Lake Merritt Reborn

How Oakland voters transformed the city’s “Crown Jewel.”


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The restaurant opened in 2009, 100 years after the building first opened as part of a previous round of improvements at the lake promoted by then-Mayor Frank Mott. Those improvements included new parks and landscaping, a bandstand, lawn bowling greens, tennis courts, the sailboat house, and the “Necklace of Lights,” which started as a temporary project in 1913 and became permanent in 1925.

The history of the lake is full of improvement projects and efforts to protect its wildlife, but the lake also long had a reputation for blight and pollution. In 1870, it became the first wildlife refuge in North America, but by 1884, 90 percent of Oakland’s sewage was flowing into the lake.

Another aspect of the Measure DD work has been to let more water move freely in and out of the bay and improving water quality. That started when the city constructed the new bridge over the widened channel after demolishing the 12th Street culvert. By 2013, the channel had been sufficiently expanded to allow boats through.


Perhaps more accurately called a tidal lagoon, the lake connects to the bay and is subject to its tidal changes. But over its history, the channel was slowly and steadily filled in, substantially limiting the amount of water going in and out of the bay, leading to a lack of oxygen in the water and contributing to its sometimes foul smell.

Estes said this work is less obvious but has been transforming the water quality and habitat in the lake, making a better feeding environment for fish and birds alike. So far, the tidal flow has increased by more than 50 percent and work is continuing: The city removed another culvert under 10th Street a couple months ago as part of a channel project slated for completion this summer. The new tidal regime has been so pronounced that after opening the channel, residents called the city, concerned it was draining the lake.

Still to come is work on the pumping station at Seventh Street, which was completed in 1971 after heavy flooding in the 1960s. While some kind of tidal control will always be necessary to keep the area around the lake from flooding during the rainy season, the city is working with Alameda County Flood Control to study ways to keep the tide gates open as much as possible and in the process, improve pedestrian access at the Seventh Street Bridge.

The remaining work is mainly along the estuary, including connecting sections of the San Francisco Bay Trail, which can be challenging because of land ownership issues and technical feasibility. The last major park project for Measure DD will be a significant expansion of Estuary Park across from the massive Brooklyn Basin housing development currently under construction. The park would be doubled to about 18 acres, though construction is still a ways off. The planning process will begin later this year.

“It’s going to be a significant project that will change what the entrance to Lake Merritt Channel looks like,” Estes said. “We’re excited about that one. It’s our last big park review.”


Published online on May 10, 2017 at 8:00 a.m.

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