At council meeting, sparse attendance and delayed votes
on November 2, 2011
Live hip-hop music, anti-Wall Street chants and hundreds of Occupy Oakland protesters camped out steps away at Frank Ogawa Plaza had little effect on Tuesday’s Oakland City Council meeting. The Occupy Oakland movement was not discussed, and councilmembers postponed making a final decision about contractual restrictions at the Oakland Army Base, and the appointment of port commissioner.
The meeting was sparsely attended, with only about 20 people in the audience and Mayor Jean Quan and Councilmember Rebecca Kaplan (At-Large) absent.
The council delayed voting on an ordinance that would add small local business contracting requirements to an existing business program for the demolition and remediation at the Oakland Army Base. The council also delayed appointing Jakadi Imani and Victor Uno as port commissioners.
Half an hour before the meeting, community outreach organizations Urban Peace Movement and Revive Oakland launched their “Swagn’ 4 Justice” concert and rally outside city hall to demand more job opportunities in Oakland, and support the Occupy Oakland protests. About 100 people gathered in Frank Ogawa Plaza’s amphitheater
to watch live performances by local dance group Turf Fienz, and hip-hop artist J-Milli-On, also from Oakland.
During the first speaker session of the council meeting, members of Revive Oakland and Urban Peace Movement took the podium at the city hall chambers. “While you are here, we are outside looking for a solution to unemployment,” said Italia Suarez, member of Urban Peace Movement. “We need quality jobs in Oakland.”
The army base is scheduled to undergo a major restructuring and remediation, with a $9 million city fund set aside specifically for the remediation. Councilmembers Larry Reid (District 7) and Desley Brooks (District 6) said they believe the city’s current economic crisis, its high unemployment rate and slow job growth can partially be addressed by mandating all contracts for demolition and remediation at the Army Base be awarded either through a sole-source bid or a competitive bid process open only to small, local businesses in the city of Oakland.
To ensure that the contracts are given to local businesses, the ordinance put forth by Brooks and Reid requires contractors and sub-contractors for the project have a workforce comprised of at least 33 percent of Oakland residents. The original requirement of the city’s local employment program, which declares that a certain percentage of new hires be residents of Oakland, will continue to apply to these contracts if the ordinance is adopted.
All the speakers commenting on the issue Tuesday were in favor of increasing local businesses’ involvement in the project. “It seems like a no-brainer,” said Bill Aboudi, owner and manager of AB Trucking, a trucking company that has worked with army base projects in the past. “You are in the community, you hire locally. I’ve done that for many, many years. You do good by the local community, the local community will do good by you.”
While all of councilmembers said they approved of more local hires for the project, Councilmember Libby Schaaf (District 4) expressed concern that the 33 percent requirement was brought up for discussion prematurely. “We know that we have a rich pool of employees,” Schaaf said, “but if we screen businesses using the 33 percent cutoff, do we know how many businesses would then be in the pool?”
Councilmember Pat Kernighan (District 2) agreed with Schaaf, suggesting that the elements of the ordinance that say the chief contractors should be certified Oakland local businesses be adopted, but the 33 percent rule be reconsidered, because the council is not sure how many Oakland businesses comply with that percentage.
But as Kernighan and Schaaf went back and forth with Brooks about the 33 percent clause in the ordinance, a representative from the city attorney’s office confirmed it would take a week to get information about the number of businesses that would be left in the pool of eligible contractors once they were screened using that clause.
Brooks had previously taken issue with the wording of the ordinance, saying she had not meant to make it compulsory for all contractors to hire at least 33 percent of their workforce from Oakland. She said the intention of the ordinance was merely to screen contractors who bid for the Oakland Army Base contracts to make sure they hire a significant number of Oakland residents. Brooks added she was amenable to postponing a vote on the ordinance until disagreements about its wording were resolved.
Councilmember Jane Brunner (District 1) took issue with the fact the councilmembers’ decisions were being informed by a legal opinion that they had been privy to in a closed session meeting. Councilmembers were told by City Attorney Barbara Parker not to disclose the opinion in public. “We get a legal opinion that we’re not allowed to disclose publicly, but we’re basing our judgment on that opinion? This is Alice in Wonderland!” she said.
Nadel and Brunner joined Brooks and Reid in support of the 33 percent requirement, saying that many companies working on the project had many employees who were not Oakland residents.
After debating for about an hour and a half the council postponed voting on the issue, with Parker agreeing to rewrite the ordinance to address the concerns about the 33 percent clause, and suggestions regarding the change of wording, made during the meeting.
Councilmembers also decided to delay a decision on the appointment of Victor Uno and Jakada Imani as Port of Oakland commisioners to the next council meeting. on November 15. Although Uno and Imani were sworn in by Quan outside the October 18 meeting, the council’s approval was pulled back after residents complained it had made its decision without hearing from the 63 people who had signed up to speak about the appointment.
Councilmembers had said they already heard enough on the appointments during previous meetings, and had given the attendees the option of speaking or allowing a vote without a speakers’ session. After it appeared most of the speakers agreed on the latter option, the council proceeded to vote, and appointed Uno and Imani as port commissioners. However, after the council confirmed Imani and Uno, speakers, most of them supporters of Imani’s opponent, previous port commissioner Margaret Gordon, railed against this decision inside the council’s chambers by asking to speak.
With four votes in favor, two against, one abstention and one excused, the decision to confirm Imani and Uno’s appointment was once again delayed. Councilmember Pat Kernghan proposed to postpone the decision because Councilmember Rebecca Kaplan was absent. Councilmembers Jane Brunner, Ignacio de la Fuente and Libby Schaaf supported the proposal. Desley Brooks, Nancy Nadel and Larry Reid voted in opposition.
Imani said he was tiring of the process. “I think the council president likes to have me in chambers,” Imani said during the meeting. “I have been back here so many times, this is the trial of Job. I think he wants to see if I’m fit for the job.”
Not all items in the meeting’s agenda were postponed for the next council meeting. The council also denied a bid by the telecommunications company ExteNet to attach a two-foot tall antenna on top of a 38-foot tall wooden utility pole at the West side of Shirley Drive in the Oakland Hills as part of a new wireless communications facility.
According to a report issued by the Community and Economic Development Agency, the antenna and other equipment attached to the pole “would partially obstruct a spectacular view from adjacent homes constructed to take advantage of the view.” CEDA inspectors concluded in June 2010, that the installation would violate the city’s planning code, even if it only obstructed the view of one home.
Inspectors concluded the project would not benefit all residents, and that it should be relocated. ExteNet, a Chicago-based company that according to its website “builds and operates antenna networks to improve wireless service providers,” appealed CEDA’s decision two weeks later.
Residents of the Oakland Hills said at Tuesday’s meeting that they were concerned that the antenna would obstruct picturesque views from their properties. “We were shocked this came back for appeal,” said Judy Yu, who lives on Wilton Drive near where the antenna would go, during the meeting. “Any antenna regardless of its shape or size will obstructe our view of the Golden Bridge, the Bay Bridge and San Francisco and Berkeley. We hope we can rely on the council to protect the values of our homes, and that this project will not take precedence over the importance of preserving the beauty of the Oakland Hills.”
Councilmember Nadel, who abstained from voting on this issue, said she hoped the council would react the same way if a company proposed the installation of an antenna in West Oakland, the district she represents, and neighbors were opposed. “I hope the same vigilance is applied so that we that we don’t discriminate against the people in West Oakland to protect the perfect views of the hills,” she said.
After a wave of applause from the audience for Nadel, Schaaf, whose district encompasses some of the hills, responded by saying, “I just want to clarify that the Planning Commission (part of CEDA) has approved six similar installations, and this is the only one that was denied.”
“Believe me, plenty of cell phone equipment has being installed up in the hills, a lot of it,” she added. “This is more of an exception than the rule.”
The council did not discuss any issues related to the Occupy Oakland protests and the general strike scheduled for Wednesday. According to City Administrator Deanna Santana, issues pertaining to the Occupy Oakland protests will be addressed at a special city council meeting at 5:30 p.m. Thursday at Oakland City Hall.
In an interview to a group of reporters after the meeting, Santana said Oakland officials were prepared for the strike today. “We will be activating our Emergency Operations Center, I will be there beginning in the morning,” she said. “I do not know whether the mayor will be there all day, but I expect her just to drop by.”
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