it.

Condo to rental, back

For instance, the 125-unit Broadway Grand in Oakland, developed by Signature Properties, first opened as a condo complex, sold 17 units, and then switched to rentals as the market tanked, said Paul Zeger, a principal at PolarisPacific, which is marketing it and some other conversion projects. Last year it went condo again, and now has sold all but 11 of its units.

Similarly, the Skyline in San Jose with 121 units is now switching to condos after opening as rentals during the downturn. In Emeryville, the 424-unit Bridgewater is switching from rentals to condos. The current phase II, which started in June with 174 homes ranging from $185,000 to $450,000, is finding a receptive audience, said Alan Mark, president of the Mark Co., which is marketing the complex.

Other Oakland complexes, including 288 Third and Uptown, have already made the switch.

With only a few dozen condos on the market, the conversions stand out.

“The (East Bay) condos that are for sale are snapped up quickly,” said Anne Feste, an agent with The Grubb Co.

Some buildings benefit from Oakland transport changes. “Transportation options have blossomed with the Free B downtown Oakland shuttle (which runs along Broadway from Jack London Square to Downtown, Uptown and beyond) and the SouthSF Ferry for people in the tech world to get to work,” Feste said.

‘More for your money’

Then there’s the affordability factor.

“You get a lot more for your money in the East Bay,” said Mike Wilkes, who recently relocated from Portland, Ore., with his husband, Grant Barth. “We would pay easily over $1 million in San Francisco for something comparable to what we bought for under $700,000 at The Bond.”

The East Bay and South Bay apartment buildings’ switch to condos is worlds away from San Francisco’s contentious condo conversions of tenant-in-common units, which generally are in buildings with just a handful of units. The current breed of condo conversions involve properties that were approved as condos before they were even constructed. That means going condo is relatively simple.

“Demand has spiked for for-sale housing,” Zeger said. “Buildings that have a ‘condo map’ (meaning they’re already approved for condo sales) in the local municipality can just go to the Bureau of Real Estate” to get final approvals.

When a rental building goes condo, generally existing tenants have the first right to purchase their units at the public price. If they don’t want to buy, they finish out their leases, which can then be terminated by the developer. There’s also turnover in the normal course of affairs.

Harder to get a loan

“We gain vacancies through natural attrition as renters move out,” Reynolds said. “We then refurbish the units with new finishes and put them out for sale so part of the building is leased, part is owner-occupied.”

However, that mixture can make it harder to get a home loan. In today’s stricter climate, lenders often require a minimum percentage of owner-occupied units before they’ll issue mortgages in a condo complex.

“It’s much more difficult to get Fannie Mae approval when you’re converting a building,” Mark said. The agency requires condo conversions to pre-sell 70 percent of units to owner-occupants before it will back mortgages, he said, but sometimes agrees to reduce that requirement a degree.

The apartment-to-condo trajectory is less likely to happen in San Francisco, where about 8,000 rental units are under construction. That’s because most were financed in a way that requires they generate rental income for many years, Zeger said.

Carolyn Said is a San Francisco Chronicle staff writer. E-mail: csaid@sfchronicle.com Twitter: @csaid

17 Best U.S. Cities for Hippies

 

Birkenstock_and_socks_Flickr_cc_stevenjude

 

While some may think all the hippies have burned out or faded away, the truth is they’re still out there, still busily making love, but not war. We here at Estately set out to find communities where they’re heavily concentrated, as well as providing ideal habitat for the next generation of flower children.  To determine this we used a formula based on marijuana availability and legality, number of stores selling hemp, local counter-culture icons, tie-dye availability, hippie festivals, progressive government, intensity of Occupy protests, and a Facebook poll. In the end, we determined these places are the 17 Best U.S. Cities for Hippies…

 

17—Arcata, CA / 16—Bloomington, IN / 15—San Francisco, CA / 14—Manitou Springs, CO / 13—Berea, KY / 12—Oakland, CA / 11—Missoula, MT / 10—Bisbee, AZ / 9—Austin, TX / 8—Berkeley, CA / 7—Ithaca, NY / 6—Burlington, VT / 5—Portland, OR / 4—Boulder, CO / 3—Asheville, NC / 2—Olympia, WA / 1—Eugene, OR

 

17. ARCATA, CA

 

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Via: Etsy

 

The scent of patchouli oil is so strong in Arcata that it can be smelled from space. While this hasn’t been independently confirmed yet, it is a fact that Arcata is the first city in America to elect a majority of its city council members from the Green Party. The city also passed the Nuclear Weapons Free Zone Act in 1989 and a host of other restrictions that would make a hippie proud.

 

No one knows how much of the city’s population is dependent on the large cannabis industry that’s central to northern California’s economy, but let’s just say the locally-sourced and smokeable veggie is paying for a lot of organic produce at the local co-ops. The environmentally-conscious town is a hotbed for radical tree huggers and various forest preservation efforts, and it’s a nice halfway point when hitchhiking between Eugene, Oregon and Berkeley, California.

 

16. BLOOMINGTON, IN

 

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Via: Flickr

 

Just because Indiana is one big, conservative corn maze doesn’t mean there isn’t a place where hippies can let their freak flag fly. Located in the southern part of the state, beautiful Bloomington is a hippie-filled college town where many a drum circle can be had, provided the Occupy Movement isn’t using the park at the time. Original hippies meet up with hippies-in-training from Indiana University at Laughing Planet, where they feast on burritos filled with steamed squash, kale, and seitan. Those calories are easily burned off after a non-competitive game of hacky sack or a few hours of swaying. The welcoming town is even home to the brother of his Holiness the 14th Dalai Lama’s, Thubten Jigme Norbu, who founded the Tibetan Mongolian Buddhist Cultural Center in Bloomington.

 

15. SAN FRANCISCO, CA

 

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Via: Flickr

 

The city where most of this hippie stuff started is mostly running on hippie fumes at this point. It still has the progressive politics and activist culture, as well as some bong shops in Haight-Ashbury, but it’s a long ways from the Summer of Love. All the same, flashbacks do occur and you’ll see various remnants and attempted revivals of the hippie glory days at the city’s parks, protests, and festivals. And maybe it isn’t that the hippies are gone, it’s just like they’ve… you know… evolved, man. Now they’re like in an alternate state of consciousness where they’re still hippies, but also like financial planners and art dealers and other heavy stuff.

 

14. MANITOU SPRINGS, CO

 

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VIA: HARMONYCENTRAL.COM

 

For those who like their hippies new age, prefer mate to coffee, and want to legally buy weed in a store, Manitou Springs is a place that’s both mellow and trippy. Sometimes called the “hippie Mayberry,” the town at the base of Pike’s Peak is a haven for the artsy, spiritual types. The city was once ruled by Mayor Bud Ford, a down-to-earth hippie who wears tie dye and looks a lot like Jerry Garcia.

 

Originally, the town was a scenic health resort with healing mineral springs, but the waters were eventually made undrinkable after sewage polluted them, which is such a hippie thing to do. However, the problem was fixed and now the mineral springs are drinkable and have become a tourist attraction again.

 

13. BEREA, KY

 

View More: http://megwilsonphotography.pass.us/meg_wilson

 

Via:  Whippoorwillfest.com

 

What do you get when you mix Haight-Ashbury with Little House on the Prairie? The answer is Berea, Kentucky, a town that was counterculture before counterculture was cool. The city is home to Berea College, which was the only integrated and co-ed college in the South for nearly forty years. The politically progressive community is home to organic farmers, hundreds of working artists, and even author and social activist bell hooks. The granola is just a little bit crispier in Berea, and probably homemade.

 

12. OAKLAND, CA

 

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The hippies may have come of age in San Francisco and Berkeley, but most got priced out and ended up in Oakland (the ones who got rich moved to Marin). While Oakland doesn’t always embody the ethos of peace and love, it does have 30 stores offering hemp products, is keeping the protest going with Occupy Oakland, and it’s home to Oaksterdam University, where students have been studying the craft of growing marijuana since 2007.

 

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 Homes for sale in Oakland, California

 

11. MISSOULA, MT

 

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VIA:  ZAZZLE.COM

 

Neighboring Bozeman might be jealous, but when it comes to the true bastion of Montana hippiedom, Missoula definitely comes out on top. It’s not just the vast array of sustainable transportation options or progressive non-profits, Missoula’s government has worked to decrease arrests for marijuana possession, and passed resolutions calling for a withdrawal from Iraq (2007) and to amend the U.S. Constitution to declare that “corporations are not human beings” (2011). That’s pretty hippie.

 

The city hosts Hempfest, as well as other festivals that provide an excuse to imbibe in Missoula’s favorite medicinal plant. Old deadheads got stuck in town years ago after their microbuses broke down climbing the I-90′s steep hills outside of town and they’ve been here ever since. Now they mingle with University of Montana students, especially whenever Yonder Mountain String Band comes to town. While the rest of the state is more conservative, in Missoula there’s no shame in men sporting long hair like Brad Pitt did in A River Runs Through It, and not just because the film is set in Missoula.

 

10. BISBEE, AZ

 

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Via:  Weekend Zona

 

Once a productive copper mining town, Bisbee reinvented itself as a hippie-filled art colony after the mine closed. Some residents still live in updated caves in the middle of town, and it’s not unheard of to see naked folks in cowboy hats strolling the main street in the middle of the night. The New York Times called it “a Greenwich Village West,” and there are certainly no shortage of artists, poets and turquoise shop owners carving out a living along the steep hills of Bisbee, Arizona.

 

In Bisbee, there’s no shortage of marijuana, which frequently wanders in across the nearby border with Mexico. There are a few pillars of the Bisbee business community who’ve spent some time in Mexican jails for attempting to bring pounds of weed back across the border, including the legendary local brewer Dave Harvan, whose Electric Brewing Company makes a damn good lager.

 

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 Homes for sale in Bisbee, Arizona

 

9. AUSTIN, TX

 

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Austin may be best known for its music and barbecue, but the Capital of Texas is also a sanctuary for the state’s free spirits. The city has more hippie-themed Meetups than any city in the country, as well as Hippie Hollow, a clothing optional nudist park where hippies can recreate in the buff. The popularity of Hippie Hollow is evidenced by a simple Google image search of “Austin Hippie,” which turns up far too many NSFW photos of these naked folks. Austin is also home to 12 local shops advertising hemp products, the “Hippie Church” at the local Taco Xpress, and thousands of locals ardently working to Keep Austin Weird. Click HERE to learn more about joining them.

 

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 Homes for sale in Austin, Texas.

 

8. BERKELEY, CA

 

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VIA:  FLICKR

 

Back in the 1960s and 1970s, Berkeley was one of the premier college towns for student activism and a real force affecting social change in America. However, as the years passed those hippies aged, grew gray beards, and became local business owners and professors. The iconic hippie city still draws young trustafarians, tree sitters and assorted eccentrics, many longing for the fiery protests of the past, but the city has turned decidedly mellow. According the The Daily Beast, Berkeley remains one of the Top Pot Smoking Cities in America, but the tie-dyed glory of the past is slowly burning out just like so many Berkeley hippies did before.

 

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 Homes for sale in Berkeley, California

 

7. ITHACA, NY

 

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Ithaca holds the record for the largest human peace sign, an accomplishment that only scratches the surface of this city’s true hippie nature. This central New York town has it’s own currency called Ithaca Hours, which is essentially good for one hour of work and can be traded between local residents. That’s groovy.

 

In 2000, Ithaca’s residents churned out more votes for Ralph Nader than for George W. Bush, and it would have been even more if Nader had paired up with Dennis Kucinich. The city is home to astronomer Carl Sagan, the influential hippie eatery Moosewood Restaurant, and the Namgyal Monastery—a branch of the personal monastery of the Dalai Lama. In short, it’s a hippie heaven where residents are practically required to have a minimum of 10 bumper stickers supporting social and environmental causes.

 

6. BURLINGTON, VT

 

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The largest city in Vermont has a population of just 42,0000, but an estimated 20,000 of them are alleged to routinely wear Birkenstocks (citation needed). Despite its small size, the city is home to some of America’s most iconic hippies, including the jam band Phish and the ice cream company Ben & Jerry’s. So just go ahead and meditate on that amount of hippie royalty…

 

Burlington’s hippie ethos extends to its elected officials, with a city government stocked with democrats and members of the Progressive Party. It even liked its democratic socialist mayor so much the locals elected him to the U.S. Senate. Burlington is also home to a year-round farmers market, the liberal University of Vermont, and the Burlington Earth Clock‚ a giant sundial made of slabs of granite that is reputed to help “restore inner peace and inner strength,” just like Ben & Jerry’s.

 

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 Homes for sale in Burlington, Vermont

 

5. PORTLAND, OR

 

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You’d think with all the rain in Portland that the granola would have turned soggy years ago, but the dreams of the 1960s are still alive in Portland. While the city’s gaining a reputation as a hipster town, Portland’s spiritual core still belongs to the hippies (and lumberjacks). Citizens gather in the thousands for nude bike rides, they plaster their bumpers with hippie slogans, and everyone works to out-green each other. The hippie movement was never a passing fad in Portland, it’s just somethign the city has refined and reinvented. Portland is what you get when flower children grow up to be flower adults.

 

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 Homes for sale in Portland, Oregon

 

4. BOULDER, CO

 

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Via:  Flickr

 

A popular hippie town back in the 1960s, Boulder re-invented itself as an affluent outdoorsy town, but it’s still very rooted in its hippie traditions. Residents enjoy their progressive politics, organic produce, public nudity, and WOW do they love them some marijuana. It’s kind of surprising that the first city in Colorado to ban smoking in bars, was probably the one that worked the hardest to legalize marijuana statewide. This devotion to weed is celebrated almost every year on April 20th around 4:20pm, when between 8,000 and 15,000 residents gather on the CU Boulder campus to smoke a whole bunch of pot.

 

Known to some as “The People’s Republic of Boulder,” the city was the setting for the sitcom Mork & Mindy, is home Naropa University’s Jack Kerouac School of Disembodied Poetics, and people there seriously smoke an unbelievable amount of pot. Is that clear? Lots of pot. It’s the Capital of Weed Smokin. The local bread may be gluten-free, but practically the whole damn town is baked.

 

3. ASHEVILLE, NC

 

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VIA:  FLICKR

 

It takes some guts to grow out your dreadlocks and wear a sarong in the land of Dixie, except if you’re in Asheville, North Carolina because that’s pretty typical there. This hippy haven is a southern Shangri-La for lefties, crispers, and those longing for a little more peace and love. While the city has pulled funding for the annual street festival Bele Chere, the town is loaded with farmer’s marketslive music, and numerous disc golf courses. For those who are southern-fried, the great city of Asheville is truly the Hippie Capital of the South, as evidenced during the weekly drum circle.

 

2. OLYMPIA, WA

 

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Via:  Flickr

 

Whether you’re an aging hippie, a hungry freegan, or a barefoot street musician who only knows one Bob Dylan song, Olympia is your safe harbor from stormy seas. The buds are kind, the vegetarian options are abundant, and there are frequent protests dedicated to just about every cause under the sun. Olympia is home to The Evergreen State College, which offers a class called “Looking at Animals,” and has the geoduck (giant clam) as its mascot. It’s a most welcoming place for those who run counter to culture, and avoid soap and deodorant like the plague. Good school, though.

 

1) EUGENE, OR

 

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Mirror, mirror on the wall, who’s the hippiest of them all? It’s Eugene, Oregon. Hands down. No contest. Eugene wins this thing by a mile.

 

When the hippies turned on, tuned in, and dropped out, they seemingly dropped right into Eugene, Oregon. Whether they were card-carrying Merry Pranksters or simply counter-culture types escaping conformity, large numbers of them flocked to Eugene and the surrounding countryside. Some started communes, others became organic farmers, and some formed an arts and crafts movement that continues to this day. Eugene’s traffic slows behind aging VW Microbuses, the smell of marijuana is never far (especially at Univ. of Oregon), and tie dye has never gone out of style. From the city government to the Chamber of Commerce, hippies have infiltrated every aspect of the city, and they’ve definitely earned Eugene the title of #1 U.S. City for Hippies.

 

  1. Ken Kesey, Merry Prankster and author of One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest, was a local boy.
  2. You can buy tie-dyed underwear from numerous sources.
  3. The city elects a a SLUG Queen each year.
  4. Eugene hosts the annual Oregon Country Fair, a hippie spectacle that has to be seen to be believed.
  5. There are multiple Birkenstock retailers in town.
  6. Plenty of radical environmentalists, anarchists, and other political raconteurs.
  7. The weekly Saturday Market features organic produce and handmade creations by local residents and served as an inspiration for many other similar markets.
  8. Home to Toby’s, makers of fine tofu and and more.
  9. A local bicycle shop gives away free tofu when the local Les Schwab Tire Centers give away free beef to customers.
  10. Numerous vegetarian restaurants like Laughing Planet, Cornbread Café and Café Yumm.

7619 HAMILTON ST

San Pablo Avenue, Emeryville

Stephanie Wright Hession
Published 5:49 pm, Wednesday, August 14, 2013
Wally’s Cafe Photo: Stephanie Wright Hession, Special To The Chronicle
 
San Pablo Avenue, Emeryville
San Pablo Avenue, Emeryville: Once an industrial town where iron mills, paint plants and other manufacturing companies flourished, this community in Alameda County revamped itself into a modern city where residents live in a multitude of sleek condos and enjoy its parks and community gardens, where Pixar Animation Studios creates beloved, animated feature and short films such as “Toy Story” and “Finding Nemo.”

1. Wally’s Cafe

3900 San Pablo Ave.: The Lebanese-influenced Mediterranean dishes include crunchy falafels and juicy lamb, beef and shrimp kabobs with rice pilaf and a side salad. Wally’s Cafe is a tucked-away gem where the namesake chef-owner serves complimentary lentil soup and baklava with every meal. Cash only. (510) 597-1303.

2. Bank Club Cafe

3900 San Pablo Ave.: An R&B tune plays on the jukebox, stringed figures hover above the bar and patrons tell jokes while shooting pool at this neighborhood bar. Grab a pool cue and join in or refresh with a beer, martini or other concoction at the bar. (510) 652-4381.

3. Arizmendi Bakery and Pizzeria

4301 San Pablo Ave.: At Arizmendi, a worker cooperative named after priest José Maria Arizmendiarrieta, who helped establish worker cooperatives in the Basque region of Spain, find breads, baked goods and pizza made with organic flour, hormone-free dairy products and other natural ingredients. (510) 547-0550. www.arizmendi-bakery.org.

4. ‘Aquatic Circus’ sculpture

5885 Hollis St.: Delicate sprays of water rush over Greg Hawthorne‘s “Aquatic Circus,” a joyful interplay of hues, patterns and shapes culminating in a large-scale sculpture. Made with fused glass and acid etched, sand-blasted Corten steel, it’s one of several works artists created for Emeryville’s Art in Public Places program. http://bit.ly/18hVgZu.

5. Emeryville Community Organic Garden

59th and Doyle streets: Although there’s a waiting list to use one of the 30 plots in this garden, you can stop by to admire the cherry tomatoes, artichokes and other produce grown in raised planters and metal tubs here. (510) 658-4915. http://bit.ly/fvJOO2.

6. Doyle Hollis Park

Hollis, Doyle, 61st and 62nd streets: Built upon the former site of the Dutro Company building, this park includes a basketball court, amphitheater, playground and picnic areas. It also features “Reflection of Time,” a carved, granite work by Masayuki Nagase. http://bit.ly/1cRVQAK.

PARKING

Free street parking on San Pablo Avenue.

GETTING THERE

Public Transit: Exit the MacArthur BART Station and walk west on 40th Street to Martin Luther King Jr. Way. Take the AC Transit No. 57 bus and exit at 40th Street and San Pablo Avenue, then turn left on San Pablo Avenue. www.bart.gov. www.actransit.org.

By car from S.F.: Cross the Bay Bridge and continue on Interstate 80 east to Interstate 580 east. Exit at MacArthur Boulevard and turn left on San Pablo Boulevard in Emeryville.

Good to Know

Emeryville’s Art in Public Places program includes more than 40 publicly owned artworks and more than 70 art installations in private developments, which the public can view. Download a map featuring 40 such pieces and take a self-guided walking tour of the public art. http://bit.ly/15l67O8.

– Stephanie Wright Hession, 96hours@sfchronicle.com

Companies Spruce Up Neighborhoods, Putting Gentrification in Overdrive

OAKLAND, Calif.—On a recent weekday morning, a crew was busy sprucing up the exterior of Koonal Parmar’s one-story house in West Oakland. They trimmed trees, pressure-washed the wood siding and touched up his paint job.

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Robbie Whelan / The Wall Street JournalA worker hired by REO Homes power-washes Koonal Parmar’s house.

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Robbie Whelan / The Wall Street JournalMr. Parmar welcomes the changes in his neighborhood.

Mr. Parmar didn’t pay a dime for all this. The upgrades were compliments of REO Homes LLC, an investment firm that owns several houses on Mr. Parmar’s block. In addition to helping homeowners upgrade their homes, REO has mended fences and planted hundreds of trees along city streets.

“The neighborhood was badly in need of capital, to maintain, beautify and restore it,” said REO founder Neill Sullivan, while driving his hybrid sedan through the streets of West Oakland.

The company’s motives aren’t altruistic. They are part of a broader strategy designed to upgrade the neighborhood to attract higher-income residents who, in turn, will help boost properties’ values.

In past housing recoveries, investors purchased foreclosed homes and often tried to flip them for a quick profit. But investors with a different approach have plunged into the housing market this time. They have assembled billions of dollars to acquire homes and upgrade them. Their aim is to gentrify communities and profit later when rents and property values rise.

“We’re taking mostly vacant, abandoned and beat up housing stock, fixing it up and putting livable, quality housing on the market,” Mr. Sullivan said.

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The gentrification of low- and middle-income urban neighborhoods is nothing new. But economists and scholars say the current process is moving faster than in the past, which can be unsettling to people who lost their homes or who are being displaced by fast-rising rental rates and home prices.

“It can take generations for neighborhoods to change, but investors have the potential to accelerate the process, especially because they may have the cash on hand to purchase lots of homes at once, even in tight credit markets,” said Ingrid Gould Ellen, co-director of New York University’s Furman Center for Real Estate and Urban Policy.

These efforts aren’t occurring everywhere. In cities far away from vibrant employment centers or where crime and unemployment are high, vast tracts of housing remain abandoned. But in working-class communities in or near Washington, New York, Boston, Los Angeles and San Francisco—where employment is relatively strong and housing costs are high—big investors have become an active part of the housing market.

Virginia Tech professor Derek Hyra, who is writing a book about the gentrification of Washington’s historically black, largely low-income Shaw/U Street neighborhood, said while the gentrification process has been moving slowly for decades, it sped up in late 2009 and early 2010, due partially to rising foreclosures. “You see doggy day-cares popping up in the U Street area, which is sort of unbelievable,” Mr. Hyra said.

Real-estate firms say they need to spiff up neighborhoods to make their investments pay off. The MACK Cos., is a rental landlord that operates in the Chicago market and owns about 400 homes and manages about 1,400 homes owned by larger investment firms. Six months ago, it paid $165,000 for a house in Midlothian, Ill., near a country club, which sat on a street filled with potholes.

Robbie Whelan / The Wall Street JournalA worker renovates one of REO’s homes.

After local officials failed to repair the road, MACK decided to spend $20,000 to repave the block in front of the home, which is expected to rent for about $3,300 to $3,500 per month. Jim McClelland, MACK’s chief executive, said the company buys most of its homes, which are all bank-owned foreclosures, for around $50,000. It then spends an average of $43,000 on interior renovations for each house, and an average of $9,700 on exterior improvements, including grooming driveways and planting trees in medians on the street.

“If your play is for long-term appreciation, versus just flipping the houses, wouldn’t you want to improve the properties and make the area more desirable?” Mr. McClelland asked. “It creates a look of curb appeal. It’s good for business.”

Some veteran landlords disagree. “Renters can only afford to pay up to a certain amount. Spending extra money to not only improve the house, but also the neighborhood wouldn’t result in enough of a rent increase to be cost-justifiable,” said Michael Meyer, chairman of TwinRock Partners, a real-estate firm in Newport Beach, Calif., that owns roughly 250 single-family rental homes in Southern California and Las Vegas.

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Because homes prices are rising faster than rents, Mr. Meyer said he is only getting a 5% to 6% annual return on his most recent purchases. Spending more to improve the neighborhood wouldn’t be “economically viable,” he said.

Few places highlight how investors are hastening gentrification as well as Oakland, a port city on the San Francisco Bay with a long history of labor and political activism. The city’s working-class black population swelled after World War II as families relocated from the South to seek work in Oakland’s shipbuilding and food-processing industries.

Over the years, Oakland has been the scene of numerous dockworker strikes and in 1966 became home to the Black Panther Party, a black militant organization. Crime skyrocketed during the crack-cocaine epidemic of the 1980s, and the city’s reputation suffered despite its proximity to some of the wealthiest neighborhoods in the country.

As crime has fallen in recent years a technology industry boom has lifted the Bay Area economy, and real-estate brokers have positioned Oakland as a more affordable option to San Francisco, a few miles away. The average asking rent for a one-bedroom apartment in San Francisco rose 39.4% to $2,797 between the second quarter of 2009 and the second quarter of 2013, according to RealFacts LLC, a real-estate data provider. Oakland’s rental market is rising, but it remains comparatively cheap. Over the same period, one-bedroom asking rents rose 31.2%, to $1,839 from $1,402.

Home prices also are significantly cheaper in Oakland, although they are rising faster than in San Francisco. The estimated median sales price in the Oakland area was $450,180 in June, according to CoreLogic, a real-estate data provider, up 25.7% from a year ago. In the San Francisco area the estimated median price was $773,473, up 21% from a year earlier.

After the housing crash, investors pounced on Oakland. In 2006, absentee buyers and buyers making cash purchases—another sign they are investors—made up 10.6% and 5.7% of the market respectively, according to DataQuick, a housing analytics company. By 2012, the absentee buyer share had risen to 30.5%, and the cash-buyer share had risen to 33.6%.

A study conducted last year by the Urban Strategies Council, an advocacy organization based in Oakland, found that between 2007 and 2011, 10,508 homes in the city went through foreclosure, and 42% were acquired by investors.

One of the biggest investors to seize on the opportunity was Mr. Sullivan’s REO Homes. With the help of an early investment from Thomas Steyer, the founder of San Francisco-based hedge-fund firm Farallon Capital Management LLC, REO has acquired more than 200 homes in Oakland since REO was founded in 2008. Most are in West Oakland, known for its stately Victorian homes and located just one stop from San Francisco on the local commuter rail line.

In the five-block radius around Mr. Parmar’s house, REO owns around 20 homes, Mr. Sullivan said. Most houses cost around $200,000 and Mr. Sullivan said he invests as much $100,000 to fix each one up.

Mr. Parmar welcomes the investor-driven gentrification. The 39-year-old musician and youth soccer coach purchased his home in West Oakland for $302,000 in 2004, when the neighborhood was, as he said, “very marginal.”

The housing crash made things worse. By 2007, Mr. Parmar’s home was worth $125,000. Similar-sized houses in the neighborhood have sold in recent months for more than $370,000, Mr. Parmar said.

Mr. Parmar said that since investors started buying up blighted properties in the neighborhood, drug dealers have stopped selling on a corner near his house, neighbors have started taking better care of their houses’ appearances, local residents have set up a neighborhood watch group on Facebook and a once-dangerous park nearby has reopened for weekly youth soccer practices and softball games.

He also points to new, trendy restaurants and a brewery that have opened recently nearby, and said that the neighborhood is getting younger and more ethnically diverse as more-affluent white and Asian renters move in. “This neighborhood has turned around 180 degrees,” said Mr. Parmar. “The people who were living here for 30 years were just letting the neighborhood rot.”

That isn’t the way many longtime residents see it. A few blocks away, Jo Anne Stamps, 61, a retired administrative assistant, lives with her 96-year-old mother in a home that has been in her family for more than 40 years. She said the new renters who have come in over the past few years keep to themselves and don’t participate in neighborhood traditions like the annual block party. “When mom moved in, people were more friendly,” Ms. Stamps said. “Everybody knew everybody. It made me feel safer.”

The changes in the community also worry Oakland city officials. They are advancing various initiatives designed to slow down investor purchases and give owner-occupiers a chance to buy foreclosed properties before investors see them as part of a federally funded “First Look” program.

“I’m not interested in finding housing for San Franciscans who can no longer afford San Francisco. I’m interested in helping people here in Oakland,” said Desley Brooks, the council member who sponsored city legislation requiring investors to record their property holdings in a city registry to slow down purchases. “There are people here who have lived here their whole lives who can no longer afford Oakland.”

Write to Robbie Whelan at robbie.whelan@wsj.com