Objective Design Standards and Streamlined Project Review

Oakland is in a process to develop procedures, regulations, and objective design and development standards to streamline the approval of residential, mixed-use, and commercial building types.

What Are Objective Design Standards?

Montage of buildings

Design standards are "objective" if they are measurable, verifiable, and knowable to all parties prior to project submittal. A planning review process based on objective design standards involves no personal or subjective judgment by a public official.

In contrast, subjective design guidelines often require interpretation and discretion. A planning review based on subjective guidelines can be a more time-consuming and less predictable process of discovery and evaluation.

  • Example of an objective design standard: "minimum front setback: 4 feet."
  • Example of a subjective design guideline: “front yard setback consistent with the character of the neighborhood.” This requires a discretionary review and determination as to what “consistent with the character of the neighborhood” means.

Objective design standards hold a promise to be a more efficient, predictable, and equitable path to obtaining and granting of planning approvals for a wide variety of development projects, especially for affordable housing projects. Read more about objective design standards here.

Why is Oakland Undertaking This Effort?

Elderly woman riding bike on sidewalk waving to another woman standing on steps of a building
  • Build more affordable housing. Oakland is in the midst of a housing crisis that includes rising costs, increased rent burden, displacement, and widespread demographic change. At the root of this crisis is the limited availability of housing in Oakland, especially housing available to moderate- and low-income residents. A simplified and streamlined planning approval process for housing proposals of all types, especially affordable housing, would lead to increased availability and choice of housing to groups most burdened by high housing costs in Oakland.
  • Comply with state legislation. California recently adopted legislation (SB 35 and SB 330) to address the housing shortage within the State. The legislation requires cities to review new multi-family and mixed-use residential housing projects ministerially or "over-the-counter" against objective design and development standards. These new laws prevent cities from denying approvals for certain multifamily housing projects based on discretionary design guidelines.
  • City Council Action. In 2019, City Council adopted a Resolution requesting Planning staff to study incentives to increase creation of transit-oriented and affordable housing. These incentives include streamlining the permitting process. An alternative design review process based on objective design standards holds promise to streamline the planning permitting process.

Community Engagement

Our first engagement events are coming up this November. Sign up for our mailing list to get updates of upcoming meetings and ways to engage!

Related Meetings

Past Meetings and Events

Project Timeline

  • August 2022 - Project Kickoff

    Confirm project team, scope and schedule

  • September - December 2022 - Research & Analysis

    Identify issues with current design review process and find equitable alternatives

  • October 2022 - December 2022 - Community Engagement: Stakeholder Interviews

    Stakeholder interviews and Advisory Group meetings

  • January - July 2023 - Draft Objective Design Standards for Residential Developments

    Create drafts of the Citywide objective design standards, focusing on all types of residential development in Oakland

  • January - September 2023 - Draft Citywide Objective Design Standards for Mixed Use and Commercial Development

    Create drafts of the Citywide objective design standards, including all types of commercial and mixed use developments, and standards focusing on Downtown Oakland

  • October - November 2023 - Community Engagement: Design Oriented Focus Groups

    Focus Groups and Advisory Group meetings

  • November - December 2023 - Planning Commission Hearings and Adoption of the Objective Design Standards

    Planning Commission hearings

Project Team

The consultant team for the project consists of Dyett & Bhatia, an Oakland-based planning firm, with support from Van Meter Williams Pollack (VMWP), an architecture and urban design firm, as well as Page and Turnbull, an architecture and historic preservation firm.

Dyett & Bhatia will manage the project, including leading on community engagement, development of low-density residential standards, and permit streamlining. VMWP will support on the development of residential, commercial, and mixed-use standards. Page & Turnbull will support on the development of standards for historic resources.

City of Oakland staff involved in the project include:

  • Ed Manasse - Deputy Director of Planning
  • Laura Kaminski - Strategic Planning Manager
  • Ruslan Filipau - Planner IV, Project Manager
  • Khalilha Haynes - Planner III, Project Support
  • Stephanie Skelton - Public Service Representative, Project Support
  • Betty Marvin - Planner III, Historic Preservation


The City of Oakland's Objective Design Standards project will develop processes, procedures, regulations, and objective design and development standards to streamline the approval of a wide range of residential, mixed-use, and commercial building types, with a particular focus on the much-needed affordable housing projects in transit-rich areas. As opposed to "design guidelines,” objective design standards will not be subject to interpretation and design review, and result in faster, more predictable approvals of high-quality development that respects Oakland's history and benefits the local community.

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