The Alameda County Grand Jury has found that the Oakland City Council violates city and state open meeting laws while selecting and negotiating with developers seeking to acquire city-owned property.
In its latest annual report, the grand jury analyzed three cases of city real estate negotiations with developers – properties at 1911 Telegraph Ave., 2100 Telegraph Ave., and the E. 12th Street Remainder Parcel, a property near Lake Merritt that captured headlines for many months.
The jurors concluded that these violations may be a systemic problem and do not comply with the state’s Brown Act or the city’s Sunshine Ordinance, which require open discussions for all but a handful of matters.
The City Council justifies not opening these topics to the public, citing the real estate exception, which allows public boards to discuss in closed session items that would affect an agency’s bargaining position in a real estate transaction.
According to the grand jury report, council members “discussed key matters such as project vision, feasibility and proposal requirements in closed session, and ultimately deliberated about and selected the project developers in private meetings not subject to public scrutiny,” virtually keeping the basic nature of the transactions confidential.
“This conduct precluded participation by the public in determining the best use of city-owned property and the selection of developers,” stated the report.
Open meetings would protect “the public from backroom dealing and … ensure that government is transparent and accountable. The city must provide a ‘level playing field’ by seeking meaningful community input and deliberating publicly before selecting its developer,” the report said.
The grand jury was also troubled by “frequent private communications between council members and developers when a competitive process is under way. This raises concerns that the process may be vulnerable to undue influence and favor well-connected developers.”
The grand jury called on the city to “provide an environment whereby public participation in developer selection is invited” and follow open meeting laws like the Brown Act (the state’s open meetings law) and the city’s Sunshine Ordinance to prevent backroom dealing.
The city has 90 days to respond to the grand jury’s findings and recommendations.