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Brooklyn Basin on a Fast Track, Largest Residential Development in City’s History

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Media, labor groups and civic leaders were almost breathless with enthusiasm in their praise for the Brooklyn Basin development, 3,100 units of mostly market rate housing that broke ground this spring on the waterfront from Oak to 9th streets near downtown Oakland.

Investors and others gathered for the groundbreaking in March as Oakland Mayor Jean Quan hailed the project, the largest residential development in Oakland history, not just as a milestone for the developers but for the whole city.

“Our history and future is on the waterfront,” Quan said to the 200 people who showed up for the event on the strip of land between the estuary and Highway 880.

However, some of the coalition of community groups that opposed the development when it was approved by the City Council in 2006 still consider the Brooklyn Basin to be one of the worst real estate deals ever agreed to by the city and contend that it may rank among the worst in the country.

The developers behind Brooklyn Basin include Signature Development Group and Zarsion Holdings Group Ltd., a Chinese investor that bought the property from Signature and committed $1.5 billion to build out the project.

Visiting Oakland, Weixun Shan, chairman of Zarsion Holdings, said he wants to complete the 3,100-unit housing development within three to four years. Originally, the development was to be built over a six-to-eight year period.

About 1,200 units of housing will be built as part of phase one of the project, according to Shan, who hopes to start the second phase before the first units become available sometime in 2015.

Opposing the project led by Mike Ghielmetti and his Signature Development Group was a community coalition, the Oak-to-Ninth Referendum Committee.

“Over a period of a couple of years, we were engaged in three lawsuits and lobbied unsuccessfully to try to get the City Council to demand a better deal for the city and to reject some of the onerous parts of the development agreement,” said James Vann, Oakland architect and housing rights activist who was on the steering committee of the coalition.

The project is creating a whole new neighborhood for 5,000 residents, without regard for the need for a school or access for all the new car traffic coming into the area, Vann said.

When the City Council approved the project without making changes that some coalition members felt were necessary for the public good, they circulated a petition, gathering more than 25,000 signatures in less than six weeks, more than enough to qualify for the ballot. But the petition was challenged by the developer’s attorney and disqualified on a technicality.

“This was one of the worst deals the city has ever been involved in,” said Vann. The city sold the 64-acres of valuable shoreline property to Ghielmetti for $18 million, way below market value, he said.

“The developer would be responsible for toxic cleanup, so he would not pay market value for the property,” said Vann

At the same time, the city agreed to buy back two parcels of land after the cleanup, totaling 4.5 acres, from the developer for the affordable housing for a cost of $29 million, almost two-thirds more than Ghielmetti paid for the entire property.

Under state law at the time, 15 percent of the 3,100 units or 478 units would have to be affordable housing.

The terms of the deal required the city to build the affordable units at a cost of $60-80 million, not the developer. If the city cannot come up with the money, the developer has agreed to repurchase the property.

But because state redevelopment law has changed, it is unclear at this time whether state law still requires any affordable housing to be built, said Vann.

The two parcels earmarked for affordable housing are built farthest from the estuary and next to the freeway. To protect those who live in these units from freeway noise and air pollution from nearby Highway 880, sound walls will be built and the units’ windows facing the freeway will be unopenable.

In addition there is an agreement to 25 percent local hire of apprentice construction workers. “Some groups worked on this as part of community benefits, but it is not clear whether many people will be able to take advantage of the apprenticeship training,” said Vann.

After the project was approved in 2006, Ghielmetti did not have the funding to build the project, and it languished until public officials found Zarsion Holdings in China.

Seeking to speak with supporters familiar with the community benefits agreement, the Post called Mayor Jean Quan, the City Administrator’s Office and Signature Properties. None of them returned calls.

In addition to housing, mostly condominiums, Brooklyn Basin is slated to include 200,000 square feet of commercial space and more than 30 acres of parks and open space, as well as segments of the Bay trail.

Andy Nelson, who in 2006 served on the staff of Urban Strategies Council, was part of a coalition of several nonprofits that worked on community benefits.

The agreement “includes two separate deals that create community benefit for Oakland residents and folks in nearby neighborhoods, for affordable housing and job training and placement,” he said.

Under the agreement, the developer will pay $1.65 million to training 300 local residents for entry-level construction jobs, Nelson said. The development will have to pay damages if he does not honor the agreement.

In 2006, “even the strongest affordable housing advocates on the City Council were not pushing the developer to make any contributions to affordable housing,” said Nelson. In that context, his coalition was able to win a commitment for the city to create affordable housing, which would go to residents of Chinatown and the San Antonio District, he said

He said the housing agreement would be defended in court if necessary, and if the city’s 3.5 acre parcels are sold for between $20-30 million, at least some affordable housing can be built at sites around the city.

“Unfortunately, at present all that is certain is that 3,100 high cost condominiums will be built on the last large parcel of Oakland land; the construction of 468 units of critically needed affordable housing is only a pipe dream,” said Vann.

 

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Bay Area

Jamie Scardina Appointed Marin County Sheriff

Scardina was elected as Sheriff in the June primary election, running unopposed, and was to be sworn in when Doyle’s term ended Jan. 2, 2023. However, Doyle retired June 30 after more than 52 years of public safety service to Marin, and Scardina became acting Sheriff. The board’s action July 19 covers the time until Jan. 2.

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As Sheriff, Scardina will lead a department of 311 full time staff and oversee a $77,735,000 operating budget.
As Sheriff, Scardina will lead a department of 311 full time staff and oversee a $77,735,000 operating budget.

Courtesy of Marin County

Acting Marin County Sheriff Jamie Scardina had the “acting” taken off his title July 19 when the Marin County Board of Supervisors appointed him to the position, becoming the 22nd sheriff in county history. Scardina, a Marin native and 23-year veteran of the Sheriff’s Office, replaces the retired Robert Doyle. Scardina took the oath of office, administered by Doyle, at a public swearing-in ceremony on July 28.

Scardina was elected as Sheriff in the June primary election, running unopposed, and was to be sworn in when Doyle’s term ended Jan. 2, 2023. However, Doyle retired June 30 after more than 52 years of public safety service to Marin, and Scardina became acting Sheriff. The board’s action July 19 covers the time until Jan. 2.

Scardina grew up in Corte Madera and attended Marin Catholic High School and College of Marin. He earned a bachelor’s degree in sociology with an emphasis in criminology from the University of Montana. After starting his law enforcement career as a Tiburon police officer, Scardina joined the Sheriff’s Office in 2000 and gradually was assigned more responsibilities as he was promoted from deputy to sergeant to lieutenant to captain. Scardina replaced the retired Mike Ridgway as Undersheriff in 2018.

Scardina is only Marin’s third Sheriff since 1983. He thanked Doyle for giving him a “tremendous amount of autonomy” during the past four years as he served as Undersheriff. He pledged to listen to concerns and make decisions together with resident involvement.

“This is not an appointment I take lightly or for granted,” Scardina said at the July 19 Supervisors meeting. “I know it comes with a tremendous amount of responsibility. … This is something I’m looking forward to, working with staff and working with the community. I know there are a lot of people in the community who want to talk, and we’re looking forward to having those conversations.”

As Sheriff, Scardina will lead a department of 311 full time staff and oversee a $77,735,000 operating budget. His annual salary will be $251,825.60 and benefits will be consistent with those received by other department heads.

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Activism

Marin County Offers Booklet to Parents to Prevent Preteen Substance Abuse

Each middle school teen is different and there is no single right way to address their changes, experiences, and their transition to middle school. But the book endeavors to help parents more objectively understand and support their children.

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Top: Mother and daughter talking (From care.com). Bottom: English and Spanish covers of the booklet “Let’s Start Talking.” Go to letstalkmarin.org for more information, downloadable digital booklets, and video recordings of recent “Let’s Talk” community discussions.
Top: Mother and daughter talking (From care.com). Bottom: English and Spanish covers of the booklet “Let’s Start Talking.” Go to letstalkmarin.org for more information, downloadable digital booklets, and video recordings of recent “Let’s Talk” community discussions.

By Godfrey Lee

Marin County District Attorney Lori E. Frugoli recently distributed an informational booklet “Let’s Start Talking – A Parent’s Toolkit for Understanding Substance Use in Marin County Through the Middle School Years” at the San Rafael Elks Lodge 1108 on Tuesday, July 19.

The toolkit booklet was created with support from the Marin Prevention Network and the Marin County Office of Education. The booklet was also translated and published in Spanish under the title “Hablemos.”

The booklet begins by saying that although drug usage among 7th graders remains low, their substance abuse can increase as they grow older. Parents and caregivers can still lay the foundations to support preteens/teens as they grow and help prevent negative consequence from substances use. This involves knowing the facts, communicate openly, and focus on relationships and resilience.

Each middle school teen is different and there is no single right way to address their changes, experiences, and their transition to middle school. But the book endeavors to help parents more objectively understand and support their children.

The major life experience for middle schoolers is the start of puberty, where their bodies, brains, and social environments rapidly and dramatically change, along with their hormones levels and emotions. The booklet says, don’t joke about or dismiss the child’s puberty process as being unimportant.

Parents are still in charge and should also teach and model healthy coping skills. Accept the child even while they are investigating their own identities and their attraction to the other or their own sex.

Their adolescent brain is not fully developed until about the age 25, and they are still growing in its management of reasoning, decision-making, planning, and impulse control. Their peers become more important, their circle of friends may change, and need to become more independent from their parents.

All teens face a lot of risks. Social media gives a lot of unfiltered information that can be disturbing. Other risk factors include mental health issues, attention deficit disorders, trauma, bullying, family substance and drugs abuse, the family rejection of their same-sex identity and thoughts of suicide.

Teens can still be protected with parental monitoring and involvement, a positive self-image, community and school norms and behavioral expectations, positive coping and self-regulation skills, positive and healthy peer relationships, school and community connections, and a sense of belonging to a healthy group.

Peer pressure and social norms are powerful during the middle school age, and the child’s social relationships can tip the scale toward risk or protection. Parents or caretakers can still meet and know the child’s friends and their parents, and also ask questions concerning the safety of their children. Parents can also spend time with their teens to stretch their minds and find opportunities for their teens to meet and work together with other youths with similar interest in groups and clubs.

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Bay Area

Sir Francis Drake Boulevard Lighting Update to Begin

Overseen by the Marin County Department of Public Works (DPW), the lighting update project will address street lighting that was installed during the Upgrade the Drake project, completed in November 2021, replacing a selection of lighting poles with shorter, decorative poles, and dimmer fixtures.

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The street light revisions are being funded by the remaining budget of the Upgrade the Drake project and the Marin County Street Light Fund. To further offset the cost, DPW will explore resell opportunities for the currently installed street light poles, which are a standard pole design used across California.
The street light revisions are being funded by the remaining budget of the Upgrade the Drake project and the Marin County Street Light Fund. To further offset the cost, DPW will explore resell opportunities for the currently installed street light poles, which are a standard pole design used across California.

Courtesy of Marin County

Work will begin the first week of August to revise street lighting on the median islands along one mile of Sir Francis Drake Boulevard, between Manor Road in Kentfield and Eliseo Drive in Greenbrae.

Overseen by the Marin County Department of Public Works (DPW), the lighting update project will address street lighting that was installed during the Upgrade the Drake project, completed in November 2021, replacing a selection of lighting poles with shorter, decorative poles, and dimmer fixtures.

The work starting next week will be the first phase of the project and will focus on structural foundations and wiring connections. This phase is expected to take about one month to complete, finishing in time to avoid the influx in traffic expected when the school year starts in late August.

Traffic impacts are expected to be minimal. A 500-foot stretch of one eastbound lane on Drake Boulevard will be closed for the duration of phase one. Traffic is expected to flow normally through the other two lanes. However, during the first week of August, there will be an additional lane closure of a westbound lane for two days to ensure crew safety during some initial work on several poles. The lane closures may cause traffic delays during peak commute hours.

The second phase is expected to begin sometime in the fall. A selection of existing street light poles will be removed and replaced with shorter, decorative light poles. In April 2022, the Marin County Board of Supervisors approved the purchase of the new light poles, costing an estimated $300,000. The poles require significant manufacturing lead time, taking approximately six months to be fabricated and delivered. DPW expects the new poles to be available in October.

 In response to community concerns regarding lighting enhancements implemented during the Upgrade the Drake project, the street lighting project is intended to reduce light dispersal on adjacent properties, decrease light intensity, and improve aesthetics while still maintaining the lighting uniformity levels necessary for public safety. The shorter, decorative poles with dimmer fixtures will require closer spacing to achieve sufficient light levels on the roadway, resulting in a net increase in total lights. Statistically, uniform nighttime street lighting improves safety for all modes of transportation.

In January 2022, DPW replaced lighting fixtures at intersections and added backshields to help block light dispersal outside of the roadway and sidewalks. In June, the County replaced all remaining light fixtures on existing poles throughout the 2.2-mile corridor from the Town of Ross to Highway 101, as well as adding more backshields where necessary. The dimmer fixtures have a brightness of 5,000 to 8,000 lumens, depending on the needs of each location. For comparison, the removed fixtures had a brightness of 12,000 lumens.

The street light revisions are being funded by the remaining budget of the Upgrade the Drake project and the Marin County Street Light Fund. To further offset the cost, DPW will explore resell opportunities for the currently installed street light poles, which are a standard pole design used across California.

Learn more about the lighting project, as well as the separate landscaping improvements along Drake Boulevard and all the other various DPW projects, by visiting DPW’s projects webpage.

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