Four months after it was formed by the Oakland City Council to make recommendations for a comprehensive inclusionary zoning ordinance for the city and two weeks after its final report was supposed to be due, members of the City of Oakland Inclusionary Housing Blue Rib-bon Commission met for the first time Thursday evening under attack from tenant advocates and under pressure from councilmembers to complete an ambitious agenda before the summer council break.
The 17-member commission was born in considerable controversy last October when an unlikely council alliance headed by City Council President Ignacio De La Fuente and Councilmem-ber Desley Brooks—who are often at odds with each other—successfully blocked passage of an inclusionary zoning ordinance co-sponsored by councilmembers Jane Brunner and Jean Quan.
If the Brunner-Quan inclusionary zoning ordinance had passed, residential developers would have been required to make a percentage of their housing units affordable for low and extremely low income renters. Many cities in the Bay Area, including Berkeley, already have such inclusionary zoning ordinances.
“People are really being pushed out of this city,” the Oakland Tribune quoted Brunner as saying during last fall’s debate on the ordinance. “It’s time for the developers to do their share.”
But with Brooks saying that the council “need[s] to be more thoughtful” about its low-income housing policies, councilmembers split 4-4 on Brooks’ proposal to establish the Blue Ribbon Commission to study inclusionary zoning. Two weeks later, outgoing Mayor Jerry Brown broke the tie by voting to create the Commission.
But even before the commission could be established, its mandate was considerably widened.
Last December, the council was prepared to vote on Brooks’ proposed ordinance to change Oakland’s condominium conversion law, which Brooks had hoped would make it easier for low-income buyers to purchase homes in the city, but which tenant advocates said would be a boon to developers and lead to increased gentrification in Oakland.
Facing a possible defeat on the measure, Brooks recommended that the condominium conversion issue become part of the Blue Ribbon Commission’s charge as well. The council agreed, voting last December that “the scope of the Commission’s task is broadened to include the development of a comprehensive housing strategy to ensure that housing, be it rental or ownership, is affordable to all income levels within the city. Principles of Inclusionary Zoning and Condo Conversion will be considered.”
At its first meeting in a second-floor City Hall hearing room last Thursday, the commission came under sharp criticism from tenant activists for the small number of tenant representatives in its ranks.
As called for in the original ordinance last October, three of the members were appointed by outgoing Mayor Jerry Brown and four by incoming Mayor Ron Dellums, and one each by City Administrator Deborah Edgerly, City Attorney John Russo, and each member of the City Council.
When tenant organizer Eddie Ytuarte of the Oakland Tenants Union asked for a show of hands among commissioners as to their housing and income status, one indicated he was currently a tenant, and none claimed to have an income of under $20,000 a year.
“Why is the Council comfortable with this group setting policy for tenants?” William Chorneau of Oakland ACORN asked.
But several of the commission members said that while they were currently homeowners, they had previously been tenants. And Commissioner Joseph Perkins, president of the Homebuilders Association of Northern California, said he rejected the idea that non-tenants could not represent tenant interests, “just as I reject the fact that as a man I couldn’t represent women’s interests.”
At the same time, the commission found itself under conflicting pressures from two of the Councilmembers whose proposed measures they are considering.
Brunner, who appointed her chief of staff, Justin Horner, as her representative on the commission, wants the commission to make a recommendation on inclusionary zoning in time for the council to vote on a measure before the summer Council break begins in July.
Horner asked fellow commissioners to limit the scope of its affordable housing inquiry, recommending that “by the end of the next meeting, we close the door on any new items to be considered. Otherwise, there will be no answer on any issue, and this Commission could go on and on forever and ever.”
But speaking from the audience, Brooks urged commissioners to undertake a broader discussion, asking them to “go beyond the buzzwords of inclusionary zoning and affordable housing” and pointing out the charge to the commission by the council to discuss a “comprehensive affordable housing strategy.”
When one Commissioner said that this had not been the charge given to her by her appointing Councilmember, Brooks said, “I don’t care what you were told in private conversation with your Councilmember. They didn’t write the measure that the Council passed [that created the Commission]. I did. And you’re charged with following the language that the Council actually passed.”
City Administrator Deborah Edgerly told the Commissioners that while the Commission “absolutely [has] a mandate to address” the two issues of inclusionary zoning and condo conversion, she said the Commission’s charge “is not limited to those issues. Your charge is to discuss a comprehensive affordable housing policy.”
Edgerly also said that while the commission had already passed its January 31 conclusion deadline even before it held its first meeting, she said that was staff’s fault, “not yours. I’ll stand up and take the hit for that.”
Commissioners discussed but did not decide upon a work schedule and a final deadline, but scheduled a second meeting for March 1 at City Hall for further discussion.
Commissioners also elected as its chairperson the one tenant represented, Dellums appointee Joaquin Turner-Lloveras, and former Alameda County Planning Commissioner Earl Hamlin, Russo’s appointee, as its vice chair.
Members of the City of Oakland Blue Ribbon Affordable Housing Commission
[Note: this list was updated on Feb. 27, 2007]
Outgoing Mayor Jerry Brown appointees (3)
Joseph Perkins (President, Homebuilders Association of Northern California)
Deborah Castles (Vice President of McGrath Properties developers, Project Manager of the MacArthur BART Transit Village)
Benjamin Powell (Professor of Economics at San Jose State University specializing in inclusionary zoning)
Mayor Ron Dellums appointees (4)
Joaquin Turner-Lloveras (tenant, student counselor in East Oakland)
Lynette Jung Lee (Executive Director of Oakland, California's East Bay Asian Local Development Corporation)
Ray Carlisle (founder of NID-HCA Housing Counseling Agency)
Katherine Kasch (Oakland Community Housing, Inc. Board President, community-based affordable housing developers)
Councilmember appointees (1 each)
Marcus Johnson (West Oakland small business owner; former Acorn Housing Project Tenant) [Larry Reid]
Blair Miller (worker for San Francisco-based housing developer) [Pat Kernighan]
Carl Chan (real estate broker, board member of Asian Health Services and the Chinatown Chamber of Commerce) [Henry Chang]
Alan Yee (attorney) [Jean Quan]
Michael Rawson (homeowner, attorney at public interest law firm specializing in housing policy) [Nancy Nadel]
Justin Horner (Councilmember Jane Brunner's Chief of Staff) [Jane Brunner]
David Glover (Director of Oakland Citizens Committee for Urban Renewal) [Desley Brooks]
Gregory McConnell, (head of the Better Housing Coalition real estate developers group) [Ignacio De La Fuente]
City Department head appointees (1 each)
Earl Hamlin (investment banker, former Alameda County Planning Commissioner) [City Attorney John Russo]
Claudia Cappio (Oakland City Planning Director) [City Administrator Deborah Edgerly]