Activists Push for More Affordable Housing in Coliseum Area Plan


Coliseum City.
  • Coliseum City.
The Oakland City Council added new protections for existing businesses and a “preliminary” list of community benefits, then unanimously approved a massive East Oakland development plan on Tuesday night. The Coliseum Area Specific Plan aims to create a vibrant district of sports facilities, hotels, retail, housing, a transportation hub, and a technology business center in an area stretching from the Coliseum to the airport.

The Oakland Works Alliance, which has long advocated for more good jobs for Oakland residents, had been concerned about one element of the plan adopted by the Planning Commission in early March: a housing development on the bay shore at the edge of the Airport Business Park. Oakland Works members feared that allowing housing in the area would raise property values so high that businesses would either sell their land or be forced out by rising rents. Kitty Kelly Epstein, of the Oakland Works Alliance, pointed out that city policy bars the rezoning of industrial land for other purposes. That policy, adopted in 2008, aimed to preserve the city’s supply of blue-collar jobs.

In response to these concerns, which local businessman Robert Hamilton said are shared by business owners in the Airport Business Park, the city council removed the plan for housing in that area. Councilmember Rebecca Kaplan said she had received assurances that the development team currently negotiating with the city “is okay with this change.”

Last Friday, when the city council extended its negotiating agreement with New City Development, it also attached a list of community-benefits “categories that will guide the negotiations.” These included many of the proposals made by a broad coalition of unions and community organizations, such as affordable housing, local hiring and training for jobs, and retention of current workers, in addition to provisions for other community, environmental, and transportation improvements.

The specifics, the council noted, will be “subject to negotiations between the parties with input from organized labor, community organizations, housing organizations environmental organizations, and other stakeholders.” Many speakers at the meeting Tuesday agreed with Sierra Club staffer Jess Dervin-Ackerman when she said the city council should “add a strong community oversight component to the list of community benefits.” Ronald Muhammed of West Oakland commented that the “community benefits in the plan are worth nothing unless you have somebody to enforce it.”

At the city council meeting, community residents and organizations also continued to advocate for increasing the amount of affordable housing called for in the plan. “We need more affordable housing for low-income working class folks, said Redana Johnson of Causa Justa/Just Cause. “Fifteen percent is not enough.”

This planning area has a “key asset that differentiates it from others,” said David Zisser of Public Advocates. Much of the land near the Coliseum is publicly owned, and the coalition wants the city to “prioritize public land for affordable housing and other public benefits.” City officials often respond to demands for affordable housing by pointing to the statewide shortage of affordable-housing funds. Coalition members say publicly owned land could be used to lower the cost of affordable-housing development.

But Councilmember Larry Reid, who represents the area around the Coliseum, responded that his district already has more affordable housing than other parts of the city and that more affordable housing should not be concentrated there. Reid blocked a move by fellow council member Dan Kalb to change the planned rezoning of two parcels of land on San Leandro Street. Kalb wanted to keep the current zoning in order to give the city more leverage in negotiating with future developers to provide community benefits such as affordable housing.

Several councilmembers, however, affirmed the need for more affordable housing and pointed to the city’s current effort to develop an “impact fee” to be paid by future developers of residential buildings. That fee is intended to provide funds for affordable housing and other community benefits. Councilmembers signaled their intent to make sure developments within the Coliseum planning area will subject to the impact fee when it’s adopted, probably in early 2016.