Dellums Comes Out Against Oakland Unified Land Sale

By J. Douglas Allen-Taylor
Tuesday October 31, 2006

Breaking a silence of several weeks, Oakland Mayor-elect Ron Dellums announced last week that he opposes the proposed sale of Oakland Unified School District Lake Merritt-area property by the state superintendent’s office. 

The proposed sale is “outside the democratic process,” Dellums said at a City Hall steps press conference on Thursday. The incoming mayor added that he was opposed to “continued ad hoc development in Oakland. I don’t want to pre-judge the [TerraMark/UrbanAmerica] project. It may turn out to be a good project. But we ought to do it within the confines of a coherent process.” 

In addition, Dellums said that the district should be returned to local control “as expeditiously as possible.” 

At the press conference, Dellums said that it was “premature” for release of any plan by his administration to address Oakland’s soaring murder rate—now at 126 for the year. In addition, Dellums said that he would “not oppose” a change to Oakland’s inclusionary housing zoning policy currently being considered by Oakland City Council. “I would not embrace the substance of the proposed policy” by Councilmembers Jane Brunner and Jean Quan “because it flies in the face of my stated positions on this issue.” 

But Dellums said that because some observers believe that Proposition 90, which is ahead in polls on the November ballot, might prevent cities from passing further zoning ordinance changes, “I would not oppose putting a placemarker ordinance down before the election, with the understanding that afterwards we would go back and revise it.” 

Last week, City Council voted 4-4 on Councilmember Desley Brooks’ motion to table the Brunner/Quan inclusionary zoning ordinance. Under Oakland’s strong mayor law, Mayor Jerry Brown has until this week to break the tie and either kill the proposed zoning ordinance or allow councilmembers to vote on it. 

Meanwhile, Dellums confirmed at his City Hall press conference that he had earlier communicated his views against the proposed OUSD land sale to California Superintendent of Public Instruction Jack O’Connell in a meeting between the two officials at O’Connell’s Sacramento office in September. Details of that Sacramento meeting had not been previously released by either Dellums or O’Connell, but news that the two leaders had “been in touch” on the OUSD land sale issue was first reported in the Daily Planet in mid-September. 

OUSD Advisory School Board member Greg Hodge said that he was “conditionally pleased” by Dellums’ announcement. “I’m glad he made the announcement,” Hodge said. “I hope it means that the sale will not go through.” 

The state superintendent’s office and the east coast-based development team of TerraMark/UrbanAmerica have been in negotiations for several months over the developers’ proposal to purchase between eight and nine acres of OUSD land, including the district’s Paul Robeson Building administrative headquarters and five adjacent schools and childhood education centers. Negotiations were extended in mid-September, and a spokesperson for the superintendent’s office said this week that “the project is still in the proposal stage.” 

Members of Mayor-elect Dellums’ transition team task forces say that Dellums went into more detail at a meeting of task force members last Wednesday night, saying that Dellums promised to work with local legislators—including Assemblymember Loni Hancock (D-Berkeley) and presumed-incoming Assemblymember Sandré Swanson (D-Oakland)—to sponsor legislation to return the Oakland school district to local control. 

Speculation about Dellums’ position on the proposed OUSD land sale had risen since mid-September, when the OUSD board voted 6-1 to oppose the proposed sale and proposed an administrative and multi-school education center for the Lake Merritt-area properties. Two months before that vote, school board member Hodge had told a meeting of the Metropolitan Greater Oakland Democratic club that Dellums “told me that he will fully support whatever position on the sale is taken by the elected school board.” 

But a Dellums aide, Dan Lindheim, said this week that Dellums chose to meet privately with O’Connell rather than issue a public statement on the land sale “because a statement would be just one more voice in a chorus of voices against the sale, but Mr. Dellums felt that he could get more accomplished face to face.”