Objective Design Standards and Streamlined Project Review

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

New documents have been added to the Project Documents section below. The Oakland Objective Design Standards Factsheet and Understanding the Relationship Between Zoning and ODS documents provide details about the upcoming ODS-based approval system.

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. Check out the Project Documents section to learn more about objective design standards.

Why is Oakland Undertaking This Effort?

Elderly woman riding bike on sidewalk waving to another woman standing on steps of a building
  • Build more 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, including 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

A community workshop is coming soon, stay tuned! In the meantime, check out ways to get involved below and be sure to sign up for our mailing list to get updates of upcoming meetings and ways to share your voice!

Past Meetings and Events

Date Meeting / Event Materials


Oakland Objective Design Standards | Advisory Group Meeting 2

Meeting Materials


Oakland Objective Design Standards | Focus Group #2

Meeting Materials:


Oakland Objective Design Standards | Focus Group # 1

Meeting Materials:


Oakland Objective Design Standards | Advisory Group Meeting 1

Meeting Materials:

November 2022 (various dates)

Stakeholder Interviews

Objective Design Standards | Stakeholder Interviews Summary Notes

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

  • August - September 2023 - Community Engagement: Design Oriented Focus Groups

    Focus Group meetings

  • October 2023 - March 2024 - Draft Objective Design Standards for Residential Developments

    Develop and refine drafts of the Citywide objective design standards, focusing on key types of residential development in Oakland

  • April - May 2024 - Community Engagement: Community Workshops

    Hold community workshops and receive feedback on draft ODS for key types of residential development

  • June - July 2024 - Refinement and Testing of Objective Design Standards for Residential Developments

    Review public feedback, refine and test Objective Design Standards for Residential Developments

  • September - November 2024 - Planning Commission Hearings and Adoption of the Objective Design Standards

    Planning Commission hearings

Project Documents

Learn more about Objective Design Standards and review Project Documents here.

Project Team

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
  • Betty Marvin - Planner III, Historic Preservation
  • Neil Gray - Planner IV, Zoning Division
  • Peterson Vollmann - Planner IV, Development Planning Division
  • Kelsey Hubbard - Planner II, Project Support
  • Stephanie Skelton - Public Service Representative, Project Support
  • Bebe LeGardeur - Planning Intern


The city is undertaking an effort to develop procedures, regulations, and design criteria based on objective design standards. Once adopted, this will streamline the approval of residential and mixed-use building types, with the potential of commercial building types in the future.

Objective design standards are clear measurable, and flexible criteria for how certain building components should look. They are different from guidelines, which can help provide direction, but are often too vague and open to interpretation.

ODS are required by State law and are used by planners, developers, homeowners, designers and architects who wish to build eligible projects.

Contact Us

Email Address