With the looming deadline for a $242 million state grant, and after more than a decade of false starts, a $1 billion development project at the former Oakland Army Base got the OK from the Oakland City Council to move forward on Tuesday night.
The council voted 7-0, with one abstention, to approve the city’s “Working Waterfront” proposal—a warehouse, trade and logistics center for the Port of Oakland on the former Army Base in West Oakland, a project that would add nearly 5,000 jobs and increase the capacity of the port. The massive project, which includes dredging the port to accommodate larger ships, improving rail and transit lines and new warehouse facilities, is being developed by California Capital and Investment Group and Prologis and expected to begin in 2013.
The vote Tuesday capped an arduous process for the 366-acre parcel. The current proposal has been more than four years in the making, and it’s been 13 years since the base closed. During that time, proposals for the site have come and gone—some that failed to get going included an Indian casino, an auto row or a movie studio.
“At some point, you just have to do it. You have to say it may not be perfect, but it’s good and we’re going to keep working,” said Councilmember Jane Brunner (District 1), who remarked that she has seen each previous proposal come before the council with a lot of fanfare, only to fail.
There was a heightened sense of urgency at the meeting, since Tuesday was the deadline set by the California Transportation for the allocation of a $242.1 state Trade Corridor Improvement Fund. More than 140 people signed up to speak on the issue during a standing-room-only meeting, many from community groups who raised concerns the project’s community job agreement which mandates a certain percentage of the population live in Oakland contains loopholes.
While speakers from community groups like Oakland Rising and the East Bay Alliance for a Sustainable Economy (EBASE) praised the agreement for including a job center, training, an apprenticeship program just for Oakland residents, and a stipulation that 50 percent of the workforce come from Oakland, they criticized it for provisions EBASE director Nikki Bas said “could see locals losing out on jobs.” That includes the provision that only “large” companies—those that employ more than 50 people—fall under the local hiring requirement. They also criticized a question on warehouse developer Prologis’ job application that asks applicants if they have been previously incarcerated. (Opponents of this practice argue that the state should “ban the box,” referring to the box that formerly incarcerated people must check on job applications.)
“We cannot afford any loopholes on ‘ban the box’ or local hires, or the community enforcement policy,” said Jessamyn Sabbag, deputy director of Oakland Rising. “Please be courageous in your leadership tonight and stand up for Oakland.”
In response to calls that the local hiring stipulations be improved, councilmember Desley Brooks (District 6) proposed amendments to the resolution, including adding a city system that would track local hires to make sure the employers are following the local hiring guidelines. “What [the amendments] do is speak very clearly and loudly to every contractor that will work on this project that we want our jobs and we want them now,” Brooks told the council.
But after each the councilmembers then voiced support for the agreement on the floor with developers California Capital and Investment Group and Prologis, which included lowering the threshold for “large” companies to 40 people and “banning the box” from Prologis applications for the army base but did not included Brooks’ amendments, Brooks agreed to bring her amendments back to the Community and Economic Development Committee for further discussion.
Councilmember Larry Reid (District 7), the council president, closed the meeting by saying the project was an “anchor” for the city and that along with further development in East and West Oakland should be the “legacy we should all want to leave.”
“Oakland will never, never, never be like the Oakland we know now,” Reid said. “It is going to be one of the awesome cities in the country, and the State of California.”