Oakland city council approves controversial high-rise complex

OAKLAND (BCN) — The Oakland City Council has approved a deal to sell a one-acre city-owned parcel of land near Lake Merritt for $5.1 million to a developer who plans to build a high-rise, market-rate apartment complex.

After a three-hour hearing that included more than 100 speakers, most of whom were against the proposal, six council members voted late Wednesday night in favor of selling the parcel at the corner of East 12th Street and Second Avenue to developers UrbanCore Development and United Dominion Realty.

Councilman Dan Kalb abstained and Councilwoman Rebecca Kaplan was absent.

The developers plan to construct a 24-story apartment tower with about 2,000 square feet of ground-level retail space.

The City Council originally was scheduled to vote on the matter on May 5 but protesters shut down the meeting and prevented a vote. The council then held a lengthy hearing on the issue on June 3 but postponed action on it because there weren’t enough votes to approve the proposal.

The council approved the deal after the developers agreed at the last minute to pay $8 million toward affordable housing at another site in Oakland, yet to be specified.

Councilman Abel Guillen, whose district includes the land parcel, previously negotiated with the developers to include $700,000 worth of community benefits, including a skate park, graffiti abatement, tree planting and youth programs at Children’s Fairyland.

Guillen said today that he thinks the deal is a good one because, “We started with no community benefits and have done a good job of including many benefits.”

He said, “No deal will make 100 percent of the people happy 100 percent of the time.”

Guillen said the development also is expected to generate about $650,000 in annual property taxes and $150,000 in annual business taxes.

Monica Garcia of Eastlake United for Justice, a group of residents who live near the site of the proposed project, said she thinks questions remain about whether the city complied with the state’s Surplus Lands Act, which she said requires cities to first offer public land to affordable housing developers before offering it to private developers such as UrbanCore Development.

She warned that the city could be opening itself up to litigation.

Garcia said many residents also oppose the project because rents for a one-bedroom unit could reach $3,150 a month, well beyond the reach of most area residents.

Garcia said she thinks the City Council overlooked the potential legal issues with the project because of the $8 million payment the developers promised for affordable housing at another location.

“That’s not wise, that’s not good government and that’s not ethical,” Garcia alleged.

She said the details about the $8 million payment weren’t included in the council’s agenda packet before the meeting and she doesn’t think there’s any language committing the developers to paying the money or building affordable housing at a specific site.

Kalb said he abstained because he also has concerns about whether the city is complying with the Surplus Lands Act.

He said one of his concerns is that he thinks the developers should include some affordable housing units at the project’s site, not in another part of Oakland.

However, Kalb said the development deal “has gotten markedly better” over time because of the community benefits and affordable housing that are being promised.

He said those benefits “are not insignificant.”

The City Council is scheduled to have a second reading for the land deal at its meeting on July 7 but Guillen said he expects the deal to be approved again.

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