Category: Environment

Support Grows for City of Oakland Department to Address Racial Inequality

By Ashley Chambers

A number of community leaders are speaking out in support of a new city department designed to decrease inequities and racial barriers in city policies and operations, such as housing, development contracts, employment, and education.

Desley Brooks

Desley Brooks

The proposal to create a Department of Race and Equity in the City of Oakland, developed and led by Councilwoman Desley Brooks and supported by several councilmembers, seeks t address some of the main issues are frequently being raised by Oakland residents: gentrification and the lack of affordable housing, jobs at city-funded projects and access to city contacts, environmental and air quality, as well as other health conditions in minority and disenfranchised communities.

“We think about gentrification and displacement, and we think about the role that the city plays in perpetuating the invasive class remake of our city,” said Robbie Clark, housing rights organizer with Causa Justa: Just Cause.

“We know that a department like this is at the core of the types of change that we need to see on a local level to stop that tide of displacement and to stop gentrification from continuing to happen,” Clark said.

The department would answer directly to the City Administrator and would be implemented as soon as December of this year – if approved by the City Council.

The department would provide education and technical support to city staff and elected officials to address systemic racism in city operations “with a focus on how the city does business, including human resources, contracting, access, funding and decision-making,” according to the proposal.

“The city spends enormous amounts of money on development in Oakland. Twenty-eight percent of the people who live in this city are African American, yet they get only five percent of the hours on those jobs,” said Kitty Kelly Epstein, an education professor and member of OaklandWorks.

“What happens when you don’t have anything specifically devoted to dealing with an issue as major and primary and hurtful as racism in this society is, people get afraid to bring it up,” Kelly Epstein said.

“If we do the work of actually allocating and designating a department to that work, then people won’t be shut down when they want to bring up the fact that there is great inequity,” she said.

There is the notion that there are two Oaklands, residents have said: one has access to minor investment from the city, declining jobs and parks and schools that are closing operating limited resources. The other Oakland has access to better schools, parks, greater investments that benefit the community and more responsive government.

Imagine East Oakland’s Havenscourt neighborhood compared to the Glenview. Some neighborhoods require a bus ride or long drive to complete such daily tasks as grocery shopping or going to the bank.

“There’s no way that a city should be able to develop, do any type of business and not represent the citizens that live right there,” said Esther with Communities for a Better Environment (CBE). “It’s time for all of us to step up, be responsible and understand that we need to start leading with our hearts before our pockets.”

“There is an urgency with respect to people of color being able to have equal participation in this city,” said Councilwoman Brooks.

In response to inquiries of how much it will cost to operate this new department, Brooks said, “Think of the costs that communities have suffered for far too long not being able to participate fully in the government that they pay into. When do they get that return in dividends?”

“We will have to look like we have looked for other things that have been unbudgeted and find a way to make this happen. I would hope that we don’t just look at the dollars and cents, but we will look at truly moving a full community forward,” said Brooks.

Some of the organizations supporting the Department of Race and Equity are Alliance of Californians for Community Empowerment (ACCE), East Bay Asian Youth Center (EBAYC), East Oakland Building Healthy Communities, Oakland Community Organizations (OCO), ONYX Organizing Committee, and People United for a Better Life in Oakland (PUEBLO).

The proposal will go to the City Council on March 31.

Courtesy of the Oakland Post, March 28, 2015 (

Coliseum City Proposal Would Build at Least 5,750 Units of Market Rate Units But No Guaranteed Affordable Housing

Coliseum City Rendering

Coliseum City Rendering

By Ken Epstein

While many people are looking at the proposed Coliseum City development as the best and last chance to keep the Raiders and A’s in town in exchange for glitzy new stadiums, not as much attention has been given to the investment possibilities that may be just as, or more important, to developers and their hedge fund backers – market rate housing that could go for $3,000 or more a month per unit and commercial development.

Alongside the stadiums and sports-related entertainment and hotels, the goal is to “create a new residential neighborhood with an array of housing options, ” according to the draft Coliseum Area Specific Plan.

The plan would change zoning and land use guidelines for the 800 acres that include the Coliseum, the area around the Coliseum BART Station and the Oakland Airport Business Park located more or less between the Wal-Mart store next to Hegenberger Road and the 66th Avenue exit on Highway 880.

What is at stake for Oakland in this project is not just the promise of future jobs, which may or may not materialize, but existing jobs.

According to many community activists and business observers, if the general plan and zoning proposals associated with the Coliseum Area Specific Plan are allowed to go ahead, they would effectively eliminate the city’s only dedicated office-industrial park.

By amending zoning to “Mixed Use” the plan could incorporate tech campuses’ desire to house high end workers in luxury condos close to their work place.  Or alternately the zoning change could threaten many of the business types the plan actually encourages to stay and/or relocate there, including technical campuses with R&D, administration and manufacturing on site, production such as high value printing operations, specialty artisan food production, wholesaling for domestic markets and global export products such as wine, specialty agricultural and marine products.

The result would potentially push out many of the 150 businesses there now, which employ over 8,000 workers. Many of these are good stable jobs, such as warehouse, that pay $50,000 to $75,000 a year. Such jobs are the city’s future, and the subject of multi-million dollar regional studies such as the Regional Goods Movement Study, and the Design It Build It Ship It Logistics & Advanced Manufacturing study.

The way the proposed general plan amendments would work, knowledgeable observers say, is that when a major part of the industrial park is changed by to allow retail and residential units, the market value of the land would more than double,

Some businesses would leave because rising market values would encourage them to sell their properties, and others would be increasingly impacted by nearby residential uses that are not very compatible with production, warehouse and other industrial uses, with their noises, smells and truck deliveries.

Revolution Foods, headquartered in the Airport Business Park, is one of the businesses that could be adversely affected by residential development. According to Fortune, the company serves over 200,000 healthy meals daily to school districts across the country and has a total of over 1,0000 employees, at an annual gross revenue of about $70 million.

At present, the Environmental Impact Report (EIR) calls for the project to contain 5,750 units of housing, including, 1,700 units in the area between Edgewater Road and the San Leandro Estuary where the city’s highly used corporation yard is located.

According to city staff and the proposed EIR, residential housing use would not be permitted in most of the business park. Industrial land use zoning will be maintained, they say. So, there is nothing for local businesses and workers to fear.

But all may not be what it seems.

The proposed general plan amendments and the zoning changes in the EIR are two different documents that contradict each other for the areas known in the plan as CO-3 & CO 4.

The proposed general plan amendment to Regional Commercial (CR) would allow 125 residential units/gross acre, and both CR and Business Mix (the current non-residential designation) allow residential units.

Another general plan change would allow 250 residential units per gross acre.

While the plan has a goal of a minimum of 15 percent of affordable housing units, city staff says that building units that can be affordable to Oakland residents will depend on future negotiations between the City Council, investors and a developer.

There is no ironclad promise of affordable housing built into the plan at present.

According to city staff, the plan to move the city’s corporation yard would have to overcome many hurdles and is not in the cards at present.

The corporation yard and all its employees would have to be moved at a cost that is not yet calculated and to a site that has not yet been determined.

In addition, the property is owned by the Port of Oakland and leased by the city – which would have to find a way to obtain the land from the port. By law the port must charge the land’s full market value.

The port has never said it favors this change and traditionally has wanted no residential at all in the Business Park.

Yet the general plan and zoning changes have forged ahead despite community and business owners’ complaints that they have not been involved in the process.

City staff have repeatedly said in public: “We have our marching orders.” But they have not explained from whom these orders are coming.

The specific plan passed the Planning Commission last week and is scheduled to be heard next Tuesday, March 24, 1:30 p.m., at the meeting of the Community and Economic Development Committee at City Hall.

From there, the proposal will go go to the City Council.

Community Pushes for AC Transit Project without Displacement

Organizers who attended the Bus Rapid Transit community meeting Wednesday evening at Allen Temple in East Oakland are (L to R): left to Right: Redana Johnson, Towanda Sherry, Esther Goolsby, Cesar Fragoso, Jorge Hernandez, Mabel Tsang, Marina Muñoz, Omyinye Alheri, Davida Small, Evelyn Sanchez. ​ Photo by Nikolas Zelinski.

By Nikolas Zelinski

Neighbors gathered at Allen Temple Baptist Church in East Oakland Wednesday night to discuss their concerns about the new AC Transit project, called Bus Rapid Transit (BRT).

The project will build high-speed bus service along International Boulevard between downtown Oakland and San Leandro, operating in the middle of the roadway.

Since the project was first announced, concerns have been raised the number of bus stops will be reduced and parking on International will be eliminated, negatively impacting seniors and people with disabilities, as well as small business and their customers.

One of the evening’s panelists, Nehanda Imara of Communities for a Better Environment (CBE), said that she knows first-hand how large-scale transportation infrastructure projects have the power to tear up neighborhoods, examining the negative impacts of BART and Highway 880.

She said that these developments rarely do anything to help the people that live around the projects. “(BRT) must benefit the people who already live here,” Imara said.

Another panelist was Isaiah Tony of the Alliance of Californians for Community Empowerment (ACCE) said that BRT does not respond adequately to current complaints from bus riders.

“The stuff I hear from riders is the bus doesn’t come on time, or I’m late to work. I’ve even talked to people who have been fired from their jobs because the bus wasn’t on time for five days in a row,” said Tony.

“I’ve heard stories about people in wheelchairs being passed by a bus because it was full,” he continued. “When we turn around and look at the BRT, does it solve the problems that we’re raising? A little bit yes, and a little bit no.”

The BRT will be a 9.5-mile public bus line that is designed to reduce traffic congestion and improve efficiency of bus service by creating bus-only lanes, reducing the number of bus stops, reducing parking, and constructing centralized bus stations.

These stations will be placed in the middle of the street, and around one third of a mile apart. Stations will feature level platforms, overhangs with powerful lighting, and bus ticket machines.

Responding to the concerns that were raised, AC Transit Media Affairs Manager Clarence L. Johnson said, “AC Transit is not necessarily trying to promote gentrification. We are primarily interested in making sure that the corridor doesn’t become impassible in the next 10-20 years.”

Johnson also confirmed that around 500 parking spaces will be lost as a result of the project but added that the number will likely be much lower by the time the project is completed.

Also, AC Transit has purchased a few vacant lots to convert into parking areas, so that “there will not be any losses in any crucial commercial area,” according to Johnson.

Construction is set to begin by the end of 2015 and fully operable by November 2017.

The Allen Temple meeting was co-hosted by Just Cause/Causa Justa, Community Planning Leadership program (CPL), and the Oakland Sustainable Neighborhood Initiative (OSNI).

 Courtesy of the Oakland Post, March 21, 2015 (

Coliseum City Development Should Benefit Oakland Residents, Say Local Groups

 Mayor Libby Schaaf does not support building sports arena in business park

By Ken Epstein

At least three local organizations and coalitions are pushing to make sure that the Coliseum City project – if it comes to pass – will provide economic and social benefits to the people who live and work in Oakland, not only the owners of the sports franchises, developers and hedge fund investors who are hoping to build a massive, entertainment, housing and hotel complex around new stadiums for the A’s, Raiders and possibly for the Warriors.

Libby Schaaf

Libby Schaaf

Taking somewhat different approaches are the OaklandWorks Alliance, the Oakland Heritage Alliance and a community benefits coalition that includes Communities for a Better Environment (CBE) and Just Cause/Causa Justa.

Weighing in on the issue, Mayor Libby Schaaf called for Coliseum City plans to include a mix of uses and did not support a proposal to but the Warriors arena in the middle of the business park, would would likely to eliminate a number of local buisnesses and jobs.

“There are no current plans for putting a basketball arena below the 880 freeway, nor do I see that as the most desirable location for any future new sports facilities,” Schaaf said. “Oakland needs to balance housing, entertainment, retail, businesses and industries to ensure we have a vibrant economy and great quality of life for our residents.”

Members of the OaklandWorks Alliance said they would support the Coliseum City Specific Plan and draft Environmental Impact Report (EIR) if they are modified to deal with a number of specific concerns.

The OaklandWorks Alliance is made up of individuals and eight local organizations, including Black Women Organized for Political Action (BWOPA) and the West Oakland Environmental Indicators Project (WOEIP).

Revolution Foods, based int the Oakland Airport Business Park across from the Coliseum, is one of the businesses that would be impacted by zoning changes. According to Fortunte, the company  serves over 200,000 healthy meals daily to school districts across the country and has a total of over 1,0000 employees..

Revolution Foods, based in the Oakland Airport Business Park across from the Coliseum, is one of the businesses that could be adversely affected by zoning changes. According to Fortune, the company serves over 200,000 healthy meals daily to school districts across the country and has a total of over 1,0000 employees.

In a letter to the Oakland Planning Commission, several OaklandWorks members wrote:

“African-American workers make up 28 percent of Oakland residents and 5 percent of the hours worked on city-funded construction jobs. This means that African-Americans are underrepresented more than five-fold in city-funded employment.”

“Any project on which this injustice is not rectified should not be built.”

The OaklandWorks letter also criticized city staff for failing to involve community members in a democratic process.

“Residents of East Oakland should be involved at every step of every decision-making process. This has not occurred thus far,” the letter said.

Robert Schwartz of Key Source International (left) and James Curtis, president of the Oakland Commerce Corporation, wait for their opportunity to speak at the Oakland Planning Commission public hearing Wednesday at City Hall. Photos by Ken Epstein.

Robert Schwartz of Key Source International (left) and James Curtis, president of the Oakland Commerce Corporation, wait to speak at an Oakland Planning Commission public hearing. Schwartz says the Specific Plan, as it is currently written, would allow developers to rezone property in the buisness park to build housing, thereby eliminating businesses and jobs in the city.

“There was no community participation until the Specific Plan was completely developed, and then city staff provided ‘information’ sessions for people to ask questions.”

The plan should only provide housing for people at the median income of Oakland residents, the letter said. “Our land and city services should not be used to build housing for people who do not live here.”

The OaklandWorks letter also calls for not rezoning the Coliseum Business Park across Highway 880 from the Coliseum arena.

The business park houses “approximately 150 businesses and employs 8,065 workers, according to statistics provided by Oakland’s economic development department,” the letter said. “These businesses could be disrupted by: a) Increased land prices created by the possibility of residential uses; b) Restricting business activities which are allowed by the current zoning.”

Naomi Schiff and the Oakland Heritage Alliance are supporting mitigations proposed by the city’s Landmarks Preservation Advisory Board, which have been included by Planning Commission staff in their draft Coliseum Area Specific Plan.

If the arena or Coliseum are torn down, the developer should make financial contributions to improve East Oakland communities to offset the loss of the historic buildings, according to the proposed mitigations.

“The amount of any such contribution shall be as negotiated between the city and the developer(s), as ultimately determined by the City Council,” according to the proposal. “Mitigation shall be provided as financial and/or cultural enhancement. Such contribution shall be commensurate with the cultural value of the Coliseum.”

Groups in the in a community benefits coalition include Communities for a Better Environment (CBE), Just Cause/Causa Justa, E), East Bay Housing Organization (EBHO), Ella Baker Center for Human Rights, Oakland Community Organizations (OCO) and East Bay Alliance for a Sustainable Economy (EBASE), which is closely allied with the Building and Construction Trades Council and other local labor unions,

This coalition, which came out in force to speak at last week’s Planning Commission meeting, is asking for an increase in the percentage of affordable housing in the proposal. The plan at present talks about provisions for 15 percent affordable housing, but the plan itself 1,700 units of market-rate housing at the site of the Oakland Corporation Yard, facing the Bay.

The demands are also for “good jobs with living wages,” protections for tenants so they will not be “pushed out by rising rents,” and protections to prevent air pollution and build a grocery store, youth center and other public services in nearby East Oakland neighborhoods.

 Courtesy of the Oakland Post, March 14, 2015 (

Oakland Unified Says Its HQ Is “Presumed to Be Beyond Repair,” But Architects Say It Can Be Renovated for Half the Cost of New Building

Oakland Unified's headquarters at 1025 Second Ave.

Oakland Unified’s headquarters at 1025 Second Ave.


By Ken Epstein

The Oakland Unified District seems to be acting on a presumption that its headquarters, the Paul Robeson Administration Building at 1025 Second Ave., was wrecked by a water leak and needs to be replaced at a cost of about $60 million, though the Board of Education has not yet made that determination.

The district, operating under this presumption, put out a request for qualifications (RFQ) for developers in July 2014 under the leadership of Gary Yee, former interim superintendent, and former Board President David Kakishiba.

But in a report prepared for the district in May 2013 by an architectural firm that inspected the headquarters “multiple times,” the “total construction cost” of repairing and renovating the building would be about $26,339,456, less than half the $60 million price tag that has been thrown around as the potential cost of a new building.

In the architectural firm’s report, the estimate of construction costs was based on a floor-by-floor look at the work “required due to water damage” and a “complete rehabilitation” of the headquarters, though “extensive building testing and investigations could lead to significantly more work than what (was) initially anticipated by this study.”

There is no indication that follow up investigations have ever been conducted.

According to the district, the damage was the result of a water leak (a faucet left on by a custodian) that occurred on the top floor of the administration building the night of Jan. 7, 2013, causing flooding on all four floors and significant damage to the entire structure.

Soon after the flooding, the district hired a firm, Hibser Yamauchi Architects, to do an evaluation of the structure. The firm completed its report on May 16, 2013.

The firm’s report found that basic repairs could be completed at an estimated cost of $7,342,666 and extensive renovation at the $26,339,456 price tag.

The schedule for design, permitting and construction of the basic repairs of the building project would be about 30 months, and major rehabilitation would take about 48 months, according to the firm’s report.

After evacuating the building, the district moved its central office staff to the Trans Pacific Center at 1000 Broadway and used space at several schools that had been previously closed.

The school district’s insurance company is currently reimbursing the cost of rent for the 11th and Broadway office space at $120,000 a month, or over $1.4 million a year.

In the July 2014 RFQ to potential developers of the administration building site, the district wrote: “The administration building and an adjacent building, also vacant, are both presumed to be beyond repair.”

That RFQ has received several proposals from developers but was put on hold until April after a number of vocal protests by students, teachers and community members who criticized the process, saying it had not been democratic or transparent.

Asked whether the Board of Education has decided to condemn the building, district spokesman Troy Flint told the Post in writing, “The decision of whether or not to demolish the building, renovate it, or some combination of the two, has not been made yet and will evolve from the ongoing community engagement process.

The $60 million price tag on a new building is only an informal estimate, Flint said.

“Ultimately, the cost of the project will depend on the design that’s sent to the Board of Education and what its members are willing to approve,” he wrote to the Post.

“The $60 million figure has been floated in informal discussions as a starting point for debate on what the district might be willing to spend, but that’s just spitballing at this point, no commitments or decisions have been made.”

Naomi Schiff

Naomi Schiff

 The board’s three priorities for the project include building “a 21st century school for Dewey (Academy) students,” who will lose their present school if the site is sold to a developer; unifying “central leadership into a centrally located building for ease of access to the community (and) complete construction by January 2019,” Flint said.

Despite the district’s claims that the decision on what to do with the administration building will emerge out of a “community engagement process,” community members of the engagement committee have complained that they are not being given enough information to produce an informed recommendation.

An examination of what to do with the existing building has been “referred” to at meetings of the engagement committee, “but it has not been thoroughly explored,” said Naomi Schiff of the Oakland Heritage Alliance and a community member of the committee.

“It has come up, because I raised it,” said Schiff. “There are people who only want new –because they like new,” Schiff said. “But there may be other possibilities from the point of view of the Oakland Heritage Alliance. It’s a cultural resource, and its (potential renovation) needs to be studied.”

“The reuse of historic buildings is often the greenest alternative,” she said.

Courtesy of the Oakland Post, March 14, 2015 (

Residents Want Port of Oakland to Negotiate Development Project’s Impacts

Rendering of Army Base Project

Rendering of Army Base Project

By Ken Epstein

The future of Oakland as a conduit for global commerce took a big step forward recently when the Port of Oakland and Union Pacific Railroad started construction on a project to link the ongoing development at the old Oakland Army Base to the railroad’s main line.

But community activists are asking if Oakland residents are going to be part of this commercial future and if they are going to have a say in this public investment.

They want the port to sit down with them to negotiate the benefits and the impact of this project. They say the port had a few meetings with them and then stopped meeting.

“They’ve presented nothing to us –they have not given us any idea of the level of community benefits they are considering,” said Margaret Gordon of the West Oakland Environmental Indicators Project and OaklandWorks Alliance.

“We’ve given them proposals, and they have not responded to us.” Gordon said. Port officials only met with local residents three times to discuss community benefits, the last time right before the election, said.

Amy Tharpe, Port of Oakland

Amy Tharpe, Port of Oakland

In addition, she said, the port never explained the development plan to the community.

As of Wednesday of this week, the port has sent a message offering to schedule a meeting in February to talk with community members.

“The Port of Oakland has never sat down and said what benefits represent their commitment to the people of Oakland, said Brian Beveridge of the West Oakland Environmental Indicators Project and OaklandWorks.

“My question is: ’Why does the port continue to demand unilateral control over the community benefit discussion with West Oakland residents? What are they so afraid of?’” Asked Beveridge.

In response to community complaints, the port is saying it will restart community benefits meetings after it picks a developer for the port side of the Army Base development project.

The $25 million project is financed by the Port of Oakland and the California Transportation Commission’s Trade Corridors Improvement Fund. It’s part of a $100 million port effort to significantly expand Oakland rail capacity.

A 7,400-foot lead track and the reconfiguration of adjacent tracks should be completed in October. Once finished, the port will be better positioned to receive bulk rail shipments at the former army base from Union Pacific and BNSF railroads.

The port and City of Oakland expect to transform Trans-Pacific supply chains at the 360-acre former army base logistics center. Located on the Port’s Outer Harbor, it would include warehousing, trans-load facilities and a dry-bulk cargo terminal.

“Connecting the Oakland Army Base to the national rail network is a milestone for us,” said Chris Chan, the port’s engineering director. “To be successful, we must have good rail access.”

Bulk shipments of commodities such as Midwest grain and beef could be delivered to Oakland by rail, trans-loaded into containers at the port, and then exported via Asia-bound container vessels.

According, to Amy Tharpe, the port’s Director of Social Responsibility, the Port of Oakland is interested in meeting with community members who will be impacted by the Army Base project.

“The Port of Oakland is committed to developing a community benefits package for the redevelopment of the Port’s portion of the former Oakland Army Base,” said Tharpe.

“To ensure this we have to hear from the people in our community who will be impacted by the project and could benefit from it,” she said. “We’ve held several meetings that began last year with multiple key stakeholders from more than ten community groups.”

“Once a development partner is selected,” she continued, “the Port will schedule more community meetings to create a specific community benefits agreement.”

Courtesy of the Oakland Post, February 8, 2015 (


Coliseum City: What Are the Benefits for East Oakland Residents?

Coliseum City Entertainment District (rendering)

Coliseum City Entertainment District (rendering)

By Ken Epstein

A number of community members spoke at a public hearing this week at the Planning Commission, raising concerns about how East Oakland neighborhoods and businesses will be impacted by a city proposal to clear the way for the massive development called Coliseum City.

This development seems like a “formularic corporate development…. this is like an alien space city,” dropped into East Oakland, said Nehanda Imara, a community organizer for Communities for a Better Environment (CBE) who lives about a mile from the proposed development.

“It’s a beautiful project, but it doesn’t seem like it includes the people who live on the outside,” she said. “We’d like some of the benefits surrounding the project,” including jobs, better air quality and affording housing.

Artist's drawing of Coliseum City

Artist’s drawing of Coliseum City

The development project has the potential to go in different directions, Imara said. “It could be connected to the community, or it could be disconnected from the community.”

The city’s proposal, contained in the Coliseum Area Specific Plan and several volumes of documents in an Environmental Impact Report, is designed to establish new land use and zoning regulations that will guide development in the area around the Oakland Coliseum and the Oakland International Airport for the next 25 years.

The draft plan was released on Aug. 28 and the final plan was released on Jan. 30. – developed by city staff and consulting firms for the past few years.

The timeline calls for the specific plan to be discussed at a couple more community meetings and then approved by the Planning Commission and forwarded to the City Council for approval in March or April.

The plan has been kept purposely “flexible” or indeterminate because the content of the project ultimately will depend to a large extent on who the developers will be and what they will want to build on the 800 plus acres that include the Coliseum and

Nehanda Imara

Nehanda Imara

its parking lots, the Oakland Airport Business Park across the freeway from the Coliseum and waterfront area along the Bay.

A number of community members complained that public input has been inadequate.

“I attended one of the library meeting to which this document refers. There was no planning done by the community. Staff simply made presentations and answered a few questions,” said Fred Ellis, who represented OaklandWorks Alliance.

“This is unlike the lengthy process which took place in West Oakland,” Ellis continued. “Few East Oakland residents are even aware of these zoning changes or their implications.”

Robert Schwartz, who owns a company at the business park, said he had submitted a letter with his objections to the proposal in October, but city staff never responded.

He said the proposed zoning changes that would allow residential development where the business park is located would cause the market values of the properties to skyrocket, effectively ending the business park.

Local industries and the jobs they produce can only can to stay in Oakland if the city is committed to protecting the industrial zoning designation of the area, Schwartz said.

“This is not a good idea. This is the only business park we have (in Oakland),” he said.

Schwartz asked why the city was in such a hurry to pass the plan and is seemingly reluctant to involve community and business people in the planning process. “You’re talking about a 25 year (development) plan, and all of a sudden it has to be passed in 25 days,” he said.

Senior citizen Carolyn Holloway said the people she knows are concerned they will be forced to move away.

“They feel they will be displaced. They feel they will have to move to Stockton or Sacramento,” she said.

“We don’t really see many benefits for residents,” she said. “What about sidewalks? Or trees?”

Theola Polk said that she and other senior citizens are feeling that Coliseum City offers nothing to people who live in East Oakland.

“We’d like to know if you’ve forgotten us, she said. “Have we been overlooked? When will our area get a facelift?”

Upcoming meetings on the Coliseum Area Specific Plan:

Wednesday, Feb.11, Community Workshop, 6 p.m. – 8 p.m. ,81st Avenue Library meeting room , 1021 81st Ave. 

Tuesday, Feb. 17, Business and Property-owners Meeting,  9: a.m. – 11 a.m. OneToyota community meeting room , 8181 Oakport St. 

Wednesday, March 4, Oakland Planning Commission,  6 p.m., in City Council Chambers, Oakland City Hall, One Frank H. Ogawa Plaza).  The Planning Commission will conduct a public hearing to consider certifying the Coliseum Plan Final Environmental Impact Report (FEIR), and recommending to the City Council adoption of the Final Specific Plan and the proposed new Planning Code and General Plan amendments.

Courtesy of the Oakland Post, February 7, 2015 (

Local Small Businesses Object to Coliseum City Development

By Ken Epstein

Representatives of small businesses are complaining that city staff is on a fast track to adopt a formal plan for a massive Coliseum City development project, which has reached the final stages of approval without consulting affected companies.

Robert Schwartz of Key Source International (left) and James Curtis, president of the Oakland Commerce Corporation, wait for their opportunity to speak at the Oakland Planning Commission public hearing Wednesday at City Hall. Photos by Ken Epstein.

Robert Schwartz of Key Source International (left) and James Curtis, president of the Oakland Commerce Corporation, wait for their opportunity to speak at the Oakland Planning Commission public hearing Wednesday at City Hall. Photos by Ken Epstein.

The rezoning of the area for a stadium, housing and retail development on the Oakland airport side of Interstate 880 will eliminate much of Oakland’s only business park and many of its small businesses, which employ local residents, according the businessmen.

“I object to the plan, which will effectively over time destroy the business park without discussion or community input as originally promised and budgeted for when the planning process was instituted. Good paying business jobs will be sacrificed for sports, entertainment and residences without consulting the present community,” according to Robert Schwartz, long time Oakland resident and owner of Key Source international on Oakport Street in the business park.

Schwartz and others spoke Wednesday at a poorly announced Oakland Planning Commission public hearing on the plan.

City staff and a consulting team have been working on the plan for the past two years. Schwartz and others are saying they have been allowed to comment on the plan after it was designed but not to be part of the design process itself.

Fred Ellis speaks for the OaklandWorks Alliance at the Planning Commissiion public hearing.

Fred Ellis speaks for the OaklandWorks Alliance at the Planning Commissiion public hearing.

The Coliseum City plan, according to the City of Oakland’s website, “seeks to transform the underutilized land around the Oakland-Alameda County Coliseum and Arena into a world-class sports, entertainment and science & technology district that boasts a dynamic and active urban setting with retail, entertainment, arts, culture, live and work uses.”

The 800-plus acre site includes the present coliseum arena and the area on the west side of the freeway w, where the Oakland Airport Business Park is located and extends all the way to the waterfront.

Objecting to the characterization of the business park as “underutilized land,” Schwartz said that industrial- and light-industrial use land sells for less than retail-use and residential-use land. Therefore, if zoning for industrial use is removed, the market value of the land will go up.

Existing businesses will sell out and move out of Oakland. New companies will not be able to afford to set up shop in the city.

Schwartz says he does not see the utility to the city of eliminating good jobs at long standing local businesses in favor of creating poorly paying jobs at stadiums for “popcorn vendors.”

In a letter to the city’s department of Planning and Building, James Curtis, president of the Oakland Commerce Corporation, agreed with Schwartz.

“We object to your plan to cross the 880 freeway and intrude into our existing Port of Oakland Business Park,” he said. “That appears to use an unnecessary and detrimental encroachment on the existing businesses in the park.

“Part of the (Coliseum) Plan should include funding to improve the infrastructure and help revitalized its’ appeal for future expansion and job creation,” said Curtis.

Speaking on behalf of the OaklandWorks Alliance at the Wednesday hearing, Fred Ellis read a statement backing the small business’ concerns.

“We oppose any rezoning without the opportunity for full community discussion by the affected communities,” said Ellis. “We oppose zoning changes that appear to remove East Oakland’s only business park and displace at least one of Oakland’s long standing and important businesses.”

“Few East Oakland residents are even aware that such immense and important policy changes are occurring,” Ellis continued. “The staff has provided no justification for proceeding without a participatory advisory committee of Oakland residents.”

“The planning process for East Oakland needs a restart,” he said.

Among the organizations in OaklandWorks are the West Oakland Environmental Indicators project, Black Women Organized for Political Action (BWOPA), People United for a Better Life in Oakland (PUEBLO), Oakland Black Caucus, Concerned Black Men and the John George Democratic Club.

Some people are saying that the rush to approve the project came from former Mayor Jean Quan’s administration, and there could potentially be a different approach under Mayor Libby Schaaf.

Speaking informally after the public hearing, one staff member said: “This project didn’t start with a clean slate. We heard: ‘Here are your marching orders.’”

Schwartz has said he does not oppose moving ahead with the building of new sports arenas on the Coliseum property but is against the city’s plan to eliminate the business park on the West side of the freeway.

Before it is approved, the development plan has to overcome other hurdles, including the concerns of the Port of Oakland and the EBMUD, which are both impacted by the proposal. The plan must also gain the backing of the developers, who are working to put together private funding for the project.

The Planning Commission has scheduled hearings on the development plan on Feb. 4 and Feb. 9 and a vote on Feb. 18. If passed, the proposal will go to the City Council, where it could be approved in March.

Courtesy of the Oakland Post, January 23, 2015 (

Why Supporting the Fight Against Racist Police Killings Could Mean a New Chapter in Environmentalism

black lives matter milwaukee protest

By Katie Valentine,ThinkProgress

The Sierra Club has had its share of environmental successes over the years. It prevented the damming of the Grand Canyon in the 1960s. It ran successful efforts to expand Sequoia National Park in 1926 and create the Redwoods National Park in 1968. And it has helped persuade multiple college campuses to divest from fossil fuels and phase out coal-fired power plants on campus.

But until recently, there’s one thing the Sierra Club — and, some say, the broader environmental movement — hasn’t done well. It hasn’t shown support for other social movements, hasn’t added its voice to other calls for change. That’s something Michael Brune, president of the Sierra Club, wants to change.

“Whenever we see things that threaten our democracy, whether it’s the influx of corporate money into our political system or the erosion of voting rights, or things like [police violence] that are a violation of human rights, we feel it’s our job to speak up,” he said. “And we’re happy to do so.”

And, for Brune, the recent police killings of Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri, Eric Garner in Staten Island, New York and Tamir Rice in Cleveland, Ohio have touched a nerve. During the first week of December, the Sierra Club posted multiple statements in support of the Black Lives Matter movement, which has grown out of the killing of Trayvon Martin in 2012 and the high-profile police killings that have taken place in the last few months.

“Whether it’s the planet itself or the people who inhabit it, we hold the ideals of respect and reverence in the highest regard,” the organization wrote on its Facebook page on December 4. “For these reasons, we stand in solidarity with the organizations who are protesting and demanding justice in the deaths of Eric Garner, Michael Brown and every other victim of injustice.”

The choice to have the Sierra Club show support for the movement was simple for Brune, as he explained in blog posts following the Facebook-issued statements. All people, regardless of race, deserve a clean and healthy planet, he wrote. They also deserve to be able to live their lives without being fearful of the police, and without being subjected to discrimination.

These two issues, Brune wrote, “are not separate. Indeed, we believe that working toward a just, equitable, and transparent society is not only morally necessary but also exactly what we need to confront the unprecedented environmental challenges we face.”

Opal Tometi, Executive Director of the Black Alliance for Just Immigration and one of the co-founders of the Black Lives Matter Movement, agrees. She said in a statement to ThinkProgress that environmental issues are “inextricably linked to a racial justice agenda,” and that she’d like to see more people of color — especially those who are already leaders in the environmental justice movement — rise up to leadership roles in the larger, national organizations — organizations that, as a whole, have been found to skew white.

“Black communities in the U.S. and around the globe are impacted the worst and should be central in shaping and leading the national environmental justice movement,” Tometi said.

Brune isn’t the only one in the environmental movement who thinks so. The Sierra Club was among multiple environmental groups to put out statements of solidarity with the Black Lives Matter movement in recent months: the National Resources Defense Council, for one, published a blog post this month stating the group’s support for the movement, and Greenpeace did the same in August.

In November, Friends of the Earth International put out a statement of support for the protests that erupted in Ferguson after unarmed teen Michael Brown was fatally shot by a police officer, saying that the shooting was “an affront to Friends of the Earth International’s vision of a society of interdependent people living in harmony.” The group’s U.S.-based arm put out another statement in December, after the police officer who used a chokehold to kill unarmed Eric Garner wasn’t indicted.

These types of statements are a sign of progress for the environmental movement, said Van Jones, environmental and civil rights advocate and founder of Green for All and Rebuild the Dream. Jones said environmental groups need to continue to engage with relevant social causes if they want to grow and evolve, and also if they want to gain supporters from the non-white community, a demographic which, polls have found, is often supportive of efforts to protect the environment.

A Yale poll from 2010 found that black Americans, Hispanics and people of other races are “often the strongest supporters of climate and energy policies and were also more likely to support these policies even if they incurred greater cost.” A 2012 poll found that 71 percent of Asian Americans would call themselves an environmentalist, compared to the national average of about 41 percent. And, according to a 2013 poll, 86 percent of black Americans support the President taking “significant steps” on climate change, compared to 76 percent of Hispanics and 60 percent of whites.

“It’s only natural that, if people who make up a large part of your growing base are under fire — literally — that you should express some sympathy and some concern,” Jones said. And, he said, now that these statements have been made, environmental groups should be sure to make their members aware of any legislation that might come out of the Black Lives Matter movement.

May Boeve, executive director of, said she hopes environmental groups’ statements of support for the Black Lives Matter movement is a sign of a new era in environmentalism.

There have been other signs in recent years that major environmental groups are starting to branch out: the Sierra Club came out in favor of immigration reform in 2013, an issue that had sparked internal arguments in the group in past years. It was joined by and Greenpeace. And Friends of The Earth has been fairly outspoken in the past about issues that fall outside of the traditional bounds of an environmental organization. The group’s D.C. office marched in support of healthcare reform in 2010, and President Erich Pica said they’ve also supported the marriage equality movement.

Pica said the Black Lives Matter movement was another reminder that the group that it can’t achieve its mission — to defend the environment and champion a healthy and just world — if it doesn’t address the “deeper, systemic” issues in American society.

“As an environmental group, we can focus too much on the healthy world piece,” Pica said. “On the justice piece — the ‘just’ piece — it’s hard for Friends of the Earth to accomplish that mission if there are blatant injustices that are occurring out there, where Americans — African Americans, black Americans — don’t have the basic rights to a justice system, where they fear that an encounter with a police officer could be their last.”

For the groups that issued statements of support for the movement, the decision to do so was fairly easy. But not everyone is happy about these statements — or, at least, not everyone on the Sierra Club’s Facebook page. Some wondered why a group whose main goal was the protection of the earth and the advancement of renewable energy sources bothered to put out a statement of support for a cause that, at first glance, had little to do with the environment.

One commenter called the Sierra Club’s statement “out of line,” and said he was disappointed that the environmental organization would choose to associate itself with “controversial criminal justice cases.”

Brune said he understood why some people were confused about the group’s statement — police violence, after all, isn’t an issue that’s typically discussed in the same conversation as carbon regulations and sage grouse protection. He can see why some might be concerned about the implications of the Sierra Club putting out statements of support for other issues: that it could water down the environmental movement or make the public confused about the movement’s goals.

But ultimately, Brune doesn’t agree with those concerns. He didn’t think twice about making the statements of support, and he wants to do more to address social issues in the future. He and his family have joined in some of the marches against police violence, and he said that Sierra Club organizers are “working in solidarity,” with Black Lives Matter organizers.

“I’m proud of the way in which we’re acting and engaging. For us, it’s not just about a post on Facebook or a blog entry or a series of supportive statements — we’re determined to engage on these issues over the long-haul,” he said. Externally, we’re always thinking about ways to both strengthen the environmental progress that we’re making and address some of the underlying obstacles towards that progress.”

Courtesy of Think Progress, December 16, 2014 (

Growth Is Exploding in Oakland, Say Developers

 Local business people packed into the grand ballroom in Oakland Marriott City Center last Friday to hear Mayor Jean Quan, Mayor-elect Libby Schaaf and a panel of five major Bay Area developers talk about the development free-for-all that is beginning to unfold in Oakland.

The event, called “Oakland Structures,” was sponsored by the San Francisco Business Times at a cost of $70 a head and was billed as offering insight on the big changes that are coming to the city.

“Investors are converging on Oakland in unprecedented numbers, and it’s a pivotal time for the city. Oakland can no longer be considered to be on the ‘verge,’” according to the announcement for the event.

Claremont Lanai Tower (rendering)

Claremont Lanai Tower (rendering)

Remarkably for Oakland, African Americans and Latinos were absent from the speakers’ platform and few in number in the ballroom.

Beside the present and future mayors, speakers included Michael Ghielmetti, president of Signature Development Group, which along with a major Beijing investor, is building 3,100 units of market-rate housing on the Embarcadero in Oakland; and Floyd Kephart, chairman of the Renaissance Companies, Inc., who hopes to build the massive Coliseum City project near the Oakland Airport.

Other Bay Area developers who shared their views on Oakland’s future and their projects were Michael Cohen, co-founder and principal of the Strada Investment Group; Phil Kerr, president of the Northern California City Ventures; and Scott Smithers, managing principal of Lane Partners LLC.

“We are hungry for development after winning the Nov. 4 election,” said Mayor-elect Schaaf, in an interview with the SF Business Times a few days after the election.

“However, we also have tremendous needs. We are an old city, and we have incredible deferred maintenance,” she said, emphasizing developers have to expect to pay city fees.

She told the developers at the Business Times event that her goal is to create “predictability and clarity” for development projects in the city, hire “kick-ass (staff) who get things done” and make the City of Oakland “the least irritating government possible.”

Uptown Station, formerly the Sears building (rendering).

Uptown Station, formerly the Sears building (rendering).

Floyd Kephart said that he represented a number of investors who want to build the Coliseum City project, which has been proposed but not yet approved by the city.

The project has already stirred concerns among city residents – some who want to assure that jobs and housing go to local people and others who say that the project as proposed would create a destructive, not constructive, presence in the city.

“I don’t know what the future will bring, but I know it’s coming,” said Kephart, who said that he and the financiers he represents would like to go ahead with the full project that has been proposed by city staff and consultants.

“We don’t know exactly what form it will take,” he said, but the city has created a great proposal. “We’re not trying to change that. We’re trying to implement that.”

As proposed, the huge complex would contain new stadiums for up to three teams, 1.9 million-square-feet of retail and office space, several hotels and restaurants and

Brooklyn Basin (rendering)

Brooklyn Basin (rendering)


“All of us (financiers) live on demographics” who base their decisions looking at the trends, Kephart said. “I represent 40 private equity hedge funds. Private capital goes where the opportunities are.”

“There is no doubt that capital is coming here,” he said. ”The question is whether it will build the future “ that Oaklanders want.

This development is going to take time, Kephart said. “It’s a process, and it never comes out the way” people expected it would be at the beginning of the process.

Courtesy of the Oakland Post, December 15, 2014 (