Oakland Chinatown Development Approved Despite Community Displacement Concerns


The Planning Commission recently voted 4-2 to approve the W12 project, which will bring two, seven-story market rate apartment buildings to Oakland Chinatown. The 416-unit development is slated to go along 12th street between Webster and Harrison. 


Two weeks ago, when the development project was up for discussion, the commission voted to delay approval of the project amid concerns that the developers had not had enough discussion with community members.


The previous decision to delay was made in favor of affordable housing advocates with the Chinatown Coalition, who said they want more housing but need more time to negotiate a formal Community Benefits Agreement package with the project developer, San Francisco-based Martin Development Group.


“In the past two weeks we have been meeting around the clock with community groups to make sure our community members’ voices are represented,” said Alvina Wong, a community organizer with the Asian Pacific Environmental Network and member of the Chinatown Coalition.


“This is a big project in the heart of downtown. There needs to be more thoughtful engagement.”


Many community members who came to last week’s meeting expressed disappointment in the current project and argued that the coalition needed more time to negotiate with the developer.


“We want to make sure there is a significant amount of affordable housing,” said Wong. “If there were more time, I’m sure the ideas and proposals would be able to be fully baked.”


Along with issues of affordable retail spaces for local and immigrant businesses, and clearer support for Amethod Downtown Charter Academy School, which currently occupies about half of the block where the project will be built, one of the main concerns for the community is affordable housing.


Prior to this Tuesday, there was no plan to include affordable housing in the project. Instead, the developer opted to pay Oakland’s new affordable housing impact fee of about $2.3 million.


According to the Planning Commission’s final decision letter, the developer has agreed to a number of voluntary conditions, including to provide 4,900 square feet of affordable retail space, a $100,000 cash contribution to the Lincoln Recreation Center, and a goal of 25 percent Alameda County hires for construction.


The developer also agreed to sell a quarter block of the project to non-profit housing developer East Bay Asian Local Development Corporation (EBALDC) or another affordable housing developer.


In order to do so, though, Jason Osler of the Martin Development Group brought up a clause in the city’s affordable housing policy that allows developers to apply for an impact fee waiver “if the project is deemed unfeasible by paying the impact fee.”


As a result, the sale of the smaller parcel will be dependent upon whether the developer is able to waive paying the impact fee.


Osler could not be reached to comment.


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