Galleries Closed & Please Don’t Come Back-Dateline Oakland

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I’m editing this blog in order to add some information about the vote on the 12th Street project that took place on June, 2nd. If, as seems likely, the city’s approval of the project goes to court, the legality of the vote will probably become an issue of significance. Please see below in italics.

Last night was a frustrating, maddening, heartening, and entertaining evening/night/morning at the Oakland City Council, but then again, I only stayed until 1:15 am after arriving about 7pm. What was the big draw, you ask? Well, you might’ve come to #SavetheTrees, #Saveyourprivacy (my own little hashtag) or #Save12thStreet. On the other hand there was the deal with the FBI to partner with OPD and the need of the PIC, Private Industry Council, for some funds to tide them over, I’ve forgotten the others. My brain has turned to mush after so many hours of outraged people, me among them.

One issue that was not on the table but which became almost as important as any of the decisions the council discussed, was the issue of policing the meetings, including closing the galleries for “safety” reasons, which was not discussed. So here we were to dialogue, plead with, or rant at our city leaders, except the mayor, who doesn’t attend, and most of us couldn’t get in. This issue that reverberated throughout the meeting. And, yes, my dear council members, that was my voice you heard demanding, “open the galleries,” damn it!

No one, to my knowledge has ever done anything violent from the galleries. And if you’re concerned about the meeting being taken over, it won’t happen from the galleries. By this reasoning, close the floor and open only the galleries or just make everyone speak from closed circuit tv. As I tweeted last night, this was petty rule making of the most useless kind, designed to make the citizens feel disempowered and alienated from their representatives and no council member questioned it, shame.

So many moving statements were made about the proposed 12th Street luxury apartment project on public land, and I wish I had written some down but, doubtless, you can find them in your local papers. As you already know Council member Abel Guillen, who got into this late by virtue of being recently elected, wrested some community benefits from the project which included 30 affordable housing units.

Unfortunately for most of us, affordable and market rate are terms which skew reality away from the former middle class and completely remove them from the struggling poor. It turns out that affordable means $1100 for a studio, $1220 for a 1 bedroom and $1461 for a two bedroom. Those are the most affordable units for people at 80% of the median income from there they go up rapidly. He also got a commitment from the council that $1.1 mil of the sale money would go to an affordable housing fund. You can imagine how the folks in the East Lake area who came out to oppose any deal felt about that compromise. Some thanked Abel for trying, some criticized him for it. One other council member even castigated him for getting money for a skate park.

As I was furiously posting on twitter, one protestor I know who had been tweeting out the goings-on, noticed something ironic-many of the 12th Street, anti-gentrification protestors have only been here a few years. They’re not newbies from Silicon Valley but arrived on the wave of millennials who have been wandering the country in search of an affordable home where people can try new things in new ways-while paying off those onerous student loans. As I’ve noted before, these folks can and will become part of the fabric of an Oakland that continues to question the old ways. They may need to learn some things from us old folks about what we’ve been through and what we value.

So this is how it broke down, finally. Abel made his plea for his deal (reading a written statement which was not a very effective way to communicate it.) Then Desley said she would abstain after asking the developers, supporters of hers, some questions. Desley, you might know, never asks questions she doesn’t know the answer to. I, however, didn’t really understand their answer, but it seemed to make her point for her. Next she threw some shade on Abel’s negotiating before disappointing the audience by not giving a clear no but abstaining instead.

Lynette also read her statement which made it seem stilted and as if she hadn’t listened to the audience. She was voting yes. Now Dan Kalb enticed the crowd by apologizing for letting this deal go forward in the first place and then voted to abstain based on the concerns raised by Public Advocates on the sale of surplus land. Now we get to Noel Gallo who had been low key up to this. He asked the city attorney if she had gotten the letter from Public Advocates who have threatened to sue over the way the deal was done as he waved the letter around. She had no answer. He said he was never in favor of selling public land anyway just as he had opposed it while he was on the school board and referenced the proposed sale of the central administration building.

Then he talked from the heart about his daughters who can’t afford to live here. If you know Noel, you know what a family man he is and how that affects everything he does. He often trips over his own thoughts and leads his listeners on a merry goose chase trying to follow his logic, but he was clear and almost concise here-the younger generation can no longer count on the American Dream as he once experienced it himself.

The crowd roared and cheered, I believe, not just because of the possibility of winning but because of the simple truth of his statement. Then Abel left his carefully prepared statement behind to declare that since there were not 5 votes-Rebecca had recused herself and then left, nothing new for her, more on that another time-he would withdraw his motion to accept the deal.

He then tried to make another motion to issue a new RFP. The crowd went wild, me included. Yeay, Abel! But Lynette was having none of that and asked him to restate his motion, awkwardly trying to reframe it first, or discount it or something that seemed to obfuscate the motion-it all happened so fast and there was so much tumult. So Abel stumbled a bit but then made his motion again for a newly issued RFP, one that could possibly result in affordable housing developers responding or at least a higher price for the property. He had been trying to get a reappraisal all along but obviously, did not have the council’s backing on that before this night.

Then Desley after some kind of signal from Lynette (I was quite a way back but think I caught that) made a motion, substitute motion? Hers was just to bring the whole thing back to the next council meeting. She suggested, not even ironically, that Abel would be able to get community input and craft a better deal-presumably without a skate park-in the two weeks allotted. This motion did pass, shame again.

From observers who were watching on TV, there was a signal from Lynette to Desley who made her own motion. Since the council was in the middle of a vote and a member who abstains from that vote cannot bring a motion to reconsider, it is likely that that motion which brings the project back is illegal. There was no substitute motion. Abel’s motion which was made before Desley’s was passed over. I think the CC took a voice vote but didn’t catch who voted for that. But, if Desley switched sides, it would have passed. This is a bit troubling and may yet come under scrutiny.

As for Rebecca recusing herself due to a committee and donation, etc, as she said-I would hope that someone investigates that further. Was it due to the election committee that she set up to solicit funds for a measure that were then used to fund her mayoral campaign or something else? It wasn’t clear from her statement and no one has reported on it.

As I said before I respect these folks for their hard work, most of them, and good intentions, but their process needs to be transparent and fair to all, including rowdy demonstrators seeking to be heard.

It’s my guess that Desley only abstained because she was sure the project would pass and didn’t need her vote. She has known these developers for a long time. They are not bad guys, folks, but African-American men from Oakland who have built up their company and were asked to make a proposal which they did. They negotiated in good faith and then negotiated some more. The fact that they have out-of-town backers is not a conspiracy but it’s the way they were able to secure these kind of funds (did I hear around $120 mil to build it?) The fact that these real estate people want to invest in Oakland is a good thing not a bad thing. But it’s incumbent on us to play hard ball, too. It’s business and we need to play it the way it works.

It’s very clear that this project would not have been opened up and possibly renegotiated completely without the uprising of working folks, organizers, and community members who were startled out of their every day lives by the assault on their very survival in Oakland. Yeah, some were loud protestors and some didn’t really know the issues through and through.

Some even denounced the whole council but I wish they would look closer and understand why people make the decisions they do when in office if they want to make change. Ignore these details at the peril of your movement, ignore the humanity of those you voted for and who live beside you at the peril of your own. I rarely yell at the city council any more, I look for the triggers to their decision making and try to work on them.

I don’t happen to believe that any council member wants to see our city fail nor do they want to turn away investment in a capitalist system. Most of them care about issues like affordability and police accountability but may not have the background to fully grasp these issues. Look at their supporters, their life experiences and where they go for fund raising if you want to understand why they vote the way they vote, but castigating them for fundraising-going where the money is-is like criticizing them for winning.

Here’s some other stuff I think is important. Oakland is almost finished with its Nexus study which will determine what we can fairly ask of developers, money, that is, in impact fees-fees that can go for more housing, transportation, parks, and other things affected by development. Also the money the state took away for housing in redevelopment funding is due to return in smaller increments as “boomerang funding.” It’s possible that with those funds and tax credits which can match those funds, some affordable housing developers may be able to propose a project for that site in the near future.

If community activists can hold off the sale until these monies come through, this could be a whole different project. But it is probably unlikely that the council will be willing to wait that long, not out of greed or the desire to gentrify some folks out of our Town but out of fear of loss of investment and anxiety that the moment may pass us by. I think it won’t pass us by at all. We are the nest big thing, however, I get it. We still live with that old Oakland diffidence but it doesn’t do us proud.

Lots more happened-the #Savethetrees folks waited til 1am but they weren’t able to save them anyway. I don’t know what our hills will look like after this or whether hiking there will be much fun, but it looks like lots of trees will be removed soon.

The FBI issue got some obfuscation and elicited some understandable hysteria. The council was fairly clear on this vote in that they hoped that the FBI-who are here regardless of what building they’re in-can help clear some of our homicide cases. There are many still unsolved and even uninvestigated homicides that we do not have the personnel to work.

Lastly, the folks who have worked so hard to make the Domain Awareness Center less noxious, finally got to have their item heard at about 2:45 am. I had attended to speak in favor of the community crafted privacy policy but went home to my cat and my bed before it happened.

That’s my round-up, now it’s time for a little nap.

7 thoughts on “Galleries Closed & Please Don’t Come Back-Dateline Oakland

  1. thanks SOOOO much for the blow by blow; a real public service for those of us not able to go or watch on TV. Floyd Huen

  2. I agree with almost all you are saying, but this paragraph is not entirely accurate, even though you (wisely) qualified it by saying “to my knowledge”!

    No one, to my knowledge has ever done anything violent from the galleries. And if you’re concerned about the meeting being taken over, it won’t happen from the galleries. By this reasoning, close the floor and open only the galleries or just make everyone speak from closed circuit tv. As I tweeted last night, this was petty rule making of the most useless kind, designed to make the citizens feel disempowered and alienated from their representatives and no council member questioned it, shame.

    You might want to remember some of the Public Safety Committee meetings that followed Occupy – Pat chaired and Stephanie and her crew ran rampant. The Gallery was full and they kept shouting down to the Council members, were abusive, combative and totally disruptive to the point that Pat had to adjourn the meeting mid- way through. Violent, maybe not, but certainly not helpful, respectful or appropriate.

    Rashidah

    Coalition for Police Accountability

    http://coalitionforpoliceaccountability.wordpress.com

    “If not us, then who? If not now, then when?” ― John E Lewis

  3. Hi Pamela,

    Great post! What a mess. With just the little bit I have read in the SF Chronicle and the East Bay Express the 12th Street Housing Project/combined with the school district property seems corrupt. I don’t understand why Oakland can’t find a meeting hall that can seat everyone. When we had a “hot agenda” Berkeley would just move the meetings over to the Berkeley Community Theatre at the high school. The public has a right to attend the meetings. & I know the voters approved the charter change so Jerry Brown didn’t have to attend meetings but not having a mayor attend and listen to the public is just anti-democratic. Maybe some of the young activists can revise the city charter again?

    Anyway–good for you hanging in there and fighting the good fight!! Many thanks!

    Carla

  4. While I admit that some people in the galleries have been obnoxious and loud, I don’t count that as violence and don’t believe in presuming guilt before something happens in any case.

  5. (Also did not see the newly added Italics.)
    However, more generally, I am not critical of the “closing of the galleries” at the Tues CC meeting. The Council is responsible for conducting city business … and disrutption cannot, and must not be tolerated if its purpose is to inhibit the Council from doing the work it is elected to do.
    The Council could reasonably project that were the galleries opened, the entire meeting would be dominated with catcalls and similar — which could not be easily monitored. Alternately, the Council opened Hearing Rooms 1 & 2 with large screens where the proceedings are telecast in real time. Persons signed up to speak were announced, and were admitted to the Chamber to make their statement. While it might have been differently organized, I dont believe anyone’s freedom or liberty was harmed by the actions the Cuncil felt necessary to carry out its charge.

    Regarding Effects of the “Strong Mayor Charter Change”:
    I agree with Carla. I view Oakland as a city where residents want to see and hear their elected officials. For me, it is important that the Mayor sit with, and participate in Council proceedings. Though not required, Mayor Quan attended and participated in practically all Council meetings, and stated her position on significant items concurrently with Councilmembers. Residents did not have to question where Mayor Quan stood on issues. That was made clear in public view … and for my two cents is the way it should be.
    Thank you Mayor Quan … With each day, you are missed more and more …
    James E Vann

  6. Why the written statements from council members? Is that a response to the threatened lawsuits about the legality of the land sale?

    While the buck stops with the council members, it’s disturbing that in both the DAC and this land sale that staff and the City Attorney did not make sure the council members understood the issues, risks, and benefits.

    In the case of the DAC, the retrieved emails show staff knew more then they apparently told council members. But with so many closed to the public meetings, we can’t be sure what staff has left out of their report but conveyed orally in closed session.

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