BAMBD and coalition partners win benefits worth $2.2 million from developers

Oakland Coalition Wins Community Benefits from Wood Partners Downtown Apartment Development

Ayodele Nzinga (left) and Lailan Huen spoke Monday
evening at the Oakland City Council meeting. Photo by Ken Epstein.
Ayodele Nzinga (left) and Lailan Huen spoke Monday evening at the Oakland City Council meeting. Photo by Ken Epstein.
Representatives of a community and labor coalition this week declared a victory in their six-month fight to win community benefits from Wood Partners’ 262-unit, one square-block apartment development, winning significant changes in an agreement that had been approved by the city’s Planning Commission without community input.

“We engaged with Wood Partners over a six-month period and successfully closed a community benefit agreement this morning,” said Ayodele Nzinga, a representative of the Black Arts Movement Business District (BAMBD), speaking at Monday night’s City Council meeting.

“We’d like to see some equity in the planning process, giving the community not only the right to engage the developers but also the support (community members) need to be successful in those efforts.”

The Wood Partners’ project will be built at 226 13th St. in downtown Oakland.

In addition to BAMBD, groups involved in the coalition included Chinatown Coalition for Equitable Development, labor unions involved with East Bay Residents for Responsible Development and Block by Block Organizing Network.

The community benefits agreement, valued at $2.2 million, includes a 20 percent local hire goal, $250,000 contributed to anti-displacement programs and $100,000 to the Cypress Mandela job training center to train construction apprentices, according to Lailan Huen of the Chinatown Coalition and Block by Block.

The agreement also contributes $675,000 to help build 60 units of affordable housing in the area and affordable retail space for small businesses and artists in the Black Arts Movement Business District.

Speaking to the council, coalition members called on the city to overhaul the Planning Commission and development approval procedures.

“We don’t want to have to come here for every development project. So we need you to start working with us to pass citywide policies over the next year,” said Huen.

“We need to change the Planning Commission to be diverse, to represent the various neighborhoods of Oakland,” she said. “They can’t just come from Claremont (or) from Rockridge (districts).”

Huen said the commission should be reorganized so that there are specific seats for “community advocates.”

At present she said, many Planning Commission members are connected to commercial development, gaining financially from the development industry.

According to former Mayor Jean Quan, who also spoke at the meeting, a number of the disputes about developments can be traced to city staff not telling developers that they have to deal with the community.

“(Wood Partners) got the impression that they could build a whole block right in the middle of Chinatown and only meet with the community once, and they got that impression from staff,” said Quan.

In addition, she said, developers are given variances, such as being told by staff that they do not have to build parking, which can save them between $6 million and $10 million, and staff “doesn’t ask them for any community benefits.”

Pamela Drake, representing Block by Block, talked about the qualifications for hiring a new director of planning and building for the city.

The new director should be someone “with experience working with the community and who recognizes that community benefits should be an everyday part of the planning process, not something we have to fight for at the other end,” said Drake.

Marvin X. Jackmon

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