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City Government

Councilmembers Favor $3,000 a Month Apartment Tower Project, Opposed by East Lake Neighbors

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The City Council’s Community and Economic Development (CED) committee voted unanimously this week to approve the sale of public land on East 12th Street across the roadway from Lake Merritt to a development company that wants to build a 24-story, 298-unit luxury apartment tower with rents that will go for about $3,000 a month.

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Emphasizing the need for market rate as well as affordable housing and throwing in a number of community benefits, Councilmembers Rebecca Kaplan, Larry Reid, Lynette Gibson McElhaney and Annie Campbell Washington approved the project and forwarded it to the full council for a decision.

 

Also speaking at the meeting was Councilmember Abel Guillen, who backed the project, explaining that he was working with the developer to add more community benefits.

 

Guillen also urged councilmembers to seek a new appraisal, saying that the city’s $5.1 million asking price seemed to be too low. Committee members rejected the proposal for a new appraisal, saying they felt the city had more or less made a commitment on price to developer Michael Johnson and his company, Urban Core Development.

 

Those opposed to the project include a neighborhood group called East Lake United for Justice, local residents who are urging the city to reject the sale of the parcel. They do not oppose market-rate housing, but they say it should be built on private land and not by selling a piece of land that was created by a public project at the public’s expense.

 

“If the city is going to build on public land (created) with taxpayer dollars, we need it to go for affordable housing. (This is) not the kind of project we need here in Oakland,” said Michael Flynn of East Lake United for Justice.

 

“We don’t believe that building market rate housing is going to stabilize the housing situation,” he said. Instead, “it’s going to drive people out (of the city).”

 

Adding urgency to the issues raised by residents is the example of San Francisco where the torrent of market rate construction has not led to more affordable housing but instead to the almost complete elimination of the African American population and now seems to be leading to pushing out Latino residents of the Mission District.

 

Guillen told his fellow council members that the city has to consider all the housing needs, “not just those of the very poor or the very rich.”

 

“We have to look at the big picture – new comers end up competing with long time residents for existing housing,” he said. “Building market rate housing will end up easing not exacerbating” rents for existing lower cost rental units.

 

“I do have concerns about the $5.1 million appraisal,” Guillen continued. “It appears the land value should be about 25 percent higher at a minimum, an additional one million dollars or so to the city.”

 

He said he has worked with Urban Core to provide $300,000 in community benefits, including maintenance and other improvements to the Lake Merritt area and Children’s Fairyland.

 

“We have moved forward to create an iconically designed project for this city. We have found a capital partner. We have worked with (Councilmember) Guillen to expand the community benefits for the project,” said Johnson of Urban Core.

 

Councilmembers said they wanted to use 25 percent of the selling price to build affordable housing and another 25 percent to maintain the newly upgraded Lake Merritt area, which has lost most of its gardening and maintenance staff and is in danger of deteriorating.

 

A number of speakers in favor of the project emphasized that there is a great unmet need for market-rate housing in Oakland. Several speakers also stressed that developers and investors around the country are closely monitoring this project to see whether city officials are serious about promoting development.

The issue is scheduled to go to the City Council on Tuesday, May 5.

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Oakland Post: Week of July 10 – 16, 2024

The printed Weekly Edition of the Oakland Post: Week of July 10 – 16, 2024

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To enlarge your view of this issue, use the slider, magnifying glass icon or full page icon in the lower right corner of the browser window.

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Bay Area

Opinion: A Strange Tale of Two Political Fights: Sheng Thao and Donald Trump

Oakland Mayor Sheng Thao must be wondering how can a convicted felon with 34 guilty verdicts be riding high, while she, an uncharged elected official, fights for her political life? That’s how strange politics is in America today.

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Oakland Mayor Sheng Thao and Presidential Candidate Donald Trump.
Oakland Mayor Sheng Thao and Presidential Candidate Donald Trump.

By Emil Guillermo

Oakland Mayor Sheng Thao must be wondering how can a convicted felon with 34 guilty verdicts be riding high, while she, an uncharged elected official, fights for her political life?

That’s how strange politics is in America today.

On the national stage, President Joe Biden made an historic ask of Americans this week. It’s summer, and everyone is a “low information” voter now. But for the sake of the country, and the future of democracy, it’s time to pay attention. Get nerdy now.

Biden is essentially tied with Trump, a newly convicted felon, which tells you how cockeyed political values are in America.

Instead of policy, Trump is all bluster talking about a pre-debate drug test because he’s sure Biden is going to be “jacked up” on some kind of performance enhancing drug.

That kind of thing gets attention. Not whether you’re going to things to improve people’s lives.

But rest assured, if Donald Trump is elected for a second time, the blueprint is already out. The Heritage Foundation’s plan calls for a “Department of Life,” and a theocratic-based world view where abortion is illegal, and minorities of all stripes are disempowered.

A vote for Trump represents a radical reformatting of democracy.

POLITICS IN OAKLAND

In the meantime, local Oakland politics is slightly different, but no less confounding.

Sheng Thao, 18 months into her tenure as the first Hmong American to be mayor of a major U.S. city, is recovering from the worst week in her life.

First, a group of Oakland citizens qualified enough signatures to hold a recall election of Thao. Then, on Wednesday, 15 people were shot at an unauthorized Juneteenth celebration in the city’s Lake Merritt area. The topper came Thursday, when the FBI executed a pre-dawn raid of a number of houses including Thao’s, all connected to a case reportedly involving improper campaign donations from Andy Duong, a Vietnamese American businessman whose company, CalWaste, won the contract to run the city’s recycling program. No arrests were made, just boxes and computers hauled from the various homes. Not a good look.

 

THAO: “I AM INNOCENT”

For five days, Thao was silent, but on Monday, she came out firing her best shot.

“I have done nothing wrong,” Thao said at a news conference. “I can tell you with confidence that this investigation is not about me. I have not been charged with a crime and I am confident that I will not be charged because I am innocent.”

Thao said she was seeking answers from the U.S. attorney as to why she wasn’t “offered the opportunity to cooperate voluntarily.”

Good question. Unless they thought she was hiding something.

Thao addressed the shootings last week first with care, then said she won’t be distracted from the real issues of Oakland. Like safety or the selling of the Oakland Coliseum to a Black-owned group.

But she went back to questioning the timing of last week.

“I want to know more about the handful of billionaires from San Francisco and Piedmont who are hell bent on running me out of office,” she said, questioning how the recall announcement and the raid seemed orchestrated with the media “to fan the flames and bend the facts to shape a narrative.”

Trump, the convicted felon, overcomes reality and is propelled by “friends” who see him as a winner. Thao was voted in through RCV, rank-choice-voting. She was the most people’s No. 2, not No. 1.

Maybe that’s why few allies are standing up behind her now. The Oakland NAACP, and even one Asian group is calling for her to resign.

For Thao, this will be the test if her story can overcome it all, again.

About the Author

Emil Guillermo is a journalist and commentator. See him at www.amok.com

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City Government

Opinion: We Can Protect Public Employee Pensions and the Environment

Before being elected to the State Assembly, I spent nearly three decades of my career as a public employee, serving the Los Angeles County Department of Social Services and the Los Angeles County Office of Education. For almost 30 years, I faithfully contributed a portion of my hard-earned salary to the California Public Employee Retirement System (CalPERS) knowing that someday my investments would be there for me. Today, I am a CalPERS retiree and rely upon my retirement benefits – just like millions of CalPERS and California State Teachers Retirement System (CalSTRS) retirees. CalPERS and CalSTRS know that their fiduciary responsibility is to their members, beneficiaries and survivors.

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Assemblymember Tina McKinnor (D-Los Angeles)
Assemblymember Tina McKinnor (D-Los Angeles)

By Assemblymember Tina McKinnor, Special to California Black Media Partners  

Before being elected to the State Assembly, I spent nearly three decades of my career as a public employee, serving the Los Angeles County Department of Social Services and the Los Angeles County Office of Education. For almost 30 years, I faithfully contributed a portion of my hard-earned salary to the California Public Employee Retirement System (CalPERS) knowing that someday my investments would be there for me. Today, I am a CalPERS retiree and rely upon my retirement benefits – just like millions of CalPERS and California State Teachers Retirement System (CalSTRS) retirees. CalPERS and CalSTRS know that their fiduciary responsibility is to their members, beneficiaries and survivors.

I trust CalSTRS and CalPERS to make sound investment decisions that prioritize stable, dignified retirement benefits for California teachers and public employees. I also believe that the climate crisis is a real, existential threat to our state, nation and world. California can and must act to reverse this crisis and preserve our fragile environment for generations to come. That is why California has led our nation by phasing out the sale of new internal combustion vehicles by 2035 and becoming carbon net-zero by 2045.

As Chair of the Assembly Committee on Public Employment and Retirement, I am committed to protecting the retirement funds of teachers and other public employees. My record is clear. I also represent a coastal district, home to some of California’s most famous beaches along with majority Black and Brown communities that are working to achieve the environmental justice that they and all communities deserve. My record is clear here too: I have, and will continue, to be a champion for protecting the environment.

Last year, SB 252, by Sen. Lena Gonzalez (D-Long Beach), came before my committee, which would require CalPERS and CalSTRS to divest from its fossil fuel investments by 2031. At the time, I expressed concern that teachers and other public employees were largely absent from the conversation – after all, it is their money – and asked that the Author and the bill’s supporters work with public sector labor unions to take a position on this legislation.

A year later, although a few public sector labor unions expressed their support for SB 252, many others did not. In fact, a number of police, fire, and other public employee unions oppose the bill. As a compromise, I offered the Author amendments that would align CalPERS and CalSTRS divestment from fossil fuels with California’s goal of becoming carbon neutral by 2045. It was a real path to divestment that still allowed CalPERS and CalSTRS to take early divestment action if they decided to do so. The Author declined to accept the amendments, which was followed by her decision to cancel the bill being heard in my committee. Unfortunately, this was a missed opportunity to protect public employee pensions and show global leadership by divesting from fossil fuel companies once and for all.

To be clear, if CalPERS and CalSTRS wanted to divest from fossil fuel companies they could – today. Together, CalPERS and CalSTRS have committed over $100 billion in investments to sustainable energy and using the power of their investment portfolios to hold fossil fuel companies accountable. More can and must be done to not just green our economy, but green our public pension systems.

I encourage the author and the supporters of SB 252 to reintroduce the measure next legislative session with my proposed amendments and work closely with our public sector labor partners to find greater consensus with the environmental community on this issue. We do not have to choose between protecting public employee pensions and protecting the environment – we can do both. But we cannot risk the solvency of current and future public employee retirement benefits without consensus from our public workers.

It is their money after all.

About the Author 

Assemblymember Tina McKinnor serves as Chair of the Assembly Public Employment and Retirement Committee and represents the cities and communities of El Segundo, Gardena, Hawthorne, Inglewood, Lawndale, Lenox, Los Angeles, Marina del Rey, Venice, West Athens, Westchester and Westmont in Los Angeles County.

Connect with Assemblymember McKinnor on social media: @AsmTinaMcKinnor

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