Supporters of a new multi-school education center for Oakland Unified School District’s Second Avenue properties moved quickly to capitalize on the momentum gained from the collapse of the deal to sell that property, winning key commitments from local political and agency leaders for their project at an overflow mass meeting of more than 300 parents and students at Laney College last Thursday night.
Meanwhile, although the property sale to another developer is not completely dead, it appears less likely to be able to re-materialize this year after a spokesperson for state Sen. Don Perata said that there was no bill currently pending before the state Legislature to extend the deadline for the sale of that property past the current June 30 date. The date has passed for any new legislation to be introduced for the current legislative term.
Perata was the power behind the original drive to sell the Second Avenue properties.
With the Laney Forum so packed at last week’s mass meeting that there was standing-room-only along the auditorium’s upper railing high above the stage area, State Assemblymember Sandré Swanson and Oakland City Councilmember Pat Kernighan as well as representatives of Oakland Unified School District State Administrator Kimberly Stathan and Oakland Mayor Ron Dellums all voiced support for the education center project.
The meeting was organized by a loose coalition representing the five schools currently on the Second Avenue property, the Oakland Community Organizations, the East Bay Asian Youth Center, and OUSD’s Office of Community Accountability.
A spokesperson for Stathan said that her office would begin setting up the planning process for the development of the facility.
Assemblymember Swanson, who has introduced a bill in the assembly to return local control the Oakland schools, told the cheering gathering that he came to the meeting personally “because I wanted to hear for myself the enthusiasm you have for this project. I am so proud of you. You are Oakland, and Oakland is you. You have to have your schools built on the Second Avenue properties because this is what you deserve.”
The loudest cheers were reserved for School Board President David Kakishiba, who represents the area where the Second Avenue properties are located, and who has led the fight on the board of trustees to preserve the schools in their present location. Kakishiba spoke only briefly, saying that the board had gone on record last September in support of the education center construction, and “that position is the current position of the board of education.”
Neku Pogue, representing Don Perata, gave qualified support for the project, saying that “the decision lies with the district. The district is supporting it, and the senator certainly will not step on their toes.” When one community resident asked Pogue if Perata would commit to meeting personally with representatives of the five schools to talk about the project, Pogue said that Perata was a “busy person,” but she would try to set up a meeting.
Asked if Mayor Dellums would discourage developers from continuing efforts to purchase the Second Avenue properties, Dellums’ educational representative, Kitty Kelly Epstein, said that “the mayor is a very persuasive person. He has already used that persuasion to discourage the purchase of that property by developers. I assure you that he will do so in the future.”
Five schools—Dewey Academy High School, MetWest High School, La Escuelita Elementary School, Centro Infantil Child Development Center and Yuk Yao Child Development Center—currently sit on the 8.25-acre property along with the district’s aging Paul Robeson Administration Building.
Last September, at the end of public hearings on state Superintendent Jack O’Connell’s proposed sale of the Second Avenue properties to the TerraMark/UrbanAmerica East Coast development team, OUSD’s advisory board of trustees voted 6-1 (trustee Kerry Hamill voting no) to oppose the proposed sale and to support trustee Noel Gallo’s proposal to build new facilities on the site to house the child development centers, a multi-school kindergarten to high school program, and new district administrative facilities.
Under SB512, the general state education bill passed in 2005, the state superintendent’s office has until June 30 to sell the Second Avenue property under special guidelines that allow the streamlining of the sale procedures, as well as allow the proceeds of the sale to go towards helping to retire OUSD’s debt to the state. After that date, the sale would be more difficult to carry out, and the proceeds could not be used to help retire the state debt.
Last month, state Administrator Statham and state Superintendent Jack O’Connell announced that the state and TerraMark/UrbanAmerica had reached a mutual agreement to break off negotiations over a contract for the East Coast developers to purchase the land.
At the same time, O’Connell refused to rule out the sale entirely to any other developer, stating only that there were no current plans to sell the land. Under the original RFP issued two years ago, there were two other developers—Gilbane Properties of Palo Alto, and a development team including Oakland-based Strategic Urban Development Associates. While the state would not have enough time to solicit new development proposals to beat the June 30 deadline, there still remains time for O’Connell to reach agreement with one of the two remaining developers from the original RFP.