Letters for the week of October 25-31, 2006 

Readers sound off on Oakland redevelopment and Buju Banton.

"Big Dreams in a City Without Cash," City of Warts, 10/4

The truth about redevelopment
Despite providing many facts to Mr. Thompson, none of that information seems to have made it into the story. For example, redevelopment funds are not all for hotels and shopping malls. The West Oakland redevelopment plan says that money can be spent for infrastructure improvements like undergrounding of electrical wires, fixing streets and sidewalks, upgrading industrial land to attract new industry, thus creating new jobs — the latter is certainly a high priority in any antipoverty strategy. It can also be used to help low- and fixed-income people fix up their homes. I believe that under some conditions it can be used for police.

I was surprised to see the county supervisor's criticism of the redevelopment areas. Before such areas are established the city must obtain approval from the taxing entities whose taxes would be reduced and we've never seen a disapproval, nor was I approached by the county at any of the countless meetings we had over at least ten years before deciding to make West Oakland a redevelopment area.

The West Oakland plan doesn't have the power of eminent domain in most of its neighborhoods. The plan was developed by representatives elected from each neighborhood and that was a long-debated concern. Because West Oakland is not focused on eminent domain to demolish wide swaths of land for outside developers, the tax increment pot is growing slowly. One of our first efforts will be to revitalize the San Pablo corridor to attract more businesses that provide services to the neighborhood. This will also be a job growth opportunity. The West Oakland Redevelopment PAC also voted to provide start-up leasehold improvement money to a new worker-owned cooperative grocery store that we are planning for the Mandela Gateway retail space at the West Oakland BART station.

The West Oakland Redevelopment PAC meetings are the second Wednesday of each month at 6:00 p.m. in the Senior Center at Adeline and 18th St. We encourage West Oakland residents to attend and participate in the future development of West Oakland.

The article also failed to say that redevelopment law requires the spending of at least 15 percent of tax increment on affordable housing. In Oakland, we have committed to a higher percentage and this forms the pot of money we provide every year for which the affordable housing development community competes. Providing jobs and affordable housing are certainly appropriate strategies in an antipoverty agenda for a city.

Redevelopment dollars will also be used to save the old train station in West Oakland as well as pay for the affordable housing at the Wood Street development adjacent to the train station.

While I recognize that there have been redevelopment abuses over the years, I think it's important not to throw the baby out with the bathwater and create the most progressive community we can, utilizing the redevelopment tool that is available to us.
Nancy J. Nadel, Oakland

Chris Thompson replies
The councilwoman is mistaken. State law obliges Oakland to spend 20 percent of redevelopment funds on affordable housing, not 15 percent. And while I didn't point out the city's legal obligation, here's what I did say: "Oakland reserves 25 percent of its redevelopment budget for the construction of low- and moderate-income housing."

Audit the books
I'm extremely pleased to find that someone has finally exposed the myth of redevelopment and what it has actually perpetuated rather than what it was intended to accomplish.

In a recent meeting about development in Oakland, I commented that out of all the audits that Mayor-elect Dellums should conduct, the redevelopment agency should be the first priority.

The audit needs to determine what Oakland has received versus the tax increment money that has gone to redevelopment. Additionally, it needs to analyze to what extent infrastructure improvement has suffered because of the tax increment drain.

Along with this debacle, developers are stampeding Oakland; submitting applications to build outrageous projects. This stampede was encouraged by the remarks of an outgoing mayor who has done little, if anything, for Oakland. His comments to developers that applications should be submitted before he left office, and that he would ensure they were processed even if he had to type them himself, has led to intimidation of, and placed tremendous pressure on, a planning department that seems to be performing like deer in a headlight.

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