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Oakland School Board Seeks Delay of Land Sale

By J. Douglas Allen-Taylor
Friday July 28, 2006

In a sign of the growing opposition in Oakland to the proposed sale of the Oakland Unified School District Administration Building and five adjacent downtown school sites, the Oakland City Councilmembers have called on State Superintendent Jack O’Connell to delay the sale until the terms can be renegotiated and the deal receives school board approval. 

The council position was stated in a proclamation signed by six of the eight City Councilmembers which noted pointedly that “there is no guarantee that the proposed sale of district land would financially benefit the school district, even in the short term.” 

O’Connell has until mid-September to negotiate the sale of the 8.25-acre parcel to east coast developers TerraMark and UrbanAmerica. 

In the meantime, while Mayor-elect Ron Dellums has not taken an official position on the proposed school property sale, OUSD trustee Greg Hodge told a Metropolitan Greater Oakland Democratic Club forum last week that he had talked with the incoming mayor, and that Dellums “told me that he will fully support whatever position on the sale is taken by the elected school board. Ron is in favor of a separation of powers between the mayor’s office, the City Council, and the school board,” Hodge added, “and this is consistent with that position.” 

Hodge is considered to by a close political ally of Dellums.  

Of the seven current members of the trustee board, only trustee Kerry Hamill has supported the sale of the downtown properties under the current TerraMark/ Urban America proposal. 

The OUSD school sale also received opposition from MGO Democratic Club, which sent a letter this week to O’Connell stating that “the MGO Democratic Club writes in strong opposition to the Oakland Unified School District’s proposed sale of the entire OUSD property  

on Lake Merritt … without  

first fully considering the cost of relocating the schools facilities on the site, taking open and competitive bids, and considering the many land use impacts the proposed sale would have. We also urge you to and obtain the approval of the Oakland Board of Education. While you may have the legal authority to act unilaterally, this property nevertheless represents an investment in education made long ago by a previous generation of Oakland residents. … You should, as a matter of wise policy, welcome and respect the judgment of Oakland’s own decision-making body, its school board, before proceeding further.” 

The City Council’s request to Superintendent O’Connell came in a proclamation faxed to O’Connell’s office on Thursday afternoon by Oakland City Councilmember Pat Kernighan. Kernighan represents the 2nd Council District that includes the proposed OUSD sale properties. 

The proclamation was signed by six of the eight-member Council. A spokesperson for Kernighan’s staff said that while Councilmember Desley Brooks was present at the Tuesday night Council meeting where the proclamation was introduced, Brooks “did not want to address the proposal at that time.”  

Council President Ignacio De La Fuente is out of town and was not able to sign the proclamation, but his legislative aid, Alex Pedersen, said that De La Fuente “opposes the land sale. He thinks it is a bad deal for the district, for the school children, and for the parents. He agrees with his colleagues on this.” 

Brooks could be reached by telephone in connection with this article. 

Kernighan’s proclamation said that “land in Oakland is growing more scarce and expensive with each passing year and land for schools will likely be needed in the future as the student population in Oakland grows, particularly in the area surrounding the Second Avenue site, due to recently approved housing development in the area.” 

It also said that the sale to TerraMark/UrbanAmerica should not go through at the present time because a final sale price—which is partly contingent on how many housing units will eventually be approved by the City and other factors—has yet to be determined. 

The council proclamation called on O’Connell to “reject the current land sale proposal from TerraMark/Urban America, and to reconsider other options for use or sale of portions of the District land that would have greater long-term benefits for the Oakland Unified School District, and in particular that any sale or lease would provide for replacement of the schools currently on site and a continuing revenue stream for the district, as well as a lump sum that could be used to repay the State loan.” 

In addition, the proclamation asked that “any future sale of Oakland Unified School District land should be approved by the State Superintendent of Public Instruction only if such sale is also approved by a majority of the elected Directors of the Oakland School Board.” 

Kernighan had originally attempted to introduce the proclamation as a council resolution but because Tuesday’s meeting was a special council session, the city attorney’s office ruled that the resolution could not be added to the agenda as an emergency measure. 

Kernighan’s opponent in a November runoff for the 2nd Council District seat, Aimee Allison, went further, issuing a statement this week calling O’Connell to halt the sale and as well as “immediately return the Oakland schools to local control.” 

“This sale is a big mistake, both for the financial health of the district and for our children,” Allison added. “We need to make sure we’re getting the most out of this deal for the community and our schools, and Jack O'Connell’s rush to sell the district’s most valuable property simply doesn’t do that. Even worse is the fact that this is a complete breakdown of democracy. Parents and community members in Oakland should be making this decision, not someone in Sacramento who isn’t accountable to Oakland residents.”