OAKLAND — Art for the sake of art is taking a holiday tonight during the First Friday gallery and entertainment crawl.

Ironically, some of those galleries and their Christmas-timed sales are, technically, illegal. "What?!" you ask.

But it's true: A glitch in Oakland's zoning laws prohibits galleries in the three-block area bordered by Broadway, Telegraph Avenue and 23rd Street because they are retail businesses.

A proposal making its way to the City Council would rectify the (mind-blowing) oversight, as well as allow the cluster of galleries to hold "small-scale entertainment" events and "recreational assembly activities" without special permits.

"They serve alcohol, they're in violation. They have a party, they're in violation. That's crazy," said Scott Peterson of the Oakland Metropolitan Chamber of Commerce. He happened to be at the zoning update committee meeting Wednesday on a different matter that had something to do with something I simply could not make out through the haze of technicality floating above me.

The change to the planning code would not eliminate complaints by neighbors about noise from "recreational assembly activities." But those issues can be aired in January when the item makes it to the full Planning Commission then to the City Council.

Meanwhile, the likelihood of a code-enforcement crackdown tonight is unlikely judging from the fact that the city of Oakland is a major First Friday booster.


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The reason for the glitch dates to the 1980s, according to Oakland City Planner Neil Gray. The area was zoned to serve the downtown retail corridor, which was supposed to be the pretty one and get invited to the big ball. Instead, Art Murmur got to the glass slipper (or, Dr. Martens boot) first.

Few imagined that the area would develop the way it has, Zoning Department Commissioner Doug Boxer said. "So we should make the technical changes."

Two additional "technical changes" were also on the agenda.

One relates to a proposal by the Beer Revolution, a bottle-shop tavern modeled after Beer City in San Francisco and the Belmont Station in Portland, Ore. The specialty beer shop would go in 464 Third St., last occupied by the Third Street Grind cafe, which kept the oddest hours of any cafe I have seen. The proposed hours of Beer Revolution are noon to 10 p.m. weeknights and until 11 p.m. weekends.

The operators, home-brew and beer aficionados Rebecca Boyles and Mark Martone, want to sell specialty micro brews that can be sipped on-site — inside or on the patio — or transported to their final destination. (The food menu is limited to small bar bites: hummus, chips and salsa, olives and "side of nutz.")

The proposal received what could be called a warm reception.

"Give me liberty, give me beer," is the way one supporter expressed his enthusiasm on a petition in on behalf of Beer Revolution presented to the Oakland Planning Commission Wednesday.

Others comments were fairly straightforward. "Please!" "Yes Please!" "Go beer place!" "We need this place." "More $ for Oakland."

As it stands, however, Beer Revolution requires the city to make an exception to the location because the building is too close to Beverages and More and Cost Plus and other off-site liquor selling establishments, even though the beer shop has more in common with a winery tasting room than a liquor store. The problem could be fixed if the City Council ultimately approves a change to the planning code allowing similar alcohol retail businesses to be located closer than 1,000 feet from each other. Liquor stores would still have to come to the city for permission to open.

"The concern of the community about liquor outlets is understandable," Peterson said, adding — in essence — that the zoning change applies to a horse of a different color, whatever color promoting Jack London Square as an entertainment district might be.

"It is not a piecemeal approach, if you will," he said.

Yet another proposed change to the planning code would lift a similar proximity restriction along San Pablo Avenue near downtown. The corridor would no longer be off limits to full-scale restaurants selling alcohol if they are closer than 1,000 feet. That applies only to restaurants, not bars or liquor stores.

I predict smooth sailing for the proposal because Town Hall — the multiuse entertainment center in the old Sweet Jimmie's space on 18th Street and San Pablo — would not be allowed to be near another business that provides alcohol without it. And there are a lot of people who want the Uptown District magic to make its way west to San Pablo Avenue.

Only one thought keeps me awake at night: more booze is being sold — and possibly consumed — in Oakland than books. It's going to be even harder to find those 12-step self-help books once Barnes & Noble in Jack London Square closes.