Land use, and the development of a long range strategic plan to guide it, will likely be one of the major issues facing the new Peralta Community College District Board of Trustees when it convenes in January.
Four newcomers—Bill Withrow in Area 1, Marc ie Hodge in Area 2, Nicky González Yuen in Area 3, and Cy Gulassa in Area 4—were elected earlier this month to the seven-member board. None of the incumbents in those areas chose to run for re-election.
“I think land use is going to be very important and a priority issue for the new trustees,” said outgoing Area 3 Trustee Darryl Moore, who was elected to the Berkeley City Council. “As long as we have cuts at the state level to funding at the community colleges, I just think it would behoove the trustees to consider how they can best develop district property to bring in revenue that can help finance the district during these difficult budget processes.”
But how Peralta’s land should be developed—and even how much land is available for possible developme nt—is a subject of controversy.
Yuen, a Berkeley resident and a professor at De Anza College, said he’s been told that the Peralta District has in the neighborhood of “70 acres of underutilized land,” mostly at Merritt and Laney colleges.
“You’ve got ab out 30 acres of overflow parking lot up at Merritt College [in the Oakland hills],” he said. “It’s a completely unused parking lot that’s been asphalted, but it’s old asphalt and there’s weeds growing through it.”
But Sadiq B. Ikaharo, director For gener al services for the Peralta Community College District, puts that Merritt available land total considerably lower—no more than 10 acres.
“In Merritt, they have a piece of land with redwood trees that is being utilized by the horticulture department in i ts curriculum program,” Ikaharo said.
At Laney College, near downtown Oakland, the major controversy surrounds the athletic fields and a student/faculty parking lot that sit at the south end of the campus. The area is divided from the campus by a city-ow ned creek that drains from Lake Merritt to the estuary, ending at the Jack London Aquatic Center. Two years ago, Oakland voters passed bond Measure DD which, in part, allocated money to open up the creek, making the area a potentially lucrative developmen t spot.
“By virtue of the proximity of Laney to transportation,”—it is within short walking distance of the Lake Merritt BART station as well as near an I-880 offramp—”and very close to the inner city, a lot of interests are there on land that doesn’t ha ve any structure, any building,” said Ikaharo. “We have about four or five proposals, wanting this piece of land. But,” he added, “I don’t think the students and the Board of Trustees would go for that.”
It is an understatement. In recent years, proposal s—first by Kaiser Permanente and then Children’s Hospital of Oakland—to develop hospital facilities on Laney’s athletic fields have been met with a storm of protest, causing the proposals to be withdrawn. Similarly, an idea to build a new Oakland A’s base ball stadium on the Laney fields went nowhere because of community disapproval.
“Every time the issue of the development of the athletic fields at Laney gets raised,” said Yuen, “it’s like throwing oil on a fire. You have a history of people within the d istrict not trusting the board to have a fair process, an open process, and one that works for the educational needs of the district. So there’s already a lot of suspicion that goes up.”
Yuen thinks that rather than looking at the athletic fields, land d evelopment plans on the Laney campus should concentrate on the adjacent parking lots.
“Those things are ugly, they’re eyesores,” he said. “Now I’m not saying ‘let’s sell off the parking lots.’ What I’m saying is that there isn’t as much emotional attachm ent to that land. And moreover, if you take athletic fields and you develop them, then there won’t be any athletic fields. But if you take a parking lot and put buildings on top of them, you can have a parking lot under it, or over it. You’re not necessar ily taking away the utility of the land for its present purposes.”
During his campaign, Yuen, in fact, called for a three-year moratorium on consideration of development of the athletic fields at Laney. He said that continues to be his position.
“If you were going to even consider developing that land, you would want a process that is inclusive,” he said. “You would want a process that took into consideration the long-term land use and financial needs of the district. You’d want it to fit in with the br oader educational plan, coordination among the four campuses, consideration of the student load, and so forth.”
One of the problems, according to both Yuen, Moore, and district union leaders, is that if the Peralta College District has a district-wide master plan to cover land usage and development, it’s not readily available to the public.
“I’m told that there is [a master land use plan], but I haven’t seen it,” said Yuen. “And when I talk to people and when I have asked people—and I’ve asked a lot of people what are the specifics of this plan—I never hear anything. If there is one, it’s probably not a very developed plan. I’ve seen a number of other district policies that don’t have enough specificity to them to actually call them a ‘plan.’ So I’ll wi thhold judgment on whether the current land use plan is adequate, because I haven’t seen it.”
“There may well be [a master land use plan], but I’m not aware of it,” said Michael Mills, president of the Peralta Federation of Teachers, which represents fac ulty members employed by the Peralta Community College District. “If there is one, then it’s been poorly publicized. If there isn’t, then it needs to be done post-haste.”
Asked if the district had a land use plan, Moore said “That’s a good question.” Moo re said that the district hired a consultant to develop a master land use plan before Ronald Temple retired as Peralta chancellor last year. “But the process was never finished when Temple left.”
Rather than a full-blown plan, Moore said that the distric t has a land use policy. “I think the gist of it that whatever is developed has to fit within the mission of the Peralta Community Colleges. But there needs to be more strategic long-term planning done with regard to land use.”
Actually, the district has taken steps to develop a districtwide land-use plan. Last month, with Moore in attendance, the trustees approved a three-year $90,000 contract with IPA Planning Solutions of Oakland “to work in collaboration with district’s staff to provide a complete and comprehensive strategic master plan ... to build its capital land and facilities improvement.”
And in the end, that may be one of Peralta’s biggest problems: that even when the district responds to criticisms, it doesn’t fully publicize its efforts.
“There is not a great system of communication within the district,” Yuen said. “Right now, a lot of the ways that ideas are communicated is through rumor and we don’t have a clear-cut process of inclusive decision-making.”?0