Monthly Archives: January 2011

White Elephant Preview Sale hits Jingletown this weekend

I am so excited for this weekend! Saturday, of course, is the Grand Opening of the new East Oakland Community Library, which I am just totally over the moon about. (You can see photos of the beautiful new library on the Library’s Facebook page, but you really should go check it out in person.) So that’s awesome.

And then Sunday is one of my favorite events of the year, the Oakland Museum Women’s Board White Elephant Preview Sale. If you have never been to the White Elephant Sale, you really need to check it out. They do a preview sale every year one day in January, and then have another two-day sale in March.

Whatever it is you want to buy, they’ve got it there. I know a number of people who have ended up with great furniture and art from the White Elephant Sale, although for my part, I usually just stick with jewelry.

Here’s a little more info, via the Oakland Museum:

Don’t miss this chance to preview the best sale in the Bay Area! The White Elephant Sale is the first weekend in March, but the Preview Sale offers the first chance to shop this year’s sale. The 2011 White Elephant Sale—themed Wild Wild WES—features quality used items for sale and promises to be the biggest and best treasure hunt in the West. At the Preview Sale you’ll find an extensive offering of quality used Vintage clothing, fine jewelry, Asian collectibles, tools, furniture, sporting goods, and more.

Tickets are $15 in advance and $20 at the door. Children under 12 are admitted free when accompanied by an adult. The sale is located at the WES warehouse, 333 Lancaster St. (at Glascock), Oakland. The White Elephant Sale is organized by the Oakland Museum Women’s Board. For more information, visit the whiteelephantsale.org.

They apparently run a shuttle to the sale from the Fruitvale BART station, although last year when I went we couldn’t find it, so we just walked. The walk is a little grimy before you get to Jingletown, but it really is not far.

You can get a preview of what to expect from the preview sale on the White Elephant Sale’s Facebook. Doors open at 10.

Surface parking lots are a magnet for blight

I thought I had made my point pretty well last week about how blighted and nasty Oakland’s newest surface parking lot is, and didn’t plan to harp on it again.

I was further encouraged that complaining about it would no longer be necessary after last Wednesday’s Planning Commission, when someone affiliated with the parking lot showed up to speak at Open Forum to apologize for the state of the lot and assure everyone that the problems would be taken care of.

So, I guess this was naive, but I assumed that since they went out of their way to come and promise they were dealing with the issue, that the lot would be cleaner in the future. Ha!

In reality, there has been no change in the state of the lot. It is just as full of trash and graffiti as ever.

1331 Harrison Street

I don’t want to belabor the point too much, but this is so not what was promised when the application to operate a parking lot at this space came before the Planning Commission in June.

At that meeting, the applicant’s representative promised specifically:

The proposal will provide an aesthetically pleasing street frontage on a site that is currently a vacant lot. The applicant is proposing landscaping elements and community art installations that will preserve the value of investment in this area. In addition, the applicant will agree to additional conditions of approval that will address any concerns about blight, such as removal of graffiti within 72 hours of application, agreeing to remove litter at least once daily, and all new landscaping elements will be maintained in good growing condition.

This is not aesthetically pleasing. Graffiti is not being removed within 72 hours. It is not even being removed within weeks. Some of the graffiti in these photos has been there for a week and a half, some has been there much longer. It looks terrible.

1331 Harrison Street

Litter is not being removed every day or even every other day. I went by on Saturday morning and took a bunch of new photos of all the nasty trash on the lot. On Sunday morning, the exact same trash was there. Same thing on Monday. And on Tuesday. And this morning. Every day, the handicapped parking spot has been covered in the same pile of broken glass.

1331 Harrison Street

The shirt hanging off the post disappeared sometime during the day on Monday, but a friend pointed out that someone probably just took it for themselves.

1331 Harrison Street

The thing that got me the most in that first video is the guy saying that the City’s Public Works and Police Departments need to come help them with the graffiti and blight problems. I’m sorry, but no. That’s crazy.

The City does not even have the resources to maintain its own parks. When you go and ask for special permission to do something, and you promise that if you get it, you will take care of the blight, then it is your job to do so. It is not the job of the Public Works department to go around cleaning private property.

The speaker last Wednesday also noted that they have recently signed an agreement for maintenance of the lot. Given that they promised in June, when the applied, that they would be removing litter daily and graffiti within 72 hours, I find it baffling that this wasn’t done when the lot opened in August.

1331 Harrison Street

I’d like to take their words in good faith and assume that they’re making an honest effort to deal with the problems. But it’s hard to do so when something like this appears on the property mere days after these assurances are made and remains there five days later.

1331 Harrison Street

I want to be sympathetic to the difficulties of keeping the property clean. But I also feel like when people make commitments to the City about their property, we have to expect that they’ll honor them, no matter how difficult it may be to do so. That’s what you signed up for.

My senior year in college, I was awarded the coveted position of Student Union manager. Our Student Union was basically a supergiant room with large upstairs lofts on either side, a big porch and a few offices for student body organizations in the back. A couple of times a week, there would be a band playing at night or a party or something. But mostly it was just a space for students to lounge around and smoke.

The SU manager job was highly competitive because it came with excellent pay, free drinks for life at the campus cafe, and like ten bazillion cool points. Despite being so widely desired, the job itself wasn’t particularly glamorous. The SU Manager’s duties involved scheduling the twice daily cleanings, booking events, arranging post-event cleanings, and handling payroll. Once a month or so, I got to rent a U-Haul and drive around to all the thrift stores around Portland buying cheap furniture. That part was fun. But the main part of the job was just keeping the space relatively clean.

1331 Harrison Street

This was a surprisingly difficult thing to do. College students, as it turns out, are really gross. Even though I made sure each seating area was always equipped with a trash can, people would just throw their trash on the floor or leave it on the furniture. Even though the cafeteria was like 40 feet away, nobody would ever bus their trays of food back there. Instead they would just leave it to rot in the SU and often put their cigarettes out in half eaten bowls of cereal instead of the many ashtrays I made a point of providing.

I don’t think any of these kids would have treated their dorm room this way, but they really just had absolutely no respect for public space. Once, I watched a student stand up, walk to the middle of the room, open a 40 of Olde English, and proceed to just pour it all out on the floor, then walk back to his seat. Why? Who knows? For fun, I guess. A couple times during the year, people took our fire extinguishers and just sprayed them all over the place, covering every surface in the building. If you’ve never had the opportunity to clean up a large barn-sized room full of fire extinguisher dust, well, I hope you never have to. It’s not fun.

1331 Harrison Street

But dealing with the general nastiness of spoiled college students was just a normal part of the job. I had worked as a cleaner in the SU before becoming manager, so I knew to expect all this going in.

But there was one part of the job that I had not anticipated. We had bathroom problems. The SU had two single use bathrooms. If you’ve ever worked in any kind of establishment with restrooms for customers, you know what a pain they are to keep clean, even just with regular use.

A couple months into my tenure as manager, we started having some non-regular problems with our bathrooms. Well, one recurring problem, really. Someone decided to start using the SU bathrooms to…well, the best description I can think of would be that they were projectile vomiting diarrhea. And as gross as that may sound when you imagine it, let me assure you that it was like 10 times grosser in reality. The floor would be covered, it would be smeared all over the wall, the toilet bowl would be completely full of excrement and overflowing — it was the most disgusting thing I have ever seen.

1331 Harrison Street

And whenever it would happen, I would beg and plead and do everything I could think of to cajole one of my cleaners into taking care of it. It was way beyond what you could reasonably expect someone to do of in the course of a normal cleaning shift — they signed up for mopping and washing ashtrays, not this.

So I would offer to pay them an event cleaning rate to go deal with the bathrooms. I would send these desperate emails like “I’ve got $50 for anyone willing to clean the bathroom!” “Hey folks, the bathroom really, really needs to be cleaned. $75 for whoever can get here fastest!” “I will give you one hundred dollars to clean the bathrooms. Please! Anyone! If that’s not enough, send me your offer! We’ll work something out!”

Once I went up to $200. Nobody would do it. And since it was my responsibility to keep this space presentable, it fell to me to do it. And so I would put on some rain boots and big plastic gloves and get myself a mask and clean the bathrooms myself. I didn’t want to do it. I didn’t like doing it. I cried the whole time I was in there. But I took care of the problem.

Because that’s what you do when you’re in charge of public space.

1331 Harrison Street

You don’t leave human waste smeared all over the wall for three months. You find someone to clean it up, no matter how nasty it is. And if you can’t? You go do it yourself.

Oakland welcomes a new branch library

I generally try to avoid writing about the Library on the blog, cause, as many of you already know, I work there. It’s weird enough working for the City and writing about the City as it is. So I figure it’s best to stay away from any topics even somewhat closely related to my job.

But this weekend, something is going on at the library that is so awesome that I just could not resist sharing it here with you guys — we’re opening a brand new branch in East Oakland!

Rendering of East Oakland Community Library

The existing Library branches out in that part of town — Melrose, Martin Luther King, Elmhurst, Eastmont, and Brookfield — they’re great. I love them all. Really. I mean, the staff there is great and they are well used and beloved by the community. However, as those of you who have visited them know, most of them are also very small, and the facilities are simply not adequate to serve the needs of all of East Oakland.

Which is why I am so excited for the opening of our brand new East Oakland Community Library at 81st and Rudsdale. This new library was funded largely by a Proposition 14 grant, plus redevelopment funds and a whole lot of private fundraising. (I believe some of you contributed to that effort last year after I wrote about the Friends of the Oakland Public Library’s challenge grants.)

This library is particularly exciting because it is a collaborative effort between the City and OUSD. It is co-located with two Oakland public schools, and will serve as the school library for those students. Here’s a little more information about the project from the Library’s website:

A state-of-the-art 21,000 square foot public library is coming to an East Oakland neighborhood and will be sharing a campus with two new small public elementary schools.

In 2004, the Oakland Public Library received $6.5 million in funding from the California Reading and Literacy Improvement and Public Library Construction and Renovation Bond Act of 2000 (Proposition 14) to build a brand new community library in East Oakland. The plan would locate the new library on the same campus as two of Oakland’s New Small Autonomous Schools — EnCompass Academy and Acorn Woodland School.

In recognition of the importance of the East Oakland Community Library project to the growth and sustainability of a fragile neighborhood, the Oakland Redevelopment Agency agreed to match the Proposition 14 funding with $3.5 million in local redevelopment funds.

Locating the community library on the school campuses will mark a new level of cooperation between the Oakland Public Library and the Oakland Unified School District. The shared-use facility means construction and operational cost-savings for both the library and the school district, while bringing coordinated resources to the entire community.

The Oakland Unified School District has committed the land and a total of $497,065 for site development and construction of the common use areas.

Foundations, individuals and businesses have donated $3 million for new furniture, fixtures, equipment and books for the new library.

The East Oakland Community Library will be Oakland’s largest branch library. I was fortunate to have the opportunity to visit the branch while it was under construction, and I just have to say: OMG. It is so nice. It has, like, everything you would dream of a library having. Massive computer lab, awesome storytime area for kids, giant community meeting room, small study rooms, excellent public art — it is truly a beautiful space. You can get an idea of what to expect from the construction photos posted on OPL’s Facebook page.

And if you want to see what it looks like all finished? Well, you can be among the first to do so if you come over for the big grand opening celebration this Saturday, January 29th. There is just so much bad news in Oakland all the time, and the City can be so frustrating, and I am just so delighted about this opportunity to celebrate the City doing something really positive. If you go, sure, you’ll have to sit through some speeches. But there will also be entertainment and children’s activities and you’ll get a chance to see what a truly cool facility this is going to be and for once, feel good about something the City does.

Festivities start at 11 AM at 1021 81st Avenue.

And if you want a little preview of what to expect, take a look at the video below of the first book delivery to the library back in December.

Seriously. Watch that. It is the most adorable thing you will see all week. If you can sit through it and not be moved, you have a heart of stone.

Oakland parks need love

Two weeks ago, the City Council’s Public Works Committee received a report (PDF) from the Oakland Parks Coalition about the state of the City’s parks.

As you may recall, the City Council has slashed park maintenance staffing dramatically during the last two years of budget cuts.

Happily, Oakland residents have stepped up in spades to pick up the slack. Thanks to the work of many dedicated volunteers, our parks, while suffering, have not yet fallen into total disarray.

For the last few years, the Oakland Parks Coalition has performed an annual survey to asses the condition of our parks. The results of this year’s survey were the subject of the aforementioned discussion at Public Works Committee.

For the survey, volunteers are sent out to City parks and other public spaces (medians, plazas, stuff like that) and asked to assess the condition based on a number of different criteria. The parks are rated on a scale of 1 to 4 in each category, with 1 being “good” and 4 being “poor.”

2010 Park Ratings

Compared to last year, the 117 distinct public spaces surveyed (98 parks, and 19 other types of spaces) got worse in almost every category.

2010 Park Ratings

Oakland Parks Coalition Chair Susan Montauk, when presenting the findings, warned the Committee that it would be seriously unwise to continue deferring much needed park repairs:

If we continue to postpone the many repairs that have been put on the back burner & worn player surfaces, broken outdoor furniture, water fountains and irrigation equipment, broken, then user safety may be threatened and repairs will be much more costly to make down the line. We must find the resources to fix these problems. A few parks are in such serious decline that Public Works may have to revisit the policy of keeping all the parks open.

2010 Park Ratings

Overall, Oakland’s parks received a rating of 2.18 on the survey, compared to 1.94 last year.

Overall Park Ratings

They broke down their ratings by Council district. District 6 fared the best, while District 7 was ranked the worst.

2010 Park Ratings by District

They also included some interesting data about historical park maintenance staffing in Oakland, showing a consistent decline in FTEs devoted to caring for our parks over the past few decades.

Oakland Historical Park Maintenance Staffing

Awful.

The Parks Coalition presentation finished with three recommendations:

  • that the City hire a carefully designed volunteer coordinator to provide training and guidelines to help all the different groups who volunteer coordinate better
  • that Public Works should figure out a way to allow the Business Districts who want to privately fund park maintenance services to do so
  • that the City Council not cut the park maintenance budget any more than they already have, and to provide additional funding for park maintenance when and if the budget improves

There was some back and forth about the details of the volunteer coordinator position and the stuff with the Business Districts providing paid services, but for the most part, Public Works seemed to agree with their assessment.

I thought the recommendations were good as well, the first one in particular. When budget cuts come up, you inevitably get all these people talking about how the City should not cut services so much, and just save money by using volunteers.

And there’s nothing wrong with that. If residents value the City’s services and resources and want to help, we should be grateful for their generosity and taking advantage of that, not turning them away. But I also think that sometimes people don’t realize that supplementing services with volunteers is more complicated than it sounds.

See, volunteers can be a lot of work. You have to train them and you have to figure out what they’re going to do, and you have to schedule them, and when you have a lot of volunteers, it really starts to add up. So it makes sense, if we’re going to be increasing reliance on volunteers, to have that be someone’s job. I mean, it’s necessary.

Anyway. If you want to watch the whole thing yourself, here’s a video of the discussion:


How you can help

If you’re interested in helping take care of your parks, you can join the Oakland Parks Coalition’s efforts by becoming a park steward. Here is a list of parks currently in need of stewards (PDF).

You can also learn more about ways to get involved with the Parks Coalition by attending their annual meeting. From the announcement:

Meeting program will feature:

  • Oakland Tribune Columnist & volunteer advocate Dave Newhouse will serve as Master of Ceremonies
  • OPC Co-Founder and Oakland Parks and Recreation Director Audree Jones-Taylor
  • Selected OPC Park Stewards who will share their volunteer experiences
  • A report from OPC on its 2010 activities and goals for 2011

Become a member of OPC at the event for $20 and get the spectacular OPC Tee-Shirt.

The meeting will be held tomorrow, Wednesday, January 26th from 5:30 to 7:30 PM at the Garden Room at the Lakeside Park Garden Center at 666 Bellevue.

Pleasant Valley Safeway returns to Design Review

We had a robust little discussion around these parts back in December about the Safeway’s new plans for the Rockridge Shopping Center. It had been scheduled to come before the Planning Commission’s Design Review Committee on December 8th, but the meeting was canceled at the request of Safeway.

Now it’s back. The Planning Commission’s Design Review Committee will be considering the plans (PDF) at their meeting this Wednesday, January 26, 2011 at 5 PM at Oakland City Hall Hearing Room 1.

Safeway’s plans have not changed since December, and so for those who missed out last time, you can get caught up by reading the staff report (PDF) for that meeting, or checking out the Cliffs Notes version on the post I wrote about it back then.

Safeway’s plans for this site, which basically entail taking a big suburban style strip mall and building another suburban style strip mall in its place, went over like a lead balloon with local community groups RCPC, STAND, and ULTRA when they were first released back in 2009. The revised plans did not receive a much warmer welcome, and these often-at-odds organizations have united once again, joined by Friends and Neighbors of Safeway (FANS) and the Piedmont Avenue Neighborhood Improvement League (PANIL), to voice many of the same concerns (PDF) as they did a year and a half ago.

Deficiencies in Pleasant Valley Safeway Proposal

If you’re having trouble reading that, you can enlarge the picture by clicking on the image above, or just download the illustration in PDF form. They don’t mince words when summing up their reaction to the plans:

The fundamental flaw in this proposal is that it is inward facing and does not respond to or integrate itself with the adjacent urban neighborhoods. And in an attempt to disgusise this it is sheathed in a bewildering array of textures, styles and articulations.

They’ve submitted a number of alternative suggestions. One emphasizes residential uses on the site:

Pleasant Valley Safeway Residential Concept

If that’s too hard for you to read, here’s the PDF version.

As much as most people seem to agree that the inclusion of residential units is a natural fit for this well-located site, I don’t find discussing it particularly compelling, since Safeway has made it clear that housing simply won’t work for them for a variety of reasons.

I think that a more productive discussion can be had if we focus on how the project could be improved while operating under the same general constraints that Safeway has outlined. Happily, the package submitted by the neighborhood groups also includes alternative concepts that focus on commercial uses:

Pleasant Valley Safeway Concept with Commercial Emphasis

This file (PDF) contains all the alternative concepts included in the response package.

The agenda package also includes all the letters the City has received about this project (PDF) since July of 2009. A huge number of them are about how they don’t want to lose Big Longs, a matter over which the City of course has no control. Other than that, most of the letter writers are pretty down on the project, except for the Chamber of Commerce (PDF), who seem to think it’s just great.

If you want to weigh in on the plans yourself, you can do so this Wednesday, January 26, 2011 at the Planning Commission’s Design Review Committee meeting at 5 PM in Oakland City Hall Hearing Room 1. Hope to see some of you there!

How many schools does Oakland need?

UPDATE: This event has been postponed. I’ll post about it again when it gets rescheduled.

Here’s a fascinating looking event for those of you with an interest in education issues.

From the always wonderful Great Oakland Public Schools:

Did you know that just over half of Oakland’s school-age children attend Oakland public schools?

Over the past 10 years, the number of school-age children in Oakland has increased, OUSD enrollment has declined significantly (although it increased this year!), 30 charters have opened, and private school enrollment has nearly doubled.

OUSD has enough school buildings to serve 68,000 students. It currently enrolls 38,000.

OUSD is making hard decisions right now. How many public schools does Oakland Unified need? Where? How many students should our district aim to serve? What data and values should we use to make these decisions?

Join GO Public Schools and MK Think
Thursday, January 27, 2011
5:30 to 8:00 pm
Jack London Aquatic Center, 115 Embarcadero

HOW MANY SCHOOLS AND WHERE?
a community convening for Oaklanders to access, understand, and discuss OUSD demographic, facilities, and enrollment data (PDF), and to offer feedback to the Regional Assets Task Force which will make recommendations to the Board of Education by June 2011 about how to “right-size” the district.

I don’t think I’ll be able to make it to this one, but I’d love it if anyone who does attend reports back about what they thought in the comments.

How can Oakland improve access to public records?

For the most part, the goings on at the Oakland Public Ethics Commission (PEC) tend to not get a whole lot of attention. Occasionally, they’ll get some press when they’ve got something about campaign financing on the agenda (although a lot of those issues pass by unnoticed too, like District 4 City Council candidate Jill Broadhurst’s retroactive request for public campaign financing (PDF), which she had previously said she could not take “in good conscience”).

But most of what fills PEC agendas is not related to the thrilling world of public campaign financing. Mostly they just deal with ethics complaints. And they’ve got no shortage of complaints to deal with — check out their pending list (PDF) to get an idea of how many of those suckers come in.

I don’t know if it’s some great tragedy that all these complaints don’t get a whole lot of attention. I usually get DVDs of the PEC meetings after the fact, and most of the time I find them beyond mind numbing. One problem is that the PEC is often powerless to do anything about complaints that may be legitimate. I mean, they might forward an issue to the FPPC or the District Attorney, but at that point, the Commission is basically just an elaborate middleman. The other problem is that a lot of the complaints are about extreme technicalities and nitpicky nonsense that people file to just screw with each other.

Although many of the complaints that come to the PEC seem to be motivated by some petty desire to “get” whoever the complainant is angry with at the moment, the Commission itself doesn’t generally take the bait. Even though the origin of many (not all) ethics complaints seems to involve wanting to punish political enemies for wrongs, whether real or perceived, the Commission admirably tends to focus on fixing things rather than just being punitive.

One issue the PEC deals with frequently in complaints is public records requests.

The California Public Records Act

You see, in California we have this thing called the California Public Records Act (CPRA). Basically, it says that the public has the right to review government documents relating to the public’s business. What is and what is not a “public record” is sometimes disputed (the government tends to have a more narrow interpretation than the media and the public), but good primers are available here and here (PDF).

So here’s how it’s supposed to work. If you decide you want some a record, you fill out a public records request and submit it to the City. You can do this easily by filling out on online records request form. You tell them what you want, with as much detail as possible. Then, within 10 days, they either give you the records you asked for (they’re allowed to charge you for the cost of photocopies) or they tell you that they need an extra two weeks or they tell you they’re not going to provide what you asked for at all and explain why they’re allowed to not give them to you.

The law says that they’re required to help you get what you need. Like, if you fill out your request wrong, they’re supposed to help you figure out how to do it properly in order to get the information you’re looking for. If they decide not to provide the records, they’re supposed to explain why whatever you asked for is not considered a public record under the CPRA.

Sometimes it works like that. A lot of times it doesn’t. Sometimes they say records aren’t covered under the CPRA when they are. Sometimes they say the records you requested don’t exist when you know for a fact that they do. Sometimes they just tell you that they don’t have time to produce the records you asked for because they’re short staffed and that maybe they’ll have time to get to it in a month or two. And when the City of Oakland fails to produce public records as required by the law, your recourse is to file a complaint with the Public Ethics Commission.

Access to public records in Oakland

The PEC spends a lot of time talking about these record-related complaints. Back in October, they decided that the ongoing issue of access to public records merited broader attention than simply considering each case individually as they come up. In December, the Commission approved an outline for a series of hearings (PDF) aimed at gaining a better understanding of the records access problem and figuring out a way to improve it.

You can watch a video of that discussion below.

They’re going to have at least three hearings (possibly four), which will be broken down by topic.

The first hearing will be devoted to getting testimony from members of the public about their experience trying to get public records:

Staff will prepare in advance on the hearing a written briefing on applicable law and any relevant internal protocols pertaining to public record requests. Commission staff recommends that the majority of hearing time be devoted to receiving comments from members of the public regarding their experience with obtaining records from the City. To that end, Commission staff will invite members of the public who routinely seek records from the City, as well as people who have in the past expressed difficulty in obtaining City records. At the Committee’s suggestion, staff will invite comments from persons who have filed complaints with the Commission in recent years on public records issues.

For the second hearing, they’ll hear from the people who have to produce the records.

Commission staff recommends that the second hearing be devoted to receiving comments from those within the City who are responsible for coordinating responses to public records requests. Representatives from the Offices of the City Clerk and City Attorney, as well as from agency and department information officers, would be logical participants. Based on the information obtained from the first hearing, the Commission will be able to suggest in advance specific questions for these representatives to address.

For the third hearing, they’ll take a step back and look at how other cities deal with these problems.

Commission staff recommends a third hearing to receive suggestions from various “open government” organizations and to review “best practices” from other local agencies to improve Oakland’s ability to respond to public records requests.

Then, based on all they’ve learned, they’ll start working on crafting specific recommendations, whether administrative or legislative, to improve the process.

So I think this is just great! Too often, the City’s approach to deal with complicated problems is totally haphazard and unproductive. It’s encouraging to see the PEC breaking down the issue into parts and structuring their consideration of the matter in such a way that they can use each hearing to build on what was learned at the last one.

First hearing is on February 2nd

The first of these hearings is going to take place on Wednesday, February 2nd in City Council Chambers at 7 PM. I’m not sure if they’ve scheduled the other ones yet. I saw a little flyer about them the other day, and quickly made a note “2/2/11 7PM CCC,” and then just handed it back, since I had assumed (foolishly, in retrospect) that I would be able to get the flyer online. It’s possible that it is there. But I couldn’t find it.

Anyway. If you have had problems accessing public records in the past, the Ethics Commission wants to hear from you. So mark the date on your calendar!

League of Women Voters talks redistricting

Do you know what City Council District you live in? I’m pretty sure most Oaklanders don’t, although I guess if you’re reading ABO, the answer to that question is probably yes. If not, you can find out here.

If your house happens to be near the border of your council district, there’s a decent chance you might find yourself living in a different one once the city’s redistricting process is complete. The map below shows the existing district lines.

Oakland Council District Map

In the interest of getting the discussion about local redistricting started early, and making sure it happens in a more transparent manner this time around than it has been in the past, the League of Women Voters Oakland will be devoting their January Hot Topics meeting to a discussion of the redistricting process.

From the League:

City Councils and other governmental bodies will soon turn their attentions to drawing new district lines for 2012 and beyond. This month’s discussion will center around the role of citizens in encouraging local processes that are as open and participatory as that envisioned for the new California Citizens Commission on Redistricting (which will also be discussed). Bring your thoughts and ideas for helping our local officials do the right thing.

Hot Topics meetings are free and open to everyone, including non-League members, so if you’re concerned about the local redistricting process, or even if you just want to learn more about the State Citizens Redistricting Commission, come on down.

The meeting will be held on Monday, January 24th from 6:30 to 8:00 PM at the Redwood Heights Community Center at 3883 Aliso Avenue (off Redwood Road below Highway 13). If you’re car-free like me, you can take the #54 bus right there.

Do you want more surface parking lots downtown?

Update: The Planning Commission hearing on temporary conditional use permits for surface parking lots has been delayed to February 2nd February 16th so please put that on your calendar.

So, like I mentioned the other day, the Oakland Planning Commission will consider a proposal tonight to create something called a “temporary conditional use permit” (TCUP). If this is the first you’ve heard about it, you can get caught up by reading the following posts:

I was hoping to write about the proposal earlier (like, yesterday) and in more detail, but unfortunately, I was unable to do so, since the staff report for the item was not made available on the City’s website until around 4:30 yesterday afternoon and I had a fully booked evening.

What is wrong with the Planning Department?

Okay. So most of this post is going to be about the TCUPs, but you guys will just have to indulge me while I stray a little off topic momentarily — this is ridiculous. It is a constant problem getting these reports for the Planning Commission meetings. I mean, I usually don’t throw a temper tantrum over it because generally I’m not super invested in any of the items on the agenda, so the fact that the reports almost never go up until Monday or Tuesday is just a mild annoyance. I mean, in my dream world, I’d be able to have them to read over the weekend, and I can think of maybe three or four items over the past six months that I was sort-of planning to blog about but ended up not doing so because the reports weren’t available until Monday, at which point I was too busy. Wev.

So I’m particularly annoyed today, but it is not like this is some one time occurence. I completely fail to understand why it is so difficult for the Planning Department to make these reports available to the public in a timely fashion. Oakland’s Sunshine Ordinance says you’re supposed to give this stuff to the City Clerk so it is available to the public at least 72 hours before the meeting. Now for reasons beyond my comprehension, the Planning Department is apparently too good to give their reports to the City Clerk, since the City Clerk never has them, and if you call or e-mail anyone trying to get the reports, all they will ever tell you is that you can get them online. No matter if the reports aren’t online, that’s just what they say. “Go to the website.”

And I want to be sympathetic — I know noticing requirements are a pain in the ass, and sometimes holidays make things even more difficult, but the fact is that even if these reports got posted first thing Monday morning, that is still not giving people 72 hours to read through them. Why can’t they just put it up on Friday? Somehow, the staff for every other Board and Commission manages to get these suckers up in a reasonable time frame. Whether it’s for the Parks and Recreation Advisory Board or the Measure Y Oversight Committee or even the freaking WOPAC (a body so uninterested in complying with open government laws, BTW, that I have watched them take votes by secret ballot on more than one occasion), I can always get the damn reports three days before the meeting. But not for Planning! Apparently if I want to be prepared for a Planning Commission meeting, I should be satisfied with 25 hours in which to read and digest the report.

Don’t even get me started on their giant agenda packets that force you download like a 400MB file just to look at the agenda and required me to install special software for my computer so I could read them.

Trial TCUPs

Okay, deep breath. Anyway. The reason I wanted to hold off on writing specifically about today’s meeting until I could read the report (PDF) was because I anticipated that there would be some substantial changes from what came before the Commission in October based on the comments various Commissioners gave at that meeting. This turned out to be the case.

Previously, staff had presented this long menu of options for different variations of TCUPs that varied in what types of uses they would permit and where they would apply (only for surface parking lots vs. no surface parking lot, only downtown vs. everywhere expect downtown). That’s all gone now.

My recollection of that hearing (which I admit could be faulty) was that most of the Commissioners did not seem very into the idea of adding these temporary surface parking lots, and that there was at least some mention of a TCUP proposal coming back that would not allow surface parking downtown. But that’s not in there either.

Instead, what they recommend the Commission adopt is:

a trial program to consider Temporary Conditional Use Permits (TCUPs) throughout the city for a period of eighteen months, which could permit temporary uses for a period of up to three years.

In reality, these uses would be permitted for four years, not three. But since when do the details matter when it comes to zoning?

Are you wondering what this “trial period” is all about? Well, the staff report explains (PDF):

The trial program would allow TCUP applications to be considered for a period of eighteen months, and permits issued during that trial period would be valid for up to three years. The program would include the possibility of a one-time, one-year extension for each permit. The program would therefore run for a maximum duration of six years. During this time, City decision-makers could review and evaluate the success and viability of the program during or after the trial program, and decide whether or not to extend the program.

Am I the only one who sees a tremendous disconnect here? I mean, the entire premise of having TCUPs is that the economy is bad right now, so we need to allow for temporary uses (4 years isn’t really my idea of temporary, but wev, I’ll use their language) to hold us over until the economy recovers. Now we need to evaluate the program after a year and a half cause we might continue it? What? For how long? Indefinitely? How is this temporary anymore? That’s ridiculous.

Does the public get a say? Who knows?

Another weird aspect of the proposal is that there would be two types of TCUPs — major and minor. Minor TCUPs would be approved just by staff with no public hearing, while major ones would have to go before the Planning Commission.

Now, I’m usually pretty good with figuring these things out, and maybe if I had been able to access this report more than 25 hours before the meeting started, I might have had time to make sense of it. But at the moment, I cannot for the life of me figure out if adding a new surface parking lot downtown would count as a major or minor TCUP. A paranoid person might think the report is intentionally obtuse on this matter in order to obscure the reality of what is being voted on. But I’m not paranoid, so I’m sure it was just an oversight.

How will TCUPs be used?

The examples provided in the staff report of ways the TCUPs might be used are beyond ludicrous — we apparently need them because someone might want to provide free legal services to the poor out of a shipping container on a vacant lot. Seriously. It says that.

1333 Harrison

Of course, that’s just hypothetical. Later in the report, we get:

In Oakland, the only current, active interest in temporary permits is for surface parking. Surface parking may be considered an undesirable land use, even on a temporary basis…Is the use acceptable near the West Oakland BART station but not in the Central Business District? The Planning Commission could consider taking a position on surface parking in Oakland.

I thought that’s what zoning was, but apparently the City sees things differently.

How much demand is there?

Later, the report explains that the City has heard interest in TCUPs for a grand total of four lots. All of them are surface parking lots. Altogether, they would total 200 parking spaces all over Oakland.

You know, I keep trying to remind myself to be take deep breaths, and calm down, and at least try to sound reasonable, or maybe just not completely unhinged, but I’m sorry, this is fucking ridiculous. This whole TCUPs is make-work. That is all they are. There is no justification for the months that have been spent on this. This is the product of a department that apparently has way too much time on their hands.

We are going to add this whole elaborate process to the already weighty City bureaucracy, create this bizarre made-up type of permit that doesn’t exist anywhere else, all because in a 56 square mile city of 420,000 residents a grand total of four people really want to turn land that isn’t zoned for it into some tiny parking lots? Oh, and also because maybe someone might want to provide free legal services out of a shipping container? Give me a fucking break..

Look, if people need to turn their land into a surface parking lot so bad, they can apply for a damn variance. The City already granted one variance to have temporary parking lot on otherwise entitled property. There’s another one on the Planning Commission agenda tonight. Some dude wants a surface parking lot out by the airport? I don’t care. I don’t even know why they’re banned out there anyway. If people in that neighborhood don’t like it, they can come to the Planning Commission hearing and object.

What do you want downtown Oakland to look like?

I think that the best way to put this in context is to look at the findings for the planning code amendment (PDF) included as part of the proposal. Bizarrely, they are all about how TCUPs will make Oakland nicer.

Take, for example, finding K:

To especially protect and improve the appearance and orderliness of major trafficways and transit lines and views there from, thereby increasing the enjoyment of travel, reducing traffic hazards, and enhancing the image of Oakland derived by residents, businesspeople, commuters, visitors, and potential investors. Temporary uses would be subject to review to ensure that they do not further any blighted appearance and contribute to the aesthetic quality of the surrounding area, to the degree feasible.

Let’s take that at face value. I can think of an entitled empty lot on transit lines and major trafficways downtown. It’s this lot, on the corner of 11th and Broadway.


1100 Broadway

Right now, the lot is surrounded by an inoffensive fence with a sign posted on the corner showing what the building going there is going to look like, should it ever get built.

Now, I don’t think a vacant lot is a great thing to have on the major corner of a major street in one’s downtown. In fact, I think it makes Oakland look crappy. I would prefer it if the fence were prettier, and perhaps lined with art panels or something. The fence at least seems to do a decent job of keeping people out so that the walls of the adjacent buildings don’t get covered in graffiti. Unlike, for example, our newest downtown parking lot.

1333 Harrison

I think most people would agree that vacant lots on Broadway are sad. I don’t think having a vacant lot on this corner is good for Oakland’s image. It makes us look pathetic to people who get out of BART right there.

But would it be better for Oakland’s image if we had a parking lot there? Would it make Oakland more appealing to investors? It certainly wouldn’t reduce traffic hazards, since adding curb cuts and vehicle ingress and egress at that location would increase danger to pedestrians and probably degrade traffic flow on Broadway.

Would putting a parking lot there make Oakland look more attractive to investors? Really. Would it? I mean, I don’t think so. A parking lot, whether it has some esoteric three year with one year extension permit or not, looks permanent. If I were to come visit Oakland and see a parking lot right there, I would assume that we had given up on building anything at this major intersection on our major downtown street. And least the way it is now shows some potential.

1333 Harrison

And what about these other hypothetical uses from the report? Would having them on this lot improve Oakland’s image? If we took the fence away and stuck a shipping container in the middle of the lot where people could go to get free legal services, would that enhance Oakland’s image? Would that make us more attractive to investors? What about someone selling used children’s clothing on the lot all day, another of the hypothetical examples provided in the staff report? Is that a good use for that space? Would that make Oakland look like a more successful city? Would it make us look like we’re on the up?

1333 Harrison

Is it just me? I mean, is that what most people in Oakland think? That since we can’t have a skyscraper right now, we should just stick a shipping container and a swap meeting on the lot for the next four years? Do we want to look like Detroit?

Help stop more surface parking lots downtown

If you agree with me that this is insane, I strongly encourage you to let the Planning Commission know how you feel. As Becks said the other day:

Even though policy and reason are on our side, it’s possible that the Planning Commission could wash away the pedestrian gains earned in downtown zoning by approving TCUPs for surface parking lots. Please, if you care about the pedestrian experience and livelihood of downtown Oakland, email the Planning Commission (contact info below) and/or come speak on Wednesday night. The meeting starts at 6pm at Oakland City Hall, Hearing Room 1. It’s hard to say when the item will come up so your best bet is to arrive close to 6pm.

If you send an email or speak, please remember to be polite and to explain why we don’t need more surface parking lots in downtown Oakland. Feel free to use any language from this blog post that you find helpful.

I hope to see you on Wednesday!

Planning Commission Contact Info:

Oh, and if you’re wondering about all those photos I mixed in there, they were all taken this morning at the new parking lot I was talking about yesterday.I am so sick of hearing this argument for the TCUPs that adding new surface parking lots will reduce blight. They don’t. They create blight. They are blight. This is what they look like.

On positive thing about that particular lot is that some of the promised art panels went up yesterday:

1333 Harrison

On the negative side, however, the back wall still looks like this:

1333 Harrison

Okay, I hope to see some of you tonight! If you can’t go in person, at least consider sending an e-mail.

Greg McConnell: Keep Chief Batts

This guest post was written by Gregory McConnell, President and CEO of the Jobs and Housing Coalition, which represents major businesses in Oakland.

Police Chief Anthony Batts came to Oakland with the promise that he would have the resources to do the job. Instead of beefing up the department, it has been cannibalized. We have gone from 803 cops to 656 with more losses predicted because of attrition. The city has no plans to recruit new cops. Now it looks like Batts may want to leave.

The community is saddened by this news. The Mayor expresses disappointment, but also says this may be a blessing because she could then appoint her own person. This issue, no matter whom you support, is very divisive, so I want to look at it with less vitriol and greater emphasis on what is really at stake.

The Chief applied for the SJ position in October. It could have been that the Chief was merely throwing his hat into the ring to gauge his professional appeal. Once the newly elected Mayor named Dan Siegel, a major cop critic, as a Chief Adviser, Batts may have looked at the decision and the resource problems and decided that he would consider leaving if offered the job. That is when he made it known that he is considering greener pastures.

Or, could it be that he really does not want to leave. His sudden announcement may be a ploy to register his great displeasure with a variety of decisions including layoffs, inadequate community support, and primarily to focus attention on understaffing. If this is his intention, he has played this masterfully.

The stakes for Oakland are very high. We lost 500 Clorox employees to Pleasanton and while the company publicly talks about better resource deployment, we all know that the crime problems at 13th and Broadway and throughout the city had to play a role in the decision. ABAG and MTC are threatening to leave the city and take thousands of employees to other locales. A crime dilemma won’t help those of us trying to persuade them to stay. Ten thousand residents were attracted to the city with the 10K plan, spawning new restaurants, entertainment venues, and jobs. These people thought Oakland would get better. What happens if they start believing otherwise?

Much of the current attention is focused on Batts because he has been seen as a man with a real commitment to solving Oakland’s problems. His possible loss is a real blow to our collective hopes for improvement of the city. Nevertheless, we must face reality, whether he stays or leaves, without major changes, we will have the ongoing problems of unrelenting crime, an understaffed police department, low moral, and a city that has no real plans to make things better.

I admire and respect Chief Batts. I hope the city finds a way to keep him here. With the proper tools and resources, he is capable of leading us out of this nightmare of unrelenting crime. On the other hand, even if we are successful at getting him to stay, if we don’t get him resources and clear community support, we will continue to be mired in the problems that have afflicted this city for decades.

Mayor Quan may see the opportunity to appoint her own chief as a blessing. But I predict that anyone who tries to police Oakland with 656 cops will fail. The problem is too big for one person. The community must rally behind a strong leader. We already have one, let’s support him and do our best to keep him here.

TCUPs return to Planning Commission

This Wednesday, January 19th, the Oakland Planning Commission will consider a proposal (PDF) to allow for the creation of “temporary” conditional use permits to allow “temporary” new surface parking lots downtown, which would otherwise be banned under the new downtown zoning.

The Planning Commission discussed this proposal at their October 20th meeting, and decided that it should come back for further discussion at a later date. For more background about the proposal, you can read this post and this post that I wrote in October. That later date is this Wednesday, and although I would love to be able to talk to you today about the specifics of whatever revised proposal came out of that discussion, I can’t, because even though the meeting is only 54 hours away, the staff reports are still not available on the City’s website.

So instead, I’m going to talk to you about a different surface parking lot, located at the corner of 14th and Harrison downtown.

1331 Harrison

The lot is entitled for a high rise building, which the developer doesn’t want to build right now because of the current market conditions. So while he is waiting for the market to rebound, he wanted the City to allow him to use the lot as a surface parking lot temporarily.

When the proposal for Temporary Condition Use Permits (TCUPs) first came before the Planning Commission’s Zoning Update Committee last February, this lot was used as an example of why the TCUPs were necessary. However, the applicant ultimately choose not to wait for the TCUPs to pass and instead just applied for a variance.

So this concept of having these new surface parking lots for only a few years is predicated on the idea that current market conditions do not allow developers to build the “highest and best use” of vacant property, so if we allow them to make some money for a little while through paid parking, that can hold them over until we’re ready to build skyscrapers in a few years.

I’m somewhat skeptical about that, especially considering that a large part of the reason surface parking lots are not allowed under the new downtown zoning is because permitting surface parking is pretty much universally understood to discourage development and encourage property owners to hold on to vacant land indefinitely. My thoughts on the matter are pretty well summed up in the comments Commission Doug Boxer made at the June 16th, 2010 Planning Commission meeting when this particular lot was considered.

But when this lot came to the Planning Commission, I did not object to the variance, even though I am obviously not a fan of new parking lots. In fact, I ceded my speaking time to someone who spoke in support of the application.

My logic went like this. First, this lot had already been a parking lot, so the curb cuts and all that were already there, even though it wasn’t being used for parking at the moment. I could never support an application that created new curb cuts for surface parking, but in this case, that damage had already been done.

Second, the applicant offered a lot of mitigations that I thought were good. They said were going to remove litter from the site daily, keep it free of graffiti, provide landscaping, devote a space to city car share or a similar service, include secure bicycle parking, and line the Harrison side of the lot with art panels. Here’s the parking operator telling the City Council about their plans.

So I thought, you know, as much as I would like to see as little surface parking as possible downtown, this did sound like a genuine improvement over the existing situation. The art panels would shield pedestrians from the parking on a least one side, landscaping would combat the visual blight from an empty space, we can definitely use more quality bike parking, and they seemed to have a genuine commitment to keeping the lot clean.

Additionally, I really agreed with what Daniel Schulman said when speaking on the item at Planning Commission, about how the project was better for having been forced to go through a public hearing process, and that we should encourage this kind of process for people who want temporary uses rather than just awarding them the TCUPs automatically.

The only thing that bothered me about the whole thing was when Commissioner Sandra Gálvez asked the applicant if he would be willing to add some lighting to the lot so people would feel safer at night, and he said no, because nobody would be parking there at night. With two nightclubs and a restaurant on the block, it seemed improbable to me that there was no potential nighttime use for parking, so I was a little irritated at their unwillingness to make that concession.

But I wanted to be reasonable, and I appreciated the fact that they went this route instead of the TCUP route, so I took their promises in good faith.

The Planning Commission was unable to make a decision for or against approving the lot, so it got forwarded to the City Council, who approved it unanimously in July. (You can watch the full video of that item here.

A big mess

So. I see this lot all the time, since I walk past it on my way to and from work. You can imagine my irritation when one day I walked past, and saw that the fence was gone and the space was now a parking lot, but there was none of the promised landscaping, art panels, or bicycle parking. There was, however, graffiti.

Trash at 1333 Harrison

But as much as I would prefer that the community receives their promised benefits as soon as the property owner starts to get his, I tried to put aside my annoyance and remind myself that it could take a while to arrange for and install art, so I should just be patient.

It was frustrating, though, to walk past every day and see the lot constantly filled with trash. I had thought, with someone taking responsibility for maintaining the space, it would be cleaner than it used to be and have less graffiti. It turned out to be the opposite. It’s dirtier than ever! The promised daily litter “removal,” in practice, turned out to be a regular pushing of all the trash into the back half of the lot. Day after day I would go by and see the exact same litter sitting there. Some larger items stayed for weeks.

Trash at 1333 Harrison

The place is, in short, a filthy mess.

Trash at 1333 Harrison

A few months after the lot opened, and a couple of days before the Planning Commission considered the T-CUP proposal, a bike rack finally appeared. Now, as far as I understand the rules, if your rack isn’t in the public right of way (which this one isn’t), then you can use whatever kind of bike rack you want. Still, when they talked about “secure” bike parking at the Planning Commission, I just assumed (apparently, in error), that they were talking about double point of contact racks that would comply with the City of Oakland’s Bicycle Parking guidelines (PDF).

Instead, we got this. For those not acquainted with bicycle parking design principles, you’re really not supposed to use these kinds of racks anymore because the offer only a single point of contact and are therefore less secure.

Trash at 1333 Harrison

I never see any bicycles parked here, day or night, although I really couldn’t say whether that is due to the nature of the rack or simple lack of demand.

Graffiti has remained a problem. This lovely piece of work was up for over a month.

Trash at 1333 Harrison

Posts for the promised art panels went up a couple months ago, but we are still waiting for the art.

Trash at 1333 Harrison

So this bothers me. Like I said before, I think it’s reasonable to allow some period of time for the property owner to get it together. But they have been operating a parking lot here since August, and it is now January. How long is it reasonable to make the public wait for you to do something that was part of your conditions of approval? Is six months reasonable? Is it too long? I want to be understanding, but I lean towards the side of it being too long.

The promised landscaping has also not materialized, unless you count the weeds growing all up along the edge of the lot. Instead, it’s just the same thing day after day — trash.

Trash at 1333 Harrison

And graffiti.

Trash at 1333 Harrison

And more trash.

Trash at 1333 Harrison

And more graffiti.

Trash at 1333 Harrison

And broken glass.

Trash at 1333 Harrison

And more trash. Sometimes really disgusting trash, like in this photo that I took on November 17th.

Trash at 1333 Harrison

Or in this photo of the same spot in the lot that I took this morning.

Trash at 1333 Harrison

I could go on. I have literally hundreds of photos of the trash and graffiti all over this lot over the past six months, but I think you get the idea.

TCUPs at Planning Commission

I think the case of this specific lot should serve as a warning as we consider broadly allowing new surface parking lots downtown under the TCUP proposal. The argument for allowing them is that they reduce blight, but in this case, that clearly hasn’t happened. It has increased blight. Why should we expect anything different of any other new surface parking lot? Sure, we can put whatever conditions we want on them with public art and landscaping and litter and graffiti removal, but if the City lacks the resources to go around enforcing those conditions, they become meaningless.

For those who do not want to see more surface parking downtown, the Planning Commission meets this Wednesday, January 19th at 6 PM. I have a really hard time predicting how long things are going to take at Planning Commission — every time I try to predict, I get it wrong. So while I can tell you that TCUPs are item number 6 on the agenda, I really cannot say when they will probably be heard. I would recommend getting to the meeting shortly after it starts at 6 PM.

I’ll post again about this once the staff report is available. If you can’t attend the meeting in person, but feel strongly about the issue, you can e-mail your thoughts to the Commission — all the Commissioners e-mail addresses are listed on the Planning Commission roster.

Update: Art on the lot

So the day after I posted this, work apparently began on installing the promised art panels on the lot. As Carlos notes in his comment below, he sent me some pictures, so I’m updating the post to include them. Note the graffiti still present in the background.

Art at 1333 Harrison

Art at 1333 Harrison

Art at 1333 Harrison

Redevelopment Agency phase-out link roundup

Hey folks. I’m hoping to get a blog up later this afternoon about the Governor’s proposal to eliminate redevelopment agencies. I have mixed feelings about it, some of which I hope to explore in the post. While I was writing, I noticed that my “links for further reading” list that I was going to tack onto the end was getting ridiculously long. So I figured I might as well post it separately.

Here you go:

  • Governor’s Proposed 2011-2012 Budget, detail version

  • Governor’s Proposed 2011-2012 Budget Summary: The whole summary is 226 pages, so it should probably be more than enough for most people. It is also written in refreshingly clear language.

  • Video of the Governor’s budget briefing

  • Transcript of Governor Jerry Brown’s remarks at yesterday’s budget proposal press conference: With respect to the redevelopment changes, he offers:

    Finally, the last slide: ending subsidies. Redevelopment has done some important things and we don’t — I don’t — want to interfere with any redevelopment bond of commitment that has been contractually entered into. But going forward, the redevelopment takes money from schools, cities, and counties, and we want that money to be available, because all that’s happened in the redevelopment is that the state has to backfill and pay to make up for the property taxes that are taken by redevelopment. So, in effect, what we’re doing here is spending money at the local level that the state doesn’t have. So we want to take that money and leave it at the local level for the purposes that it was historically intended. That’s police or fire or local activities, county, or schools.

  • “We’re Finally Facing the Music”: Initial analysis on the Capital Notes blog from KQED Sacramento Bureau Chief John Myers. Myers, on the blog, on his podcast, and on the radio, is always excellent, and I highly recommend his rundown of the budget. Regarding the redevelopment issue specifically, he offers:

    The Redevelopment Slugfest: The governor’s proposal to begin phasing out the existence of California’s 397 redevelopment agencies (RDAs) is going to be one of the real battles to watch in 2011. RDAs exist in both cities and counties around the state, and are given a share of property taxes that are often leverage against private sector dollars for economic development projects. RDAs don’t, on the whole, have money sitting in the bank; most of their money is tied up in projects with long-range commitments. And so Brown proposes to stop funding RDAs sometimes after July 1, with future property tax dollars redirected to local programs and schools. A long story can (and, later, will) be written on the pros and cons of the RDA process in California. But the governor’s plan is already igniting a battle royale by RDA supporters, who blanketed my email today with stats about jobs created by redevelopment projects and thus equating the Brown plan with an economic poison pill.

  • California Budget Project on proposed budget (PDF)

  • California State Association of Counties Budget Action Bulletin on the Governor’s Budget Release (PDF): Summary of proposed realignment of services starts on page 5, summary of redevelopment proposal on page 12

  • California Redevelopment Association press release on the budget proposal (PDF): It’s about what you’d expect — naturally, they don’t like the idea of phasing out redevelopment agencies at all. The all-caps bold headline reads “Governor’s proposal eliminating redevelopment is budget smoke and mirrors that will bring little financial benefit to state but will cause significant harm to California’s economy.”

  • California Redevelopment Association talking points on proposal (PDF): “It is an gimmick that will likely result in extensive litigation.” Well, the litigation part is definitely true.

  • California Redevelopment Association sample letter to the Governor (PDF):

    However, even in difficult times, the Governor’s proposal to eliminate or curtail redevelopment is short-sighted public policy that will damage our economy and bring little budget relief to the State. The proposal to eliminate redevelopment:

    • Will not provide expected budget relief to the State or local governments after bond issues and contractual obligations are repaid;
    • Will destroy billions of dollars in local economic activity and hundreds of thousands of jobs;
    • Will kill the state’s leading program to provide affordable housing; and
    • Will harm our efforts to grow responsibly by focusing on urban and infill development.

    The proposal will not provide budget savings to the State or local governments.

  • California League of Cities initial analysis of Governor’s budget proposal: They don’t like the idea of phasing out redevelopment agencies at all either:

    From a policy standpoint, such a radical proposal makes no sense in a state with unemployment rate of more than 12 percent, a monstrous infrastructure deficit and recently passes policies championing more infill development. Redevelopment, which has been around since the 1950s, is a tool for building things. It builds and improves communities, spurs job growth and taxes and is the most significant provider of infrastructure, urban development and affordable housing in the state. Enterprise zones are one of the few economic development rools that cities and counties have to bring jobs to depressed areas.

    This proposal will hurt our underserved and distressed cities and communities. It will cost California thousands of jobs. The reality is that the plan to eliminate redevelopment agencies will bring very little financial benefit to the state and will actually move the state backward in terms of land use and infill development. In addition, the League is reviewing the constitutionality of the realignment proposal under Proposition 22, and other constitutional provisions.

  • California Planning & Development Report on proposed elimination of redevelopment agencies: “The proposal has set off what will likely be an ongoing debate over the value of redevelopment as it has been implemented in the 59 years since California voters approved a constitutional amendment allowing the use of tax increment financing to combat blight.”

  • Sacramento Bee’s Capitol Alert blog roundup of reactions to Governor’s budget proposal

  • Press release summarize Public Policy Institute of California 1998 study on success of redevelopment agencies

  • “Subsidizing Redevelopment in California”: A 1998 report from the Public Policy Institute of California that offers a fairly negative assessment of the benefit of redevelopment agencies.