Oakland Tribune

March 31, 2005

Activists confront waterfront developer
Oakland community groups concerned with affordability of Oak-to-Ninth housing plans

By Paul T. Rosynsky, STAFF WRITER

OAKLAND The debate over how 62 acres of waterfront land should be developed intensified Wednesday as a coalition of community groups demanded "social justice" concessions from the developer.

Meanwhile, the city and Pleasanton-based Signature Properties held the first of two official public meetings to collect concerns and suggestions from residents for what is commonly known as the Oak-to-Ninth project.

The increased attention comes as Signature Properties begins to work on the housing development's environmental impact report, which must identify the project's benefits and drawbacks.

It also comes as the election race for the City Council District 2 seat, which represents the area, reaches its final weeks, adding a tinge of politics to an already diverse stew of comments.

At issue is how much, and what kind of, development should be allowed on the property once home to shipping warehouses and later considered a key part of a plan to bring the city's waterfront to its residents.

Signature Properties wants to turn the polluted land into a mini-city. It is asking for 3,100 units of housing, 130,000 square feet of retail space and 27 acres of parkland.

The housing would include both rental apartment units and condominiums for sale. They would be built in a few 20-story high-rise buildings and several more mid-rise buildings.

"This is rejuvenating the Oakland waterfront," said Michael Ghielmetti, president of Signature Properties. "The money flows out of the project to the community, not into the project from the community."

But some groups see it differently and are beginning to raise their voices. "As it stands today, this is not a development, it is a degradation," said the Rev. Scott Denman, a member of the Oak-to-Ninth Coalition. "It is another dividing wall."

The coalition is composed of two widely known activist groups, Oakland Community Organization and the Oakland Coalition of Congregations. Also included are the East Bay Asian Youth Center and PolicyLink, a not-for-profit research advocacy group.

The coalition is demanding Signature sign a Community Benefits Agreement, which calls for the developer to make 25 percent of the housing affordable for households earning less than $50,000 a year.

They want construction to be completed by city residents and Signature to provide a preapprenticeship training program.

They also want Signature to help pay for a marketing strategy to highlight the Eastlake and other neighborhoods, offer first right of refusal to local, small-retail businesses to rent properties in the development and pay the Oakland Unified School District for a new school in the neighborhood.

The group says it's justified in demanding concessions from the developer because the developer has already won concessions from the community.

Signature Properties bought the land from the port for $18 million three years ago and promised to spend an additional $16 million cleaning it of industrial waste. The land was appraised at $63.3 million in 2003.

In addition, Signature won special state legislation last year that removed the land from the State Tidelands Trust. That trust would have forbidden the developer from buying the land and building homes on it.

Ghielmetti said he is open to any suggestions made by the community but refused Wednesday to make any firm commitments.

The developer has already held several smaller meetings with community representatives, he said, and in the process has heard from more than 40 groups.

The next public hearing for the Oak-to-Ninth project is scheduled for April 9. It will be held from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. at the Oakland Asian Cultural Center at 388 Ninth St., Suite 290.