Oakland Officials Say Bayfill That Delayed Wayans Deal Was Long Known by Both Sides

By J. Douglas Allen-Taylor
Tuesday September 25, 2007

Representatives of the Wayans Brothers-Pacifica Capital Urban Development Partnership have said that they did not know, when they signed an exclusive negotiating agreement (ENA) with the City of Oakland to purchase old Oakland Army Base property, that the Port of Oakland was planning a bayfill and container cargo storage in waters directly across from that property. 

If they didn’t, the Wayans-Pacifica Capital representatives must not have reviewed the numerous public reports that were readily available on websites operated by the port, the city, and the State of California referring to the bayfill proposal.  

A Wayans Brothers-Pacifica Capital spokesperson called for renegotiations of the ENA in mid-summer, after they said that they and city officials first learned of the planned port bayfill, which the spokesperson described as including 42 acres. 

But Karen Boyd, a spokesperson for Oakland City Administrator Deborah Edgerly, said earlier this month that both the administrator’s office and the Wayans-Pacifica Capital group knew about the proposed port bayfill before the negotiating agreement was signed, and that the bayfill itself had been long planned and discussed by city and port officials. 

And a spokesperson for the Port of Oakland said the proposed fill, which she said was “approximately 25 acres” has been in the planning stages since the mid-1990s, and is mentioned in several port and city documents, including the document turning the old Army Base over to the City and Port of Oakland. “Basically, this is something that has been in the works for several years as part of the Berth 21 Project,” said Marilyn Sandifur, Media and Public Relations Specialist for the port. 

The map submitted to the Oakland City Council last July setting the boundaries of the land to be purchased and developed under the Oakland/Wayans-Pacifica agreement showed the main portion of the Wayans development outlined in part by a dark border reading “Berth 21 Easement.”  

Both the bayfill and Berth 21 are mentioned in State Senator Don Perata’s Oakland Army Base Public Trust Exchange Act of 2005, which authorized the taking over of the old Army Base lands by the Port of Oakland and the City of Oakland. That legislation describes the Port of Oakland’s Berth 21 Project which “will require the filling with solid earth of approximately 28 acres of land below the present line of mean high tide.”  

And the 2006 agreement between the City of Oakland and the Port of Oakland that settled how the army base lands would be divided between the two entities also mentions a “strip of submerged land within the Gateway Development area that will be filled and cut off from the waterfront by the Berth 21 Project.”  

But a representative of the San Francisco Bay Conservation and Development Commission, which must approve any bayfill proposals, said the commission is “familiar with” the Port of Oakland’s Berth 21 Project’s bay fill aspects, “but we are not aware that any application has been filed with us yet.” 

The commission spokesperson said that anything between the 28 and 42 acre fills being talked about would be considered “major” by the commission, requiring the production of an environmental document (such as an Environmental Impact Report) and a public hearing.  

A spokesperson for the environmentalist Save the Bay organization, which has offices in Frank Ogawa Plaza next to Oakland City Hall, said this week that they contacted Port of Oakland officials following newspaper reports of the Wayans Brothers announcement about the proposed bayfill, but were told that the port “didn’t have any plans to fill in the bay.” 

The person who actually talked with port officials, Save The Bay Executive Director David Lewis, was not available to speak with reporters, so it is possible that the port’s statement could have resulted from a misunderstanding. But Save the Bay Communications Manager Jessica Castelli said her organization “would definitely be concerned about any plans to fill in the bay. Ninety-five percent of the wetlands originally surrounding the bay have been destroyed by filling or diking. Our mission is to protect the remaining wetlands areas, as well as to expand the wetlands by restoring some of the areas that have been lost.”  

The Wayans-Pacifica Capital group is trying to renegotiate the terms of an Exclusive Negotiating Agreement signed with the City of Oakland in early July for the proposed purchase of 47 acres of old army base property.  

The Wayans Brothers—a family of highly-successful African-American film producers, actors and writers and nationally known stand-up comedians—are proposing putting a film production studio, a children’s digital arts learning center, retail development, and several other projects on the site. 

But Britten Shuford, co-managing partner of the Wayans Brothers-Pacifica Capital Urban Development Partnership, told the Planet earlier this month that his group “learned at the same time that the city did that the Port of Oakland was proposing to fill in 42 acres of the bay directly across from our development, and they are planning to stack storage containers on that land six to 15 stories tall. That would entirely block our view of the San Francisco skyline.” 

Shufford said that views of the skyline from the area of the army base were spectacular and had been one of the items that made the Oakland deal attractive to the Wayans Brothers.  

Shufford said in light of what he characterized as the belated discovery, his group plans to meet with city officials this month to try to draw up an alternative agreement with a new configuration of where the group’s development would be located.