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Chan Calls for Delay Of OUSD Land Sale

By J. Douglas Allen-Taylor
Tuesday August 22, 2006

State Assemblymember Wilma Chan, who co-sponsored legislation that led to the state takeover of the Oakland Unified School District in 2003, says that contract negotiations to sell Oakland Unified School District Lake Merritt-area property that were authorized in that legislation “should be slowed down” until more information can be obtained about the controversial deal. 

Saying in a telephone interview this week that “we are getting conflicting information” about the details of the proposed contract between state Superintendent Jack O’Connell and east coast developers TerraMark/ UrbanAmerica, Chan (D-Oakland) stated that she believes the negotiations should be extended beyond the current Sept. 15 deadline called for in the negotiating agreement between the state and the developers. 

Chan co-sponsored the 2003 OUSD takeover legislation with state Senate President Don Perata (D-Oakland). 

Under the proposed contract being negotiated, TerraMark/ UrbanAmerica would purchase 8.25 acres of OUSD property that sits on land near the Lake Merritt Channel, which connects Lake Merritt with the Oakland Estuary, with the developers planning to build five high-rise, luxury residential towers on the site. 

The OUSD administrative offices, three schools, and two early childhood development centers currently sit on the property. Originally, the TerraMark/Urban America proposal called for all of the OUSD programs to be moved from the site, but, under pressure from parent groups, the developers recently changed their proposal to allow MetWest High School and La Escuelita Elementary School to remain. 

All eight members of the Oakland City Council have already come out in opposition to the deal, and the OUSD board of trustees is preparing to vote next month on a proposal that would substitute a multi-grade educational center and a new administration building for the condominiums. 

In her telephone interview this week, Chan said, “If the deal doesn’t pan out economically, or if it causes too much disruption for the students whose schools are slated to be moved [under the proposed contract], I won’t support the deal.” 

Chan said that she has asked for more information on the deal from O’Connell’s office, and is planning a meeting with school board members in early September. 

Chan’s call for a delay in the OUSD property negotiations stands in contrast to Perata, who has gone no further than to say that he is “troubled that the vast majority of Oakland residents and elected officials have concerns about the current [OUSD property sale] proposal.” 

Perata made that statement in an Aug. 16 letter to State Superintendent O’Connell, sent after members of the Ad Hoc Committee to Restore Local Control/Governance to the Oakland Schools gave him that deadline to make a public statement on the proposed sale. 

In his letter, Perata told O’Connell that “I continue my request that you cultivate and heed community comment before making any final decisions on this property … Responding to their input is a necessity in the planning process.” 

In his letter to O’Connell, Perata reiterated his claim that the provision to allow for the sale of OUSD properties to help pay off the loan to the state was made “at the specific request of the Oakland Unified School Board.” 

Perata wrote that “it was also my intention that any plan for such a sale be appropriately reviewed and approved by the public and their elected representatives.” 

In March 2003, in the resolution that requested the state loan and triggered the state takeover of the Oakland schools, OUSD trustees included a provision that read “On or before June 30, 2004, the District be allowed to declare as surplus property and sell or lease such property on or before June 30, 2004, and use the proceeds from any such sale or lease to reduce or retire the State loan …” 

The provision is identical to the language Perata introduced into SB39, the OUSD state takeover legislation. 

However, three trustees who were on the board during the time of the takeover—Dan Siegel, David Kakashiba, and Gary Yee—could not recall who actually wrote the land sale/lease provision in the March 2003 board resolution and whether it was put in at the specific request of board members or was simply part of the language drafted by OUSD staff members. 

In addition, the portion of the state legislation that allowed OUSD land to be leased and the proceeds used to pay off the debt were later taken out of the bill in the Assembly Appropriations Committee before the bill was passed by the full legislature and signed by the governor into law. The move was significant because it left the state superintendent only with the option to sell district property to help pay off OUSD’s state debt. 

In a telephone interview this week, Assemblymember Chan said she had no idea how the lease provision was taken out of the takeover bill. “I wasn’t even aware that it had been taken out,” Chan said, adding that “all options for the use of the property should be made available to the district.”