On Tuesday night the Oakland City Council approved plans for a community benefit program for a half-mile area surrounding the Lake Merritt BART station, which includes Oakland’s Chinatown. The proposal suggests that all developments beyond a certain size include one or more community benefits, if they make a reasonable rate of return and profit. The city staff has yet to identify these community benefits, and come up with cost and funding mechanisms, but some of the suggestions named in the recommendation the council voted on include open space preservation, affordable housing, historic preservation, and improvement of circulation and streetscapes.
A large number of Chinatown residents and business owners turned up to express their support or concerns about the program. Some felt the plan would stimulate business growth and development in the area, and that the proposed community benefits should include provisions for affordable housing. “We’ve seen many businesses over the past five years close,” said Stan Kiang, a principal owner of the Metropolitan Bank in Chinatown. “I’m here to tell you how important this is for the community.”
Others said that while the council’s intentions were good, the proposal presented was too ambiguous for the public to judge whether it would benefit the area and the businesses there.
“To me, [the proposal] is vague, and overly broad, and I don’t know what to support and what to oppose without the council making clear what their plans are,” said George Ong, a business owner and attorney in Chinatown. Ong, who has lived in the area since the 1940s, said that he was concerned about the number of Chinatown businesses planning to quit and move because business has been declining over the years. “Give consideration to the merchants,” he said. “Define what you mean by ‘community benefits.’”
Other speakers were concerned that the plan would restrict businesses and negatively affect the growth there by requiring that businesses provide some sort of community benefit. “Please do not burden or discourage [the area]. The development project itself is a community benefit – it creates jobs,” said Jennie Ong, the executive director of the Oakland Chinatown Chamber of Commerce.
Councilmember Pat Kernighan (District 2), who was absent from the meeting, sent in an amendment to the original plan, proposing that anything built near BART areas have a height limit of 270 feet, with the requirement that all projects between 270 and 400 feet in height provide additional community benefits.
The council unanimously voted for the proposal as amended.
The Oakland City Council was also scheduled to vote on a pay raise for the Frazier Group—the third party investigators examining police action during Occupy Oakland—but the council decided to move the vote to a meeting on May 1. City Administrator Deanna Santana had said she wanted to have the amount paid raised from almost $100,000 to $250,000. Many members of the public showed up at the meeting to discuss the issue, and demanded that an explanation be given for the postponement of the vote.
Thomas Frazier, the group’s lead investigator, is a former special advisor to the Oakland Police Department on its compliance with the Negotiated Settlement Agreement (NSA). He was brought in after Anthony Batts resigned as the Oakland police chief to ensure that the NSA compliance work remained on track and was not affected by Batts’ resignation. However, he worked for the department for only a few weeks before stepping down, and soon after began bidding to become an independent investigator of Oakland Police Department actions during the Occupy Oakland riots.
Members of Occupy Oakland present at the meeting voiced concerns that the Frazier Group has ties to the Oakland Police Department, and cannot be expected to remain fair and independent during the investigation. “Why aren’t you demanding a bid?” asked Jessica Hollie, an Oakland resident. “Why do we have to pay somebody with a conflict of interest to do that?”
Later in the meeting, Councilmember Libby Schaaf (District 4) replied that when the investigation was originally proposed, there had been a bidding process, and it was the basis by which the Frazier group was chosen.
During the open comment section that night, Ann Pringle, the mother of 22-year old Abram Pringle, who was shot during a carjacking in October 2011 along with two others, demanded that the police speed up the investigation of her son’s murder. “On February 21, 2012, one of my family members was threatened by the people that killed my son,” she said. She said the police were taking too long to analyze the fingerprints related to the crime, and it put her family in danger. “I want justice. I want the fingerprints finished.”
Councilmember Ignacio De La Fuente (District 5) thanked her for showing up, and said the council would try to speed things up.