Public Comment

Commentary: Oak-to-Ninth: A New Oakland or Oakland of the Old?

By Akio Tanaka
Tuesday April 10, 2007

There has been much discussion recently on the merits of the proposed development of the Oak-to-Ninth waterfront. 

The Oak-to-Ninth is a world-class site that “merits a seriously big-time international design competition, instead of just another routine Big Ugly Box condo development on steroids” (Becky O’Malley, Daily Planet). 

The current 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” (Wilson Riles). 

These are the reasons that a group of citizens mobilized to exercise their First Amendment rights to petition for a referendum. Twenty-five thousand and sixty eight signatures were collected in three weeks in opposition to the ordinance approving the sale of this public land. 

The signatures were triumphantly turned in Aug. 17. However, 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. 

But the city made mistakes regarding the process used in approving the Oak-to-Ninth project.  

The city is obligated by its charter to provide the citizens and the City Council the proper ordinance before the second reading so that everyone knows what is going to be approved. 

The ordinance that was used by the petitioners was the version that the City Council voted on and available for the public to comment on. But it turns out that it was not the version that the city now claims is the “final” version of the ordinance.  

The city staff continued to modify the documents to come up with the final version and it was not submitted to the city clerk’s office until nine days after the council voted on July 18. 

The “final” version of the ordinance cannot be considered legally approved since the City Council did not vote on this “final” version and the public didn’t have an opportunity to comment on it. 

If John Russo can disqualify the petitions because they did not include the “final” version of the ordinance, he has an equal obligation to disqualify the “final” version of the ordinance itself since it was not the one voted by the council or the once available to the public for review. 

If the current project goes forward it will become a monument to the Old Oakland of backroom deals, when the city was a supplicant to developers’ whims and needs. 

The Oak-to-Ninth should instead be a world class waterfront envisioned by the City Council in the Estuary Policy Plan and by the voters in passing measure DD. It should be an emblem of a new Oakland as a beautiful waterfront city. 

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.