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Compromise May Arise in Oakland Affordable Housing Debate

By J. Douglas Allen-Taylor
Friday January 11, 2008

For the first time since the issuance of the Blue Ribbon Affordable Housing Commis-sion’s report last year on inclusionary zoning and condominium conversion, Oakland City Coun-cil’s Community & Economic Development Committee met this week to try to resolve the year-long deadlock over the two issues.  

But while the city’s affordable housing policies dominated the discussion during the hour-long Tuesday afternoon CEDA session, it was the tall man from the second floor City Hall office who got a lot of the attention as well. 

Both citizens and Council-members alike urged Oakland Mayor Ron Dellums to issue his promised comprehensive housing policy recommendations in order to help move the discussion—and any possible compromise—forward.  

As he did when the committee first received the Blue Ribbon Commission report last year, Councilmember Henry Chang said at Tuesday’s meeting that “we need to hear from the mayor. We need to give him the chance to propose his piece.”  

Last year, Chang had said that he didn’t want the council to get too deep into its deliberations over the housing issues and then have the mayor issue his recommendations, causing the council to have to start all over again. 

Interim Community & Economic Development Agency Director Dan Lindheim, until recently the mayor’s budget director and chief economic adviser, told a reporter only that the mayor’s recommendations would be issued “soon,” later telling committee members that the mayor’s housing proposal would be issued “in the time frame you want for your [next] meeting.” 

The Council CEDA committee will take up the affordable housing discussion again on January 22, with the expectation that the discussion will then move to the full Council. But Committee Chair Jane Brunner indicated that if the mayor’s proposal were not in hand by the meeting on the 22nd, the council discussion would not wait. 

The 8-member City Council split down the middle in late 2006 both on a plan for a city ordinance proposed by Councilmembers Jane Brunner and Jean Quan to mandate space in new housing developments for units affordable to low-income residents—inclusionary zoning—as well as on changes designed to ease restrictions in city’s condominium conversion law proposed by Councilmember Desley Brooks.  

In a compromise, councilmembers sent both of the issues to a newly formed Blue Ribbon Commission composed of representatives of city councilmembers and current Oakland Mayor Ron Dellums and then-Mayor Jerry Brown with appointees by the city attorney and city administrator. But the Blue Ribbon Commission itself split on the two issues, releasing watered-down inclusionary zoning recommendations and failing to come to consensus on condominium conversion. That put the issues back into the hands of Oakland City Council. 

The issues are difficult in part because while both are aimed at helping lower-income residents, in some ways they work at cross-purposes to each other. While inclusionary zoning is designed to increase the number of available lower-income rental units in the city, condominium conversion can lower the number of such units by turning them into ownership properties.  

This is one of the reasons that longtime Oakland advocates for lower-income residents have found themselves on the opposite sides of the inclusionary zoning/condominium conversion divide. 

At Tuesday’s meeting, CEDA Committee Chair Jane Brunner, who has been pushing for an Oakland inclusionary zoning ordinance for what she said was “eight to nine years,” said that this latest attempt will be a make or break effort. 

“In the next two months, my goal is either that Council will come up with a proposal that five members [a majority] will support, or else we’ll say that it’s not going to happen,” Brunner said. “We won’t keep coming back every few months to raise the issue again.” 

After listening to 19 public speakers repeat the familiar pro and con arguments, including two members of the Blue Ribbon Commission, CEDA Committee Councilmembers said there may be a chance for a compromise, so long as the two issues of inclusionary zoning and condominium conversion are linked together. 

“It has got to be both IZ [inclusionary zoning] and condominium conversion,” Council President Ignacio De La Fuente said. “We don’t have the luxury of advocating for just one need. We need to have a reasonable, balanced policy that increases the number of affordable rental units and increases the number of homeowners in the city. Unless we do both, I don’t think I’ll be doing my job.” 

Following De La Fuente’s remarks, Councilmember Larry Reid said that “the president of the Council spoke for the same position I’m taking” on the two housing issues. 

“It’s going to take a compromise by the Council,” Brunner said. While she continued to promote the need for an inclusionary zoning ordinance in Oakland—noting that “every other city [in the area] has it”—Brunner also said that “we need condo conversion. I don’t want to do so much, however, that we end up doing away with too many rental units.” 

Brunner also said she would resist calls from some of the public speakers for a comprehensive housing policy that included, among other things, relief for the city’s growing homeless problem. 

Referring to a set of proposals she submitted to CEDA Committee members “just to get the conversation started,” Brunner said that “I chose not to put other things in [besides inclusionary zoning and condominium conversion], but I think those should be the second things we do. If we try to do it now, it will take another six to 12 months to get something passed.”