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Objections To OUSD Land Deal Increase

By J. Douglas Allen-Taylor
Tuesday July 25, 2006

The growing battle over Oakland’s valuable waterfront property development sharply escalated this week, with the coalition opposing the sale of the OUSD downtown properties moving their target from the powerless OUSD Board of Trustees to the powerful Oakland City Council and opponents of the massive nearby Oak-to-Ninth development filing a lawsuit against the project as well as launching a petition drive for a ballot measure to block its implementation. 

The Coalition of Advocates for Lake Merritt (CALM) and retired Oakland architect Joyce Roy filed a lawsuit in California Superior Court in Oakland last week, asking the court to set aside Oakland City Council’s recent approval of the 3,100 residential unit Oak To Ninth Project “based on deficiencies in the project Environmental Impact Report and related findings.”  

And on Sunday, members of the newly formed Oak-to-Ninth Referendum Committee—including representatives of the League of Women Voters, the Sierra Club, the Coalition of Advocates for Lake Merritt (CALM), and the Green Party—met in downtown Oakland to launch a petition drive to put a referendum on the ballot blocking the Oak-to-Ninth Project.  

Meanwhile, opponents of the OUSD downtown property sale were scrambling on Monday afternoon to put a resolution on the agenda for Tuesday’s City Council meeting, expressing the sentiment that the City Council was not in favor of selling the property unless and until the contract was approved by the OUSD Board of Trustees. 

The resolution was co-sponsored by councilmembers Pat Kernighan and Jean Quan and needed city attorney approval as an emergency measure to be included on the agenda. 

State Superintendent of Public Instruction Jack O’Connell is currently negotiating a contract with east coast-based developers TerraMark/Urban America for the sale of 8.25 acres of OUSD property adjacent to the Lake Merritt Channel, including the OUSD Paul Robeson Administration Building, two high schools, an elementary school, and two child development centers. O’Connell and TerraMark/UrbanAmerica have until September 13 to reach a deal under the Letter of Intent exclusive negotiating agreement signed by the parties. O’Connell has the legal authority to sell the OUSD property following the 2003 state takeover of the Oakland school district. 

TerraMark/Urban America is proposing building five high-rise luxury condominium towers on the lower Lake Merritt site. While State Superintendent O’Connell can sell the property on his own, the development plans must go through the standard City of Oakland planning process, including approval by the City Council. Among the items subject to Planning Department and council approval would be the design of the high-rise towers, the number of housing units to be allowed (currently proposed for 1,388), and the sale to the developers and blocking off a portion of 2nd Avenue to be used as one of the proposed building sites. 

“We’re hoping that if the developers and the state superintendent know that they will have problems having the development plans approved by City Council, it will either delay or kill the sale completely,” said former Metropolitan Greater Oakland (MGO) Democratic Club President Pam Drake, one of the sale opponents. “We believe that the sale should be either delayed completely until restoration of local control of the Oakland public schools or, at the very least, until the members of the school board sign off on the final terms of the sale.” 

Opposition to the sale has been centered around the Ad Hoc Committee to Restore Local Control/Governance to the Oakland Schools, which includes several board trustees, but the idea for using City Council leverage to help block the OUSD property sale took off last week at a Thursday evening MGO forum on the proposed school properties sale. 

During the forum, councilmember Kernighan, who represents the area on which the OUSD property sits, said, “I’m generally pro-development, but I think this particular proposal is a bad idea.” 

On Monday afternoon, Kerninghan was attempting to get a ruling by Oakland City Attorney John Russo putting a sale moratorium resolution on Tuesday’s council agenda as an emergency item. Because Tuesday is the last meeting before the Oakland City Council’s summer break, it would be the last time councilmembers could officially weigh in on the proposed sale before the Sept. 13 sale deadline. 

Drake said that even if the resolution could not be placed on Tuesday’s agenda, OUSD sale opponents would speak on the issue at the council meeting’s open forum. 

Councilmember Nancy Nadel said by telephone that she would “support such a resolution,” adding that “any development of the [OUSD] property would also have to replace the schools on the site, and the calculations for the cost of replacing those schools have to be included in the price of the land.” That position was echoed by Councilmember Jean Quan, who co-sponsored the proposed council opposition resolution with Kernighan. 

Councilmember Jane Brunner said that while she had not seen the actual TerraMark/Urban America proposal, “If it does not have a guaranteed price for the sale of the property or provisions for the relocation of the schools currently on the property, I don’t believe that it is a good proposal.” 

Brunner said that another sticking point in OUSD’s proposal for the downtown properties is a plan to move the OUSD administrative facilities to the vacated Carter Middle School at 45th and Webster streets in North Oakland. 

Brunner said that OUSD plans to add a 125-space parking facility on the site to accommodate district employees, “but [OUSD trustee] Kerry Hamill and I have already been looking to turn that into open space, with joint use as a practice baseball field for Oakland Tech High School and a neighborhood park.” 

But Brunner was not confident that any proposed City Council opposition would deter the state superintendent from the proposed OUSD sale. 

“I understand that Jack has already made up his mind about this,” Brunner said. “There’s not a lot of love lost between Jack and Oakland.” 

Brunner said she believed O’Connell’s animosity towards Oakland stemmed from a tumultuous 2005 meeting at Oakland Tech in which O’Connell was jeered and booed by a packed audience during the presentation of a multi-year recovery plan for the district. 

The Oakland Tech meeting was the first time O’Connell had appeared in public in Oakland to discuss the Oakland Unified School District situation since the 2003 state takeover of the schools. 

All but one of the seven OUSD trustees have stated outright opposition to the TerraMark/ UrbanAmerica deal as it has been currently presented. 

Trustee Hamill says that while she supports the sale of surplus administrative properties, she believes that the school sites on the downtown property should not be sold. 

The TerraMark/UrbanAmerica deal includes sale of the administrative properties without the sale of the schools, but it is unclear how much money the district would clear from the sale under those circumstances. Because of the state takeover, OUSD trustees do not have a legal voice in the sale of the OUSD properties.