The Rise And Fall Of The Land Scheme That Almost Cost The Oakland Unified School District
And Oakland, California Residents More Than 8 Acres Of Downtown Property





July 7, 2006

The office of Oakland Unified School District administrator Randolph Ward has revealed that one of the developers who lost out in the bid to purchase the OUSD Lake Merritt properties was a familiar figure in Lake Merritt development issues: Oakland developer Alan Dones.

Dones was one of two developers who lost out to the joint bid of TerraMark of Stamford, Connecticut, and UrbanAmerica of New York City. Providence, Rhode Island-based Gilbane Development Company also submitted a bid.

OUSD officials did not release details of the two losing firms’ development plans for the 8.25 acre parcel that includes the Paul Robeson Administration Building and five schools. Terramark/Urban America is proposing a mixed commercial-housing development that includes at least 1,000 housing units spread across five high-rise towers.

Dones, whose Strategic Urban Development Alliance (SUDA) company is currently completing construction of the Thomas L. Berkley Square project in the Oakland uptown area, signed a highly-publicized and highly-controversial exclusive negotiating agreement with the Peralta Community College District in November of 2004 to put together a development plan for the Peralta Administration building and Laney College properties.

The Peralta and Laney properties are on the opposite side of the Lake Merritt Channel from the OUSD properties.

Under intense lobbying against the development proposal from Laney College faculty, staff, and union representatives, Peralta Chancellor Elihu Harris delayed contract negotiations with Dones, and Dones eventually withdrew his proposal.

Similar opposition to the OUSD property sale may be developing, with the Oakland Education Association teachers union calling for a delay in any sale until local control is returned to the Oakland Unified School District.

Incoming OEA president Betty Olsen-Jones said that while the OEA Executive Committee vote against the proposed property sale was not unanimous, it had the “overwhelming support” of committee members.

At least one OUSD trustee has already called for suspension of the negotiations with Terramark/Urban America until outgoing state-appointed administrator Randolph Ward is replaced. Ward announced last week that he is taking the job of Superintendent of the San Diego County schools beginning August 14.

And the proposed sale is expected to get close scrutiny and possible opposition from local environmentalists. Oakland Heritage Alliance president Naomi Schiff recently informed a local parents group in an email that “as Oakland Heritage Alliance wrote to the school district a couple of years ago, be aware that two buildings on the OUSD 2nd Avenue site may be considered cultural resources under [the California Environmental Quality Act], as historic buildings.”

“In general,” Schiff continued, “our organization favors reusing historic buildings rather than demolishing them. The site also adjoins the environmentally sensitive channel between Lake Merritt, which is a National Historic Landmark, and the estuary. Such a project would require a sensitive and creative design.”

And Oakland City Councilmember Pat Kerninghan, who represents the district that houses the OUSD Lake Merritt properties, says that she intends to involve the City of Oakland in the process of scrutinizing the proposed sale.

“I, too, am very concerned about both the process and the substance of the proposal to sell the district property for development,” Kerninghan emailed the local parents group last week. “In addition to whatever community meetings the District is proposing, I want to let you know that the City of Oakland also will have its own review and approval process, as the City has land use control over all development within its borders, regardless of who owns the property.”

Kerninghan continued that “The city’s land use process will focus more on the question of what should be built there, in the event that the decision is made to go forward with a sale to a developer. What happens on this piece of land is obviously very important for the surrounding neighborhoods and also to the nearby parks and trails along the Lake Merritt Channel. I will make sure that there is a meaningful community planning process for the site.”

Meanwhile, the district is moving forward with plans for its own public hearings on the proposed property sale, currently scheduled for July 12, August 16, and September 6.

Board President David Kakishiba expects by July 12 to receive presentations from district staff members on the exact cost of relocating the three schools and two early childhood development centers from the Lake Merritt properties, as well as the cost of relocating the administrative offices.

J. Douglas Allen-Taylor
Originally published in the Berkeley Daily Planet

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