Wayans Port of Oakland Deal Approved

By J. Douglas Allen-Taylor
Friday July 20, 2007

With rumors circulating throughout Frank Ogawa Plaza all day Tuesday that Oakland City Councilmembers were threatening to hold up votes on the Wayans brothers Army Base project to stop at least one of Mayor Ron Dellums’ proposed nominees to the Port Commission, Dellums abruptly withdrew his Port Commission nominees, and the council later unanimously approved a four-month exclusive negotiating agreement with the Wayans. 

The Wayans, a Los Angeles-based entertainment production family, are proposing putting a creative factory business park, retail and an urban village, a creative children zone, a digital art center for children, and film production facilities on the property, but details of those proposed projects have yet to be developed. 

The dual action means that Dellums’ two Port Commission nominees—Margaret Gordon and Victor Uno—will not come before the council again until the council returns in September from its summer break. Nominees need five votes on the eight-member council for confirmation. 

Concern by at least some councilmembers appeared to center on Gordon, of the West Oakland Environmental Indicators Project, an outspoken longtime West Oakland environmental and community activist who has served on several Oakland advisory councils over the years, and was named co-chair of the Port of Oakland’s Maritime Air Quality Task Force earlier this year. 

Dellums met with Gordon supporters shortly before Tuesday’s City Council meeting and his announcement that he was withdrawing his Port Commission nominees. 

The identity or identities of the councilmembers seeking to block the Gordon appointment were not revealed, but several City Hall sources confirmed that such a blockage and vote trade had been threatened. 

Meanwhile, Oakland and the Wayans brothers now have four months to decide whether they can enter into a purchase agreement for up to 47.3 acres of West Oakland land on the former Oakland army base. The purchase price for the property has yet to be determined and, unlike many recent developers coming to Oakland, the Wayans have not requested any city subsidies for their proposed project. 

The project has been enthusiastically supported by Councilmembers Larry Reid (7th District, East Oakland) and Desley Brooks (6th District, East Oakland). 

At last week’s meeting of the Council Community and Economic Development Committee that voted to move the project forward, Reid said, “I’m not starstruck, but I’m struck by how the Wayans have demonstrated what decent human beings they are. It’s amazing, when they come to West Oakland, to see young people flock around them. It’s incredible, the impact they have on young people. What the Wayans family is proposing to do will enhance our progress and our image.” 

The Wayans had earlier unsuccessfully tried to reach a development deal with Oakland over army base property, but blamed their failure to follow through on the deal on failures of a previous partner. 

Councilmember Jane Brunner (District One, North Oakland) had voted against the original 12-month negotiating agreement with the Wayans brothers when it came to Council in 2005, saying that the year-long agreement should be cut in half. But after insisting that the new deal contain both a short timeline and defined benchmarks for both the city and the Wayans to reach, Brunner voted for the negotiating agreement this time both in committee and in the full council, releasing a memo that said she was “extremely excited about the Wayans’ proposed project. I, too, believe that this project has the potential to create a one-of-a-kind arts, entertainment and business destination on the Oakland army base. The Wayans cachet and brand name is strong, Oakland needs new retail, and the basis of their project—film production—has been identified as a growth sector for Oakland, creating quality careers in an environmentally sustainable industry.” 

Council President Ignacio De La Fuente (5th District, Fruitvale) had been earlier critical of the Wayans brothers’ failure to complete the first negotiating agreement, and said he would support the new agreement only if it included a shorter negotiating timeline. Last week, calling the Wayans proposal an “incredible opprtunity; bringing in the film industry would be a transformation for West Oakland if we can pull that off” and saying that the new agreement was “well-developed” and “tight,” De La Fuente made the motion in the Council’s Community and Economic Development Committee to move the project forward. 

The Wayans first came to national attention in the early 1990s with the comedy variety show “In Living Color,” produced by the family’s eldest brother, Keenan Ivory. The program helped launched the careers of several nationally-known comedians and entertainers, including Jamie Foxx, Jim Carey, Jennifer Lopez (who worked as a dancer on the program), brothers Shawn and Marlon who now star in their own syndicated television show “The Wayans Brothers,” and Keenan Ivory himself. The Wayans later went on to produce and star in the first two “Scary Movie” movies, spoofs of traditional horror movies. Keenan Ivory also produced and starred in “I’m Gonna’ Get You, Sucka’,” a spoof of the 1970s “blacksploitation” films.