Public Comment

Commentary: Oak-to-Ninth Referendum Raises Democratic Issues

By Akio Tanaka
Friday August 24, 2007

Last Friday the Oak-to-Ninth Referendum Committee held a rally in front of Oakland City Hall to mark the one-year anniversary of the turn-in of the 25,000 petition signatures requiring that the Oak-to-Ninth Development Agreement be put to a vote of the public. 

Although this referendum is about one development project in the City of Oakland, it raises issues that should concern all citizens living in a democracy, not just the voters of Oakland.  

One issue is the corruption of the democratic process by money in which politicians sell off public assets to the moneyed interests in return for campaign contributions.  

Oak-to-Ninth is a 64-acre Tideland Trust land that belongs to the public. A previous City Council voted to put parks and other public spaces there by passing the very well considered Estuary Policy Plan in 1999 and Voters of Oakland passed measure DD in 2002 to initiate the financing of the park. But the will of the voters was co-opted. Don Perata, who had received financial support from the developer, arranged the necessary legislation, SB1622, to allow Tidelands Trust land to be sold. Then, a new City Council, led by De la Fuente and Kernighan, shepherded through an Ordinance which approved developer Signature Properties’ plan to build 3,100 condo units on the property. The 64 acres of public waterfront that Oakland voters had supported as a park was sold by the City Council for mere $18 million to a private developer.  

The second issue is the abridgment of the voters’ constitutional right to petition the government.  

Oakland City Attorney John Russo first rejected the petition claiming that it did not include the correct version of the ordinance. The petitioners used the ordinance that was passed by the City Council on July 17, 2006 but the ordinance was modified after its passage. So the problem is not that the petitioners used the wrong ordinance but that the City Council did not follow its own City Charter in passing the ordinance.  

The city attorney then objected to the petition based on the assertion that some petition gatherers were unqualified for technical reasons; however, the First Amendment to our Constitution is very clear: 

“Congress shall make no law abridging the…right of the petition the Government for a redress of grievances.” 

The laws that put restrictions on petition gatherers abridge the petition process. Such restrictions permit moneyed interests to sandbag petitioners in lengthy and costly litigation. The right of the petitioner to have his/her signature counted outweighs all else.  

Our republic is in a crisis. Both of our major parties have been bought off by corporate money, and the current administration has gutted our Constitution. We need citizen awareness and participation to reverse the corruption of our political process. We should demand that our elected officials represent the voters who elect them rather than moneyed interests. 

This fight is not just for us but also for our future generations. We should make a stand that our children would be proud of. We need a new dawn in our democracy. We can start by standing up to the corrupt political process and on the way bequeath to our children a beautiful water front park for all of Oakland to use and be proud of. 


Akio Tanaka is an Oakland resident.