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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.

 

Activism

Democrats in Sacramento Take Steps to Make Voting Easier

Recently, in some states, most notoriously Georgia and Florida, lawmakers have taken steps to restrict voting access and rights for many Americans. But in California, policymakers and legislators are doing the opposite, making proposals to simplify the voting process and expand access to the polls. 

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The electoral process is foundational to the durability of America’s democratic structure.

And as the battle for fairer voting laws rages on, politicians and activists on the political Right claim they are responding to allegations of widespread voter and election fraud. Those on the Left say they are rallying to fight a coordinated political offensive to restrict access to the polls and increasing reports of voter suppression.

Recently, in some states, most notoriously Georgia and Florida, lawmakers have taken steps to restrict voting access and rights for many Americans. 

But in California, policymakers and legislators are doing the opposite, making proposals to simplify the voting process and expand access to the polls. 

Invoking the violent history of voter suppression in the South that her parents endured, which sometimes involved murders — California Secretary of State Shirley Weber says it is a priority of hers to “ensure the right to vote.” 

“I tell people all the time that no number is good unless it’s 100% in terms of voter participation,” Weber told the Public Policy Institute of California. “Why didn’t 5 million go to the polls? We need to figure out where they are and what stopped them from going.”

In the California Legislature, an amendment to Senate Bill (SB) 29, which passed earlier this year, was one bill in a broader legislative effort to secure the right to vote in vulnerable communities.

Before that amendment passed, California law dictated that a ballot would be mailed to all eligible voters for the November 3 statewide general election in 2020 as well as use a Secretary of State vote-by-mail tracking system to ensure votes are counted. 

SB 29, which the governor signed into law in February, extended those requirements to any election “proclaimed or conducted” prior to Jan. 1, 2022.

A record number of voters participated in California elections in 2020. Some political observers attribute that spike to the vote-by-mail system instituted last year.

“To maintain a healthy democracy in California, it is important to encourage eligible voters to vote and to ensure that residents of the state have the tools needed to participate in every election,” the bill reads.

Senate Bill (SB) 583, introduced by California State Sen. Josh Newman (D-Fullerton), would require the Secretary of State to register or preregister eligible citizens to vote upon retrieving the necessary paperwork from the Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV).

Citizens who do not wish to be registered can opt-out of the process altogether.

Newman stressed the importance of access and simplifying the voter registration process. 

“In our state there are an estimated 4.6 million U.S. citizens who are eligible to vote who have not yet registered,” Newman said. “Our obligation as the people’s elected representatives is to make the process simpler and more accessible for them.”

On April 27, the Senate Transportation Committee passed SB 583 with a 13 to 3 vote. The Appropriations Committee has set a hearing for May 10. 

Senate Bill (SB) 503, introduced by Sen. Josh Becker (D-Menlo Park), proposes that if a signature shares enough characteristics with a previous signature from the same voter, then it would be recognized as official on voting paperwork.

Current law dictates that a signature has to match exactly for it to be considered valid.

Disability Rights California (DRC), a non-profit advocacy organization that advances and protects the rights of Californians living with disabilities, has come out in support of SB 503.

“Studies have shown that signature matches disproportionately impact voters with disabilities,” Eric Harris, director of public policy for the DRC wrote in a letter. 

“Voters with disabilities, including seniors, are more likely to vote by mail and would have to sign their name on their ballots,” Harris argued. “A voter’s signature changes over time and for people with disabilities, a signature can change nearly every other time one is written. Some people with disabilities might have conditions that make it difficult to sign your name the same way multiple times.”

For now, the Senate Appropriations Committee has tabled SB 503, placing the bill in what the Legislature calls a “suspense file,” where it awaits further action by lawmakers. 

At the federal level, lawmakers have introduced two bills in the U.S. Congress to expand voting rights, the For The People Act of 2021 and the John L. Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act.

The For The People Act, or H.R.1, proposes a three-pronged approach to expanding election access: Voting, campaign finance, and ethics.

Hilary Shelton, director of the NAACP’s Washington Bureau and senior vice president for Advocacy and Policy, compared the current voting rights battle to that of the Civil Rights Movement in a press conference about H.R.1 and the John L. Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act.

“If you look at some of those 1960s shots of the C.T. Vivians of the world, of the Joe Lowerys and so many others that helped lead Americans to those registration sites, you’ll see them actually literally being beaten to the ground,” Shelton said, referring to well-known Civil Rights Movement activists. 

The John L. Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act of 2021, or S.4263, would amend the Voting Rights Act of 1965 to restore the powers it lost after the Supreme Court’s 2013 ruling in Shelby v. Holder.  In that case, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that laws requiring states and local communities to first clear any changes to voting their local laws with the feds, was unlawful.  

“Well, we’ve become more sophisticated in our disenfranchisement,” Shelton continued. “We want to make sure that we stop that disenfranchisement all along the way and that’s why we’re convinced that a bill named for John Lewis and a bill that speaks for the people are bills that need to pass.”

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MAYOR LONDON BREED NOMINATES CITY ATTORNEY DENNIS HERRERA TO LEAD THE SAN FRANCISCO PUBLIC UTILITIES COMMISSION

As the new General Manager of the SFPUC, Herrera would bring decades of experience serving San Francisco residents and advancing the fight for significant environmental policies.

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San Francisco, CA — Today Mayor London N. Breed nominated City Attorney Dennis Herrera to serve as the next General Manager of the San Francisco Public Utilities Commission (SFPUC). Herrera was elected as City Attorney of San Francisco in 2001, and will bring decades of experience serving City residents and advancing environmental policies through his nationally-recognized office.
The SFPUC provides retail drinking water and wastewater services to the City of San Francisco, wholesale water to three Bay Area counties, green hydroelectric and solar power to Hetch Hetchy electricity customers, and power to the residents and businesses of San Francisco through the CleanPowerSF program.
“I am proud to nominate Dennis Herrera to serve as General Manager of the San Francisco Public Utilities Commission,” said Mayor Breed. “Dennis has been a great champion in San Francisco across a wide range of issues from civil rights to protecting our environment, and most importantly he has been someone who always puts the people of this City first. By bringing his experience in office and his commitment to public service to this new position, I am confident the SFPUC will be able to deliver the high-quality services our residents deserve while continuing to advance nationally-recognized programs like CleanPowerSF and pursue ambitious efforts like public power. Dennis is the right leader for the hard-working employees of the SFPUC and this City.”
“I will always cherish the groundbreaking work we have done in the City Attorney’s Office over these nearly 20 years,” Herrera said. “We advanced equality for all, pushed affordable housing at every turn, gave our children better opportunities to grow and thrive, and took innovative steps to protect the environment. We never shied from the hard fights. Above all, our approach to government has had an unwavering focus on equity, ethics and integrity.”
“It is that focus that drives me to this new challenge,” Herrera said. “Public service is an honor. When you see a need, you step up to serve. The test of our age is how we respond to climate change. San Francisco’s public utility needs clean, innovative and decisive leadership to meet that challenge. I am ready to take the lead in ensuring that all San Franciscans have sustainable and affordable public power, clean and reliable water, and, overall, a public utility that once again makes them proud. I want to thank Mayor Breed for this unique opportunity to stand up for ratepayers and usher in a new era of clean leadership at the top of the San Francisco Public Utilities Commission.”
The next step for the nomination is for the five-member commission that oversees the SFPUC to interview City Attorney Herrera and forward him as a formal recommendation to the Mayor. After this, and once a contract is finalized, City Attorney Herrera would be officially appointed by the Mayor and confirmed by the Commission. This process will take a number of weeks.
For nearly two decades, Herrera has been at the forefront of pivotal water, power and sewer issues. He worked to save state ratepayers $1 billion during PG&E’s first bankruptcy in the early 2000s and has been a leading advocate for San Francisco to adopt full public power for years. In 2009, he reached a key legal agreement with Mirant to permanently close the Potrero Power Plant, San Francisco’s last fossil fuel power plant. The deal also included Mirant paying $1 million to help address pediatric asthma in nearby communities. In 2017, Herrera sued the top five investor-owned fossil fuel companies in the world, including ExxonMobil and Royal Dutch Shell, seeking billions of dollars for infrastructure to protect San Francisco against sea-level rise caused by their products, including large portions of the SFPUC’s combined sewer and stormwater system.
In 2018, Herrera defeated an attempt to drain Hetch Hetchy Reservoir, the crown jewel of the SFPUC system, which provides emissions-free hydroelectric power and clean drinking water to 2.7 million Bay Area residents. He is also leading efforts before the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission and the courts to fight PG&E’s predatory tactics to grow its corporate monopoly by illegally overcharging public projects like schools, homeless shelters and affordable housing to connect to the energy grid.
Herrera was first elected City Attorney in December 2001, and went on to build what The American Lawyer magazine hailed as “one of the most aggressive and talented city law departments in the nation.”
Herrera’s office was involved in every phase of the legal war to achieve marriage equality, from early 2004 to the U.S. Supreme Court’s landmark rulings in June 2013. Herrera was also the first to challenge former President Trump’s attempts to deny federal funding to sanctuary cities. He repeatedly defeated the Trump administration in different cases as it sought to punish sanctuary cities, deny basic benefits like food stamps to legal immigrants, and discriminate in health care against women, the LGBTQ community and other vulnerable groups. He brought groundbreaking consumer protection cases against payday lenders, credit card arbitrators and others. He also brought pioneering legal cases to protect youth, including blocking an attempt to strip City College of San Francisco of its accreditation and getting e-cigarettes off San Francisco store shelves until they received required FDA approval.

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Bay Area Officials and Leaders React to the George Floyd Verdict

Almost 11 months ago, the world watched as Officer Derek Chauvin kept his knee on the back of George Floyd’s neck. He kept it there for eight minutes and 46 seconds, but it felt like an eternity. The systemic injustice from hundreds of years of racism and mistreatment of Black Americans was put into plain view on video, and the country and the world erupted in protest.

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Photo Credit: Christy Price

San Francisco Mayor London Breed, the Oakland Police Department (OPD) and the Greenlining Institute President and CEO Debra Gore-Mann issued statements in reaction to Tuesday’s triple guilty verdict in the trial of Derek Chauvin, ex-Minneapolis police officer for killing George Floyd in May, 2020.

Mayor London Breed’s statement:

“This verdict does not bring back the life of George Floyd. It can’t replace the years of his life that were robbed from him, nor the life experiences and memories that would have been made with his friends and family. What this verdict does reflect is that the tide is turning in this country, although still too slowly, toward accountability and justice.

Almost 11 months ago, the world watched as Officer Derek Chauvin kept his knee on the back of George Floyd’s neck. He kept it there for eight minutes and 46 seconds, but it felt like an eternity. The systemic injustice from hundreds of years of racism and mistreatment of Black Americans was put into plain view on video, and the country and the world erupted in protest.

While we’re now months removed from the height of those protests, the need for action is as critical as ever. This is about more than prosecuting the officer who killed George Floyd, though that is an important step. It’s about fundamentally restructuring how policing is done to move away from the use of excessive force. It’s about shifting responses to non-violent calls away from an automatic police response to something better equipped to handle the situation. It’s about reinvesting in communities in which years of systematic disinvestment has made it nearly impossible for people to thrive. It’s about changing who we are as a country.

That’s what we’re trying to do in San Francisco. Our Street Crisis Response Teams, consisting of paramedics and behavioral health specialists, are now often the first responders to non-violent 911 calls relating to mental health and substance use. 

Our Dream Keeper Initiative is redirecting $120 million to improve the lives of Black youth and their families through investments in everything from housing, to healthcare, to workforce training and guaranteed income. And our sustained, multi-year efforts to reform our police department has resulted in a 57% reduction in instances of use of force and a 45% decrease in officer-involved shootings since 2016.

While this tragedy can never be undone, what we can do is finally make real change in the name of George Floyd. Nothing we can do will bring him back, but we can do the work to prevent others from facing his fate in the future. That is the work we need to do. It’s ongoing, it’s challenging, but if we are committed, we can make a real and lasting difference in this country.”

OPD Statement 

We all must recognize that this moment is about accountability, justice, and reform. We must be compassionate, empathic, and forgiving, the Oakland Police Department declared in a statement released on Tuesday. 

All sides must unite as one community to effectively communicate. Together we will work towards rethinking policing in America. 

In unity, we will move towards finding solutions for the safety of all people, notwithstanding your age, race, religion, gender, ethnicity, sexual orientation, or disability. 

We stand as one community grieving and healing as we move towards finding real solutions to effect change as we seek to strengthen police and community relations. 

We extend our deepest condolences to George Floyd’s family and all communities. 

Greenlining Institute President and CEO Debra Gore-Mann:

“Today, we experienced a small measure of justice as Derek Chauvin was convicted and the killing of George Floyd was recognized as the criminal act it was. But we shouldn’t fool ourselves into thinking that one conviction of one cop for a killing the whole world witnessed on video will change a fundamentally racist and dysfunctional system. The whole law enforcement system must be rethought and rebuilt from the ground up so that there are no more George Floyds, Daunte Wrights and Adam Toledos. But even that is just a start.

“Policing doesn’t operate in a vacuum. Systemic racism exists in policing because systemic racism exists in America. We must fundamentally uproot the disease of racism in our society and create a transformative path forward.” 

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