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Oakland Council Asked to Reconsider Zoning Changes

By J. Douglas Allen-Taylor
Tuesday March 04, 2008

A diverse representation of Oakland interests came out Monday morning in support of Mayor Ron Dellums’ industrial zoning plan, asking that the City Council make no changes in the proposal. 

The council is scheduled to take up final passage of the mayor’s plan at tonight’s regular council meeting (Tuesday). The plan, with modifications, was originally passed by the council on Feb. 19. 

With demands to turn the city’s scarce industrial areas into residential development, the mayor and City Administrator Deborah Edgerly are recommending that “Council adopt a policy that treats land with any of the Industrial General Plan designations as a scare resource in the City of Oakland. Conversion of land from Industrial to Residential uses should be allowed only after a carefully considered process including evaluation of the proposed project according to a set of criteria developed through a public process. These criteria would become the basis for required findings for any proposed industrial to residential conversion.” 

Only 5 percent of the city’s total land area outside of the property controlled by the Port of Oakland is zoned industrial. Including port properties in that equation brings the total industrial zoned land in Oakland up to 19 percent. 

When the mayor’s plan first came before the council on Feb. 19, members passed Councilmember Larry Reid’s motion to carve out a number of exceptions to the policy. In a follow-up report, Edgerly asked the council to reconsider using those exceptions, calling it zoning on “an ad hoc basis.” 

On Monday, supporters of the mayor’s original proposal held a City Hall steps press conference to explain their views and also urge Council to reconsider, and drop the exceptions amendment. 

Saying that his organization has been “consistent over the years in support of retaining Oakland’s industrial land,” Oakland Metropolitan Chamber of Commerce Public Policy Director Scott Peterson said that what was at stake was 200 acres with 350 existing industries providing 4,000 jobs in land currently zoned industrial in Oakland.  

“We need to have these livelihoods protected,” Peterson said. “Oakland needs a diverse land use policy that clearly designates the area zone for industrial use and that stays that way, without incursion by residential development.” 

That view was echoed by Sharon Cornu, secretary-treasurer of the Alameda County Central Labor Council, who said, “You should mark this moment, I think it’s a first that [the Central Labor Council is] in agreement with the Chamber.” 

Cornu said she wanted to dispel “three myths” about Oakland’s industrial land. “One myth is that it’s only connected to Oakland’s past,” she said. “It’s not. It’s about the future, and taking advantage of emerging technologies such as green industry that can employ Oakland workers.”  

Cornu said that a second myth was that “Oakland can survive as a bedroom community with people living here and working in other areas. It cannot.”  

A third myth, she said, is that City Council can “wholesale rezone 250 acres” as in the passage of the Reid amendment at the Feb. 19 meeting “and get the community benefits later. We need to set our policy in such a way that we get the community benefits from developers up front, before the deals are made. Otherwise, we’ll be letting the horse out of the barn, and we’ll never catch up.” 

Another supporter of the mayor’s plan at Monday’s press conference was Geoffrey Pete, chair of the Oakland Black Caucus and a longtime Oakland nightclub owner. Pete said he was supporting the mayor’s industrial use policy “because of my position as an Oakland businessman, the other because of my longtime role as a leader of and an advocate for Oakland’s African-American community. … Business investment is always uncertain, because of financial and market factors. If there is uncertainty about a city’s zoning laws as well, it makes it almost impossible to make business investment in that city.” 

Under Dellums’ plan, Pete said that “developers, business owners, residents, and city officials will all know what will go where, with no surprises. That will make it easier and better to do business in Oakland.” 

Pete added that he was supporting the plan in order to “help halt the exodus of African-Americans from Oakland. Many African-Americans are being forced out of this city because they cannot find jobs, or the jobs they find do not pay enough to allow them to rent or purchase homes in this city. By preserving industrial land that can be used to create jobs for Oakland residents, Mayor Dellums’ industrial land use policy will help ensure that the African-American presence in Oakland will not be reduced to a mere shadow and a memory, as it has in the neighboring city in which I grew up, Berkeley.” 

Others speaking in favor of the mayor’s plan at Monday’s press conference were George Burke of the West Oakland Commerce Association and Andy Nelson of the Urban Strategies Council.