Activists Give Perata Deadline on Oakland School District Property Sale

By J. Douglas Allen-Taylor
Friday August 11, 2006

A group of Oakland education and political leaders and activists have given state Sen. Don Perata until Aug. 16 to either meet with them directly or issue a statement opposing the pending sale of the Oakland Unified School District administration building and property and several adjacent schools. 

That was the result of a meeting this week between representatives of the Ad Hoc Committee to Restore Local Control to the Oakland Unified School District and aides to the state Senate president at Perata’s Oakland headquarters. The Ad Hoc Committee has been leading the fight to stop the proposed OUSD downtown property sale by the state and to restore local control to the Oakland schools, which was removed in 2003 in legislation authored by Sen. Perata.  

Sen. Perata is “avoiding us as much as possible” said Ad Hoc Committee member Henry Hitz following the meeting. Hitz, the coordinator for the Oakland Parents Together community group, added, “He doesn’t want to take a position on the sale. But a neutral position is actually a position in favor of the sale because the sale is going through. We told his people that there is a new political reality in Oakland, and if he wants to continue running for political office in this city, he’s going to have to be flexibile. He’s been flexible in the past.”  

Pamela Drake, a former City Council aide and City Council District Two candidate, said that committee members attending the meeting had asked why Perata was not present at the meeting himself. “We were all pretty offended that he wasn’t there.” Drake said committee members told Perata aides that “regardless of what position the state senator may or may not be taking behind closed doors, politics is about perception. If the state senator does not come out in the public and take a position against the sale, everyone in Oakland will perceive that he could have stopped the sale, but he chose not to. He’s the second most powerful office holder in the state.” 

A year ago, Drake was one of several Oakland residents arrested in the office of outgoing OUSD state administrator Randolph Ward while demanding that State Superintendent for Public Instruction Jack O’Connell come to Oakland and address the state-run operation of the Oakland schools. Following the arrests that resulted in statewide publicity, O’Connell eventually came to a standing-room-only meeting at Oakland Technical High School.  

Following the meeting between the Ad Hoc Committee members and Perata’s aides, Perata’s press secretary, Alicia Trost, said in a telephone statement that “Don is still staying out of this. We’re still saying no comment.” 

Perata last made public reference to the proposed property sale in a June 12 letter sent to State Superintendent for Public Instruction Jack O’Connell, in which the state senator wrote “at the district’s request, the legislature amended state law to allow the proceeds of the sale or lease of this property to pay back the state loan. While I support using these funds to reduce the district’s debt, it is important that appropriate public review and comment precede final decision on the sale. … Concerns like these can be allayed by a public presentation by the state administrator at a public hearing held before any formal sale negotiations commence.” 

While provisions for the sale or lease of the OUSD property were originally included in Perata’s bill, the provision for the lease of the property was taken out before the bill was finally passed by the legislature (see accompanying sidebar on the history of the property provisions of SB39). 

OUSD has scheduled three public hearings on the proposed property sale, with the second one slated for 5: 30 p.m. Wednesday, Aug. 16 at the district’s Second Avenue administration building. There is no word if O’Connell will attend and make a presentation, although members of the Oakland Unified School District board of trustees have also requested him to come to Oakland to hear from residents and explain his position on the proposed sale. 

O’Connell is currently negotiating the proposed sale of 8.25 acres of Lake Merritt-area OUSD property to a group of east coast-based developers. O’Connell has the authority to sell the property under legislation authored by Perata in 2003 that authorized the state takeover of the Oakland school district. Under the signed letter of intent with the developers, O’Connell has until mid-September to make the deal before the developers lose their exclusive negotiating rights.