Category: Labor

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)

Health Dangers of Coal Spark Local Debate

Operators at the Spring Creek Mine near Decker, Mont., apply a topper agent as rail cars are loaded with coal to reduce the amount of dust and coal lost during transportation.Photo courtesy of Jo Dee Black, Great Falls Mont.Tribune

Operators at the Spring Creek Mine near Decker, Mont., apply a topper agent as rail cars are loaded with coal to reduce the amount of dust and coal lost during transportation.Photo courtesy of Jo Dee Black, Great Falls Mont.Tribune.

By Tulio Ospina

As hundreds rallied at Oakland City Hall Tuesday protesting possible coal shipments through the developing Oakland Army Base, health concerns were one of the key issues that people raised.

In particular, the effects of exporting 5 million tons of coal per year on the respiratory health of West Oakland residents—who already suffer from some of the highest asthma rates in Alameda County—have been at the forefront of the debate.

According to experts, Alameda County has the third highest asthma-related hospitalization rates of all California counties and 24 percent of children in West Oakland suffer from asthma.

This health disparity has been mostly attributed to a combination of urban poverty, lack of routine healthcare and diesel pollution caused by constant cargo ship and truck traffic.

Dan Jaffe, professor of atmospheric and environmental chemistry at the University of Washington-Bothell, says that after years of studying the impacts of coal in the atmosphere, he believes there are environmental reasons to be concerned.

Regardless of whether coal dust is ever exposed to California air, the west coast of the U.S. would be contributing to its own air and sea pollution by shipping coal to Asia, where dust, ozone smog and mercury would be carried over on westerly winds.

“Pollutants can be transported in 7 to 10 days at high elevations and then touch down here in the US to contribute to the pollution that we breathe,” said Jaffe. “The amount of ozone coming from Asia can cause cities to go beyond their own ozone standards.”

Jaffe also claims that the majority of human-produced mercury found in seafood consumed by the United States comes from Asian coal burning.

The Sierra Club, a leader in the anti-coal fight, has taken a strong position on the carbon fuel’s health dangers.

“Transporting the coal via rail car to the port will increase train traffic and pollution in an area already overburdened by bad air,” according to a press release from the Sierra Club’s Bay Area chapter.

“Each open-top rail car of coal can lose up to one ton of dust between the mines and the port, resulting in the release of 60,000 pounds of toxic fine particulate matter in communities near the rails,” the press release said.

According to Brian Beveridge, co-director of the West Oakland Environmental Indicators Project (WOEIP), coal dust contains carcinogen and is most likely the cause of black lung and can lead to respiratory ailments such as asthma and lung cancer.

However, supporters of a coal deal claim shipping coal out of Oakland will not harm residents or workers, citing proposals to transport the coal in sealed cars and load cargo ships in ways that limit coal particles being released into the air.

In a statement released Thursday, Oakland Army Base developer Phil Tagami emphasized that no commitment has been made yet to transport any particular commodity through the bulk export terminal.

Tagami said that with whatever commodity shipped through Oakland, all rail transport “will occur utilizing newly designed covered rail cars and other measures to minimize and potentially eliminate fugitive dust issues.”

Dr. Washington Burns, executive director of the Prescott-Joseph Center and founder of the mobile asthma clinic, called the Breathmobile, says he is neutral on passing coal through Oakland but supports the export if the promised physical protections are fully implemented.

(To read Phil Tagami’s July 23 statement, go to http://postnewsgroup.com/blog/2015/07/23/op-ed-developer-phil-tagami-responds-debate-coal-transport-army-base/)

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

Peralta Community Colleges Receive Accreditation Warnings

Teachers’ union warns of “rogue” accrediting agency

Culinary Arts at Laney College in downtown Oakland.

Culinary Arts at Laney College in downtown Oakland.

By Tulio Ospina

Laney College, Merritt College, College of Alameda and Berkeley City College – the four community colleges that make up the Peralta Community College District – have been issued warnings and imposed probations by the Accrediting Commission for Community and Junior Colleges (ACCJC).

According to the accrediting commission, the Oakland colleges—which serve about 34,000 students in Oakland—must meet a variety of requirements before October 2016 to avoid losing its accreditation from the commission.

Berkeley City College

Berkeley City College

Colleges that are not accredited are not eligible to receive public funding and, as a result, are forced to shut down.

None of the problems that ACCJC has cited against the Peralta district colleges are related to quality of education or teaching standards.

Rather, the accrediting organization is finding fault with the colleges’ bureaucratic processes such as irregular course and personnel assessments, providing online distance learning without gaining proper approval and failing to give appropriate attention to long-term financial planning.

A number of organizations, however, including student groups and college teacher unions, have expressed concerns about the motives and methods of the ACCJC.

According to Edward Jaramillo, president of the Peralta Federation of Teachers (PFT), the teachers’ union is in support of faculty and administration’s efforts to work with the district to review the recommendations.

Merritt College in Oakland

Merritt College in Oakland

“On a larger level, we support the efforts of the California Federation of Teachers to push through legislation and bring more transparency and some guidelines to ACCJC’s process of accreditation,” said Jaramillo.

ACCJC is the organization that nearly revoked accreditation of City College of San Francisco in 2013, causing widespread protests of students, teachers’ unions and community members, ultimately resulting in a court-ordered suspension of the revocation.

While not as dire as City College’s circumstances were back in 2013, Peralta’s situation has brought many to question ACCJC’s interests and draw parallels between the two situations.

“The areas they’re both being attacked in have to do with record keeping and finances,” said Joe Berry, a retired teacher and member of AFT 2121, the faculty union at CCSF.

“Neither one has been about quality of education being delivered to students, whose benefit is the core mission of accreditation bodies in general.”

Berry helped fight against the ACCJC’s actions in 2013 and has noticed many community and junior colleges facing similar issues under their jurisdiction.

“Something is amiss. This is not the pattern anywhere else in the country. It at least wasn’t the pattern in this state until the present administration of ACCJC came to be,” said Berry. “They are engaged in imposing more sanctions in the institutions they are accrediting by a factor of ten than any other (accrediting organization).”

On Tuesday, PFT posted a letter on its website calling upon its members to “help reform the broken community college accreditation system” by calling their state senators and requesting they vote ‘yes’ on two pieces of legislation during next week’s Senate Education Committee.

“AB 1397, the California Community Colleges Fair Accreditation Act of 2015, will force the rogue Accrediting Commission for Community and Junior Colleges (ACCJC) to have greater transparency, and restrict its ability to issue crippling sanctions like the one it imposed on City College of San Francisco,” says the letter.

Furthermore, “AB 1385, Ending Blank Checks for Accreditation Legal Fees, would prevent the ACCJC from billing community colleges for its mounting legal fees without a vote of the colleges.”

Jeff Heyman, a spokesperson for the Peralta district, confirms that the Peralta colleges are not unique in their accreditation status with ACCJC, referring to nearly 30 colleges that are on their list in some form.

According to Heyman, Peralta’s accrediting issues stem from “a fair amount of recent management turnover, so the institutional memory isn’t there.”

“The district is already addressing OPEB (Other Post-Employment Benefits) and the student assessments,” he said. “It’s been easy to look at the list of requirements, assemble the team and start taking it seriously.”

Meanwhile, Peralta Colleges remain fully accredited, offering all their classes, with every unit transferrable to other colleges.

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)

Oakland Street Academy Teacher Betsy Schulz Retires After 40 Years

By Jaron Epstein

Jaron K. Epstein

Jaron K. Epstein

Betsy Schulz, who has taught generations of high school students at Oakland Emiliano Zapata Street Academy, has retired after 42 years

Schulz began her teaching career at the small alternative school, inspired by school’s commitment to the values of the Civil Rights Movement. And she never left.

“It was during the 70’s an era of activism and change, and I wanted to do something where I felt like I could make a real difference,” said Schulz. “I felt like urban education was an area I could do that.”

In an interview with the Post, Schulz did not talk about her retirement plans but about the school that has been her life’s work.

Betsy Schulz

Betsy Schulz

What continues to make the Street Academy unique is its philosophy of social justice and overall attitude towards students, she said. If students did not succeed or fit in at previous schools it, was not their fault.

But if they are ready to learn and believe in themselves and their future, the staff at the school does everything it can to encourage that belief and help the young people make that future a reality.

Schulz says that what has kept her invigorated in her role at the school is the freedom teachers have had to design curriculum to fit students’ changing needs.

As problems within society have worsened, teachers and staff have seen the problems of the students worsen as well.

“We have added both restorative justice and life skills to our curriculum to help deal with the issues which students are faced with,” she said.

The combination of a social justice curriculum – including African American and La Raza Studies – as well as a focus on restorative justice/transformative life skills and commitment to student’s college success make Street Academy a very special school, she said.

“We are always questioning and fine tuning, finding better ways to serve our students, said Schulz.

The restorative justice/transformative life skills program with Nairobi yoga teaches students about focused breathing and strengthening their breathing, said Schulz

“It allows students to acknowledge the stress and tensions brought on throughout the day – and then to be able to put aside whatever is bothering you to be able to focus on the day,” she said.

All Street Academy staff are trained in restorative justice, and the school deals with conflict and discipline in a much different way than most schools.

The student has a chance to make amends with the person who was harmed and then is welcomed back into the community.

“It works often and is a different way of thinking,” she said. “It takes a while for both staff and students to incorporate it into their thinking. Students start off seeing it as a sign of weakness.”

Street Academy class

Street Academy class

It’s not the normal way to deal on the streets.”

Partners in the restorative justice work, who also support the overall mission and philosophy of the school, have been the Native American Health Center (NAHC), Rose Foundation and Bay Peace.

One of Schultz’s contributions has been a unit in her physiology course. “The students look at not only the biology of diabetes but the social forces that contribute to its prevalence in communities of color,” she said.

street academy one

Street Academy

Schulz says a critical part of the school’s approach is the Counselor/Teacher/Mentor (CTM). Each member of the staff serves as an academic teacher and is also a counselor and mentor for about 20 CTM students.

Staff members work with students daily and meet with parents quarterly about students’ progress. Staff members check in with parents if the student is missing class or not doing homework and will also call to talk about how great the student is doing.

“When I think back over the years, my CTM students are my fondest memories,” she said. “Parents have said this school is the first one my child has done well at.”

Schulz said she has been luck to find herself in the enviable position where she has been able to do work in which she believes.

“Street academy made it possible to merge the personal with the political,” she said. “Most people live separate lives between what they do for work and what their passions are.”

 Courtesy of the Oakland Post, July 15, 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)

Mayor Says No to Coal

“We will not have coal shipped through our city,” Says Schaff

Environmental activists rally recently in front of Oakland Army Base developer Phil Tagami ‘s office in Frank Ogawa Plaza. Photo courtesy of Occupy Oakland.

Environmental activists rallied recently in front of Oakland Army Base developer Phil Tagami ‘s office in Frank Ogawa Plaza. Photo courtesy of Occupy Oakland.

 By Tulio Ospina

In a sharp email exchange, Oakland Mayor Libby Schaaf has blasted local developer Phil Tagami for moving ahead with a deal to export coal out of the former Oakland Army Base.

Libby Schaff

Libby Schaff

The digital dispute was documented in an email exchange that the Sierra Club obtained through a Public Records Act request.

In 2013, Tagami had said use of the Army Base to bring coal to Oakland by rail and ship it abroad was the farthest thing from his mind. He said that his company, California Capital and Investment Group (CCIG), had “no interest or involvement in the pursuit of coal-related operations at the former Oakland Army Base.”

But that was then.

Schaaf wrote in an email to Tagami, dated May 11, that she was “extremely disappointed to once again hear” mention of the “possibility of shipping coal into Oakland” during a community breakfast.

Phil Tagami

Phil Tagami

“Stop it immediately,” Schaaf wrote. “You have been awarded the privilege and opportunity of a lifetime to develop this unique piece of land. You must respect the owner and public’s decree that we will not have coal shipped through our city.”

In response to the mayor’s email, Tagami explained that by entering into a binding contract with Terminal and Logistics Solutions (TLS), he and the city had agreed to “a complete transfer of our rights and obligations with respect to the terminal operations under the ground lease.”

Additionally, he states the scope of the binding deal “is not driven or defined by any single commodity, product, or good in transit,” claiming that the city cannot legally restrict what products flow through the rail terminal development.

What is essential to the new facility’s financial and legal viability, said Tagami, is “the ability to accommodate the full universe of bulk goods,” which includes coal.

Tagami claims that the binding legal contract signed by the city gives it no control over what commodities can be shipped. But according to a number of community members, under the contract’s “Regulation for Health and Safety” clause, the city can apply regulations for health-related reasons.

Sierra Club image

Sierra Club campaign

The clause states that the city has the right to apply regulations at any time after the agreement’s adoption if failure to do so “would place existing or future occupants or users of the project, adjacent neighbors, or any portion thereof, or all of them, in a condition substantially dangerous to their health or safety.”

According to Brian Beveridge, co-director of the West Oakland Environment Indicators Project (WOEIP) and an West Oakland resident, there is ample evidence that shipping coal through Oakland would be detrimental to residents’ health.

“Coal dust is related to diesel pollution and the burning of fossil fuels,” said Beveridge. “It contains carcinogens and is likely the cause of black lung disease and asthma.”

“The whole community’s health is at stake,” he said. “Our advances in cleaning air in West Oakland are at stake. The city’s pride in calling itself a green city is at stake.”

Community observers have also criticized the city’s lack of transparency in negotiations with developers of city land. The examples, they say, include the Oakland Army Base and sale of the parcel at Lake Merritt and East 12th Street.

“It’s completely in line with all these other development deals happening behind closed doors where the public is being cut out of the conversation,” said Jess Dervin-Ackerman of the Sierra Club’s San Francisco Bay Area chapter.

“All these proposals are on city-owned land and should be used for community benefits. What City Council is doing is just letting developers have at it.”

“We’re ready to back Mayor Schaaf if she’s ready to stand up and say ‘no’ to coal,” said Beveridge. “Oakland is unanimously opposed to shipping coal to or out of our city.”

Courtesy of the Oakland Post, July 10, 2015 (postnewsgroup.com)

Oakland City Council Set to Choose Developer to Renovate Kaiser Convention Center

Rendering of proposed hotel between the Kaiser Convention Center and the Oakland Museum of California.

Rendering of CDP’s proposed hotel between the Kaiser Convention Center and the Oakland Museum of California.

By Ashley Chambers

The Henry J. Kaiser Convention Center, a historic Oakland landmark that has been shuttered and vacant for a decade, will undergo a transformation as the City Council is expected to vote next week on which of two developers will restore the building.

The convention center previously housed large-scale events, concerts, and prominent speakers – Dr. Martin Luther King who spoke there in 1962, Stokely Carmichael in 1968, the Grateful Dead, James Brown, and the Oakland school district’s annual Martin Luther King, Jr. Oratorical Fest.

The building includes a 45,000-square-foot arena that seats up to 6,000 people and the Calvin Simmons Theater that seats 1,900, two banquet rooms and a ballroom.

City staff is recommending that the city enter into a contract and long-term lease with Orton Development, Inc., which is based in Emeryville, to rehabilitate the convention center and its historic architecture.

Under the city plan, the developer would foot the bill for the entire project and would recoup its investment by using at least part of the building for profit-generating purposes.

The city’s RFP requires restoration of the Calvin Simmons Theater as a performance space and for the entire project to include “as many community benefits as possible,” including “local and small business participation, commitment to living and prevailing wages, commitment to labor peace and opportunities for job training and mentoring, a high number of jobs created for a range of training and education levels, and provision of high quality public facilities and amenities,” according to the city report.

Orton’s proposal, which is in accord with the city RFP, includes restoration of the Calvin Simmons Theater as an event space, and use of the arena as a “multi-floor rehab combining office, flex, public access, and food uses.”

The plan also proposes to use the surrounding outdoor space for community gardens, barbeque areas, public art and entertainment.

A coalition of community members and arts enthusiasts is opposing to the Orton proposal, saying the project would transform the arena – which is the majority of the interior of the building – into offices for private businesses.

The city’s RFP has suggested that the building could be used for offices, technology, design and private commercial use as well as entertainment, conference and event space, retail uses, performance space, and light industrial uses such as a brewery, maker spaces, and artist studios.

The alternative proposal came from Creative Development Partners (CDP), based in Oakland. It includes restoration of the Calvin Simmons Theater as a world-class performing arts center and use of the arena for sporting and other large events, and paying for the project by building a 15-story hotel adjacent to the Convention Center.

The hotel would be nestled in between the Oakland Museum and the convention center on park land that is presently a parking lot, incorporating a green design.

The CDP proposal is built around community benefits, including: creating more than 1,700 jobs and a career training program in partnership with Laney and Merritt Colleges for jobs in hospitality, culinary arts, creative arts, and landscaping, as well as a partnership with the Oakland Unified School District’s Linked Learning program.

The CDP proposal, called “One Lake Merritt,” envisions the building as a hub for local music, cultural and performing arts companies to use as rehearsal and performance space.

The proposal has garnered significant support from the local arts community. But while city staff found the CDP proposal “compelling,” they are recommending that the city go with the Orton plan and look for other potential sites for a hotel.

The City Council is expected to vote on the issue on Tuesday, July 7.

Courtesy of the Oakland Post, July 5, 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)