The Oak Knoll project, and its developer SunCal, will bring 935 homes to the East Oakland foothills, plus acres of open space, a new retail venue, and a $20 million payment to the city’s affordable housing fund.
The commission’s 5-0vote in favor of the project was reached after more than two hours of testimony by East Oakland neighbors, community groups, and competing unions. SunCal has entered into a project labor agreement with LiUna local union 304, who will work on the initial infrastructure of the project.
One side of the chamber was filled with red shirts of the local 304 speaking in favor of the project, that will bring them jobs. The other-side of the room was filled with the neon green shirts of the East Bay Residents for Responsible Development, comprised of other unions, including mechanical, engineers and plumbers who have not been guaranteed work in the initial phase of the project.
The East Bay Residents for Responsible Development urged the commission to delay the project due to concerns over traffic mitigations, the lack of on-site affordable housing, and the lack of project, labor agreements with their unions.
Under city law, city officials cannot require a project labor agreement on a purely private project, like the Oak Knoll project.
Fernando Estrada, Business Manager-Secretary/Treasurer of the Local 304 of LiUNA pointed out that the majority of his members – who will be the beneficiaries of Oak Knoll’s construction jobs – live in Oakland.
“Oak Knoll has been an eye-sore for too long,” said Bishop Bob Jackson of the Acts Full Gospel Church, and a resident of the area. “The longer we wait, the worse this will get.”
Jackson said he was pleased that SunCal has committed to provide funds that will go towards job training programs, including the Men of Valor, which helps formerly incarcerated people re-enter society and have productive lives.
“It’s not realistic for one development to solve all of Oakland’s problem. The shopping, hiking trails and jobs are good for Oakland overall, and good for the Oakland Hills,” said one resident of the nearby Shadow Wood condominiums.
A spokesman from the Oak Knoll Neighborhood Association pointed out that many of the mitigations SunCal will address are actually issues that the city has been putting off for a long time.
“There are so few opportunities to build single-family homes in the hills,” said Planning Commissioner, Emily Weinstein. “We are looking at land-use on a privately funded project that does not involve public land. Signing an agreement with the laborers shows the developers commitment to local hire.”
“We are talking about building housing in the middle of a housing crisis,” said Aly Bonde, the policy manager for the Oakland Metropolitan Chamber of Commerce. “We cannot apply downtown housing norms to a project in the Oakland Hills.”
“The $20 million payment to the affordable housing fund can be leveraged is a fantastic compliment to this project,” said Planning Commissioner Adhi Nagraj. “I was very glad to see so many neighbors, and Bishop Bob Jackson, here to support the project. East Oakland doesn’t often get this kind of project, this kind of opportunity.”