Oakley is a growing city with a growing need for more police protection, road repair, park maintenance, downtown rehabilitation and other city services that residents not only want but need. If city services don't keep up with growth, the quality of life begins to deteriorate and soon this relatively quiet and safe town could face the big-city problems that Antioch has been struggling with.
In order to provide those services, however, the city needs tax revenue. Unfortunately, Oakley as a new city is lagging in this regard, collecting about half the revenue from property and sales taxes that most California cities receive.
As a result, and in order to provide more local shopping and jobs, city officials have been keen to develop the River Oaks Crossing shopping center on the Cline vineyards property along Main Street, along with other retail developments elsewhere in the city.
River Oaks has been controversial, however, due to its initial plan to be anchored by a Wal-Mart 24-hour Supercenter. Wal-Mart recently withdrew its application, and the center is moving forward in its planning. But some are still concerned about its possible inclusion of three big-box stores and the asphalting of what is currently scenic vineyard property.
Many alternative development suggestions were made by residents at Monday night's Planning Commission meeting, many of which sound great: a winery, amphitheater, five-star restaurant, bowling alley, ice rink, train depot. Unfortunately, even if such businesses could be attracted to that site, they would probably bring in only a fraction of the sales tax revenue a major retail center would generate.
On the other hand, residents and some of the Planning Commission members are right to be concerned that this should not just be another boring shopping center that, in Joni Mitchell's words, paves paradise and puts up a parking lot.
Every effort should be made to make this a destination center, a special place that's different from all of the big-box parking lot malls along Lone Tree Way. Attracting specialty stores, retaining much of the grape vines, limiting the asphalt and providing nice restaurants should all be priorities in the development of this special area.
Oakley needs tax dollars, but it's also very much in need of an aesthetic upgrade on Main Street. Another ugly strip center with fast-food joints plus liquor and check-cashing stores won't cut it.
We know that beggars can't be choosers in this tough economic market, but we hope everything is done to make River Oaks Crossing a special place to shop and visit.