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Council approves $3.1 million in matching funds for Army Base project

on February 16, 2011

In a low-fuss meeting on Tuesday, the Oakland City Council voted to match a federal grant with city money to fund a study about developing the Oakland Army Base.  With a unanimous vote, the council committed over $3 million to the study, to be matched by $1.6 million out of a larger grant from the federal government.

Al Auletta, who manages the Army Base Project Area for Oakland’s redevelopment agency, said the study would plan infrastructure for future development, and help get the project “shovel ready” within 12-18 months. The project will study how to best develop industrial and commercial space, as well as restrictions the city might face in developing the site.

The city’s contribution will be committed from its redevelopment fund. The city council can accept the federal grant only if it puts up at least 20 percent of the total cost of the project, which is estimated to be $6.3 million. The federal grant would total $2 million, with $600,000 going toward the West Oakland Redevelopment Area and $1.6 million going to the Army Base project.

The council voted to approve the funds on Tuesday, but not without some hand-wringing over how much money the Oakland Port Authority, which oversees the land surrounding the former army base, would be willing to put toward the project.

“I never have thought that we’ve gotten our fair share from the Port [Authority] over the years,” said District 1 Councilmember Jane Brunner. The Port Authority, which operates independently from the city’s management and budget, generates its own revenues from trade through the port.

“Our understanding is that they’re cash-strapped,” Auletta said at the council meeting. District 3 Councilmember Nancy Nadel suggested that officials from the redevelopment agency could focus on developing the Army base to generate funds for the city if the Port Authority continues to decline to contribute funds that match city allocations. The Port Authority has agreed to use a smaller amount of funds from a state transit corridor grant for the Army base project.

District 5 Councilmember Ignacio De La Fuente voted in favor of committing the funds but said, “We’re getting $2 million, but it’s costing us $3 million.” The funds will receive a final vote in March.

Before coming to this vote, the council considered a handful of other ordinances, including an effort supported by the mayor’s office to create youth internships with three city departments. The Oakland Fire Department, Public Works, and Parks and Recreation departments would work with the school district and the East Bay Regional Occupational Program to allow young people to intern with these departments.

During the public comment period Derrick Bailey, a 16-year-old student at MetWest High School, told the city council how much an internship with the fire department would mean to him. Bailey said he has already interned with the Albany Fire Department—an experience he said motivated him to change his study habits and to apply himself in school—but he said he has his heart set on working in his hometown of Oakland.

“I think the problem with youth today is that we don’t have activities to motivate us,” Bailey said.

Carolyn Norr, who advises MetWest students looking for internships, said it has been nearly impossible for students like Bailey to work with the city because of the logistical difficulty of working within a bureaucracy.

After Bailey’s comments, council president Larry Reid thanked him and said, “You will become a member of the Oakland Fire Department.” Reid’s encouragement might prove true, as the ordinance was approved, and Deputy Fire Chief James Edwards shook Bailey’s hand after the young man spoke to the council.

In other business, the council voted to change zoning restrictions on telecommunication antennas in mixed business and residential areas. Put forward by Brunner, the ordinance changes the cell phone antenna permitting process to allow public comment and appeal.

Brunner acknowledged that some public health concerns about cell phones haven’t been confirmed by scientists, but said, “I won’t be surprised if in the future we learn there are some health issues with the cell phone towers.” Councilmembers De La Fuente and Rebecca Kaplan (at-Large) both said the council must consider where cell phone transmitters can go, instead of focusing on areas where they should be restricted.

Current permitting allows the public to comment on cell phone antennas proposed for residential areas, but not for mixed residential and business areas. The council approved the ordinance and will make a final vote in March.

Image: Derrick Bailey, 16, asks the Oakland City Council to approve an ordinance that would help him get an internship with the fire department.

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Photo by Basil D Soufi
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