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City council approves Oak Knoll development project

on November 8, 2017

The approval of the Oak Knoll project was the central topic of Tuesday’s city council meeting, bringing a total of 126 speakers to voice their opinions and share their concerns about the development. Oak Knoll is a housing development project that will bring new commerce and housing to the East Oakland. But even though housing is much needed in Oakland, some Oaklanders stand against the project because it does not set aside any units as affordable housing.

The Oak Knoll project will be developed by SunCal at the former Oak Naval Medical Center site located at 8750 Mountain Boulevard. The approximately 183-acre site will include 918 residential units, 72,000 square feet of commercial space, and 85 acres of trails and parks. The project has been in the works since 1998, when city officials certified the Environmental Impact Statement/Environment Impact Report and adopted the Maximum Capacity Alternative as the preferred reuse plan.

“There is a significant amount of community benefits within this project,” said Sam Veltri, who works with Oak Knoll Venture Acquisitions LLC through SunCal, as he gave a small presentation during the meeting. “We’ll be doing all the maintenance and we will provide jobs.”

Veltri said that public facilities services will be provided through this project, and that AC Transit will be expanded to an underserved area. He highlighted that the project will add public parks to the city by maintaining 30 percent of the area as open space.

As Veltri continued his presentation, many members of the audience shouted, “Where is the affordable housing?” Council President Larry Reid (District 7) warned them to keep quiet or they would be taken out of the meeting.

Some Oakland residents who live near the project’s location showed their support for it. They emphasized that the project will provide them with resources that they do not have access to, such as shopping centers. Vincent Nasito, who has lived across the street from the site for 11 years, said that he “looks forward to creating a community where there is currently nothing.” He said that he currently drives to San Leandro to purchase his groceries.

But others in the crowd showed anger and disappointment in regards to the project’s lack of affordable housing. “You city councilmembers, you should be ashamed to give away such a large part of the city, [the] biggest amount of land that can be developed,” said James Vann, the co-founder of the Oakland Tenant’s Union.  We have a housing crisis. We have an affordability crisis, we have people being displaced from the city and you give away this much land away for a development with not one unit of affordable housing.”

Fire safety was another concern that many community members and councilmembers shared.

According to Christina Karo, who represented East Bay Residents for Responsible Development, the project is going to require increasing fire protective services for the 2,200 additional residents that the new project will bring. In Oakland, there are 25 fire stations that serve about 420,000 residents Karo said. “At the city’s current capacity without the project, there is inadequate fire protection for this project,” Karo said.

“I fear, we fear, greatly fear, the impact on our fire safety, and as you vote I urge you to remember the Oakland firestorm and most recently, Santa Rosa,” said Gloria Anthony Oliver, who has lived north of the project’s site for over 40 years.

Councilmemebr Abel Guillén (District 2) said he shared the same concern as Karo, and asked about the number of calls for service to the areas surrounding the project’s site. Fire Department Chief Darin White said that in 2015 they received 21 calls from that area and in 2016 they received 12 calls. Their response time for calls in that area ranges from six and a half to seven minutes, he said. “It is unclear to me exactly what the development will do in the way of increased call volume,” White said.

Councilmember Lynette Gibson McElhaney (District 3) addressed the split over the project. “I want to lift up that there is pain in this room of people who are closer to another problem and that is the problem with poverty, and growth  income inequality, and the lack of affordable spaces in Oakland,” McElhaney said. “But not having this land to provide critical housing, and to produce the revenues that we need to address that, we will have more difficult problems.”

After an hour of listening to the public and debate, the council voted to approve the project with Councilmembers Reid, McElhaney, Annie Campbell Washington (District 4), Desley Brooks (District 6) and Rebecca Kaplan (at-large) voting in favor. The project also sparked a disagreement between councilmembers when Reid called councilmember Noel Gallo (District 5) and Guillén “disingenuous” for voting against the project. According to Reid, both councilmembers had agreed to vote yes to the project before the meeting.

Earlier in the evening, the council held a hearing on an ordinance presented by Kaplan to enact the uniform residential tenant relocation ordinance. The ordinance would establish a schedule of relocation payments to tenants displaced by owner move-in evictions. The ordinance would also extend relocation payments to tenants displaced by condominium conversions.

Brian Mast, a senior nursing student at Samuel Merritt University, spoke in favor of the ordinance, saying that if he was subject to an owner move-in he would be an inch away from homelessness. “I think it’s important to remember that poverty does not bring evictions, evictions bring poverty,” Mast said.

“I think we have heard quite clearly the magnitude of the suffering of people from displacement in our community,” Kaplan said as she approved the consent item on the calendar. “What’s before us tonight should not be seen as an end. We need to more than this, but we absolutely need to do this.”

Also that evening, Greg Minor, assistant to the city administrator, presented an adult-use cannabis regulations ordinance authorizing the retail sale, cultivation, distribution, testing, and manufacturing of all adult use cannabis within city limits and clarifying allowed locations for delivery-only dispensaries. The ordinance would also expand the types of documentation an Equity Program applicant can use to demonstrate income and local residency. The program helps low-income Oakland residents who have a past marijuana-related conviction apply for dispensary permits.

Proposition 64, which allows for the sale and taxation of recreation marijuana, will come into effect on January 1, 2018. While marijuana sales are legal in both California and Oakland under federal law, cannabis remains illegal.

The ordinance passed, and councilmembers took a separate vote on an amendment proposed by Kaplan that she believes would create more effective implementation. Councilmembers Reid, McElhaney, Brooks, Washington all voted against the ordinance with Kaplan’s amendment and councilmembers Guillén, Gallo, Kaplan, Kalb voted to approve it, resulting in a tie. But at the last minute of the meeting, as everyone stood up to leave, Oakland Mayor Libby Schaaf walked in through the side door and approached the microphone to give her vote in favor of the ordinance. Schaaf said that Kaplan’s amendment allows the city to collect information that is already in administrative practice and that it provides transparency, which is why she voted aye breaking the split vote of four to four.

The next council meeting will take place November 28.


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