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Oakland School Property Sale Negotiations Extended

By J. Douglas Allen-Taylor
Tuesday September 12, 2006

Negotiations over the sale of 8.25 acres of Lake Merritt area Oakland Unified School District property will be extended for another 90 days, according to a representative of the East Coast developers involved in the negotiations. 

TerraMark principal Reggie Livingston said in a telephone interview today that the TerraMark/UrbanAmerica partnership and the office of California Superintendent of Public Instruction Jack O’Connell “have agreed to at least a 90-day extension” in the negotiations, pushing the deadline to mid-December. 

Under the original Letter of Intent between the developers and O’Connell, TerraMark/UrbanAmerica’s exclusive negotiating rights to purchase the property would have expired on or around Sept. 15. 

Livingston stressed the “at least” portion of the agreement, and said that negotiations could conceivably extend beyond the mid-December date. 

State Superintendent O’Connell’s public information officer said this week that “we are reviewing the developer’s request for a 90-day extension of the contract negotiations. We don’t have any firm objections to an extension. But we have not yet reached a final agreement on the timetable.” 

Word of the negotiation extension first appeared late last week on the Oakland/Berkeley NovoMetro blog. 

Last week, elected members of the Oakland Unified School District Board of Trustees—an advisory body only since the 2003 state takeover of OUSD—rejected a resolution by Trustee Kerry Hamill calling for a 60-day extension of the negotiations, with trustee Dan Siegel saying, “I don’t think we need further time to say no to this project.” 

Trustee Greg Hodge, who voted with Hamill for the extension, said, “I don’t think it hurts us to get 60 more days to get more information.” However, Hodge later sided with five other trustees to support trustee Noel Gallo’s motion to put an education/administration center on the property site instead of selling it to the developers.  

At the same meeting in which trustees took that vote, Interim OUSD State Administrator Kimberly Statham announced that she was recommending a 60-day extension. 

At least one other trustee indicated at last week’s meeting that at least as far as trustees had a voice, the development proposal should not be a done deal. 

“The deal that has been presented to us is not a good deal,” trustee Alice Spearman said. “But I’m not opposed to selling off a part of the land. I’m willing to listen.” While voting against the 60-day delay herself, Spearman said that she “was encouraging Statham to seek a 60-day extension and see what comes up.” 

Meanwhile, with incoming Oakland Mayor Ron Dellums not scheduled to return to the city until mid-October, there is no word yet whether he will join the chorus of Oakland officials opposing the proposed sale. 

Last July, OUSD trustee Greg Hodge told a Metropolitan Greater Oakland Democratic Club forum 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.” 

When it was announced by Henry Hitz of the Ad Hoc Committee to Restore Local Control/Governance to Oakland Schools at last week’s school board meeting that a press conference on the proposed sale would be held the next day at Oakland City Hall “to include elected representatives,” it was widely speculated that Dellums would release his anticipated public statement at that time. 

However, the ad hoc committee canceled the Thursday press conference, saying only that the cancellation was “due to some errors in communication within our ad hoc coalition.” 

In addition to six of the seven members of the OUSD trustee board supporting an education center on the property instead of high-rise residential development, all eight members of the Oakland City Council have called for a halt to the property negotiations. 

TerraMark/UrbanAmerica is proposing putting five high-rise luxury condominiums on the OUSD site, which currently houses the OUSD Paul Robeson Administration Building, one elementary school, two specialty high schools, and two early childhood learning centers. The developers originally proposed purchasing the entire property, with the administration building and schools to be relocated to other sites. 

After widespread complaints from parents and staff from the five education institutions on the site, TerraMark/UrbanAmerica modified their proposal to include two of the schools—La Escuelita Elementary and MetWest High School—on a one-acre site on the property.