Commentary: Don’t Drink the Redevelopment Kool-Aid! By ROBERT BROKL

Friday June 17, 2005

On May 9, over 200 residents filled the North Oakland Senior Center for a meeting called by the city’s Redevelopment Agency on expanding the existing MacArthur/ Broadway/San Pablo Redevelopment Area north to the Berkeley border so as to abate the “blight”.  

Declaring most of North Oakland, including the Telegraph and Broadway commercial corridors, “blighted” seems absurd. Even the agency’s “poll” of those present revealed a 60 percent to 40 percent majority against redevelopment. But the Redevelopment Bandwagon continues as if the meeting never happened. What gives?  

North Oakland is not “blighted.” Private capital is flooding in, from smaller projects like the Nomad Cafe to the Lawton Associates’ condominium tower in Temescal. Three hundered and fourteen units of privately funded condominium units are in the pipeline or underway along San Pablo Avenue from 40th Street to the Berkeley border .  

Oakland Councilmember Jane Brunner ardently embraces the concept of the transit village at MacArthur BART—the centerpiece of the existing redevelopment area and impetus for expansion. Paradoxically, Brunner did allow in a May 25 letter to constituents that the expansion area under consideration was “without significant blight.”  

This transit village is little more than a concept, having been through many iterations and developers, including having a Target as anchor. (The state frowned upon trip-generating big box retail, so good-bye Target.) Current plans call for 500 to 1,000 units of housing. Underground parking alone has been estimated to cost $25 million.  

The attraction for Redevelopment staff of the areas of North Oakland where single family homes are selling for $400,000 to $800,000, many doubling or more in value the last five years, is not to correct “blight,” but to capture “tax increment” money as the reassessed value of property greatly increases.  

A Dec. 22, 2004 memorandum from Redevelopment Agency staffer Kathy Kleinbaum succinctly lays out the reasons for adding these areas:  

Expanding the boundaries would result in a significant increase in tax increment revenues which could help fund the major projects that are currently planned including the MacArthur Transit Village or Telegraph Streetscape improvements. Staff estimated that over the life of the project, the present tax value of tax increment revenues to the city from the amendment area would be approximately $385 million. The existing area is projected to generate $155 million over the same period.  

Expanding the boundaries would create a more stable tax increment base from which to issue tax increment revenue bonds. Bonding entities are concerned when there is too large a concentration of ownership among a few property owners. 

Even an expanded redevelopment area doesn’t solve the funding problems of the MacArthur Transit Village. Bonds can be issued for no more than 10 times the annual income from the area, currently projected to be $4.9 million in the next five-year project cycle.  

Is it NIMBY to quibble about elected officials and staffers, many of whom live in single-family homes with yards on tree-lined streets assuming those less fortunate want to live like sardines on noisy, polluted arterials?  

The new $100-million-plus Fruitvale Transit Village, funded by local, state, and federal sources, is the local lodestar of transit villages, even though office space is still apparently unleased, some of the 47 housing units are unrented, and some ground floor fast food has folded. On a recent weekend, people soaking up the sun preferred unredeveloped International Boulevard to the Fruitvale Village mall.  

The Fruitvale Transit Village, with 47 housing unit,s is not a “transit village.” With offices for everything from non-profits to a city senior center and library, the “village” is more a satellite government outpost.  

Redevelopment is being unabashedly pushed as the magic wand for every urban ill, including shortages of cafes and police. To hear Redevelopment staff tell it, their product may even cure the common cold. But those who rashly gulp the redevelopment Kool-Aid are going to be in for a rude shock: Their pet projects are nothing next to the 5,000-pound money-sucking sponge of a transit village!  

Staff sidesteps the quasi-permanent nature of redevelopment: 45-year terms that are easily extended. The money that redevelopment captures is money that otherwise would have gone to the city’s chronically strapped General Fund. The areas of the city that are too wealthy to “qualify” for redevelopment like Rockridge or Temescal end up disproportionately paying for the services—police, fire, schools, libraries, sidewalks—that the General Fund supports.  

The issues of fairness and starving the General Fund are the reasons the Piedmont Avenue Neighborhood Improvement League (PANIL) steering committee voted to oppose expansion.  

Draconian redevelopment tools like eminent domain are glossed over. Project Area Committee (PAC) minutes since 2000 reveal an ongoing, unsuccessful effort by members and residents to add protections for single family residences. Staff refused, suggesting waiting “until the appropriate time” for such language to be included.  

At the May 18 meeting, Jane Brunner seemed surprised housing wasn’t protected at the time of the inception of the PAC and redevelopment district, although she has suggested curbs on eminent domain were left out to target MacArthur Boulevard motels.  

The Dec. 22 Kleinbaum memorandum makes explicit the status of eminent domain:  

“The primary concern about redevelopment for most neighborhoods is the potential uses of eminent domain on residential properties. The Broadway/MacArthur/San Pablo Redevelopment Plan does not place any restriction on the use of eminent domain. If this is a major concern voiced by the community, there are a number of policy options for the new amendment area that can be adopted...”  

Eminent domain IS a big issue: Housing exists on all the arterials and some like Market and West Streets are predominantly residential. Shattuck Ave. in Oakland is also mostly residential. Even residents of side streets face the impacts of large projects on major corridors.  

View a local example of redevelopment: the ranch-style housing at Stanford and Adeline, a redevelopment zone from the 1970s that displaced most of the residents and demolished their “blighted’ housing. Then compare the sales prices and curb appeal of the “ranchers” to those of the remaining Victorians and Craftsmans nearby.  


Robert Brokl is a North Oakland resident.?