Objective Design Standards and Streamlined Project Review

Oakland is starting a process to develop procedures, regulations, and objective design and development standards to streamline the approval of housing and commercial building types.

Why is Oakland Undertaking This Effort?

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  • 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. The City is working on multiple fronts to increase the available supply of affordable housing and housing in general.
  • California recently adopted legislation to address the housing shortage within the State. These new laws require that the City review new multi-family developments and residential mixed-use developments ministerially or "over-the-counter" against objective standards instead through a more subjective design review process open to interpretation.
  • The City of Oakland also applied for and received a State planning grant funding used to develop and implement policies that will expedite housing development and increase housing supply in the City of Oakland. A portion of this grant funds will cover a housing-related share of this project.
  • The objective design standards will be also applied more broadly to projects consisting of a wide array of mixed-use and commercial building types throughout the City of Oakland. The creation of standards for non-housing-related projects will come from a separate funding source. The State SB-2 grant funds will only be used for housing-related project items.

What Are Objective Design Standards?

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  • State law defines an "objective" standard as one that involves no personal or subjective judgment by a public official. Objective standards are uniformly verifiable by reference to an external and uniform benchmark or a "check list" available and knowable by both the development applicant and the public official prior to submittal.
  • In contrast, subjective standards require interpretation and discretion. It can be a more time-consuming process of discovery and evaluation. For example, a front yard setback requirement of 4 feet is an objective standard while “front yard setback consistent with the character of the neighborhood” is subjective because it requires a discretionary review and determination as to what “consistent with the character of the neighborhood” means.


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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