Archive for October, 2014

Will Proposed Coliseum City Benefit or Displace East Oakland Residents?

 The City of Oakland has relased the detailed plans for a proposed 800-acre “Coliseum City” to rise upon Oakland’s existing Coliseum site and 550 acres of adjacent land on the other side of I-880. The plan includes nearly 6,000 units of housing, three hotels, over 500,000 square feet of retail space, and nearly 7 million square feet of science, technology, office, and industrial space.

The City of Oakland has relased the detailed plans for a proposed 800-acre “Coliseum City” to rise upon Oakland’s existing Coliseum site and 550 acres of adjacent land on the other side of I-880. The plan includes nearly 6,000 units of housing, three hotels, over 500,000 square feet of retail space, and nearly 7 million square feet of science, technology, office, and industrial space.

 

By Ken Epstein

City officials seem to be moving full steam ahead on a plan to knock down the Oakland Coliseum and replace with a glitzy Coliseum City – which could include up to three arenas and hotels, entertainment venues, housing, retail and restaurants – even though no money so far been found to put the project in motion.

If the proposal is approved by the Coliseum’s Joint Powers Authority, along with the Oakland City Council and the Alameda County Board of Supervisors, the zoning and other permit amendments will be in place if the financing can be put together.

Seeking funding, Mayor Jean Quan announced in the spring that she secured funding from the crown prince of Dubai, but that promise has not been substantiated.

However, the mayor now says she has worked out an agreement to build at least part of the deal – a new Raider’s Stadium in exchange for giving free land to the team to build the $900 million to $1.2 billion project.

Proposed Coliseum City

Proposed Coliseum City

As part of the deal, city and Alameda County taxpayers will pay off $120 million still owed for the 1990s overhaul of the Coliseum that would be demolished. In addition, the city would pay for other subsidies to prepare the site.

At a public hearing Wednesday night at City Hall at the Planning Commission, many residents raised concerns that the officials want to build a new city in East Oakland and bring new people into the area while ignoring the people who live in the existing city.

They say city is rushing to approve the Coliseum City plan, which does not does not offer sufficient guarantees of local jobs and moderate- and low-income housing and more generally ignores the needs and voices of the East Oakland community that surrounds the proposed project.

In addition, they argue the community was not involved for two years when the plan was drafted and only have less then two months to comment on the 168-page draft Coliseum Area Specific Plan and the extensive draft Environmental Impact Review documents, reportedly developed at a cost of over $5 million.

“(This plan) may not happen, but is it going to serve the people in East Oakland?” Asked Nehanda Imara from Communities for a Better Environment (CBE), who was concerned about the zoning amendments.

“This is a deal between the planners, the developers and the city,” said another speaker. “The haves nothing for the people who live here,” to mitigate the environmental and noise problems they will experience as a result of the project.

“The people who lived here the longest, we get the all the burnt of it,” the speaker said. “It’ just not right.”

This is a low-income housing area (in East Oakland),” said Anwan Zeidi. “When you start putting in something like this, you are going to drive the people out.”

In an interview with the Post, Coliseum area businessman Bob Schwartz complained about the whole process

“This thing has been worked on for two years,” he said. “There was supposed to be community input, and money was in the budget for it,” but there was no outreach to the affected community, he said.

“Now, we’re asked to comment on it when the plan is done and is very hard to change,” he said. “They want to pass this almost immediately.”

Courtesy of the Oakland Post, October 4, 2014 (postnewsgroup.com)

Dan Kalb Proposes Law to Protect Renters from Landlord Harassment

Members of Just Cause: Causa Justa are backing the Tenant Protection ordinanace. Photo courtesy of Causa justa

Members of Just Cause: Causa Justa are backing the Tenant Protection ordinanace. Photo courtesy of Causa justa

By Ashley Chambers

An ordinance was introduced at the city’s Community and Economic Development meeting this week to provide additional protections for Oakland residents have been harassed or intimidated into not asserting their tenant rights.

Introduced by City Councilmember Dan Kalb, the Tenant Protection Ordinance would offer tenants the ability to protect themselves against various forms of harassment by their landlord, including “failing to provide, or threatening to interrupt housing services required by contract or by law;” removing a tenant’s personal property without prior consent“ and “attempting to influence a tenant to vacate a rental unit through fraud, intimidation or coercion.”

Coupled with rising rent prices in Oakland, this kind of harassment has displaced many Oakland residents, pushing them out of the city, according to housing rights activists.

“The primary goal of this is to deter these kinds of inappropriate or, in some cases, harassing behaviors that take place from time to time,” said Kalb at Tuesday’s meeting.

Dan Kalb

Dan Kalb

“I think we have a certain obligation to protect our tenants and protect what we would call the economic diversity of our city and those who want to continue to live and work here,” he said.

A similar law prohibiting landlord harassment already exists in San Francisco, West Hollywood, Santa Monica and East Palo Alto.

Council members heard over 60 speakers on Tuesday, including landlords and tenants who shared their experiences of harassment.

According to Ana Baires Mira, a tenant’s rights attorney at Centro Legal de la Raza in the Fruitvale District, “Of the approximately 480 Oakland tenants who receive legal services at Centro Legal de la Raza, approximately 40 percent face some type of harassment outlined in the ordinance.”

One of Mira’s clients, Maria, an immigrant single mother, was living in “deplorable conditions,” and her landlord refused to make any repairs. Her landlord threatened to evict her if she went to the rent board, Mira said.

Maria still went to the rent board, and her rent was decreased by 40 percent. However, her landlord has yet to make repairs on her apartment.

“Many tenants fear making complaints because of landlord intimidation and retaliation,” said Wendy Georges, manager of the TRUST Clinic with the Alameda County Public Health Department, which supports the proposed ordinance.

Several members of the housing rights organization Causa Justa: Just Cause highlighted the need for tenant protections.

“My landlord has entered my home on many occasions without giving me prior notice,” said an emotional Alice Kennedy, an Oakland resident and member of Causa Justa: Just Cause.

“My electrical wires in my garage have been crossed with my neighbor’s wires, so my neighbor controls my electricity in my garage,” she said. ”I’ve talked to my landlord about the issue, and he says there’s nothing to do about it to reverse what has been done.”

“I believe the tenant protections are needed in Oakland now because they will protect seniors and the disabled from harassment from landlords who violate our rights,” she continued.

The CED Committee is scheduled to vote on the Tenant Protection Ordinance at its Oct. 14 meeting.

Courtesy of the Oakland Post, October 4, 2014 (postnewsgroup.com)

Phil Tagami’s Uninspected Trench Harms Port, Could Cost Taxpayers Up to $5 Million

By Post Staff

Work on a portion of developer Phil Tagami’s Army Base project has been at a halt since March because the job was not built to Port of Oakland safety specifications and also utilized contaminated dirt that has to be dug up and replaced.

In an Oakland Post article on April 3, 2014, the newspaper revealed that work had halted on the trench. Shown are Mayor Jean Quan and Phil Tagami at Army Base groundbreaking. Photo Courtesy of Oakland Local

In an Oakland Post article on April 3, 2014, the newspaper revealed that work had halted on the trench. Shown are Mayor Jean Quan and Phil Tagami at Army Base groundbreaking. Photo Courtesy of Oakland Local

When the work will be resumed and who will have to pay for the errors has not yet been announced by city officials. The total cost could run as high as $5 million, according to Post sources.

The work in question was done by a contractor hired by the city’s agent, Master Developer Phil Tagami of CCIG, to dig a trench around the Army Base project.

The trench will contain underground electrical wiring that is placed within conduit and buried – what is referred to as the “utility corridor.” The Port of Oakland says the part of the trench that goes through its property is not deep enough because large vehicles and stacked containers could potentially damage or break the electrical lines.

According to sources, the Port of Oakland is also saying the trench should be covered by a concrete cap over the conduit.

Overall, the Army Base infrastructure project covers 160 acres and involves earthwork, grading, drainage, replacement of utilities and public roadway improvements. The total estimated cost is $270 million and will be completed on a four-and-a-half year timeline.

The city will not have to pay the costs of replacing the material in the trench, according to Assistant City Administrator Arturo Sanchez, speaking Tuesday at the meeting of the city’s Community and Economic Development (CED) committee.

“The material that went inappropriately into the trench – that cost will be borne by the contactor,” he said.

However, according to Post sources, the contractor who built the trench is not expected to pay for the additional work. Therefore, the name of contactor who will pay is still unspecified.

John Monetta

John Monetta

In addition, the Port of Oakland has come up with changes in its specifications for the trench, and these costs will have to be paid, said John Monetta, the city’s real estate manager at the Army Base Project.

According to Post sources, the port made its specifications clear from the beginning, and Tagami chose to ignore them.

Seeking answers to the costs to the city, Councilmember Lynette McElhaney said, “It is my understanding that the project doesn’t have any excess funding. We need to understand what the (change) is and what the fiscal impact is. “

Responding, Assistant City Administrator Sanchez said, “We believe we have a way to resolve it without it having a significant impact to the financial picture of the project.”

The total cost to replace the contaminated material and upgrade the trench is still not known, according to city staff

Tom Chasm

Tom Chasm

In addition, city staff is saying the problem of the contamination can be traced to aggregate left at the base by Urban Recycling Solutions, a company that is no longer in existence. But under questioning by Councilmember McElhaney, staff admitted that the material – crushed concrete and asphalt – was placed in the trench without being tested.

Tom Chasm, former manger of Urban Recycling, said the aggregate his company left at the base was tested and up to industry standards.   There is no way to know if Urban Recycling was the source of the material used in the trench or if it was dumped by a different operator, according to Post sources.

Courtesy of the Oakland Post, October 4, 2014 (postnewsgroup.com)

Oakland Seeks Answers as Residents Continue to Be Displaced and Dispossesed

foreclosure2-620x416

Photo courtesy of Oakland North.

 

By Ken Epstein

With all the talk of economic and housing market recovery, people may think that Oakland’s flatland residents are singing, “Happy Days Are Here Again.”

But the reality is quite different. Fueled by market forces as well as policies implemented by courts and financial institutions, the gentrification of Oakland – displacement and dispossession of homeowners and renters – continues at alarming rates.

City and nonprofit efforts lend support to individual families but so far have not reached a scale sufficient to make a difference in current trends.

The foreclosure tsunami, which blasted through Oakland from 2007-2011, took 10,500 Oakland homes. The families that were ejected were mostly Black, Latino, seniors on pensions or people with disabilities.forclosure-620x465

Though it is true that the rate of foreclosure is down and continuing to decline, a total of 3,435 notices of default have been issued to Oakland homeowners since January 2012, according to an Aug. 21 report on foreclosure issued by the City of Oakland.

In the latest quarter, between April and June, 161 homeowners received notices of default. During the same period, 71 homes were sold at auction.

Meanwhile, Oakland’s housing market prices continue to explode, “bolstered by an influx of international capital that makes our city one of the nation’s fastest-moving housing markets,” according to the report produced by the city’s Housing and Community Development Department.

“Homes in Oakland only stay on the market for an average of 14 days, with many homes attracting multiple offers and resulting in inflated sales prices,” said the report, citing a study by the California Association of Realtors.

Oakland’s median home sales price in June reached an “unprecedented” $489,150, a 28.6 percent increase over the price in 2012.

foreclosure action 3  8 12 003.previewRelated to the changes in property value, estimated rents for all houses in Oakland in June was $2,124, a 31 percent increase in the last 36 months.

“The high cost of housing may … be a contributing factor in Oakland’s existing income inequality by discouraging low- to moderate-income households from moving into (the city) or pushing existing households out of Oakland,” the report said, citing a Brookings Institution study that ranked Oakland as the 7th highest city in the nation for income inequality.

The brunt of these trends is being experienced by the city’s African American families. The number of Black residents dropped by 24 percent or 33,502, residents between 2000 and 2010, according to the report.

In addition, the report said, the median income for African American, Latino and Asian households has fallen since 2000, and the number of children in the city has decreased in that period by 16.7 percent.

Between 1980 and 2010, seven census tracts in the East Oakland flatlands had more that a 25 percent drop in home ownership.

As a side effect of the housing crisis, many families are “living in deplorable conditions,” the report found. “Oakland homes in 2011 had more problems with signs of rats, heating equipment failure and a lack of kitchen facilities, compared to the national average,” the report said.

This crisis also means that Oakland’s homes are not ready for a natural disaster. “In the next major earthquake, over 14,000 housing units in low- to moderate-income flatland neighborhoods are at risk for collapse or other damage,” the report said.

Meanwhile, the city continues to build affordable housing units and fund a foreclosure prevention and mitigation program.

Approved by the City Council in 2012, the foreclosure prevention program in its first year kept over 90 homeowner households and over 50 tenant households in their homes. This year, the program has helped 18 successfully obtain loan modifications.

In addition, nonprofits are helping out. The Unity Council in the Fruitvale District this year created a fund that helped three families keep their homes.

Catholic Charities recently has begun offering $5,000 grants to households threatened with being pushed out of rental housing, helping 18 households with eviction prevention and utility shut-off prevention.

Acknowledging a housing crisis that impacts urban areas through the country, the City Council is seeking solutions that can address the magnitude of the problem that the city’s residents face.

“The City of Oakland has been attempting to develop bigger scale prevention solutions beyond the labor-intensive individual-by-individual homeownership preservation strategies,” the report said.

City staff is working on proposals, which are scheduled to be discussed by the council in December.

 Courtesy of the Oakland Post, October 4, 2014 (postnewsgroup.com)

Desley Brooks Helps Family After City Sewer Workers Wreck Their Home

Left to Right: Gerard Gray, Kameron Gray, Christina Gray and City Councilmember Desley Brooks

Left to Right: Gerard Gray, Kameron Gray, Christina Gray and City Councilmember Desley Brooks

By Ken Epstein

Gerard and Christina Gray have been working with the City of Oakland for over a year to get back into their home after a city crew accidently caused sewage to back up into their house – completely destroying it.

During that time, the couple says, they have been able to turn repeatedly to their representative, City Councilmember Desley Brooks, who has worked with the City Administrator to overcome bureaucratic obstacles to make sure the city fulfilled its responsibilities to the family.

“We knew this was the city’s fault, and this family should not have to go through this,” said Brooks.

“Along the way, we’ve talked to Councilmember Brooks when the city was not hearing us,” said Christina Gray.

The Gray’s nightmare began on July 16, 2013 when a city crew was working in the neighborhood using pressurized water to flush out the sewer lines, and something went wrong.

Apparently, there was too much water pressure, and a camera had not been used to check the pipe. As a result, sewage erupted from the bathtubs, drains, sinks and toilets in the Gray’s home at Keller Avenue and Mountain Boulevard in East Oakland.

The raw sewage contaminated the garage level and the two levels of the home. The liquid that pooled on the floor of the top level sank through the flooring, causing the ceiling of the first level to collapse.

The Grays, who had been living in their home for 15 years, had only an hour to go into the house in HAZMAT suits to gather their clothes and few personal possessions.

Their home had to be gutted.

The couple moved with their three children to a hotel. Since then, they have lived in hotels and moved six times. Their renovated home is supposed to be ready in January.

The couple called Councilmember Brooks who talked to the City Administrator when the city was being unresponsive.

Though city willingly accepted responsibility for the repairs, staff objected to paying for the family’s hotel stay.

City staff also pressured the Grays to accept the cheapest contractor, who would not thoroughly renovate the home but would instead clean and reinstall the old fixtures and patch instead of replace walls, according to the couple, who had to pay an attorney to represent them.

“(Originally,), all they did was give us a claim form and tell us to save the receipts so we could be reimbursed at the end,” said Gerard Gray, pointing out that the couple has had to continue to pay the mortgage and all the utilities for their home for the 15 months that they have lived in a hotel.

In addition, the City Attorney’s Office in writing agreed to waive permit fees for rebuilding. But staff changed their minds and wanted the couple to pay many thousands of dollars in fees.

Councilmember Brooks brought a resolution recently to the full City Council, which voted unanimously to waive the fees.

Courtesy of the Oakland Post, October 3, 2014 (postnewsgroup.com)

Kaplan, Brooks Push for City to Pay Bills on Time

Oakland City Council President Pro Tem Rebecca Kaplan and Councilmember Desley Brooks introduced legislation Thursday morning that would strengthen requirements that the city pay its bills on time.

Desley Brooks

Desley Brooks

Councilmembers Brooks and Kaplan submitted the following item title to the Rules Committee this Thursday: “Ordinance Amending Oakland Municipal Code Chapter 2.06 To Clarify and Add Language Specifically Identifying Requirements for Prompt Disbursements of Grant Funds to Grant Recipients.”

“People, non-profits, and companies that do business with our City deserve to get paid on time,” Kaplan said. “This is an incredibly basic part of running a government — or any other kind of organization — and we should treat our local businesses and non-profits with respect.”

The bill would clarify the City’s Prompt Payment Ordinance, which Brooks originally authored in 2008, to clarify that it covers payments to non-profits and ensure consistent and respectful treatment of our community. The bill is a clarification of the intent of Brook’s original ordinance and is not a rewrite.

Brook’s leadership resulted in the original ordinance passing unanimously.

Kaplan and Brooks said that the City of Oakland has a poor record of paying vendors and contractors on time — especially small businesses, non-profits and minority-owned companies.

Rebecca Kaplan

Rebecca Kaplan

“The city administration has fallen down on the job,” Brooks said. “And it’s most adversely affected Black- and women-owned small businesses with the least flexibility to wait around. City Hall has left them in the lurch, and it’s simply not acceptable.”

Kaplan added that residents are also harmed when small businesses and non-profits stop doing business with the city.

“When the Administration doesn’t pay them,” Kaplan said, “they can’t pay their own bills, which hurts workers, and can lead some to stop working for Oakland.”

With the leadership of Brooks and Kaplan the council also recently won funding in the city budget for a disparity study — to determine and identify disparities in the awarding of contracts to minority-owned firms. The city is required to conduct such a study every two years, but hasn’t done so since 2007.

The requested Prompt Payment item will be heard at the city’s Oct. 28 Finance and Management Committee.

 Courtesy of the Oakland Post, October 3, 2014 (postnewsgroup.com)