Letters for the week of November 18-24 

Readers sound off on climate change, Oakland's proposed affordable housing impact fee, and more.


"Oakland Eyes Affordable Housing Plan in Secret," News, 11/25

The City of Oakland Responds

I wanted to correct several misleading statements in the article. First, this administration is keenly aware of the urgency of Oakland's housing crisis and how important it is to get the results of the nexus study and economic feasibility analysis before the city council. Far from "dragging [our] feet," as [reporter Darwin BondGraham] noted, we have been working with key stakeholders — affordable housing advocates and housing developers — to craft a workable proposal that addresses the economic and public policy concerns of all the stakeholders.

Although the stakeholder meetings to date have been private gatherings to vet issues in a manner that encourages open and honest dialogue to reach the best solution in the interest of all parties as expeditiously as possible, we have made all of the information presented to date publicly available on our website: OaklandNet.com/ImpactFee. There are no secrets; the detailed results of the nexus study analysis have been made public, including the maximum legal affordable housing, transportation, and capital improvement fees proposal; research into comparable fees in the region; presentation of relevant data; and details of the analysis conducted to reach the maximum proposed fees.

Perhaps it wasn't clear in my email response to [BondGraham's] questions, but the reason the complete nexus study hasn't been released is that it isn't yet complete. There are several sections required by law to be included in the final report that are still being written. But the substantial analysis and results that will be presented in the final report have been released to the stakeholder group and made public on the website.

With respect to the economic feasibility study, now that we know what the maximum legal fees are, there are a number of policy considerations being discussed by the stakeholder group in advance of the presentation for broader public consideration through the legislative process. Questions being debated include the timing of the proposed impact fee — should it be implemented immediately or phased in over time — and how the impact fee revenue should be allocated among various categories, including affordable housing, transportation, and capital improvements, among other policy questions. Answering these questions is key to developing the proposal that will be presented to the city council for consideration.

I want to reiterate our commitment to completing this process in a transparent, timely manner, based on sound analysis and recent data, using a thorough process to reach the best solution possible to address this very real and urgent affordability crisis we face. We are optimistic about the progress that has been made and look forward to bringing this for public consideration in the coming weeks.

Karen Boyd, assistant to the city administrator and communications director for the City of Oakland

Darwin BondGraham Responds

Ms. Boyd, I spoke with staffers from multiple cities in Alameda and San Mateo counties about their processes for studying and implementing impact fees. I described to them Oakland's process, including its private stakeholder meetings. And none of the cities I talked to told me that they convened similar private meetings in which the general public could not attend. Any discussions they had with developers, affordable housing advocates, and other stakeholders were conducted in public.

It's also not clear how the City of Oakland selected the stakeholders invited to the private impact fee meetings. A list I obtained through a public records request shows that the members included seven developer representatives, including some the largest contributors to Mayor Libby Schaaf's 2014 mayoral campaign committee. These same developers and developer lobbyists and attorneys have also given large amounts of money to several city councilmembers. The stakeholder group included only four affordable housing advocates and three transportation advocates, along with various current and former city officials whose positions on affordable housing and impact fees aren't immediately clear. No matter how the group was selected, it's clear that developers, some of them outspoken opponents of impact fees, were given the most seats at the table.

The second feature of Oakland's process that has been secretive concerns the nexus study's methods. Yes, there are slides from presentations made to the stakeholders group available on the city's website (as my story noted) that describe some of the economic data that went into the nexus study, but it doesn't appear that the stakeholders have been allowed to review the methods used by the city's consultant. If the point of the stakeholders group is to have an "open and honest dialogue to reach the best solution in the interest of all parties as expeditiously as possible," then shouldn't the stakeholders at least been given drafts of the nexus study and economic feasibility report and the methods used by the consultants to arrive at their conclusions?

As for the perception that the city is dragging its feet, I didn't talk to anyone who specifically blamed Schaaf or City Administrator Sabrina Landreth. But previous mayors, city councils (including while Schaaf was a councilmember), and Oakland city staffers all have a history of considering, studying, and vetting equitable development policies, but ultimately not implementing them. In the case of impact fees, a transportation and capital impact fee was proposed in 2009, but the council did not provide funding for the necessary nexus studies in 2010. Planning Director Rachel Flynn wrote in a 2010 report to the council that a housing impact fee wasn't even being considered because the city couldn't find $700,000 to complete a nexus study. The current nexus study, which includes transportation, capital improvements, and housing, was initially approved by the city council in June 2013, and $1.1 million was allocated. The council asked that the nexus studies be completed by December 2014, but the actual contract wasn't even issued until eighteen months after the council approved the funding. Many cities in Alameda County already have affordable housing impact fees. Oakland doesn't, and the current timeline being discussed, according to city records, shows that an impact fee won't be voted on by the council until next year, and that any approved fee will likely be phased in, meaning it will be several more years before Oakland collects these fees from developers in order to build more affordable housing in the city.

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