Whither the 10K plan? 

As the local economy cools, perhaps it's time to ask...

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The 10K plan is still less than two years old (and has been overtaken by sour economic times) so it's hard to tell whether or not it's still on track. But perhaps a good indicator can be found in the recent tweaking of the most ambitious of the 10K-associated developments, a mixed development of about 2,000 housing units as well as retail space covering a two-block area bordered by Telegraph, San Pablo, 19th and 20th streets. Forest City Residential, a Cleveland-based developer, signed a negotiating agreement with the city in May 2000. But the planning process stalled after the agreement expired this January. (Perhaps not coincidentally, later that spring, Forest City first redesigned, then backed out of a deal to build a $130 million "cybervillage" on the site of a former Ford plant in Richmond.)

On June 26, the City Council agreed to let the city's Community and Economic Development Agency (CEDA) reopen a 180-day exclusive negotiating period with the developer, but this time CEDA was armed with a new study they'd commissioned from Keyser Marston Associates to help them figure out what the Forest City project should look like. Surprisingly, the study suggested a move away from prioritizing housing, instead concluding that the project should bump up its retail space and change the focus from smaller, neighborhood-serving stores to something more regional, like a department store. Overall, says Daniel Vanderpriem, CEDA's acting chief negotiator, the city wants to start bringing in stores that attract not just residents, but other stores. "We want to capture some of the leakage of taxable sales -- people within Oakland going outside of Oakland to spend money," he says.

Susan Smartt, Forest City's vice president of development, declined to be interviewed for this story, instead issuing a statement through the company's PR department that their plans remain unchanged. But in fact, CEDA documents prepared for City Manager Robert Bobb clearly state that the two agencies have been in discussion about changing the project's housing-to-retail ratio, and that "Forest City's current project development strategy differs significantly from the original proposal with an increased emphasis on retail in addition to housing ... to establish Oakland as a premier regional retail destination." Reading between the lines, there is an admission here that the downtown has not yet gathered a critical mass of residents, and that until enough of them arrive to support small, neighborhood stores, the real money is to be made from people outside of Oakland coming in to shop.

This is not new thinking, of course; for decades now Oakland officials have worked to attract a major department store downtown. It has long been Oakland's great white whale. Does the renewed quest for a store signal the end of the 10K dream?

Not if you talk to the man who is synonymous with 10K. "We've got to get the housing first," insists Mayor Jerry Brown, who continues to argue that otherwise retailers won't set up shop. "We don't have the consumer base, the tax base." After recently losing a battle to pass a state bill that would streamline downtown construction by providing urban exceptions to the California Environmental Quality Act, Brown seems somewhat embattled when he talks about the 10K project. He's tired of delays, NIMBY sentiment, and complaints about chain stores like the Gap. Sure, he'd like mom-and-pop shops, but he demands, "Where's the locally owned store? Can we get Peet's Coffee? No, they won't come. It's too much risk. It's not for the faint-hearted."

City officials have already angered housing advocates, who say they were promised that $4.6 million would be collected from the sale of four city plots to private developers and used to finance 80 to 120 affordable units. Although unexpected costs and the collapse of one such sale have reduced those set-asides to about $1 million, advocates like Elissa Dennis of East Bay Housing Organizations criticize the city for making such a precarious promise. "The city needs to have a policy where they are committed up front to building affordable housing in whatever large-scale development they take on," she says. Meanwhile, pro-development mayor Brown feels that he and his sharpest anti-gentrification critics are getting tangled up in semantic battles over who is "progressive" and what "affordable housing" means. "Who wants unaffordable housing?" he asks dryly. But, he adds, developers won't build here unless they can charge market rates. "It is a hard economic reality that construction costs are identical in Oakland and San Francisco, but the rents you can charge here are one-third lower, so why ever build here? That's a problem." The city is setting aside affordable units, he says, "But we should be honest and indicate that it's more of a sidebar to the overall situation, and the fact that we build more housing will bring down rents because it will increase supply," he says. "Not building housing doesn't help." Oakland currently has 13 percent of its rental housing classified as "affordable"; Berkeley has six percent and Albany less than one percent.

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