Public Comment

Commentary: Oakland’s Waterfront Deserves a Better Plan

By Akio Tanaka
Friday March 16, 2007

Last June I attended an Oakland City Council meeting at which the would-be developer for the Oak to Ninth project was comparing the proposed development to other urban waterfront projects including Chicago’s Millennium Park. 

I am from Chicago and, as anyone who has visited Chicago knows, its entire lakefront is one continuous park, and Millennium Park in downtown is indeed a jewel for all citizens of Chicago to use and enjoy—with many venues and easy public access.  

The Oak to Ninth also could be a dazzling world-class waterfront, but the current plan blocks off much of waterfront park making it accessible only by the residents of the proposed condominium towers. 

The project not only sets aside the well-considered Estuary Policy Plan that was approved unanimously by the then sitting City Council, it is a “public rip-off of historic proportions.”  

These are the reasons that a group of citizens mobilized to exercise their first amendment rights to petition for a referendum. Twenty-five thousand signatures were collected in opposition to the ordinance approving the sale of this public land.  

The signatures were triumphantly turned in Aug. 17. However, instead of respecting the rights of the citizens of Oakland to challenge this ill conceived ordinance, City Attorney John Russo sided with the developers and disqualified the petitions claiming that it did not include the proper ordinance—even though the ordinance that petitioners used was the one that had been approved by the city council.  

The petitioners sued to have the signatures counted; however, John Russo joined the developers’ attorneys to engage the citizen groups in costly legal battles bound to strain their financial wherewithal and therefore their First Amendment rights. 

In opposing the petition, the attorneys for the developer cite many significant differences between the final ordinance and the ordinance the petitioners took from the city website per instructions of the city clerk’s office. 

The City Charter obligates the city to have the ordinance available to the public on the day that it is passed. The State’s Brown Act calls for citizens to be apprised of what is being passed by the City Council. If the final ordinance shows significant differences from what the city provides its citizens then it would appear that the city did not follow its own charter and the Brown Act in passing the ordinance. If that is the case the John Russo has the obligation to void the ordinance.  

City attorney spokesperson has stated that ‘We’re trying to uphold state law. We can’t pick and choose what laws we want to uphold’. 

Becky O’Malley wrote in her 8/18/06 Berkeley Daily Planet editorial: “[Mayor Dellums] would be well-advised to bring all parties back to the drawing board to see if they can’t do a lot better by what everyone agrees is a world-class opportunity. It’s such a good site that it merits a seriously big-time international design competition, instead of just another routine Big Ugly Box condo development on steroids.” 

I urge John Russo and Mayor Dellums to step forward in defense of Oakland’s people and its amazing potential as a waterfront city to achieve what it deserves rather than this ill-conceived giveaway to a developer.  

Once the waterfront is gone it will be gone forever. 


Akio Tanaka is an Oakland resident.