Oak to Ninth: a hearing

"Working people want jobs. They don't care about leukemia," a speaker from the developers' team told the Oakland Planning Commission on March 15th.

The Oak to Ninth development is the largest project to hit Oakland in the last sixty years. It was presented to an Oakland Planning Commission hearing at city hall on Wednesday, March 15th. Having heard that this project was feared as a massive change for Oakland, I decided to attend and see what I could find out. The chamber and balconies were packed; many were standing. I was lucky to get a seat in one of the balconies from where I had a fairly good view of the proceedings.

Nearly everyone wore a pin or badge of some sort to indicate where they stood on the matter. Some, wearing business suits and dress clothes, sported large, shiny buttons reading "I support Oak to 9th." I guessed that they might be the office staffs of the developers and prospective subcontractors.

Others, wearing a range of attire from casual street clothes to the same three-piece sort, wore large paper stickers which read "Build Oakland for Everyone." These people were part of the "Community Benefits Coalition," which consisted of sixteen neighborhood, labor and environmental groups.

The project area known as Oak to Ninth consists of 64 acres of waterfront property which is owned by the Port of Oakland. It's being sold to Signature Properties and Reynolds & Brown who propose to build 3,100 homes on the site. The development plan also includes shops, restaurants, four thousand parking spaces, two marinas and public parks. This project has been in the works for some years; word of it was first peeped to the public in 2001.

The evening presentation of the project was made by Michael Ghielmetti, CEO of Signature Properties. He showed slides of waterfront projects in other cities which his firm had developed. It was very effective, showing before and after photos of how the firm had turned ugly, rundown, industrial waterfronts into attractive residential areas with tree-lined parks, etc. The results looked really nice; despite my reservations I was favorably impressed by the developer's presentation, and my immediate reaction was: Who could oppose something like this?

Actually, many do oppose it for reasons of health, safety, social, environmental, and economic concern, as well as a fear of overwhelming traffic congestion. However, the project was pretty much a done deal, so the "Community Benefits Coalition" has been negotiating to modify it in ways that will benefit the community. They asked that 25% of the units be made affordable to families with incomes between $10 and $50 thousand.

The developer was followed by speakers from the community coalition. One of the persons who spoke for affordable housing was an elderly Asian woman who lived near the site; she spoke in Mandarin, and her presentation was read by another person in English translation.

The next group of speakers were health professionals who expressed health and safety concerns. One of them pointed out that living in a decent neighborhood added an average of 6 years to a person's live span. Everyone had a right to live in a safe, healthy environment.

The developers proposed to build expensive housing on this attractive waterfront site. However, this was public land which was being sold to the developers at a bargain price--a discount of $30 million. So the coalition argued that Oakland residents had a right to stipulate that the project include low cost housing.

There were also speakers from Oakland Heritage Alliance who argued for the preservation of an historical building in the area. Looking at the site from an historical perspective, they pointed out other corrections that needed to be made in the plan. They, like several other speakers, said that they'd discussed these things with the developers, but that many problems with the project still hadn't been addressed.

Following a dozen or more presentations by the community coalition and others who recommended changes in the project, there were three or four persons who spoke in rebuttal on behalf of the developers' proposal.

"Oakland needs this project," asserted a speaker from the pro-developer team. The project would bring jobs to Oakland, he said. The one who followed him, dressed in a three-piece suit and apparently also one of the developers' PR men, hammered even harder on that magic buzzword -- jobs. "Working people want jobs!" he said, dismissing the health and other concerns that had been expressed that evening. "Working people don't care about leukemia!"

Our city planning commission approved the project. The matter now goes to the city council, who'll take it up in a special session on Tuesday, March 28.

Daniel Borgström
March 2006



MY COUSIN, KAREN, died of leukemia at the age of 15. She was from a working class family. She never lived long enough to even have a job. Karen's family cared about leukemia.

Was the context the moron was putting that comment in that jobs are more important than getting exposed to things that cause leukemia?

Same argument for the Manhattan Project - all those wonderful jobs! Why be negative and worry about disease? Or, a more recent example, a discussion on the change-links e-mail group a couple of years ago about nuclear energy: Someone we had previously thought of as progressive got on his high horse and lectured us about how important electricity was to the Ukraine. What's one little Chernobyl accident compared to that? After all, don't cars break down, and mules die?

"Jobs" is the buzzword. Then, when the work actually starts, and public property is being transferred to the wealthy, the jobs are given to people from Pinole, etc. Works every time.

Steve Wagner
March 22, 2006


You don't really give your own impression of those behind the project, although I guess the last comment you cite does not bode well.

James Eilers
March 26, 2006


You're right, I didn't openly give my opinion, other than to relate my impressions of the hearing, ending on that statement by the last speaker for the developers, which is what I took home with me. For me it sums up the attitude of the developers, that they feel they can shove any sort crap they want down our throats by offering us a few crumbs. They see us as the bullied and the bought, and they they're not shy to say it either.

As far as the project itself, I'd start by saying that this project illustrates the nature of privatization--in this case, housing for profit. As a businessman the developer has to make as much profit as he can, and so he wants to build expensive dwellings. That reflects the needs of the business, not the needs of the community. By pressuring him, we hope for 25% to be affordable housing. But on one hand, that cuts into his profit, and on the other hand, it's still not adequate for the community. If the city (or state or federal) gov't were building that housing, there's be no real need to show a profit and it could be 90% or even 100% affordable housing, depending on what the community needs.

Daniel Borgström
March 27, 2006


Your impressions were interesting to me as a friend of mine, a "green" architect with a small cohort, had hoped to get some portion of this immense project, but, of course, bigger firms won out. Too bad as my friend would certainly have been conscientious about both the architecture and the people who be in the buildings.

James Eilers
March 27, 2006

Hi Daniel,

Thanks for your article about the development. Yes, that seems to be a common problem. I have been active in a group here trying to prevent the lengthening of the runway at our little airport. It would not benefit anyone except the developers who would make money on the construction project. It would have very adverse affects on the whole town, especially my neighborhood. My house is right in the flight path.

This seems to be a reoccurring problem. It has been reported that citizens have had similar experiences about small airport expansion in Glens Falls, New York. Citizens in Pittsfield, and Williamstown/North Adams, Massachusetts have also been affected. In North Adams things got very ugly. Trees on private property were cut down. Senior citizens who had lived in their homes for many years were threatened with arrest because they protested the airport changes.

A big unanswered question remains. Exactly who is behind this and why is it happening? At a time when money is needed for other types of transportation, I have been repeatedly told that the money cannot be transferred to another column. In other words, this money can be used ONLY for airports. This creates a big problem in areas that have no bus or train service.

I have come to believe that either there is a military connection or, more likely, this is the result of the lobbying efforts of the companies that manufacture the type of aircraft that require slightly longer runways. If anyone has further information, about unwanted airport expansion in other areas, it would be appreciated.

Rosemarie Jackowski
Bennington, Vermont