Category: Housing/Foreclosures

Eastlake Community Group Says “Fight Continues” to Stop E. 12th Street Luxury Tower

A coalition of protesters opposing the E. 12th Street luxury tower shut down the Oakland City Council meeting on May 4. Photo courtesy of ABC7

A coalition of protesters opposing the E. 12th Street luxury tower shut down the Oakland City Council meeting on May 4. Photo courtesy of ABC7.

By Ken Epstein

A group of neighbors who are leading the fight against the luxury apartment tower by Lake Merritt – Eastlake United for Justice – is saying it is determined to keep public pressure on the City Council to ensure that “they are making a is a sincere effort to secure low-uncome affordable housing on E. 12th St.”

Members of the Eastlake group said they were heartened by the city’s decision to issue a “Notice of Intent and Offer to Convey Property,” dated July 14, which implies that the city “has decided to comply with the law and put the parcel back out to bid, as the community has demanded from the very beginning,” according to the East Lake group’s media release.

But at the same time, “the fight continues,” the news release said, because they find a number of reasons for concern that the city is not seriously seeking affordable housing proposals to develop the parcel.

Complicating the process, the new notice is not a formal “Request for Proposals,” the usual way the city seeks applicants to purchase or lease property.

In addition, the press release said, “The city’s notice to developers does not mention an affordable housing requirement or priority. It gives just 60 days for proposals to be developed and submitted. And the notice was quietly distributed to a very limited list of agencies including very few housing developers and a handful of agencies that do not develop housing

“This looks like an attempt to comply with the bare minimum of the law to avoid a lawsuit, then hand the parcel back to UrbanCore for a luxury tower,” the news release said.

Asked about the new offer and the still existing proposed agreement with UrbanCore, Council President Lynette Gibson McElhaney told the Post on Wednesday, “I have no comment on this project.

According to Councilmember Abel Guillon, who represents the district where the proposed project would be built, “The 60-day notice is not a cover for anything. It is merely an extra step of due diligence,”

He added: “I think the city’s practice is to consider all proposals, solicited and unsolicited.  The next step will depend on the nature of any responses the city receives to the notice.”

Guillen said the City Administrator and City Attorney will be reporting back to the council on the. parcel and its potential development.

Also questioned about the new project and why he city had not issued an RFPP was Patrick Lane, city Development/Redevelopment Program Manager of the Department of Economic and Workforce Development.

“It is what it is,” Lane told the Post. “It is letting people know there is an option for the site.”

He said the contract withi UrbanCore had not been passed by the City Council because the final vote had been postponed.

Lane said he had referred the Post’s questions to the City Attorney last week but had not received a reply.

The Post had asked: How will offers be prioritized? Will offers to build affordable housing be privileged? What is the city going to do with the agreement with UrbanCore , which was already approved by council at the first of two meetings?

Will UrbanCore have a priority for consideration under this notice?

The city had sent out its new offer to 18 agencies including the CA State Parks Department, AC Transit, P.G.& E., CALTRANS, the Oakland Unified School District , the East Bay Regional Parks District., Port of Oakland , BART and East Bay Municipal Utilities District.

 Courtesy of the Oakland Post, July 25, 2015 (postnewsgroup.com)

The San Francisco Foundation Donates $34 Million to Oakland Nonprofits

Huge grant will mean jobs, training and affordable housing

(L to R): Dominique Parker, Renelle Malone, Kiyle Adams, Regina Jackson, Mayor Libby Schaaf, Destin Colbert and Fred Blackwell at the East Oakland Youth Development Center. Photo by Tulio Ospina.

(L to R): Dominique Parker, Renelle Malone, Kiyle Adams, Regina Jackson, Mayor Libby Schaaf, Destin Colbert and Fred Blackwell at the East Oakland Youth Development Center. Photo by Tulio Ospina.

By Tulio Ospina

The San Francisco Foundation (TSFF) announced on Tuesday that it is donating $34 million dollars to a number of Oakland nonprofit community organizations, a gift of an anonymous donor.

TSFF, now headed by Fred Blackwell, former Oakland City administrator, is one of the largest community foundations in the country and gives out millions of dollars every year through grants and fellowship programs.

According to Jane Sullivan, the foundation’s vice president, this is the first time TSFF has made a donation of this scale.

“The foundation wanted to invest heavily in Oakland’s key organizations and infrastructure,” said Sullivan. “We know people in Oakland are being displaced and being withheld from tech opportunities. We are looking to help create the opportunities for those in Oakland that need it the most.”

The grants are estimated to result in 731 new affordable housing units being built, 2,502 new jobs created and ultimately 62,570 people served.

The foundation made the announcement of its awards at a well-attended press conference at the East Oakland Youth Development Center (EOYDC), which provides support under-served youth in poor neighborhoods and one of the recipients a large donation.

Having recently made renovations and additions to their facility—including a more expansive wellness center, a dance room, and martial arts dojo—EODYC will use its $1 million grant to pay off the debt it accrued with one-third of what it is receiving from TSFF, said Regina Jackson, president of the center.

“With the $ 2 million grant we acquired from the foundation, Asian Health Services is devoted to expanding access to health services for underserved communities, newly-arrived immigrants and sexually exploited minors,” said Sherry Hirota, CEO of Asian Health Services.

“This includes establishing school-based clinics that help address issues of trauma that so many of youth experience in Oakland.”

The Unity Council received $3 million in support of building the second phase of the Fruitvale Transit Village, which will develop 270 units of housing in Fruitvale, 80 of which will be affordable housing.

Other beneficiaries included:

The EastSide Arts Alliance, which received $1 million to secure its building;

Urban Strategies Council, which was awarded $1.2 million to pay for CEO transition and low-income housing development;

Ella Baker Center for Human Rights, which received $1 million to support its Restore Oakland/Restaurant Opportunity Center;

Destiny Arts Center, which was awarded $1.3 million to eliminate the organization’s debt service, expand its work with incarcerated youth at the Alameda Juvenile Justice Center and increase participation of LGBTQ youth in the organization’s “Moving the Movement” program; and

A $4 million grant, which will support seven Oakland based high-tech programs: Black Girls Code, David Glover Center, Hack the Hood, Hidden Genius Project, Qeyno Labs, #YesWeCode and Youth Impact Hub – designed to ensure that a diverse workforce is available for technology employers.

Courtesy of the Oakland Post, July 17, 2015 (postnewsgroup.com)

City Council May Abandon Controversial East 12th Street Development

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

Protesters stayed late at a recent City Council meeing to oppose the sale of the East 12th STtreet property. Photo by Ken Epstein

By Post Staff

The City of Oakland has quietly issued a new notice offering to sell or lease a city-owned parcel on East 12th Street near Lake Merritt that has been in limbo since the council pulled the final decision on the contract.

The “Notice of Intent and Offer to Convey Property,” dated July 14, tells agencies “If you submit a response, the city will enter into good faith negotiations with your agency or organization to discuss your proposed development.”

The city has been under intense pressure for the last six months from protesting residents and has been challenged on the legality of the sale of the East 12th street property to UrbanCore Development to construct a luxury apartment tower.

The City Council has still not released a statement about what it intends to do about its former agreement to sell the property to UrbanCore, which passed the council once but was tabled before the final vote.

“We are very exited about the city’s decision to comply with the law and address community concerns by reopening the process,” said Monica Garcia, a member of the neighborhood group Eastlake United for Justice.

“The council has stepped up to do the right thing and we’ll be watching to make sure that they comply fully with the law this time around,” said David Zisser, attorney with Public Advocates.

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

City Council Mum After Exposure of Confidential Legal Opinion

Council ignored City Attorney’s advice that sale of Lake Merritt parcel was illegal

Josh Healey, an Eastlake resident, spoke Tuesday against the City Council's decision to sell the East 12th property to a private developer. Photo by Tulio Ospina.

Josh Healey, an Eastlake resident, spoke Tuesday against the City Council’s decision to sell the East 12th property to a private developer. Photo by Tulio Ospina.

By Tulio Ospina and Ken Epstein

The Oakland City Council was uncharacteristically at a loss for words this week after public exposure that it had moved ahead on a controversial sale of city property near Lake Merritt to UrbanCore Development, ignoring the confidential legal opinion of its own attorney.

The council had approved the sale of the property in a 6-0 vote last month, and the motion was scheduled for final approval at Tuesday night’s council meeting and was expected to be a formality.

Robbie-Clark-300x199

Robbie Clark speaks at City Council meeting.

But without a word of explanation, councilmembers pulled the final decision from the agenda. They never once referred to the exposure of the city attorney’s legal opinion, though it was discussed by a number of speakers at the meeting.

The final vote was postponed to the council’s July 21 meeting.

Oakland City Attorney Barbara Parker’s written opinion, issued on Feb. 17, had warned councilmembers their plan to sell the parcel across from the lake on East 12th Street to build a 315-unit luxury apartment tower would be in violation of state law – California’s Surplus Land Act.

In the confidential document that was obtained by the East Bay Express and released Monday, Parker told the council that the East 12th Street parcel “qualifies as surplus land, and the California Surplus Land Act requires the city to offer the property to ‘preferred entities’ designated in the act, for 60 days before agreeing to convey the property to UrbanCore.”

Under the law, the developer would be required “to rent or sell at least 15 percent of project units to lower income households at an affordable rent or housing cost,” according to the Parker’s written opinion.

The deal approved by the council on June 17 would sell the property to UrbanCore for $5.1 million, plus an additional $8 million to build other affordable housing elsewhere in Oakland with some additional community benefits. None of the units in the proposed building would be rented at a rate affordable to most Oakland residents.

One of those who spoke at the council meeting on Tuesday night was David Zisser, an attorney at Public Advocates, which is representing the community members who are fighting the sale of the property.

“We were not surprised by the city attorney’s opinion,” he said. “After all, we have been saying the same thing for months.”

“What is surprising is that the council decided to go ahead with the sale anyway,” he said, adding that he was glad councilmembers had pulled the property sale from the agenda.

Local resident Oscar Fuentes criticized City Attorney Parker, an elected official, for keeping silent – never revealing her legal opinion to the public.

“Wasn’t the city attorney obligated by her duty to the City of Oakland to give (the people) her actual interpretation of the law? I think the people deserve an answer,” he said.

Robbie Clark, an activist in local fights in opposition to gentrification and displacement, said that the council’s Lake Merritt property deal “is the kind of decision that helps gentrification continue.”

Instead of selling public property for private development, the city needs to “set aside land for affordable housing,” Clark said. “Those are the kinds of laws we need to enforce.”

“It’s hard to say we’re going to crack down on crime when some of that crime comes down from the city,” said Josh Healey, Eastlake resident.

One city hall observer stated, “Barbara Parker is supposed to be the city’s ultimate watchdog as city attorney. But since she is not seeking re-election, she doesn’t care enough to save taxpayers money and legal hardship.”

“If she were running again, she would be hyper-vigilant rather than denying the public its right to know what is going on,” according to the observer.

In an interview with the Post this week, Monica García, a member of the neighborhood group Eastlake United for Justice, spoke about her organization’s reaction to the exposure of Parker’s opinion.

“I’m shocked to see this in black and white, knowing that City Councilmembers went against their own legal opinion,” she said.

“As taxpayers, we want to know why they’d go against it,” she said, “It’s the taxpayers who pay every time the city loses a lawsuit.”

In addition to postponing the vote on the property sale, the council should “offer an explanation for why they chose to defy the legal opinion,” said García.

Opponents of the project have repeatedly told the council that the sale was in violation of the California Surplus Land Act and warned that a decision to go ahead with the sale would lead to a lawsuit.

Mayor Libby Schaaf – a member of the city council when a number of the decisions were made related to the sale of the parcel – did not respond to the Oakland Post’s request for a comment on the public exposure of Parker’s confidential opinion.

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

Oakland’s Housing Market Spikes, Prices May Be Rising Faster Than San Francisco

Alliance of Californians for Community Empowerment (ACCE) and Causa Justa are two of the organizations fighting foreclosures and supporting tenant protection in Oakland.  Photo courtesy of localprogress.org.

Alliance of Californians for Community Empowerment (ACCE) and Causa Justa are two of the organizations fighting foreclosures and supporting tenant protection in Oakland. Photo courtesy of localprogress.org.

By Tulio Ospina

Oakland’s housing market continues to skyrocket, making the city one of the fastest-moving housing markets in the country, according to a new city report.

The report finds that rent prices in Oakland increased dramatically over the last 18 months – about 22 percent higher than in April 2014, pointing to growth that may be outpacing San Francisco’s market, according to the city’s Quarterly Report on Foreclosure Issues presented Tuesday at the City Council Community and Economic Development (CED) committee meeting.

Home sales prices in Oakland have also escalated by 17 percent in the past year – the median home price is now at $507,750.

According to the report, the city’s growing housing market is being fueled by “an influx of international capital,” and homebuyers who have been priced out of San Francisco continue to find Oakland attractive as a more affordable alternative.

“Real folks can’t buy a house around here,” says Anya Svanoe, lead organizer at Alliance of Californians for Community Empowerment (ACCE). “Speculator activity is high in this area, and they’re the reason prices are going up so rapidly.

“So if I go to an auction to buy a home,” she claims, “I’m going to find there are a ton of big developers with cash on hand who are going to outbid any regular person.”

Meanwhile, foreclosure rates have continued to decline over the past few years since 2012 when foreclosed homes were being auctioned at an average of 98 homes per month.

Over the past three months, the average fell to 20 foreclosed homes sold per month. However, compared with several years ago, most of those who are losing their homes now are longtime homeowners, including elderly residents whose houses have been in their families for several generations, the report said.

Despite the decrease in Oakland’s foreclosure rates this quarter, there were 160 new notices of default, 12 of which were short sold.

ACCE has joined a coalition of community organizations currently in the middle of a budget fight to allocate more funds to Oakland’s Tenant Protection Ordinance so that two fulltime staff members can be hired to respond to landlord harassing behavior.

“The ordinance right now has no teeth for tenant protection,” said Svanoe, “There is currently no staffing if anybody calls in with violation complaints. We’re fighting to get more money to support the ordinance so that Oakland can quickly act when tenants need it.”

Courtesy of the Oakland Post, June 30, 2015 (postnewsgroup.com)

Reid Announces 59 Units of Affordable Housing on International Boulevard

Rendering of new affordable housing on International Boulevard

Rendering of new affordable housing on International Boulevard

By Ken Epstein

Seven years in the making, a 59-unit affordable housing development will break ground before the end of the year at International Boulevard and 94th Avenue, the culmination of the work of City Council President Pro Tem Larry Reid and Bishop Bob Jackson of Acts Full Gospel Church in East Oakland.

“This is a good day,” said Reid, speaking at press conference Wednesday in a parking lot at the site of the future project.

Larry Reid

Larry Reid

“This is the beginning of change along the International Boulevard corridor, creating opportunities to build affordable for our families who live and work in the city, so they can stay in Oakland, he said.

Bishop Jackson thanked Reid others who have helped make this development a reality, including developer, Related California, Oakland Housing Authority and the Department of Housing and Community Development of the City of Oakland.

“We believed we could do it, but we didn’t have the hookup to do it,” said Bishop Jackson. “This project has brought a lot of wonderful people together.”

“We are partnering long term in this community,” said William Witte, chairman and CEO of Related California.

Work on the 1.26-acre affordable housing development will begin in December and is scheduled to be completed in February 2017. The project will contain 18 one-bedroom units, 23 two-bedroom units and 18 three-bedroom units.

There will also be a computer room, laundry facilities and a tot-lot, as well as 3,500-square-feet of commercial space on International.

The project will be financed with conventional debt, low-income housing tax credit equity, a $7.7 million residual receipt loan from the city and a $2.6 million residual receipt loan from the Oakland Housing Authority.

Courtesy of the Oakland Post, June 28, 2015 (postnewsgroup.com)

Lakeshore Avenue Landlord Raises Monthly Rent from $1,080 to $3,870 to Force Tenants Out

Oakland attorney steven Schectman and teants speak Wednesday at a press conference across the steet from the 1918 Lakeshore Avenue apartment building owned by landlord Russell Flynn. Photo by Ken Epstein

Oakland attorney steven Schectman and tenants speak Wednesday at a press conference across the steet from the 1918 Lakeshore Avenue apartment building owned by landlord Russell Flynn. Photo by Ken Epstein

By Ken Epstein

A group of tenants are resisting a landlord’s ongoing attempts to kick them out of their apartments, just a few blocks away from the site of the new luxury high-rise tower that will be built at the corner of East 12 Street by Lake Merritt.

The 16 tenants in 10 of the units at 1918 Lakeshore Ave. facing Lake Merritt, many of whom have multiyear leases, last year received a notice to raise their rents about fourfold.

“The rental of said premises will be the sum of $3,870 per month instead of $1,080 per moth as heretofore payable,” said the landlord’s letter to tenant Mohsin Sharif.

According to Oakland attorneys Steven Rood and Steven Schectman, who this week filed a lawsuit for damages on behalf of the tenants, the building was bought in the last year by landlord Russell Flynn, with the intention of pushing out the tenants and renting the units at a higher rate.

Speaking at a press conference in front of the building on Wednesday, the attorneys and the tenants they represent accused Flynn, as well as the previous landlord, of using harassing tactics to drive people out of their homes, like illegal astronomical rent increases, fraudulent lease forms, spy cameras in hallways to watch tenants and repeatedly turning off the water to the building.

“Flynn is one of the largest private owners of rental housing stock in the Bay Area (mostly in San Francisco), controlling more than 3,600 rental properties, and is, by his own admission one of California’s leading proponents of both ‘vacancy de-control’ and the Ellis Act (evictions),” according to the lawsuit.

One of the tenants is Cortez Pheniz, who has lived in the building since February 2013.

The harassment by the landlord has gotten bad “just recently,” he said.

“It’s really stressful,” said Pheniz, who has worked as a bus driver for Golden Gate Transit since 1998.

Another male tenant works is a fourth grade teacher in Oakland. A woman tenant does community organizing work and event planning.

Other speakers called on tenants like themselves throughout the city to organize and fight against being displaced.

Responding for the landlord, property manager of the building Lucky Stewart told the Post, “There’s a lot of tenants that have been there for 20, 30 years. They are wonderful tenants who can give more facts and truth to these ridiculous claims.”

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

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

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

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

By Ken Epstein

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Photo courtesy of en.wikipedia.org/

Photo courtesy of en.wikipedia.org/

By Ken Epstein

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

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

Margaretta Lin

Margaretta Lin

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Demographic changes in the city have been dramatic.

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

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

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

Over 11,000 homes were foreclosed.

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

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

 

Community Voices Fill City Hall, Luxury Apartment Building Blocked

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

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

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

By Ken Epstein

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

But the five votes he needed were not there.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“I can count” the votes, Guillen said.

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

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

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