Archive for June, 2015

City Council Approves Sale of Land for Lake Merritt Luxury Apartment Tower

Protesters stayed late Wednesday night to oppose the sale of the East 12th STtreet property. Photo by Ken Epstein

Protesters stayed late Wednesday night to oppose the sale of the East 12th STtreet property. Photo by Ken Epstein

By Ken Epstein

The Oakland City Council voted Wednesday night to go ahead with the hotly contested sale of a one-acre parcel of public land to a local developer and his out-of-state partner to build a luxury apartment tower at East 12th Street next to Lake Merritt.

After several hours of debate on both sides, the vote went quickly, 6-0, with one abstention, in favor of the sale.

Voting in favor were Councilmembers Abel Guillen, Desley Brooks, Lynette Gibson McElhaney, Larry Reid, Annie Campbell Washington and Noel Gallo.

Dan Kalb abstained, saying he liked the deal but was not sure it was legal. Rebecca Kaplan was absent.

In the last week, Brooks joined the negotiations between Guillen and the development team, securing an additional $8 million from the developers for the city to use sometime soon to build affordable housing somewhere in the Eastlake/San Antonio area.

Councilmembers supported the arguments of city staff, who strongly urged the council to approve the deal, calling it a win-win for Oakland that includes sale of property for $5.1 million, $700,000 in community benefits, in addition to the $8 million.

Speaking at the meeting, construction workers, union leaders and trainees from the Cypress Mandela Training Center in West Oakland said they wanted to work. A representative of the Oakland NAACP said the organization supported the project.

Several speakers said this project is one of the few that has gone to African American developers. Black contactors and developers for the most part never win city contracts, they said, and it is these businessmen who provide jobs for Black workers.

Opponents of the deal argued that the issue was not about obtaining community benefits to move away but to maintain an existing community that is in the process of being displaced to make way for the wealthy who are willing to pay whatever landlords charge in order to live by the lake.

Furious at the council’s vote, Eastlake neighbors and their supporters shouted:

“Shame, shame, shame! We reject this luxury tower on public land! We reject the violent displacement of Black and Brown people from Oakland!”

Some representatives of the neighborhood group are saying they will fight the property sale in court.

Courtesy of the Oakland Post, June 19, 2015 (postnewsgroup.com)

Oakland School District to Tear Down West Oakland School to Build Industrial Kitchen

Community members who are opposed to the Marcus Foster kitchen project include West Oakland residents (left to right) Lynne Horiuchi, Jeff Baker, and Madeline Wells. Photo by Ashley Chambers.

Community members who are opposed to the Marcus Foster kitchen project include West Oakland residents (left to right) Lynne Horiuchi, Jeff Baker, and Madeline Wells. Photo by Ashley Chambers.

By Ken Epstein

Despite vocal opposition of some community residents, the Oakland Unified School District is moving ahead with plans to demolish Marcus Foster School in West Oakland and build an industrial-style kitchen to provide healthy meals to schools throughout the city.

Some community members are angry that the plans for replacing the school at West and 29th streets have been underway since 2012, and they only learned of them in January.

Some are concerned that a school building will destroyed in a community that has lost many of it public buildings and has long been short-changed by the city in the allocation of public services.

They are also saying the new kitchen will bring pollution producing trucks into an area that already is burdened with extreme levels of asthma and other respiratory illnesses.

The school at present houses a few special education classes and special education administrative offices. The gymnasium is open for community use.

The district for the past few months has been holding public engagement meetings with community members. In the meeting, district staff have explained the project’s community benefits and their efforts to reduce the environmental impact of trucks and the industrial kitchen.

Marcus Foster is scheduled to close this month, and a public hearing will be held in September, followed by asbestos removal and the demolition of the school this year.

Courtesy of the Oakland Post, June 16, 2015 (postnewsgroup.com)

Oakland Is Losing Its Racial, Age and Economic Diversity, Says New Report

Photo courtesy of en.wikipedia.org/

Photo courtesy of en.wikipedia.org/

By Ken Epstein

Oakland is a city facing the loss of its racial, age, economic, cultural and social diversity, driven by the loss of affordable housing and a huge wealth gap, according to a new report produced by the City of Oakland.

The racial gap in household income is stark, with whites earning about double that of African Americans and other people of color.

Margaretta Lin

Margaretta Lin

Median household income of white families between 2008 and 2012 stood at $81,159. African American household income was $35,050, down from $42,975 in 2000.

The median income for Asian Americans between 2008 and 2012 was $45,238, down from $46,323 in 2000.

Latino families earned an average of $44,455, down from $53,341 in 2000.

The report, “Housing Equity Road Map,” cited a recent national study by the Brookings institution, which found that Oakland has the 13th highest income inequality in the nation, improving from 2012 when it ranked number seven.

In terms of housing affordability, Oakland has been first or second in the nation for the highest rent increases for multiple consecutive quarters.

Oakland’s median rental market list price is $2,200, and the median home sales price is $438,900, according to the report, which cited Zillow.

Renters who earn Oakland’s median income have to pay over 70 percent of their income for housing costs in order to afford a median rental-listing price in the city.

The rising cost of housing by itself is causing increased levels of poverty in Oakland and throughout California, according to Margaretta Lin, a primary author of the report and director of Strategic Initiatives for the city’s Housing and Community Development Department.

Economic growth will not solve but actually contributes to the city’s affordable housing crisis, the report found

Between March 2013 to March 2014, 17,000 new jobs were added in the East Bay, and 143,000 new jobs are forecasted by 2020, the report said. The growth in jobs is bipolar, mostly in the high wage professions and in the low wage sector.

“However, housing production is not keeping pace with the escalated demands, nor is sufficient housing being produced that is affordable to many existing residents and the growing lower-income workforce,” according to the report.

“Lower-income seniors, persons living on disability income and homeless people face nearly insurmountable barriers in finding housing that is affordable,” the report said.

Demographic changes in the city have been dramatic.

The number of children and youth in Oakland has declined 16.7 percent from 2000 to 2010, compared to 3.9 percent in Alameda County.

There continues to be a steady decline of the city’s African American population, 24 percent, 33,502 residents, between 2000 and 2010. Since 1990, the city has lost 54,003 Black residents.

During the foreclosure tsunami, Oaklanders lost their homes and their family nest eggs. In East Oakland, home ownership declined by 25 percent between 2006 and 2013.

Over 11,000 homes were foreclosed.

The City’s Council’s Community and Economic Development (CED) committee will schedule a special full council meeting to discuss the  report, “Oakland Housing Equity Roadmap,” including recommended policy strategies, which is available at www.policylink.org/sites/default/files/oakland-housing-051215-a.pdf

Courtesy of the Oakland Post, June 14, 2015 (postnewsgroup.com)

 

Community Wants Attorney General Kamala Harris to Investigate Officer-involved Killing

Family Demands Answers

Daughter of Demouria Hogg speaks to KTVU Channel 2.

Daughter of Demouria Hogg speaks to KTVU Channel 2.

 

By Ashley Chambers and Ken Epstein

Community members and the family of Demouria Hogg are calling on the Oakland Police Department and City of Oakland officials to release police-recorded videos that will reveal exactly what happened last Saturday

Demouria Hogg, 30,

Demouria Hogg, 30,

morning in the moment or two before one police officer fired a Taser and a rookie woman officer shot and killed the 30-year-old father of three.

Hogg’s 10-year-old daughter Damaria Hogg wants answers.

“What I wonder is, why did the police shoot him?” Damaria asked in an interview with KTVU Channel 2.

“I want my dad to know that I love him, and I want him to watch over me,” she said.

“He was a father to all of his kids,” said Tylena Livingston, Damaria’s mother. “He was asleep in his car. They could have prevented that. If they tased him, what did he get shot for?”

Teandra Butler, mother of Demouria Hogg Jr., said the hardest part was not being able to tell the children why their father is gone. She wants OPD to answer that question.

At about 7:30 last Saturday morning, Hogg was found asleep or unconscious in a BMW on the Lakeshore Avenue off-ramp of Highway 580. The Oakland Fire Department, instead of trying to awake him, called police when they noticed a gun on the front seat next to the man, according to police.

Over the next hour, police used bullhorns and shot at the car’s windows with beanbag projectiles, but he still did not wake up.

Finally, when he did wake up at about 8:40 a.m. – his car surrounded by about 12 officers – one officer fired a Taser, and he was shot and killed by a woman rookie officer.

OPD so far has not released any of the videos or offered an explanation of what happened in the few moments after Hogg woke up.

Libby Schaaf

Mayor Libby Schaaf

However, attorney Steven Betz, who represents the woman officer who killed Hogg, presented her version of events in an interview with the S.F. Chronicle.

When police used a crowbar to break a driver-side window, Hogg “reached over with his hands to the firearm,” and the officer fired her gun twice, according to the attorney.

Betz told the Chronicle his client “absolutely” acted appropriately and could not wait “until he has drawn (his gun) on them.” The officer “knows he’s going for a gun in an area where it is, he’s lunging for it and had been given multiple commands to comply, to surrender.”

kamala-harris

Attorney General Kamala Harris

Members of the public are looking for leadership from Mayor Libby Schaaf who has been a strong advocate for public safety and improved police-community relations. They want her to ensure that OPD provides full disclosure of what happened and the family gets the answers it wants.

As the family seeks answers, activist Cat Brooks says the community intends to hold the mayor, OPD and the city accountable.

“Mayor Schaaf and the City of Oakland have the opportunity to step up to the plate and show that they hear the community’s concerns…and honor that this family had their family member stolen from them,” said Brooks, chair of the Onyx Organizing Committee and a member of the Anti Police Terror Project.

“We intend to hold them accountable to do just that.”

Mayor Schaaf’s released a statement several days ago but did not respond to questions from the Post.

Cat Brooks, co-chair of the Onyx Organizing Committee.

Cat Brooks, co-chair of the Onyx Organizing Committee.

The Anti Police Terror Project is demanding that the mayor, City and OPD immediately release the names of the officer(s) involved in the shooting and release the dash cam, officers’ body cam and all street surveillance videos of the entire event.

They also want the OPD to release the coroner’s and police reports to the family; and, immediately request that the Attorney General appoint an independent investigator to this case.

They want an independent investigation of the killing because they say Alameda County District Attorney Nancy O’Malley’s close ties to the local police department and her handling of other cases – including the Alan Blueford case in 2012 and the Black Friday 14 – call into question an investigation conducted by her office.

“We do not trust Nancy O’Malley to investigate the Oakland Police Department,” said Brooks, adding that she has “demonstrated racial bias.”

At press time, the District Attorney’s office said they are unable to provide details because the investigation is “active and ongoing.”

John Burris

John Burris

In a number of other officer-involved shootings, communities have requested involvement of the State Attorney General to oversee the work of the county district attorney.

Contacted by the Post, a spokesperson for Attorney General Kamala Harris responded: “This is an ongoing investigation. It is important for that process to conclude before we comment.”

City Attorney Barbara Parker was asked by the Post what she was doing to ensure the release of the shooting videos and that the police are fully accountable. Her office replied by email: “You should email (OPD Public Relations Officer) Johnna Watson re: officer’s name and video.”

In an interview with the Post, Civil rights attorney John Burris talked about some of his observations, based on his involvement in investigations of many police shootings.

“The police created the confrontation,” said Burris. “(Hogg) was not out looking for a confrontation. He did he not know the police were there. It seems wrong that a person could be asleep, and he wakes up and gets shot and killed.”

The question, he said, is whether police were in “imminent danger.” Another question is why the department would place a rookie at the car to hold the gun and make the decision to shoot, he said.

“The family has a right to see these videos, sooner rather than later,” Burris continued. “(Police) killed a person who was minding his own business. The family can look at the tapes to see if they corroborate what the police have said. “

The Anti Police Terror Project is holding a vigil for Demouria Hogg on Friday, June 12 at 6 p.m. at the site where he was killed by the gas station at the corner of Lakeshore and Lake Park avenues.

Courtesy of the Oakland Post, June 12, 2015 (postnewsgroup.com)

 

 

Judge Thelton Henderson Will Monitor Investigations of Three OPD Shootings in 2015

Judge will also review Mayor Schaaf’s nighttime protest restrictions

Oakland protesters, May 23. Photo courtesy of the SF Chronicle/Leah Mills via AP.

Oakland protesters, May 23. Photo courtesy of the SF Chronicle/Leah Mills via AP.

 By Ken A. Epstein

Federal Judge Thelton Henderson is monitoring how the Oakland Police Department (OPD) is handling the investigations of three officer-involved shootings this year, including the killing this past weekend of Demouria Hogg, 30, of Hayward.

Judge Thelton Henderson

Judge Thelton Henderson

“We will closely monitor the (OPD) investigations and (internal review board) presentations on these incidents,” wrote Compliance Director Robert Warshaw in a report issued June 8 on the progress of police department reforms.

Warshaw was appointed by Judge Henderson to oversee Oakland’s efforts to comply with the Negotiated Settlement Agreement (NSA), which requires the city to institute polices and practices that protect the constitutional rights of local residents.

Warshaw noted that prior to these shootings in 2015, OPD had not been involved in an officer-involved shooting for about for about two years.

Besides the killing of Hogg on Saturday at the Lakeshore off-ramp of Highway 580, two other incidents this year involved “mentally disturbed” suspects.

Barbara Parker

Barbara Parker

“In the first case, the officer’s two rounds missed the mentally disturbed subject, who retreated and surrendered; in the second case – which also involved a mentally disturbed suspect whose erratic behavior prompted calls to OPD – the officer’s round struck the subject, who is expected to survive.”

Pointing out a positive development, Warshaw wrote in the report that the department has found it can reduce shootings without reducing policing.

“In the last year, the department has demonstrated reductions in

uses of force without reducing the number of arrests or showing any other indications of what is sometimes referred to a ‘depolicing,’” he wrote.

Warshaw is also involved in discussions that are taking place in the wake of the city’s new policy that curtails nighttime protest marches.

“I have commended the department for its more thoughtful and cautious approach to crowd control in the past,” he said. “Recently, however, the city has begun interpreting its crowd control policy more broadly and has appeared to restrict the routes of nighttime marches following several protests that involved looting and serious destruction of public property.”

Oakland Mayor Libby Schaaf and Oakland Police Chief Sean Whent speak to members of the media. Photo by  Josh Edelson/AFP/Getty Image.

Oakland Mayor Libby Schaaf and Oakland Police Chief Sean Whent speak to members of the media. Photo by Josh Edelson/AFP/Getty Image.

“I will continue to facilitate discussions between the department and local attorneys,” including representatives of the National Lawyers Guild, he said.

Another major issue raised by the report is that the court has begun to address the failure of city staff, including City Attorney Barbara Parker’s office, to adequately handle cases of officers who have been terminated for serious misconduct, resulting in loss of arbitrations and reinstatement of the officers.

Warshaw cited a recent report by a court-appointed investigator who found that Oakland’s “police discipline process is ‘broken,’ because, among other reasons, it fails to ‘deliver fair, consistent, and effective discipline.’”

The report quoted Judge Hendson, who wrote, “It is difficult to reach any conclusion other than that the city has been indifferent, at best, to whether its disciplinary decisions are upheld at arbitration.”

The report blames these failures on the “lack of accountability” of officials in both the OPD and Office of the City Attorney.

Warshaw commended the City Attorney’s recent involvement in resolving the court’s complaints.

“City Attorney (Parker) has become more engaged in matters relevant to the recent report about discipline and arbitration – as well as developments regarding crowd control policy…We look forward to a measure of collaboration with her and her office.”

In response Parker said in a statement that she had begun to address the problems in handling police discipline cases even before the court had begun its investigation.

“Before the Court ordered its investigation, I conducted my own internal review of my office’s handling of police arbitration cases when issues came to my attention including the timing of assignments of attorneys to police arbitrations,” said Parker in a statement released in April.

“We recognize police discipline has been a difficult issue for the city over the years. We agree with many of the investigator’s recommendations, a number of which we implemented or addressed prior to the Court’s investigation.”

On Wednesday night, protesters marched without a permit in defiance of Schaaf’s restrictions. No police showed up, and no one was arrested.

Despite the inconsistent enforcement, the Mayor’s Office told the Post the city’s policy remains unchanged.

The city “has not banned nighttime protests…(or) imposed a curfew. Consistent with our existing policy, we are simply implementing time, place and manner provisions to better protect public safety and prevent vandalism and violence.”

“Marcher on roadways without permits may be subject to citation or arrest.”

“An OPD officer who issues permits told the media recently he could not remember ever having issued a permit for a nighttime protest.

“This gives the impression that the mayor and the city attorney are opting to use selective enforcement when it suits their needs,” said Post Publisher Paul Cobb, who intends to sponsor a nighttime march for jobs for the formerly incarcerated and youth – without a permit.

Courtesy of the Oakland Post, June 12, 2015 (postnewsgroup.com)

Residents Support Water Cutbacks But Worry About Rate increases

east-bay-municipal-utility-district-photo4

By Nikolas Zelinski

A recent Field poll indicates that 65 percent of Californians support Gov. Jerry Brown’s mandatory 25 percent reduction of water use in urban areas.

At the same time, seven out of 10 homeowners say that it would be a “serious problem” if their water bill increased by 15 to 25 percent.

East Bay Municipal Utility District (EBMUD) customers have already been asked to reduce their water use by 20 percent, with a goal of 35 gallons per day, per person, for indoor use.

Residential water use accounts for around 68 percent of EBMUD’s water demand, while commercial use is around nine percent, and around 11 for industrial, according to Nelsy Rodriguez, spokesperson for EBMUD.

Current demand is going down because of conservation and is around 151 million gallons per day.

Also, a surcharge will be discussed by the EBMUD Board of Directors on June 9, and if approved, will go into effect July 1. The temporary surcharge would be removed if the EBMUD board decides the drought is over, according to Rodriguez.

Rodriguez went on to explain that about 100 people have protested the surcharge, using Proposition 218.

Prop 218 was passed in 1996, and requires local governments to have a vote when considering any new taxes on property owners. The law recently gained traction in April, when a California Court of Appeals said that the law extends to water municipalities.

Residents in Morada, a small town just north of Stockton, protested against increased water rates. Prop 218 allowed the town to keep water costs at a flat rate, as long as the majority of customers protested the hike.

However, the same Field report also indicates that 57 percent of California residents believe that agriculture can reduce water consumption without hardships.

In an interview with the Post, Dr. Peter Gleick, founder of Oakland-based Pacific Institute, said:

“The biggest source of water out there is the water that we waste every day, doing the things that we do. A lot of the water we use now can be used more effectively. We could grow more food with less water, with better irrigation technology. And we could supplement that with more efficient toilets and washing machines at home. That’s probably the biggest source of untapped water, is the water that we’re wasting.”

Gleick went on to explain that “in the short run, individual behavior plays a significant role during droughts, because it takes time to implement new policies or technologies. But in the long run, changes in technology will be very important. We have a short term drought, and a long term water problem.”

Looking at possible solutions, Gleick said, “We treat waste water, and treat it to a fairly high standard, and then dump it into the ocean. But now there’s more of an effort to put that waste water to re-use. For instance, we use recycled waste water for our office landscaping.”

“We need to expand our storage capacity, but there are innovative ideas around groundwater storage,” he continued. “We over-pump our groundwater now, but we could be refilling those aquifers during rainy years.”

“There are proposals for conjunctive use – it’s the joint management of surface water and ground water together, and I think that offers far more potential than any new surface storage,” Gleick added.

“The reason the idea is so appealing is that it doesn’t require any more damage to rivers, and water isn’t lost to evaporation. I think the concept has great potential,” he said.

Courtesy of the Post News Group, June 5, 2015 (postnewsgroup.com)

OUSD’s New Bond Policy Raises Concerns About School Construction

School construction project in OUSD

School construction project in OUSD

By Ken Epstein

The Oakland Unified School District has adopted a new policy that will allow it to revisit how it will spend its construction bond funds, raising concerns that some building projects might be left in the lurch as the new administration moves ahead on its own priorities.

Mike Hutchinson

Mike Hutchinson

The new policy is designed to establish “criteria to equitably allocate bond funds for facility upgrades, modernizations and construction projects to meet strategic and programmatic goals,” according to a report to the school board at the May 27 board meeting.

The policy was developed by a 17-member committee appointed by the superintendent and approved unanimously by the school board at its May 27 meeting.

This new policy will “determine present and future planning and decisions on bond project prioritization,” according to the report presented at the board meeting.

The policy is needed because “(the district’s) needs are greater than the bonds approved by Oakland voters – we have more needs than we have money,” said Mia Settles-Tidwell, the district’s Chief of Operations and one of the leaders of the policy design committee.

OUSD Supt. Antwan Wilson

OUSD Supt. Antwan Wilson

Other leaders of the committee are Lance Jackson, Interim Chief of Facilities, Planning and Management, and Olis Simmons, president and CEO of Youth UpRising, a nonprofit agency that has two charter schools at the site of Castlemont High School in East Oakland.

A number of community members are asking what will happen to the projects already promised under the existing district facilities master plan and Measure J draft plan.

According to some people, nearly all of the remaining bond funds are already allocated, and reprioritization would require the elimination of projects already on the list.

So far not announced, the process for implementing this policy will be elaborated by administrative regulations that are considered by the superintendent to be his sole prerogative. The regulations are scheduled to be revealed at the June 10 board meeting.

The policy and regulations will determine how the district will utilize the unspent Measure J bond funds, which total $355 million, and the unspent $65 million in the Measure B bond, as well as future bonds that may be approved by Oakland voters.

One of two members of the public who spoke on this issue at the board meeting was school activist Mike Hutchinson, who provoked a strong reaction from the superintendent.

“This makes me a little bit nervous,” Hutchinson said, “because we don’t have extra money sitting out there to be reprioritized.”

“I am (worried) we going to be taking (money) away from somebody who already thinks they have their project coming,” he said. “Are we going to do that to McClymonds? Are we going to do that to Fremont? Are we going to do that to Glenview? Are we going to do that to the Foster kitchen?”

He continued: “A lot of us in the community get a little bit nervous when we see an outside consultant who has been hired to manage measure J (bond funds).” And this is the same person who is interim head of facilities, and he is the same one who is developing bond prioritization policy, Hutchinson said.

“I don´t think this passes the smell test. We have to be able to do better,” said Hutchinson.

He called on the school board to accept its responsibility to make policy. “Any prioritization of our money need to be directed by the board,” he said “If there’s ongoing to be a new committee, (it) needs to be appointed by the board, not by the superintendent. We no longer have a state administrator.”

Hutchinson told the Post he was concerned the district was preparing to shift bond money to pay for its proposed $100 million dollar headquarters project on Second Avenue.

Responding to the criticisms, Supt. Antwan Wilson said, “You can’t continue to sit here and listen to comments that are just completely inaccurate, week after week, month after month, same old thing.

He continued: ”We will send a message to one of our community members who continues to give wrong information about what an oversight committee does. This is no new process here in Oakland that deviates from anywhere else.”

By the Post’s deadline, the school district had not returned a request for answers to questions about the new policy.

To read the district’s existing Measure J spending plan, go to
http://legistar.granicus.com/daystar.legistar6.sdk.ws/View.ashx?M=F&GovernmentGUID=OUSD&LogicalFileName=75844.pdf&From=Granicus

To read the district’s existing list of Facilities Master Plan projects, go to http://mkthinkstrategy.info/ousdpublic/docs/OUSD%20Facilities%20Master%20Plan%20Projects%20Pipeline%205-16-12.pdf

Courtesy of the Oakland Post, June 4, 2015 (postnewsgroup.com)

Community Voices Fill City Hall, Luxury Apartment Building Blocked

Guillen’s proposal collapses as Brooks, Kalb and Gallo refuse to support it

Pam Hall of Alliance of Californians for Community Empowerment (ACCE) spoke  at a rally Tuesday evening  in front of city hall. "A person who works at a regular low-wage job can't afford to live in Oakland," she said

Pam Hall of Alliance of Californians for Community Empowerment (ACCE) spoke at a rally Tuesday evening in front of city hall. “A person who works at a regular low-wage job can’t afford to live in Oakland,” she said.

By Ken Epstein

Before Tuesday night’s City Council meeting, the proposal to sell a city parcel to build a luxury apartment tower at Lake Merritt seemed like a done deal. But in the face of determined and passionate opposition of a coalition of community members, the deal disintegrated.

Opponents rallied in front of City Hall, and 91 people turned in speaker cards, almost all to speak against the sale of the one-acre parcel to Urban Core Development and its financial partner UDR.

The debate lasted from about 9 p.m. to 12:30 a.m.

The crowd of opponents was barred from entering the council chambers. But the low rumble of their chants, “Housing Is a Human Right,” reverberated through the closed door, a constant presence in the room.

Speaker after speaker demanded that the council open the upstairs gallery, which had been closed for this meeting.

The council had set up overflow rooms to watch the proceedings on television, and individuals who had signed speaker cards were allowed to enter the chambers when their names were called.

The closing of the gallery was one of a number of security measures taken by the council Tuesday evening, including locking all but one of the entrances to City Hall and increasing police presence, after opponents shut down the council’s meeting May 5 to block the previous attempt to approve the sale of the public property.

Finally after hours of public speakers, Councilmember Abel Guillen made the motion to approve the deal, citing the community benefits he had negotiated with the developer during the past month, including a pledge of 30 units of “moderately” priced units in the 298-unit building.

But the five votes he needed were not there.

Councilmember Rebecca Kaplan had left the meeting earlier, saying she had to recuse herself because of a campaign contribution.

That meant that only seven of the council’s eight members would be voting on the motion.

Councilmember Dan Kalb said he could not support the motion because the city may have violated the California Surplus Land Act, a contention of the protesters and their legal representatives at California Public Advocates.

Councilmember Noel Gallo said that he supported the use of public land public for public good and had opposed the sale of school district property to private developers when he was on the school board.

“I was not for selling public land at the school district, and I will not be for it at City Hall,” he said.

“Lake Merritt is a jewel, but it is a jewel for all of us, not just for a select group that can afford it,” said Gallo.

Gallo also demanded that the city attorney advise the council on whether the property sale was in violation of the California Surplus Land Act. But the city attorney’s representative refused to comment.

“If you don’t respond, you don’t give me a whole lot of direction,” Gallo said, adding he had no other choice but to vote no on the proposal.

Councilmember Desley Brooks raised concerns that Urban Core Development owned only 2.5 percent of the proposed project, while the national real estate corporation UDR owned 97.5 percent.

She also said she was “disappointed” in the community benefits, which did not address the seriousness of the affordable housing crisis in Oakland.

She said that when she originally considered supporting the proposal, she had believed “there was going to be a substantive community benefits package, not just a skateboard park, graffiti abatement and (a donation) to Children’s Fairyland.”

The 30 moderately priced units were in fact not moderate or affordable to people who live in Oakland, she said. “I am deeply troubled.”

Finally, Guillen withdrew his motion. Councilmembers Annie Campbell Washington and Larry Reid did not speak on the motion, and Lynette McElhaney had supported it.

“I can count” the votes, Guillen said.

The future of the project is now up in the air. Brooks made a motion, which passed unanimously, to come back to the next council meeting with a new proposal based on improved community benefits.

Speaking to Guillen, Brooks said, “I hope you can sit down with the community and the developer to see what you can work out.”

 Courtesy of the Oakland Post, June 4, 2015 (postnewsgroup.com)

Land for Luxury Apartment Tower Goes to City Council for Final Vote

Vote scheduled for Tuesday, June 2

Members of Eastlake United for Justice

Members of Eastlake United for Justice

By Ken Epstein

The Oakland City Council is set to vote Tuesday evening on a controversial proposal to sell a city-owned parcel to build a luxury apartment tower at the corner of East 12th Street and Lake Merritt.

The council had been originally scheduled to approve the property sale on May 5 when its meeting was shut down and taken over by protesters demanding that public property should only be developed for public use.

Councilmembers informally agreed to postpone the final vote for several weeks to give Councilmember Abel Guillen time to negotiate increased community benefits with the developer. Guillen represents District 2, where the property is located.

The final list of the benefits features a modest reduction of the monthly rent for 30 units of the 298-unit project, though not to a rate that many in Oakland would consider to be affordable.

Besides reducing prices on 10 percent of the units, the developer has agreed to make donations for a number of different public services.

However, the current proposal does not satisfy the demands that have been raised by the neighborhood activists, who say it still lacks affordable housing.

“It’s not affordable – not to the people living in the (Eastlake) zip code,” and it’s not affordable for people living in Oakland, said Monica Garcia, a member of the neighborhood group, Eastlake United for Justice. “Public land should be for the public.”

Abel Guillen

Abel Guillen

“We don’t have any idea where this laundry list of community benefits came from,” she continued. “Community benefits are generally generated in meetings with members of the community. These came from the councilmember or the developer.”

Garcia said the benefits are crumbs and do not address the housing crisis that is driving people out of Oakland and robbing the city of its diversity.

“We have not seen real leadership from the council on housing issues yet,” she said.

“We will be at the meeting to speak out against this proposal – against this use of public land.”

The agreement between the city and the developer would reduce the cost of 30 units, to be rented at three different levels between 80 percent and 120 percent of the East Bay’s Area Median Income (AMI) – which is about $99,000 for a family of three. The median income for a family of four in the Eastlake area is about $38,000 year, says Garcia.

Ten units would be rented at 80 percent of the AMI – $1,461 for a two-bedroom apartment.

Ten units would be rented at 100 percent of the AMI – $2,044 for a two-bedroom apartment.

And, 10 units would be rented at 120 percent of AMI – $2,466 for a two-bedroom apartment.

In addition, the developer would pay for a number of community benefits, including:

$150,000 towards building or maintaining a skateboard park;

$25,000 to support Children’s Fairyland;

$100,000 to support graffiti abatement and neighborhood beautification in the area;

And, $50,000 to plant trees east of Lake Merritt and by San Antonio Park.

The developer will also work with Councilmember Guillen and city staff to find potential space in District 2 that can accommodate between 50 and 70 affordable housing units. The developer will pay some of the predevelopment cost of this project.

Garcia was also unimpressed with the proposed agreement’s commitment to hire local workers for the project, saying the agreement “doesn’t have any teeth.”

In fact, the agreement leaves the promise of local jobs up to the developer to figure out.

The proposal says that within 120 days of signing the contract, the developer “will complete a plan…to accomplish a 25 percent good-faith-effort goal for local hiring for new jobs created during construction.”

The proposal does not distinguish between journeyman and apprenticeship jobs. Nor does it focus on hiring people from the less affluent zip codes in the city.

In addition, the “developer will consider using a Union General Contractor at the Developer’s sole discretion.”

Unlike this project, hard-fought negotiations over the Army Base development lasted for several years and resulted in the developer of that project eventually agreeing to a 50 percent local hire program and a Project Labor Agreement (PLA) that protects union jobs.

The buyers of the property are Urban Core Development, a local company, and UDR, a Denver-based national real estate corporation. Almost all the project will be owned by UDR.

“The proposed ownership of the project will include a 97.5 percent interest for UDR and a 2.5 percent interest for Urban Core,” according to the report submitted by city staff for Tuesday’s council meeting.

“UDR will serve as the Managing Member of the LLC and provide the required guarantees necessary to secure the project capital as needed,” the report continued. “Both companies will work together jointly throughout the predevelopment and construction phases, and UDR will manage the marketing, leasing and property management of the property.”

UDR, Inc., the city report said, is a leading multifamily real estate investment trust in the U.S. In 2014, the company owned 51,293 “apartment homes” across the country.

Eastlake United for Justice is planning to hold a rally Tuesday night in front of Oakland City Hall at 8 p.m.

Courtesy of the Oakland Post, June 1, 2015 (postnewsgroup.com)