The first time I ever drove into Oakland (besides the initial I-880 through town to my hotel) I came up International Blvd. into the city. I ran into the construction for this Lake Merritt project; over a year later it's finally done. The city voted to raise taxes to fix up the lake and the surrounding walkways, and last Sunday was the grand opening celebration of a 10-year project. Thousands came down for music and food and a nice stroll around the water.
Now, is Lake Merritt the purest thing you've ever seen? No. You wouldn't want to swim in it, let's put it that way. And it smells kinda funny. But, they do have sailing and rowing so you can get out on the water if you wish. For the most part, people bring their kids and dogs and picnic baskets, and just enjoy the surroundings and the birds in the wildlife refuge. The water should get better over time too, as they plan on connecting it back to its original formation as a tidal lagoon off the SF Bay.