Category: Gentrification

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)

 

 

 

 

Barbara Parker Cites Confidentiality, Refuses Comment on Sale of Property for Luxury Apartment Tower

By Ken Epstein

A local community group has not yet received a reply from City Attorney Barbara Parker about their complaint that the City of Oakland is violating local, state and federal laws in going ahead with the sale of public property to developers to build a luxury apartment tower at the East side of Lake Merritt.

Barbara Parker

Barbara Parker

“There are serious unanswered questions about the city’s compliance with federal, state and local laws governing disposition of this property,” according to a letter to the City Council on May 4 from lawyers for Public Advocates on behalf of the neighborhood group Eastlake United for Justice.

The lawyers urge the council to remove the agreement to sell the property at the corner of East 12th Street and Lake Merritt Boulevard from its agenda “until the city has publicly demonstrated that it has complied with all legal requirements.”

City Attorney Parker or her representative is generally present in all public and closed session meetings of the council. Her office was appraised of the decisions leading to the council decision to offer the property for sale and the proposed agreement with Urban Core Development and its financial partner UDR.

Parker’s officer has also received the letter from Public Advocates.

Reached for comment by the Post, Alex Katz, Parker’s chief of staff, said she does not respond to questions regarding her legal advice to the City Council, citing attorney-client privilege.

Rendering of Lake Merritt Boulevard Apartments, courtesy of UrbanCore.

Rendering of Lake Merritt Boulevard Apartments, courtesy of UrbanCore.

“We can’t talk out what advice we give the City Council or whether we’ve given them legal advice,” he said.

According to the letter from Public Advocates, the East 12th Street parcel qualifies as “surplus land,” and “disposition must therefore comply with all procedural and substantive provisions of the (California Surplus Lands Act).”

Under the law, the lawyers wrote, “All public lands no longer needed for public use (must) be made available for affordable housing, recreation, and other state priorities.”

In addition, the law provides that if property is sold to a developer, the city should seek to assure 25 percent of the units are reserved for affordable housing and at a minimum, “no less than 15 percent of the total number of units (are) developed on the parcels at affordable housing cost… or affordable rent…to lower income households.”

“There are no exceptions,” the letter said.

Members of Eastlake United for Justice also have repeatedly alleged that the city has violated its own procedures in this land deal. At several city meetings, they accused the council of making the decision to sell the property in closed session – without the public – and that the request for proposals only went out to three developers.

Further, the lawyers argued that the decision to sell the property violates the federal Fair Housing Act’s and California Fair Employment and Housing Act’s protections against reinforcing or perpetuating “segregated housing patterns…. regardless of intent.”

Approving an agreement with the developers “that allows for 100 percent luxury housing on a publicly owned site without including affordable housing, would disproportionately impact people of color and individuals with disabilities, perpetuating segregation in the city,” the lawyers said in their letter.

David Zisser, staff attorney for Public Advocates told the Post that the City Attorney’s office has received the letter, but, “They have not directly responded t it.”

“If the council had gone along with the provisions of the state Surplus Lands Act, 25 percent or 75 units out of the 298 units (in the project) would actually be affordable for Oakland,” said Zisser. “If they could not find a developer to do the 25 percent affordable housing, they still could do 15 percent or 45 units of affordable housing.”

“Everyone knows there’s a housing crisis in this city, and this crisis is causing the exodus of Oakland families. The council has talked about favoring a diverse, inclusive city and has the opportunity to do something about it,” he said.

“This not a technical legal maneuver. It’s the moral thing to do, it’s good policy, and it’s also legally required.”

Zisser emphasized that Public Advocates and community members are not picking a fight with Urban Core Development and its owner Michael Johnson. “This is not about blaming the developer. “It’s about what the city’s obligations are.”

Courtesy of the Oakland Post, May 22, 2015 (postnewsgroup.com)

Vote on Luxury Apartment Tower Postponed, As Councilmembers Seek Improved Community Benefits

By Ken Epstein

A number of Oakland residents have been waiting to see what the City Council will do next after protesters shut down the May 5 council meeting where the council was scheduled to authorize the sale of a piece of lakefront property to a private developer.

Abel Guillen

Abel Guillen

The issue was not on the May 11 council agenda and is not scheduled to be discussed next week at the May 19 council meeting.

In interviews with the Post, councilmembers said they are extending the time before bringing the motion to a final vote to allow staff and Councilmember Abel Guillen – who is leading the effort – to negotiate with the developer for more community benefits, including the possibility of affordable units on site.

At their May 5 meeting, councilmembers were stunned when well-organized protesters chained themselves together, seized control of the meeting and forced the council to adjourn without conducting any business.

The protesters – a coalition that included a neighborhood group called Eastlake United for Justice and black seed – produced a bullhorn and turned the meeting into a rally for their demands, calling for public property to be developed for affordable housing and other public uses – not sold to private companies to build luxury apartments as a one-time boost to the city’s budget.

The council is set to sell the piece of city-owned property at the corner of E. 12th Street and Lake Merritt Boulevard for $5.1 million to build a luxury apartment tower.

The proposed developers are Michael Johnson and his company Urban Core Development and Johnson’s financial partner UDR, a self-administered real estate investment trust (REIT) based in Denver that owns, operates, buys, renovates, develops, and manages multifamily apartment communities located throughout the country, headed by CEO and President Thomas Toomey.

Councilmember Guillen told the Post that he and city staff are having productive talks with the developers, and the final proposal should come to the council in June.

“We’re still in negotiations with the developers, trying to get the best deal possible for the City of Oakland.” he said.

Thomas Toomey

Thomas Toomey,  CEO of UDR

He continued: “I’m working on having affordable housing on site or offsite and other community benefits. We’re looking at all options.”

But Guillen cautioned affordable housing advocates not to expect too much.

“At the end of the day, we’re not going to please everybody here in Oakland,” he said. “We need both affordable housing and market-rate housing, and this project is really about market-rate housing.”

One-bedroom apartments at the proposed building will rent for about $3,100 a month.

Michael Johnson  of Urban Core Development. Photo by Ken Epstein

Michael Johnson of Urban Core Development. Photo by Ken Epstein

Council President Lynette McElhaney, who backs the property sale, said Guillen was prepared to make a motion at the disrupted May 5 meeting asking for additional time to negotiate with the developer.

“We haven’t scheduled (the issue) yet,” she said. “I´m not sure yet when it will come to council. I’ve been leaning on Abel’s leadership.”

“It’s his district, and there are concerns he has had that he wants to be addressed,” she said. “We needed the time to get in touch with the developers to discuss things he thought would enhance the project.”

At a recent Community and Economic Development Committee (CED) meeting, Guillen requested that the city seek a new appraisal on the property. He said he believed the property was worth about 25 percent more than what the city is selling it for.

Committee members, including McElhaney and Larry Reid, rejected this proposal.

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

Commentary: Oakland Needs a Department to Address Institutionalized Injustice

By Kitty Kelly Epstein

Two-thirds of the people who live in Oakland are not white and Oakland has a long history of struggle for racial justice.

Dr. Kitty Kelly Epstein

Dr. Kitty Kelly Epstein

Yet the situation of most whites is quite different from the situation of many Latinos, African-Americans, Asians and indigenous people.  In fact, Oakland has the seventh worst income inequality of any major city in the country. (Statistics on wealth gaps for Asians and indigenous groups are not available from those doing these calculations.)

We need to put changing this at the center of the city’s efforts. In the one place where we have some real power, local government, we need to say that we understand institutional racism still exists and we want to do something about it – officially

It won’t be easy. The whole country is full of policies that uphold racism, but there is a lot more we could do if we focused and strategized, especially on the policies and practices that produce the racial wealth gap.

We need a city Department of Race and Equity because the racial wealth gap in the U.S. is 13 to 1 between the median white and the median African-American family and 10 to 1 between the median white and the median Latino family.

These gaps in wealth and income result from a national history of overt and covert racial discrimination – slavery, U.S. seizure of Mexican land, share-cropping, red-lining; English-only policies; bracero programs; immigration policies and a thousand other events and policies.

And these gaps contribute to housing, health, and policing inequities as well. Here are just a few current local specifics which a department of Race and Equity might look into:

African Americans are 28 percent of the Oakland population. Yet they were hired for only 5 percent of the hours on city-funded construction projects last year;

Latinos are 41 percent of Oakland students, but only 13 percent of its teachers. A city department would, of course, need to work collaboratively with the school district if it were to help in rectifying this imbalance.

Oakland is lauded for multi-cultural music and art. Yet city support for minority-owned venues is often lacking;

Oakland has lots of new fancy restaurants, but not many Black or Latino or Asian folk earn the fancy tips at the front-end of these houses.

Some city departments seem to have many employees of every ethnicity. Yet the department that plans the city’s economic future seems to be overwhelmingly white.

The last “disparity study” commissioned by the city showed statistically significant underutilization of “minority” owned and women owned firms in both construction and professional services contracts.   There was also a significant underutilization of Asian, Latino, and African-American firms in construction sub-contracts.

Non-white contractors have reported a good-old-boys network, difficulty in receiving information on the bid process, difficulty in obtaining financing, and other issues.

Oakland is blessed with dozens of activist and non-profit organizations that work on these issues, but we often feel that we are fighting a multiple-headed beast, winning in one place, only to lose again when someone forgets that a new policy or procedure is supposed to be in place.

We need an official department in city government that is responsible for caring whether two-thirds of the residents receive the same economic, political, and social benefits as the other third.

We need a Department of Race and Equity

Kitty Kelly Epstein, PhD is author of “Organizing to Change a City” (2012), Peter Lang, and host of Education Today on KPFA 94.1 FM.

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

Evictions Fuel Bay Area Housing Crisis

Anti-eviction protesters are holding a rally and sit-in at San Francisco City Hall Friday demanding to speak with Mayor Ed Lee about ending displacement. Photo courtesy KTVU

Anti-eviction protesters held a rally and sit-in at San Francisco City Hall Friday demanding to speak with Mayor Ed Lee about ending displacement. Photo courtesy KTVU.

By Nikolas Zelinski

San Francisco’s eviction rate has increased by over 54 percent in the past five years and is currently at the highest rate within the last decade, according to a new report produced by the San Francisco Anti-Displacement Coalition.

These evictions are occurring in the midst of a housing crisis, in which rent prices have dramatically increased. In the last year alone, rents in San Francisco have risen by 12.8 percent, and by 10.5 percent in Oakland, according to a report from Forbes.

The combined impacts of higher eviction rates and rental prices have led to a wave of displacements. To make matters worse, changes that occur in the San Francisco housing and rental market create a “ripple” throughout the Bay region, explained Sara Shortt, executive director of the Housing Rights Committee.

“The entire Bay Area is struggling with eviction problems,” she said. “As tenants from San Francisco become evicted and displaced, they often wind up in Oakland. And that raises Oakland’s rent, which continues the cycle.”

Another part of the problem is that, “Many tenants self-evict; it’s a term we use to describe a tenant who flees from fear, not allowing the court process to play out,” said Shortt. “They get a notice, and they pack up and move. In that sense, they have not been formally evicted.

Shortt continued, “An eviction notice is not the same as an eviction. You actually have to go to court, and get a judgement. In many of these cases, we believe that renters would have been able to stay.”

“Most importantly what we need to do is deter speculation, that’s the root of many of these evictions,” she said. “There are a number of tools that we can use locally to remove profits from the process.”

“We had Proposition G in 2014 that would have set taxes for any profits made from evictions. Unfortunately it did not pass, but that kind of idea still needs to be implemented,” Shortt said.

During the campaign, the National Association of Realtors contributed $800,000 to fight against Prop G. The California Association of Realtors donated $425,000, and the San Francisco Association of Realtors devoted $170,000.

“Essentially, one of the biggest parts of the problem is property flipping. So anything that would remove the huge amounts of gain from buying a property and reselling it quickly would help curb evictions,” Shortt said.

Many evictions in the City fall under the Ellis Act, which was passed in 1985. The law was originally designed to provide landlords and property owners an easy way out of the rental business.

According to Shortt, the system has now become corrupted and strayed from its original intent, and mostly utilized by property speculators.

She concluded by saying the report released by the Anti-Displacement Coalition was intended to inform renters about possible recourse when facing an eviction, emphasizing that people who receive eviction notices should seek local housing rights agencies for help and legal advice.

Courtesy of the Post News Group, May 10, 2015 (postnewsgroup.com)

 

Protesters Shut Down Council Meeting , Demand Affordable Housing Not Luxury Apartments

Jos Healey was one of the spekers on the bullhorn when protesters  shut down the City Council meeting Tuesday. Photo by Ken Epstein

Jos Healey was one of the speakers on a bullhorn Tuesday when protesters shut down the City Council meeting. Photo by Ken Epstein

 By Ken Epstein

Oakland City Council chambers became ground zero for protests against gentrification and displacement this week as young activists chained themselves together to keep the City Council meeting from taking place, instead holding a rally for several hours in the chambers to voice their anger and frustration with the city’s leadership.

At the close of a public hearing on the proposed city budget for next year, but before the city council meeting could get underway, activists entered the well area behind the low barrier between the council dais and the public.

Some chained themselves together, standing in a line below the shocked council members. Others produced a bullhorn and began speaking about their issues and invited others to speak.

Many members of the audience stood, chanted and shouted in solidarity with the protesters. Police made no moves to intervene, but police and security attempted to keep more people from entering the chambers.

While people spoke, a projector flashed the group’s issues on an overhead screen:

“You can fight city hall,” “Development without displacement;” “A people’s budget, not a policing budget;” and “Public service, not lip service,” the projected signs said.

The focus of the protest was the seeming willingness of most council members to vote Tuesday night to approve the sale of a one-acre, city-owned parcel on East 12th Street across from Lake Merritt to build a 24-story luxury apartment building.

The proposed building includes no affordable housing and will have a median rent of $3,150 for a one-bedroom apartment, making the units affordable only to households that make $120,000 or more a year, according to activists who say the median household income in Eastlake around the proposed building is $38,363.

The coalition against the high rise is led by a neighborhood group, Eastlake United for Justice and includes Causa Justa/Just Cause, East Bay Housing Organizations, Black Seed, SEIU 1021, Oakland Rising, and the Oakland Tenants Union.

Calling for public land to be used only for affordable housing and other public needs, the groups are concerned that the development will lead to displacement of working class residents on the east side of Lake Merritt, as well as the development’s inadequate community engagement process.

At a rally in front of City Hall before the council meeting, members of Eastlake United for Justice and others spoke about their concerns.

Huan Bao Yu spoke at a rally in front of Oakland City Hall Tuesday opposing the E. 12th Street highrise. Mari Rose Taruc held the bulllhorn. Photo by Ken Ken

Huan Bao Yu speaks at a rally in front of Oakland City Hall Tuesday opposing the E. 12th Street highrise. Mari Rose Taruc held the bulllhorn. Photo by Ken Epstein.

“We are here because there are people in there (City Hall) who are trying to sell out our land,” said Josh Healey, also part of the Eastlake group.

“We’ve been here to talk to the mayor and city council, and they haven’t been hearing us,” he said.

Mari Rose Taruc, also of the Eastlake neighborhood group, said, “Oakland is 62 percent renters. We don’t want luxury condos at Eastlake. We want affordable housing.”

Asked Huan Bao Yu, a senior citizens speaking for Asian Pacific Environmental Network (APEN), “Who is (this development) for? “Is it for us? No, it’s to kick us out.”

Courtesy of the Oakland Post, May 9, 2015 (postnewsgroup.com)

 

Coalition Wants Coliseum City to Produce Jobs and Housing for Residents

By Ashley Chambers

In the wake of the City Council decision to amend the Coliseum Area Specific Plan to protect businesses in the Oakland Airport Business Park, a coalition of local residents, Oakland workers, youth and faith leaders are stepping up efforts to make sure that the new development plan follows through on commitment to community benefits that include jobs and affordable housing for East Oakland residents.

Jahmese Myres

Jahmese Myres

The passage of the specific plan at the end of March means that zoning changes and environmental approvals are in place if the city can secure a deal to build a massive entertainment, retail, housing, and hotels complex that would be built around new sports arenas for the Oakland A’s and Raiders.

The specific plan, as passed, impacts 800 acres, including the current sports complex, parking lots, the area around the Coliseum BART station and the Oakland Airport Business Park, across the freeway form the Coliseum, which employs 8,000 workers and houses 150 businesses.

Though they want to see the project move ahead, members of the community benefits coalition want residents of East Oakland to enjoy the fruits of that development, not suffer the intense gentrification and environmental impacts that often go along with big development projects.

“The plan should protect current, longtime, deep-rooted residents of East Oakland,” said Rev. Damita Davis-Howard of Oakland Community Organizations (OCO), one of the groups in the coalition.

Seventy percent of Oaklanders are renters, Davis-Howard said. “With new development, there’s automatically a rise in costs. We don’t want current residents to be driven out because rents go up,” she said.

With the proposed project, over 5,000 residential units would be built around the new sports venues. Without a substantial amount of affordable housing units included in the project, current residents who make $30,000 or even $50,000 a year are likely to displaced.

“We need affordable housing, affordable grocery stores, and somewhere that we can go to just relax, like a nice family park,” said Theola Polk, a member of East Bay Housing Organizations (EBHO) who has lived in East Oakland for over 30 years.

,“This area needs the same respect as the Coliseum City [project],” said Polk. “We want all of Oakland to look as good as Coliseum City is going to look; we want to get the same benefits.”

The transformation of Oakland neighborhoods has been long underway in other parts of the city – such as Uptown and West Oakland. However, new development often welcomes affluent renters and homeowners at the expense longtime residents.

“There’s a lot at stake with this project because this is a really critical time in our city. Oakland is changing, and we want to see a project that really impacts Oakland in very positive ways,” said Jahmese Myres, campaign director with the East Bay Alliance for a Sustainable Economy (EBASE), which is part of the coalition.

“We have a choice to have a really corporate, cookie-cutter, formulaic development that has no relation to the surrounding community, or we can have a project that helps the community thrive with good jobs, affordable housing, cleaner air and allowing long-term residents to stay in the community,” Myres said, also a resident of East Oakland who lives within a mile of the proposed project.

Citing data that shows the median household income for East Oakland at $31,000 a year, Myres says housing in the project should “allow for folks making that income to be able to live in those units.”

The development could create up to 20,000 jobs and it’s really important that those jobs be real quality jobs that allow people to take care of their families, Myres added.

It’s important that “people working at the Coliseum now – ushers, ticket takers, etc. – that they keep their good union jobs, too. They’re also members of our community in a number of ways,” she said.

The city entered an Exclusive Negotiating Agreement (ENA) with a development team, which will present an outline of what the community benefits would include in June. The ENA expires in August but could be extended.

Organizations in the coalition include EBHO, OCO, EBASE, Communities for a Better Environment (CBE), Alliance of Californians for Community Empowerment (ACCE), Public Advocates, Unite Here 2850, Urban Peace Movement, SEIU-USWW – which represents workers at the Coliseum arena, Causa Justa/Just Cause, the Building Trades Council, Faith Alliance for a Moral Economy, and Partnership for Working Families.

Courtesy of the Oakland Post, April 20, 2015 (Postnewsgroup.com)

Councilmembers Back $3,000 a Month Apartment Tower Project, Opposed by Eastlake Neighbors

Rendering of Lake Merritt Boulevard Apartments, courtesy of UrbanCore.

Rendering of Lake Merritt Boulevard Apartments, courtesy of UrbanCore.

By Ken Epstein

The City Council’s Community and Economic Development (CED) committee voted unanimously this week to approve the sale of public land on East 12th Street across the roadway from Lake Merritt to a development company that wants to build a 24-story, 298-unit luxury apartment tower with rents that will go for about $3,000 a month.

Michael Johnson  of Urban Core Development. Photo by Ken Epstein

Michael Johnson of Urban Core Development. Photo by Ken Epstein

Emphasizing the need for market rate as well as affordable housing and throwing in a number of community benefits, Councilmembers Rebecca Kaplan, Larry Reid, Lynette Gibson McElhaney and Annie Campbell Washington approved the project and forwarded the full council for a decision.

Also speaking at the meeting was Councilmember Abel Guillen, who backed the project, explaining that he was working with the developer to add more community benefits.

Guillen also urged councilmembers to seek a new appraisal, saying that the city’s $5.1 million asking price seemed to be too low. Committee members rejected the proposal for a new appraisal, citing the need to move ahead quickly and said they felt the city had more or less made a commitment on price to developer Michael Johnson and his company Urban Core Developers.

Abel Guillen

Abel Guillen

Those opposed to the project include a neighborhood group called East Lake United for Justice, local residents who are urging the city to reject the sale of the parcel. They do not oppose market-rate housing, but, they say, it should be built on private land and not by selling a piece of land that was created by a public project at public expense.

“If the city is going to build on public land (created) with taxpayer dollars, we need it to go for affordable housing. This is “not the kind of project we need here in Oakland,” said Michael Flynn of East Lake United for Justice.

 “We don’t believe that building market rate housing is going to stabilize the housing situation,” he said. Instead, “it’s going to drive people out (of the city).”

Adding urgency to the issues raised by residents is the example of San Francisco where the torrent of market rate construction has not led to more affordable housing but instead to the almost complete elimination of the African American population and now seems to be leading to pushing out Latino residents of the Mission District.

Guillen told his follow council members that the city has to consider all the housing needs “not just those of the very poor or the very rich.”

“We have to look at the big picture – new comers end up competing with long time residents for existing housing,” he said. “Building market rate housing will end up easing not exacerbating” rents for existing lower cost rental units.

“I do have concerns about the $5.1 million appraisal,” Guillen continued. “It appears the land value should be about 25 percent higher at a minimum, an additional one million dollars or so to the city.”

He said he has worked with Urban Core to provide $300,000 in community benefits, including maintenance and other improvements to the Lake Merritt area and Children’s Fairyland.

“We have moved forward to create an iconically designed project for this city. We have found a capital partner. We have worked with (Councilmember) Guillen to expand the community benefits for the project,” said Johnson of Urban Core.

Councilmembers said they wanted to use 25 percent of the selling price to build affordable housing and another 25 percent to maintain the newly upgraded Lake Merritt area, which has lost most of its gardening and maintenance staff and is danger of deteriorating.

A number of speakers in favor of the project emphasized that there is a great unmet need for market-rate housing in Oakland. Several speakers also stressed that developers and investors around the country are closely monitoring this project to see whether city officials are serious about promoting development.

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

 

 

 

 

Opinion: Oakland Needs Office of Race and Equity

“Allow ourselves to become comfortable with being uncomfortable”

 By Desley Brooks

It is widely known now that I have called for an office of Race and Equity to be established in the City of Oakland. Voices have risen up across our entire city from residents, community

Desley Brooks

Desley Brooks

organizations, agencies, and other elected officials discussing the need for such an office in our city.

The most resounding voice on the issue is in absolute agreement of a need for an office of Race and Equity. However there are other opinions as well ranging from moderate consideration, outright disagreement, as well as those who are undecided.

Race is a subject that we handle very interestingly in America. It impacts so much of the atmosphere in the worlds of business, politics, education, and family life, whether we admit it or not.

Yet we are largely uncomfortable having meaningful discourse around this thing that is so prevalent in our day-to-day lives. Because we are uncomfortable talking about race, many of us tend to pick a side on an issue concerning race and just stand on that square, unwilling to really hear the perspective of others.

If we are going to address racial inequalities in our city, we are going to have to get comfortable being uncomfortable.

We are going to have to be willing to respectfully listen to the opinions and ideas of others that may not always sit well with us or even stir up emotions of fear, anger, and guilt.

Racial equity is not an issue of politics – it is an issue of humanity that can be addressed through a political process.

I obviously believe in the need for such an office in our city, but I’m not asking anyone to blindly join this cause or agree with me automatically.

I invite all of us to explore the facts and consider the climate in our city as it relates to race and equity in Oakland.

My hope is that we all will allow ourselves to be comfortable being uncomfortable and asking ourselves questions and reflecting personally on our experiences and beliefs relating to race and racism.

Desley Brooks is a member of the Oakland City Council, representing District 6.

Courtesy of the Oakland Post, April 11, 2015 (postnewsgroup.com)

City Council Votes to Protect Businesses in the Path of Coliseum City Project

By Ken Epstein

The City Council voted Tuesday to keep residential development out of the Oakland Airport Business Park, passing the Coliseum Area Specific Plan without the the zoning amendments that would allow market-rate condominiums and apartments to be built in the area.

Dexter Vizinau

Dexter Vizinau

Councilmembers overwhelmingly passed the community-backed motion to preserve the 150 businesses and 8,000 jobs that would have likely have been displaced over time.

Councilmember Rebecca Kaplan said she had heard community members’ concerns that the specific plan could eliminate the business park and that she was backing changes that would protect local businesses and jobs.

“I offered the amendment to remove housing from the (business park) zoning that is before us,” Kaplan said. “I have verified that the development team is fine with the change.”

Backing the amendments to the amendments to the plan developed by staff and consultants, Councilmember Desley Brooks said, “It’s important that we retain industrial land in this city. Loss of jobs happens when industrial lands go away.”

Businessman Dexter Vizinau spoke in favor of the change. “ It’s great to see this project moving forward. It’s about business retention, business expansion and business attraction,” he said.

“Not every kid wants to sell popcorn, clean a bathroom or punch a cash register. We want to make things. We want to build things.”

Rev. Damita Davis-Howard

Rev. Damita Davis-Howard

Also speaking at the meeting were representatives of a coalition of East Oakland residents who are determined that any “New City¨ Coliseum agreement that the council signs with a developer must contain iron-clad community benefits.

Among the groups in the coalition are Oakland Community Organizations (OCO), Just Cause/Causa Justa, East Bay Housing Organizations (EBHO) and Communities for a Better Environment (CBE)

Residents are deeply concerned about avoiding higher rents, providing decent jobs for workers in East Oakland and affordable housing for people who earn less than $50,000 a year.

“The threat of displacement of thousands of residents has not been addressed adequately,” said Rev. Damita Davis-Howard of OCO.

“We need to develop strategies now that will protect residents 10 years from now,” she said. “The project should protect and invest in the exiting culture of our city.”

The city currently has an Exclusive Negotiating Agreement (ENA) with a development team that is working on funding and talking to the Raiders and the A’s.

The ENA expires in August but could be extended.

Courtesy of the Oakland Post, April 3, 2015 (postnewsgroup.com)