Oakland City Council Approves Luxury Development Despite Public Outcry


Oakland’s City Council has voted to enter into an Exclusive Negotiating Agreement (ENA) with UrbanCore and East Bay Asian Local Development Corp. to build 252 market rate units on a hotly contested parcel of public land located at E 12th St. by Lake Merritt.



On Tuesday, over 100 Oakland residents disrupted the City Council meeting after hearing that the council was set to vote on the exclusive agreement with UrbanCore, despite over a year of protests and public hearings that have shown widespread opposition to the development.



Even after the E 12th St. neighborhood organized a coalition and put together a proposal for 100 percent affordable housing on the parcel, which garnered the support of several community organizations, labor groups and educators, the council sided with a developer who is promising 30 percent below-market rate units on the site.



City staff issued its recommendation to give the project to UrbanCore before the public hearing last week to discuss all the proposals.



The same developer’s earlier proposal for the site had zero affordable units and several months ago the council was set to approve the development until a legal memo by the City Attorney was leaked and revealed that council members were aware of the proposal’s violation of California’s Surplus Lands Act.



Under state law, public-owned land that is going to be developed must have a minimum of 15 percent affordable housing units on site and must prioritize the proposal with the most affordable units.



The E12th Coalition’s competing proposal had 25 more affordable units than UrbanCore’s, and also had a majority of units for households making between $28,000 and $46,000 annually while a majority of UrbanCore’s below-market rate units are for households earning over $55,000 a year.



When protestors shut down Tuesday’s council meeting and demanded that the meeting be adjourned to avoid a vote, council members moved to an undisclosed location and continued the meeting privately.



A few members of the press were admitted to the private meeting. But when Post staff and other credentialed media personnel subsequently attempted to enter the council meeting being held in the mayor’s office they were barred from entering by police stationed outside the mayor’s doors.



The ENA with UrbanCore ultimately passed 6 to 1 with an abstention by Councilmember Rebecca Kaplan and one ‘no’ vote by Councilmember Noel Gallo, who dissented “with honor.”



Councilmember Abel Guillen, in whose district the E 12th St. parcel rests, said after the vote, “We’re trying to maximize public good for the maximum number of people and UrbanCore’s proposal does that.”



According to Guillen, UrbanCore’s total 360 mixedincome units (252 of which are market rate) would curb displacement in Oakland more than the E12th Coalition’s 133 below-market rate units.



“We all want to minimize the displacement of current residents, particularly among Oakland’s shrinking African-American population,” said Guillen in a Facebook post.



“The new residents for the new affordable units will be selected by lottery, so we can’t know the ethnicity of the new residents, but picking 133 new units rather than 360-plus units mathematically means more displacement citywide,” his post continued.



Councilmember Gallo, the lone dissenter of the agreement, said he had supported the “People’s Proposal” that had been submitted by the E12th Coalition.



“We need to use our public land to help those with the greatest need and that is the role of the government,” said Gallo in an interview with the Post. “City Council is always making an emergency about homelessness and affordable housing and talks a lot but then sells them out to make a dollar.”



“The market will take care of market-rate housing,” said Gallo. “We don’t need the city or the council to do that.”



Gallo said that another reason for his decision was that he is unsure whether choosing UrbanCore’s proposal is in compliance with the Surplus Lands Act.



“I’m sure somebody’s going to sue us about that,” he said.


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