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Oakland Development Issues Continue Into 2008

By J. Douglas Allen Taylor
Tuesday January 08, 2008

While no one knows everything the new year will bring, there are at least two major Oakland development issues and controversies we know are coming up, unresolved in the old year and therefore carried over to the new. 


Oak to Ninth Development 

The controversial proposed development of a stretch of aging Oakland waterfront property just south of Jack London Square was the subject of litigation all through 2007. The prediction for 2008 is easy to make: more litigation, with, perhaps, a return to the Oakland Planning Commission process sometime in the year if the appeal by developer’s attorneys and City Attorney John Russo is dismissed. 

In 2006, Pleasanton-based Signature Properties developers won the blessings of the Jerry Brown mayoral administration and then 6-0 City Council approval of its proposed 3,100-residential unit, 200,000-square-foot commercial space development in an area along the Oakland estuary that includes the abandoned (and historic) Ninth Avenue Terminal. 

The approved project was the immediate subject of several citizen lawsuits: one charging that the project’s environmental impact report (EIR) under the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA) was faulty, one seeking to prevent the planned demolition of most of the Ninth Avenue Terminal, and one challenging Russo’s throwing out of petitions that would have forced a ballot referendum on the project.  

The ballot referendum litigants dropped their lawsuit when they ran out of money, and a California Superior Court judge ruled against the Ninth Avenue Ter-minal litigants, but the same judge found that the EIR was, indeed, faulty in several respects, ruling that the Oak-to-Ninth project needed to go back through both the Oakland Planning Commis-sion and Oakland City Council approval processes in order to correct the problems. 

Last December, Russo and attorneys for Signature Properties asked the judge to reconsider her ruling or grant a new trial, and a ruling by Judge Jo-Lynne Lee is pending. Several scenarios are possible. The judge could reverse her ruling or grant a new Superior Court trial, neither of which are likely.  

If the judge denies the appeal, Signature and Russo could appeal the decision to the California Court of Appeal, a court process that would take up the rest of 2008, and more. Or Signature and Russo could drop any further appeal, sending the Oak To Ninth project back to the Oakland Planning Commission to correct the EIR deficiencies according to the judge’s original ruling. That would mean the Planning Commission would start a new round of EIR hearings on the project, leading to a new commission and City Council vote. 

Whatever the case, one thing seems almost certain: no ground will be broken to begin construction on the Oak To Ninth development in 2008. 


Housing Issues 

This is another set of Oakland issues that carried over from 2006 through 2007 and is expected to reach some conclusion in 2008. 

In 2006, the Oakland City Council split down the middle on two controversial housing issues: a proposed ordinance that would require affordable housing set-asides for city-subsidized housing projects in Oakland, and proposed changes to loosen the requirements on conversion of existing rental units in the city to condominiums. When the council could resolve neither issue, they voted to form a 17-member Blue Ribbon Commission for recommendations. 

After holding hearings throughout the city during 2007, the Blue Ribbon Commission—composed of representatives of city councilmembers and current Oakland Mayor Ron Dellums and former Mayor Jerry Brown with appointees by the city attorney and city administrator—issued a 105-page report with affordable housing recommendations that seemed to satisfy neither side and had no majority recommendations on condominium conversion. That put the two issues back into the hands of the divided City Council. 

Late last year, after receiving the Blue Ribbon Commissions recommendations, the council decided to delay new deliberations on the two housing issues until hearing the recommendations of Mayor Dellums. Presumably Dellums’ staff is now working on those recommendations.  

If those mayoral recommendations are being worked out in consultation with key councilmembers with an eye towards a compromise solution, the two housing issues might be quickly settled once the recommendations are made. Otherwise, expect this to be a 2008 renewal of the Council housing fights of 2006. 


June Elections 

Oakland city issues in 2008 will be played out across the background of city elections, with several council seats going back before the voters in June. Two of those councilmembers already have serious opposition. 

In Council District 3 (West Oakland-Downtown), longtime incumbent Nancy Nadel, running for re-election, is being challenged by Greg Hodge, who represents the same District 3 voters on the newly-empowered Oakland School Board. Nadel and Hodge were both candidates in the 2006 Oakland mayoral election, but Hodge dropped out after Ron Dellums announced his intention to run, and Nadel came in third to Dellums, with 13 percent of the vote, in the June 2006 election. Nadel was unopposed for the District 3 Council seat in 2004. 

AC Transit Trustee Rebecca Kaplan has announced her intention for a second run for the Oakland City Council at-large seat currently held by longtime incumbent Henry Chang, who has not yet announced whether he is running for re-election.  

Kaplan lost handily to Chang, 44 percent to 56 percent, in a 2000 runoff for the at-large seat. In 2004, Chang easily beat Oakland Housing Commissioner Melanie Shelby for re-election, 54 percent to 37 percent. 

Three other Council seats—Council President Ignacio De La Fuente in District 5 (Fruitvale), Jane Brunner in District 1 (North Oakland), and Larry Reid in District 7 (East Oakland going towards the San Leandro border)—are up for new terms in the 2008 election, with the veteran incumbents in each expected to run for re-election, and no announced opposition so far. 

Both De La Fuente and Brunner were unopposed in 2004. After it was rumored that Reid would not run for re-election that year, then District 7 School Board member Jason Hodge (no relation to Greg Hodge) briefly entered the race, but dropped out after Reid announced that he was running. Hodge’s name remained on the ballot, even though he did not campaign, and Reid eventually won in a landslide with 68 percent of the vote to Hodge’s 20 percent and 11 percent for AFSCME labor leader Michael B. Hudson, who did campaign. 

In other Oakland elections, Alameda County Department of Social Services Civil Rights Coordinator Darleen Brooks has announced plans to run for the Area 2 Peralta Community College District Trustee seat currently held by incumbent Marcie Hodge, who is Jason’s sister. Brooks is the sister of Oakland City Councilmember Desley Brooks, who defeated Marcie Hodge for the council seat in 2006. Hodge has not yet announced her re-election plans. 

Meanwhile, an Oakland election that may, or may not, be contested in 2008 is the District 9 California State Senate seat currently held by Senate President Don Perata (D-Oakland). Perata is barred from running for re-election by California’s term limits law, and current District 14 Assemblymember Loni Hancock (D-Berkeley) and former District 16 Assemblymember Wilma Chan (D-Oakland) have both announced plans to run for the vacant seat.  

All of that would change, however, if Proposition 93, which seeks to revoke term limits, passes on the Feb. 5 ballot, allowing Perata the chance to run for another term. In that case, presumably neither Hancock or Chan would run against the powerful Perata.