A special assembly of the Oakland City Council that was scheduled to last an hour dragged into two as tensions climbed over an agenda item brought up by Councilmember Desley Brooks.
Councilmembers raised their voices over one another, defended themselves against flying insults, and glared daggers across the dais Tuesday night against the backdrop of a restless crowd prone to outbursts.
Brooks’ proposal, which she insisted was “simply ceremonial” despite the special meeting, was intended to show support for the city of Richmond as it moves forward with its plan to purchase troubled mortgages from banks. If the lenders refuse to sell, the city said it may invoke eminent domain to seize the mortgages.
Richmond’s plan would involve going head-to-head with Private Label Security mortgages and perhaps seizing city mortgages through eminent domain, which could potentially lead to a major legal battle that could cost Richmond a hefty sum. Eighteen cities across the U.S. are considering similar approaches.
“If people had stood with us early on when we were working on the Goldman Sachs issue, we might have had a different outcome,” Brooks said. “Richmond has requested a study, is seeking guidance and is exploring its options. There’s no reason not to support that.”
Several speakers from Richmond and Oakland came forward to civilly express their support for an alliance between the two cities. Members of Alliance of Californians for Community Empowerment were especially well represented. Most of them spoke of their outrage at the banks and a lack of action within government.
“One thing is for certain, we wouldn’t be having this crisis right now if the banks were playing fair and square,” said Jose Vega, an El Salvadorian resident of Pittsburgh and ACCE member. “Banks like to play on the basis of fear…just play fair and square and help us fight this cancer called foreclosure.”
Local activist and ACCE Campaign Director Amy Schur praised Richmond for its efforts to heal the housing market.
“One way or another, take this simple stand of saying, ‘God bless the City of Richmond for standing up and saying, “We’re going to do something,”” Schur said.
Although Brooks’ proposal was merely to stand in solidarity with Richmond, the prospect of supporting a city with that potential magnitude of a legal undertaking –made some councilmembers nervous.
Paul Jung, representing the Oakland Metropolitan Chamber of Commerce, referenced a letter that was sent to the council urging them to keep out of Richmond’s initiative.
“If you need to study a report, it’s far too early to support it,” Jung said, referring to the assessment of the foreclosure initiative.
Jason Crouch, an Emeryville realtor, said he and his colleagues are also concerned.
“There are a number of us that think it is a radical plan, and it is scary,” Crouch said. “It’s been an awful few years, there’s no question about that…I would just encourage caution and beg you to please vet all the nuances.”
When the time came for the council to discuss the item, the conversation quickly became heated.
Councilmembers argued over points of order, and the two-hour discussion finally came to a close with a vote to continue the conversation at the Nov. 19 meeting.