Town Business: $600 million for Streets; $50 Million for Housing; Gunshot Detection; and Impact Fees


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  • City of Oakland
This week, the Oakland City Council is scheduled to hold hearings on a massive infrastructure bond that would raise hundreds of millions to fix Oakland’s streets, sewers, parks, and even to rehabilitate housing. The council will also consider extending a contract with a technology firm that has installed a sprawling gunshot detection system around the city. And housing impact fees are back before the council. This time, city staffers are presenting a detailed plan and ordinance.

Infrastructure Bond: Oakland is hella big. The Town has 806 miles of paved streets, 1,000 miles of sidewalks, a 929-mile labyrinth of sewers, and 304 public buildings. And for years, the city hasn’t had enough cash to properly maintain all of this public infrastructure. In fact, there’s a $2.5 billion cost to the city’s deferred maintenance — the patching and paving we haven’t done. Crumbling public infrastructure imposes costs on the city too: In an average year, Oakland pays out $2.5 million to settle trip-and-fall lawsuits filed by people injured from dangerous roads and sidewalks, according to the Public Works Department. So Oakland is considering an infrastructure bond to fix some problems. At Tuesday’s Finance and Management and Public Works committee meetings, staffers will present a plan to issue $600 million in bonds: $400 million would go toward fixing roads, sidewalks, and bike paths. Another $150 million would be used to improve city buildings like libraries and fire stations. And $50 million would be used to fund acquisition and rehabilitation of affordable housing.

An infrastructure bond would have to be approved by voters in the November election. But the city already commissioned a poll to see if voters are willing to pass a bond, and the initial results indicate that Oaklanders are willing to tax themselves to spruce up The Town.

Map of gunshots detected by Shotspotter in Oakland during 2015. - SHOTSPOTTER/CITY OF OAKLAND
  • Shotspotter/City of Oakland
  • Map of gunshots detected by Shotspotter in Oakland during 2015.
Shotspotter: At Tuesday’s Public Safety Committee meeting, city councilmembers will consider entering into a four-year $1.9 million contract to consolidate a gunshot detection system that covers about 25 percent of Oakland’s geographic area. The system is called Shotspotter. It’s composed of microphones mounted on streetlamps and utility poles that record the sounds of gunshots, and then alerts police to the location of gunfire. According to Shotspotter and Oakland police, the system can pinpoint the location of a gunshot, and even tell if multiple shooters are firing different weapons. Oakland police has used Shotspotter since 2006. Last year, Shotspotter recorded 3,646 gunshots in Oakland.

Proposed impact fee areas. - CITY OF OAKLAND
  • City of Oakland
  • Proposed impact fee areas.
Impact Fee Adoption: In order to raise money for affordable housing, city staffers have drafted a detailed proposal for impact fees on new development in Oakland. The proposal will be presented at Tuesday’s Community and Economic Development Committee. It would create three different geographic zones that would cover specific parts of the city. Each zone would impose different fee levels on new housing development within its boundaries. But the zones wouldn’t be contiguous; rather, they would carve up the city into big swaths and little islands creating a complicated patchwork.

Making matters more confusing, the fee levels would also depend on the type of housing a developer is building, with the fee on single-family homes being higher than on multi-family apartments. Finally, the fees would be phased in between now and 2020, with fee levels in each of the three geographic zones, and for each different type of housing, increasing by different amounts each year.

Under the staff proposal, there would also be an onsite affordable housing option for developers who don’t want to pay the fees. Under the city’s proposal, a developer who sets aside 5 percent of the units in a development for very low-income renters would not have to pay the affordable housing impact fee. If the developer chooses to include units that are priced for low- and moderate-income renters, they would need to set aside 10 percent to avoid paying the housing impact fee.

Many affordable housing advocates think that the city’s housing impact fee plan sets fee levels too low, phases them in too slowly, and that the onsite option requires developers to build too few affordable units in exchange for not having to pay impact fees. For example, East Bay Housing Organizations, an advocacy group that represents affordable housing groups, presented the city with an onsite option that would require developers to ensure 22 percent of their building’s units are priced for very low- and low-income tenants.