In a last-minute change to the city’s decision to lease the controversial, publically-owned East 12th St. parcel by Lake Merritt to a private developer, the City Council voted on Tuesday instead to sell the land to the developers for $8 million.
Over 60 housing advocates and neighbors of the Eastlake community strongly spoke out against the decision to sell the city-owned land on Tuesday, demanding that public land should remain in the city’s hands for public good and not be sold to private housing developers.
“It feels like this City Council is a public city council for private interest,” said Dunya Alwan of the E12th Coalition. “We are just demoralized, we’re disheartened, and it’s heartless and tragic.”
After over a year of the neighboring community organizing and pushing to gain affordable housing units on a site that was originally intended to be entirely market rate housing, the project was ultimately guaranteed 119 affordable units in a separate building next to the proposed luxury tower facing the lake.
Now that the property will be sold to UrbanCore Developers and the East Bay Asian Local Development Corporation (EBALDC), critics say there is no safeguard in place for if the developers choose to the flip the affordable housing property for more expensive housing.
Councilmember Abel Guillén, whose district houses the property, asked the developers what reassurances they have that the property will not be flipped after they enter into the sale agreement.
“We’ve been doing this for 40 years, and we’ve never flipped anything before,” said Joshua Simon, executive director of EBALDC. “We’re in this for the very long term.”
The developers claim that if they lease the land from the city, they will not be able to apply for cap and trade funds to help build the affordable portion of their project. Because the city currently grants 66-year leases, they would have to remove 20 of the most affordable units and making them moderate-income units.
On the November ballot is an ordinance extending leasing city land to 99 years to amend this kind of problem.
Another concern of community members is that of the $8 million the city is charging for the land, $3.3 million will be loaned from the city to the developers to build the affordable portion.
“You’re paying $306,000 per affordable unit for this property while charging the developer $19,700 per market rate unit. This does not make sense,” said James Vann of the Oakland Tenants Union.
When deciding which proposal to accept, the council chose UrbanCore’s project over a community-generated affordable housing proposal, citing community proposal’s inability to fully finance their project.
“The council used financing and inability to pay as a key reason to pick apart the People’s Proposal, yet here we see the exact same issues with financing from the other team,” said Amy Vanderwarker of Eastlake United for Justice Coalition.
Councilmember Noel Gallo was the lone dissenting voice on the council and voted against selling the land.
“When you say public land, that means 410,000 people in Oakland own that land. It belongs to the public and should be used for public good,” said Gallo.
“I understand the business portion of this decision. But I also understand that the market rate people will take care of themselves. They don’t need public land to do it,” he said.