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"Dream Bigger Than Cops & Condos": #SaveE12th Activists Takeover Oakland City Council
by Anti Police-Terror Project
Thursday May 7th, 2015 7:15 PM
On Tuesday May 5th, Black.Seed, Asians4BlackLives, and allies shut-down the Oakland City Council and held a People's City Council against a proposed development on East 12th Street. The development, up for a vote at that evening's city council meeting, includes no affordable housing and links to the larger wave of displacement being felt throughout Oakland and the bay area. According to the activists, the high-rise luxury condos include one bedrooms upwards of $3,150/month. The condos are proposed by Urban Core and real estate firm UDR. The activists stood in solidarity with the #BlackLivesMatter movement, linking gentrification to increased policing, and criminalization of Black and Brown people.
Mayor Libby Shaaf had just finished the presentation of her 2015-2017 budget, when dozens of chanting activists marched through the door, passed the gates and stood on the dais. A small group stepped in front of the sitting Oakland City Council and took over the stage. The hands of the nine activists were tied together and placed inside lockboxes. Stenciled on the black boxes was “No Justice, No Peace”. They faced the crowd, which faced a banner that said: “The People’s City Council.”

The facial expressions on the faces of the Oakland City Council ranged from puzzled, to frustrated, to non-registering. The largely sympathetic crowd filled the chambers. Those with Coalition for Police Accountability shirts and Justice for Alan Blueford shirts where there for a vote on the Civilian Police Review Board which was supposed to occur that evening. Much of the crowd was there for the same reason as that evening’s People’s City Council: to halt the construction of a luxury, high-rise apartment building on the East 12th Street land parcel in the Eastlake neighborhood near Lake Merritt.

For the past few months there have been calls to shut down business as usual. Through these shutdowns – which range from housing auctions, to freeways, to federal buildings, to the ILWU Local 10 sponsored shutdown of the Port of Oakland – the movement aims to mobilize, organize the masses, and to prevent specific oppressive acts. Whether by hitting the checkbooks of the powerful (ex: port-shutdown) or by physically preventing business from being done (ex: blocking foreclosure auctions), these shutdowns aim to materially alter our cities and open up space for liberatory conversations and acts. When the People’s City Council marched into the room and took over the council chambers, they created a space of power for the Black, Brown, and displaced residents of Oakland.

The People’s City Council opened their meeting with by allowing impacted individuals from Eastlake and Oakland to speak before the council. Residents, educators, workers, those displaced, all spoke of their inability to live in the city they call home. The organizers of the event were sure to note that there were no time limits for speakers. Through a megaphone one organizer critiqued the city council, saying, “We can dream bigger than cops and condos for our city.”

The cry to “dream big” for Oakland is a call to activate our revolutionary public imagination and fight for the institutional changes that can turn the imaginary, material. Behind the People’s City Council, as hackers had taken over the projector, were the words “A People’s Budget, Not a Policing Budget.” This message is not lip service, but is tied to a growing movement in Oakland to put the People in charge of the budget. There are many organizations fighting to increase community involvement in the city’s budgetary process. One such group, the Community Democracy Project, has been holding public dialogues and petitioning in favor of what has become known as a “People’s Budget.” The call for a radical imagination was echoed the Sunday before during the BlackOUT Collective’s #Oakland2Baltimore rally at City Hall. In front of one hundred or so people, the Black, female-led organization called for Black people to “imagine a world where Black lives matter.” This call is uniquely necessary now; almost 50% of Mayor Libby Shaaf’s proposed budget is allocated to the police.

Eastlake United for Justice (EUJ) in conjunction with the legal organization Public Advocates has drafted a letter outlining the specific legal concerns regarding the City’s issuance of a Disposition and Development Agreement to the proposed developers of East 12th . While I will not focus in depth on those specific questions of illegality, a link to their letter is available below, it is necessary to briefly outline the objections. Three of the four concerns rely on getting the 12th Street land parcel defined as a “surplus land.” A surplus land is defined as any “land owned by any local agency, that is determined to be no longer necessary for the agency’s use, except property being held by the agency for the purpose of exchange.” When defined as a “surplus land” area proposed for development will be subject to a number of qualifications under the Surplus Land Act. These qualifications include, but are not limited to, making at least 15% of the units available at affordable housing cost and giving first priority to entities interested building affordable housing and/or public parks.

The community is also pushing for the 12th Street parcel to be subject to state and federal housing policies. Policies included in the Federal Housing Act (Title VIII of the Civil Rights Act of 1968) are necessary to resist the de-facto racial and economic segregation caused through gentrification. It is important to note that the proposed development for East 12th Street is 100% luxury housing, with one bedroom units costing upwards of $3,150 per month.

The calls to “imagine an Oakland where Black lives matter” or to “dream bigger than cops and condos” are fundamentally calls to stretch our public imagination and find ways to creatively challenge oppressive structures. One activist was explicit: “Justice is not throwing pigs in prison. Justice is: not using the prison industrial complex to save our children.” She continued. “For every Black person killed by police, I want 100 Black people set free from prison. For every Black person killed by police, I want 100 Black trans-women given jobs.” Her reconceptualization of “justice” holds power in its transcendence rather than its feasibility. The People’s City Council was a recognition that we need new structures, institutions able to acknowledge the creativity of the public imagination and turn its power into reality.

The #BlackLivesMatter movement has shown us how much quickly the People progress in relation to systems of power. Social media is able to shine a light on biased, exploitative media coverage while that media coverage is occurring. The movement is able to find and spread problems in the police investigations, while the police are still investigating. The People’s City Council seen Tuesday night asked us: what would Oakland look like if its city council moved with the speed and power of the People? Unfortunately, the activists Tuesday night want change quicker than the slow-trudge of bureaucracy will allow. They, we want a People’s City Council now, yesterday. The hope exhibited at the May 6th City Council meeting is that spectacle, organizing and the energy created by the two will affect revolutionary change. The Movement has demonstrated its ability to move as swiftly as the pen stroke of a CEO, now it is demanding the same power.

Councilman Dan Kalb was visibly flustered as he left the council chambers Tuesday night, he said repeatedly how the acts that night would not change anyone’s minds. “They accomplished nothing,” Councilman Kalb said. He described the activists who adjourned his council meeting in place of their own as “grossly disruptive.” Their shutdown of the meeting prevented a vote on the Civilian Police Review Board, and the councilman was sure to note that as well. Yet, Kalb did not note that the reason the CPRB was up for a vote was because his city council had delayed its vote the meeting before. Kalb also neglected to include that without the confrontational and disruptive tactics used by the local movement against police-terror, the CPRB would not be on the agenda and Internal Affairs would unquestionably be in charge of investigating issues of police misconduct. Councilman Kalb shook his head in disgust and exited the council chambers shortly after the meeting was adjourned. As the door closed behind him, the room chanted “No cop zone. No cop zone. They knooow better. They knooow better.”
§Activists hold rally outside of Oakland City Council (photo by: anonymous)
by Anti Police-Terror Project Thursday May 7th, 2015 7:15 PM
§"Don't Sell Out, Don't Privatize. Tell the Truth, Stop the Lies!" (photo by: anonymous)
by Anti Police-Terror Project Thursday May 7th, 2015 7:15 PM
§The Oakland People's City Council (photo by: Evan P. Matthews)
by Anti Police-Terror Project Thursday May 7th, 2015 7:15 PM
§Oakland needs Black Power not Blaxploitation (photo by: Evan P. Matthews)
by Anti Police-Terror Project Thursday May 7th, 2015 7:15 PM
§The People's City Council (photo by: Evan P. Matthews
by Anti Police-Terror Project Thursday May 7th, 2015 7:15 PM
§#SaveE12th petition delivered to Oakland City Council (photo by: Evan P. Matthews)
by Anti Police-Terror Project Thursday May 7th, 2015 7:15 PM
§Residents link gentrification with increased racist-policing (photo by: Evan P. Matthews)
by Anti Police-Terror Project Thursday May 7th, 2015 7:15 PM
§The Oakland People's City Council (photo by: Evan P. Matthews)
by Anti Police-Terror Project Thursday May 7th, 2015 7:15 PM
§The Oakland People's City Council (photo by: Evan P. Matthews)
by Anti Police-Terror Project Thursday May 7th, 2015 7:15 PM
§"I Believe that We Will Win!" (Photo by: @BaySolidarity
by Anti Police-Terror Project Thursday May 7th, 2015 7:15 PM
§"Fight City Hall!" (photo by: @cynthfong)
by Anti Police-Terror Project Thursday May 7th, 2015 7:15 PM
§Activist speaks against the gentrification of Oakland (photo by: @cynthfong)
by Anti Police-Terror Project Thursday May 7th, 2015 7:15 PM
§White allies lock down overflow meeting rooms (photo by: @kiernanrok)
by Anti Police-Terror Project Thursday May 7th, 2015 7:15 PM
§"We must dream bigger for Oakland" (photo by: Evan P. Matthews)
by Anti Police-Terror Project Thursday May 7th, 2015 7:15 PM
§Handouts for the public page 1 (photo by: Evan P. Matthews)
by Anti Police-Terror Project Thursday May 7th, 2015 7:15 PM
§Handouts for the public page 2 (photo by: Evan P. Matthews)
by Anti Police-Terror Project Thursday May 7th, 2015 7:15 PM
§Author Contact Info
by Anti Police-Terror Project Thursday May 7th, 2015 7:16 PM
To contact the author Evan Matthews please email evanpmatthews [at]

Comments  (Hide Comments)

by Darwin BondGraham, EBX
Saturday May 9th, 2015 12:51 PM
The proposed sale of city-owned land for the construction of a luxury apartment tower appears to violate state and local laws that prioritize affordable housing.


In spite of surging opposition from neighbors and affordable housing advocates, the developer who wants to build a controversial high-rise luxury apartment tower at the foot of East 12th Street near Lake Merritt is poised to win approval. But if the Oakland City Council votes to sell the city-owned land to developer UrbanCore LLC, it could violate both state and city laws. At the very least, say affordable housing advocates, the process has set a terrible precedent for future decisions regarding development on publicly owned land, and for achieving Oakland's affordable housing goals.

At issue is the California Surplus Land Act and Oakland's own laws governing the sale of public property. According to state law, Oakland must prioritize the development of affordable housing for low- and moderate-income households on city-owned land. The Surplus Land Act, which was originally enacted in 1968 and has been updated several times since by the legislature, also spells out a number of requirements for the city, such as offering city-owned land to other public agencies first, before selling the land for another purpose — like the construction of a luxury apartment tower.

Oakland's own law pertaining to city-owned land, passed originally in 1993 and updated two years ago, states that the city should comply fully with the state's Surplus Land Act. Furthermore, the city's law requires sales of public land to be conducted in an open public process that includes competitive bidding. None of this happened with respect to the East 12th Street parcel.

"We raised the issue before both the planning commission and the council as to the Surplus Land Act and the city's own ordinance," said Mari Rose Taruc, a member of Eastlake United for Justice, a group that wants affordable housing built on the parcel. "Nobody addressed these questions."

"This process that the city undertook was wrong in so many ways," said James Vann, co-founder of the Oakland Tenants Union. Vann is also a member of the Measure DD Coalition, an umbrella organization representing community groups with stakes in the $198 million Measure DD bond package that was used to fund public works projects around Lake Merritt. In the case of the East 12th Street parcel, Measure DD funded a street realignment that created the property. Beautification and infrastructure improvements funded by Measure DD also included a new park and automobile and pedestrian bridges over the channel connecting Lake Merritt to the estuary.

Vann believes that the Oakland City Council violated the state Surplus Land Act and city law when it moved ahead in secret to solicit bids on the property from a pre-selected group of developers. "The city council, in its wisdom, approved an RFP process that wasn't open to the public," said Vann, referring to the private RFPs that were sent, without any public notice, to only three developers.

Jeffrey Levin of East Bay Housing Organizations told the council's Community and Economic Development Committee last week that the city broke the law. "The RFP wasn't public," said Levin, and "apparently the decision to make it a private RFP was made in closed session with no public discussion. This violates the city's own property disposition ordinance."

Oakland's property disposition ordinance does allow for the sale of public property without competitive public bidding, and for public land to be used for projects other than affordable housing, but the law states that in order to do this, the city council must make a finding or determination that these requirements are "impractical, unavailing, or impossible," or somehow not in the best interest of the city. This finding or determination must be passed as a resolution or ordinance by the council.

"There were no findings in the resolution approving the ENA in July 2013. There are no findings in the ordinance that's before you today," Levin told members of the council's Community and Economic Development committee earlier this month, referring to the city's exclusive negotiating agreement (ENA) with Urban Core.

Representatives of the Oakland City Attorney's Office did not respond to a request for comment, regarding the legality of the proposed land sale.

In several reports to the planning commission, Redevelopment Program Manager Patrick Lane said the city rushed the private RFP process in order to approve a project before the state killed redevelopment in 2012. The project then continued on a fast and stealthy track until a few months ago.

Levin worries that the city council and planning commission are setting a bad precedent that could harm Oakland's ability to build affordable housing. "There are a lot of other issues regarding public land coming down the pike. For example, the Coliseum City project, most of that is public land owned by the city, the county, or the port," Levin said in an interview. "They're all covered by the surplus lands statute.

"We don't want screw ups on this project to become precedent for why they don't follow the law on future city-owned parcels," Levin continued.
by Darwin BondGraham, EBX
Saturday May 9th, 2015 12:54 PM
UrbanCore, its lobbyists, and architect donated more than $3,000 to Oakland political candidates while negotiating to buy public land by Lake Merritt — in apparent violation of city law.


UrbanCore CEO Michael Johnson's proposal to build a luxury apartment tower on city-owned land near Lake Merritt has run up against fierce opposition from neighbors and affordable housing advocates during the past few months. Opponents of the project have packed recent planning commission and city council meetings and implored officials to require that affordable housing be included in the project. Last week, several dozen protesters, who said the sale of public land for luxury apartments will worsen Oakland's affordable housing crisis, even blocked the intersection of East 12th Street and Lake Merritt Boulevard for an hour, holding aloft banners that read "Public Land for Public Good" and "No to Displacement."

UrbanCore's plans also face potential legal problems. As we reported last week ("Oakland Apartment Tower Deal May Be Illegal," 4/22), the city's process for selling the publicly owned land at East 12th Street to Johnson appears to be unlawful under the state Surplus Land Act and similar city laws. Earlier this month, at the city council's Community and Economic Development Committee meeting, Councilmember Abel Guillen threw another wrench into the deal's gears. Guillen recommended to the committee members that the city conduct an updated appraisal of the parcel, based on his suspicion that the land is worth as much as 25 percent more than the $5.1 million the city is asking.

Yet despite of all these obstacles, most members of the council appear to support the land sale, and have shrugged off the community unrest and possible legal issues. Councilmembers Larry Reid and Lynette Gibson McElhaney shot down Guillen's recommendation for an updated appraisal, arguing that the city cannot risk scaring other developers away from future deals with the city. The full council is scheduled to vote on the land sale to UrbanCore on May 5, the final step to approve the project.

But there's at least one more problem with the city's plan to sell the parcel to UrbanCore. According to public records, UrbanCore's executives, the company's lobbyists, and the architect partnering with UrbanCore on the project have all made what appear to have been illegal campaign contributions to Mayor Libby Schaaf, members of the city council, and candidates who ran for mayor and for seats on the city council in the last election.

The Oakland Campaign Reform Act is designed to prevent city contractors from funding the campaigns of politicians who are in a position to award them lucrative contracts. The law bars any city contractor from making a contribution to any candidate or officeholder while negotiations are underway for a contract, and up to 180 days after the completion of any negotiations.

On December 20, 2012, the city issued a private request for proposals to three developers, including UrbanCore, for sale of the East 12th Street parcel. UrbanCore submitted a bid on December 21, 2012, according to planning commission reports. Then on February 2, 2013, UrbanCore submitted a development proposal to the city that called for a year-long term of exclusive negotiations, during which the city would appraise the land and work with UrbanCore to refine its project design. After the city entered into the negotiating agreement with Urban Core, the City Administrator's Office extended the pact in July 2014 for another six months. It expired in January of this year. UrbanCore is now seeking a disposition and development agreement with the city — the final contract it needs to purchase the land.

Over this same period of time, members of UrbanCore's project team, and the company's lobbyists, and its architect, have been making cash contributions to candidates for city office. On June 20, 2013 — after UrbanCore bid on the 12th Street property and before submitting its development proposal to the city — UrbanCore co-founder Theo Oliphant (a former city staffer) made a $700 contribution to candidate Bryan Parker's mayoral campaign. Ten days after Oliphant's contribution, Michael Pyatok, UrbanCore's architect for the tower, gave then Mayor Jean Quan $200 for her reelection committee.

Between July 2, 2013 and January 2, 2015 — the entire eighteen-month period of exclusive negotiating agreement between the city and UrbanCore — the company's executives and lobbyists made at least eleven campaign contributions to Oakland politicians, public records show.

UrbanCore's CEO Michael Johnson gave Schaaf $100 on July 27, 2014 — on the same day that he gave Quan's reelection campaign $250. On October 18, Johnson contributed $100 to Councilmember Rebecca Kaplan's mayoral campaign committee. Four days later, he donated $100 to Kevin Blackburn, a candidate for Oakland City Council District Two. The 12th Street parcel is located within District Two. Blackburn lost the race to Guillen, and while Guillen is generally supportive of the project, he has asked that UrbanCore provide greater community benefits in return for acquiring the city land and building luxury housing on it.

UrbanCore's lobbyist Merlin Edwards gave $1,250 to Oakland political candidates during the exclusive negotiating period between the city and UrbanCore. This included a $100 contribution to Kaplan's mayoral campaign committee, and a $700 check to Kevin Blackburn's run for city council. Edwards has been a registered lobbyist for UrbanCore since 2012. Edwards is also a lobbyist for Lynn Truong, owner of the Sun Hop Fat Market on East 12th Street. Truong also owns several million dollars worth of real estate within blocks of the East 12th Street parcel, and with the help of Edwards and Michael Johnson of UrbanCore, was responsible for bussing a group of elderly Asian-Americans to a planning commission meeting on April 1 (see "Tricking Immigrant Seniors," 4/8). Some of the seniors, who don't speak English, were under the mistaken impression that UrbanCore's project would include affordable senior housing.

When asked whether the UrbanCore team's contributions violated the city's campaign contributions law, representatives of the City Administrator's Office of Contracts and Compliance declined to comment, referring me instead to the Oakland Public Ethics Commission (PEC). The PEC by policy does not comment on potential violations of Oakland's ethics rules unless a complaint is filed. Representatives of the City Attorney's Office did not respond to a request for information regarding Oakland's campaign contribution limits and the timing of contributions made by the UrbanCore team.

Ralph Kanz, former chair of the Oakland Public Ethics Commission, said city laws restricting campaign contributions are weak and riddled with technicalities that allow both politicians and contractors to violate the spirit of the law. The law needs updating and more rigorous enforcement, he said. "Contractors are required to sign a form and file with the clerk's office acknowledging that they're barred from making contributions while seeking a contract with the city," said Kanz. "But right now it's a bunch of papers in a file cabinet in the clerk's office, and it doesn't do any good in terms of letting the public know any of this is happening."

It's also unclear if Oakland's rules bar contributions from lobbyists who work for contractors seeking city contracts. According to city law, no "individual, proprietorship, firm, partnership, joint venture, syndicate, business, trust, company, corporation, association, committee, and any other organization or group of persons acting in concert," may make a contribution while seeking a city contract, and up to 180 days afterward. Lobbyists may not fall under this definition, however.

The city's director of contracts and compliance Deborah Barnes provided the Express with a copy of Michael Johnson's signed Schedule O form, acknowledging that he is barred from making political contributions while in negotiations with the city for the East 12th Street parcel. Johnson signed the form on September 24, 2013, listing as his business UrbanCore-Integral, LLC. This LLC, however, is no longer vying to purchase the city-owned land, because Johnson's business partner, Integral Development, LLC, and Atlanta-based company, pulled out of the project last year.

After I asked Schaaf's office for comment on Johnson's donation last year to her mayoral committee, Erica Derryck, spokesperson for Schaaf, said, "Now that this has been brought to our attention, the contribution was returned, along with a reminder to the donor of his responsibility to follow the relevant regulations." Kaplan's office did not respond to multiple emails and phone calls requesting comment.

In addition to campaign contributions, business and personal ties also link some Oakland officials to UrbanCore and its lobbyists. The nonprofit organization — East Bay Neighborhood Housing Services — run by Oakland City Council President Gibson McElhaney went into business with EM Johnson Interests, Inc., a firm owned by UrbanCore's Michael Johnson in the mid-2000s to develop housing in Richmond. The venture built 82 homes in the East Hill-Cortez development, 65 of which were sold at market rate.

When she ran for council in 2012, Gibson McElhaney received help from UrbanCore lobbyists Merlin Edwards and Ronnie Turner. In an August 24, 2012 Facebook post about her campaign "kick off" event, Gibson McElhaney called Turner her "dear friend," and credited him with "stepping up early to not only encourage me to believe that I could make this run." In the same post, Gibson McElhaney called Edwards her "mentor," and thanked the UrbanCore lobbyist for "helping me understand my hometown from the inside out and for your steadfast guidance." Edwards was a host of Gibson McElhaney's November 2012 victory celebration, and helped her raise funds toward a $55,000 goal. The money was intended to help Gibson McElhaney pay off her personal debt to her campaign committee, according to the councilmember's Facebook post.

Gibson McElhaney did not respond to a request for comment.
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