City Council says no to Ada Chan

Last night, the Oakland City Council rejected Mayor Ron Dellums’s nomination of Ada Chan to fill the seat left vacant by Suzie Lee on the Oakland Planning Commission by a vote of 3-4-1 (Y: Quan, Brunner, Nadel; N: De La Fuente, Kernighan, Reid, Chang; A: Brooks). Lee’s term expired on May 5th. Dellums did not bring a nomination for a replacement Commissioner to the City Council until July 1st (PDF). When it became clear that the Council was unlikely to confirm Ms. Chan that night, the Mayor withdrew the item.

Chan was back on the agenda last night, at the first post-recess Council meeting. Despite having had two and a half months for the Mayor and Ms. Chan to persuade those concerned about her suitability for the position, both declined to make any effort to do so, instead using the time to marshall strident support from union and affordable housing advocacy organizations while shutting out the business community.

By the time the item was called, the room was still relatively full considering the late hour. A robust crowd of Ms. Chan’s supporters, identified by the stickers they were wearing, filled the left side of the room. Twenty-two people spoke on Ms. Chan’s appointment, seven pro, thirteen against, and two neutral.

Both groups stayed pretty well on message. Speakers asking the Commission to reject the appointment complained that they had been unable to meet with her and that she had done not outreach to the community, said they did not know where she stood, and emphasized the importance of selecting a consensus candidate who understands the realities of the marketplace and the need for private investment as well as the importance of community benefits, someone who would be able to help identify common ground between warring camps.

The message from the other side was equally unified, if somewhat more angry. Central Labor Council Executive Secretary-Treasurer Sharon Cornu insisted that the business community’s only concern in a Planning Commissioner is “whether they own her or not.” Jane Brunner echoed the sentiment in her own comments, in which she complained that the way most people get appointed to the Commission is by going drinking with the “right people.” (Considering who came to the Council to advocate for the two most recent additions to the Planning Commission, Sandra Galvez and C. Blake Huntsman, it sort of seems to me like the person you have to go drinking with to get that appointment is Sharon Cornu.) Speakers repeatedly referenced her lengthy resume, calling her “overqualified” for the position, and pointing over and over and over again to her possession of a Masters Degree in Urban Planning as evidence.

Okay. This really bothered me. The whole presentation of Chan, the entire charade from her supporters, the nasty accusations against the business community was just so incredibly dishonest.

People weren’t asking the Council to vote no to Ada Chan because they don’t “own her.” Sure, the repeated accusation that the development and business community will only tolerate one of their own makes it easy to write off their concerns. Problem is, history shows it isn’t true. Sandra Galvez comes from the County Health Department. C. Blake Huntsman is an organizer for the SEIU. They were both approved with unanimous votes of the Council.

Those in favor of Chan’s appointment kept pointing to her experience and record, suggesting that it would be “unfathomable” to reject someone with so many qualifications. What they all knew, but were clearly trying desperately to pretend wasn’t true, is that people objected to this nomination not in spite of Chan’s record, but because of it. This isn’t about being “owned” by anyone. It’s about not wanting really important decisions about business and zoning and uses to be made by someone who shows up to meetings in San Francisco objecting to restaurants in a commercial district, someone who advocates against turning an abandoned movie theater into a gym because it would be bad for the community!

Chan’s summary of qualifications and employment history, provided by the Mayor, is quite long, but mysteriously, it omits any mention of her work with the Mission Anti-Displacement Coalition, an organization that, as one speaker last night put it, “opposes not just specific developments, but all development.” This is not a moderate organization. This is a group that advocates for radical, radical anti-business policies. This is an organization that thinks (PDF) stores on major commercial streets should be limited to 2,000 square feet, that wants to impose wage requirements on “established” businesses, that wants to require that half of the ground-floor commercial space in new developments be sold at below market rates to a Land Trust, that expects the city to regulate the length and price of leases, that wants to zone significant portions of the neighborhood to allow only 100% affordable housing.

This is why people are afraid of her. Years of watching her advocate in San Francisco for an extreme anti-growth, anti-business agenda makes people who want to see businesses and growth come to Oakland nervous. If she wanted to make the case to them that she would not be so extreme in Oakland, it was her responsibility to take those two plus months and do it. Instead, she didn’t even try.

This same record is also precisely why a big contingent of advocacy groups turned out to lobby for her. Of course, none of them breathed a word about this work. Instead, they tried to convinced us they were there because she has a Masters in Urban Planning. How stupid do they think people are? In what way is this some kind of unique qualification to serve on the Planning Commission? The City pays plenty of people plenty well to be professional planners, now we need them on the Planning Commission, too? And even if that were going to be our new standard, are we seriously going to pretend that it’s difficult bar to meet? As if we have some kind of shortage of planners in this town? Give me a break!

But the most galling part for me was the repeated condemnations from the pro-Chan camp of the business community for “politicizing” the process. Sometimes you just have to wonder what universe these people live in. It was Chan who went out and got endorsements from all sorts of non-profit groups, but refused to talk to the other side. It was their side that held a freaking rally outside City Hall! It was their side who wore stickers and filled half the room with a crowd that loudly applauded comments they liked and literally hissed and booed ones they didn’t. How is that not “organizing”? How is that not “politicizing”? How in the world can you do that and then stand there at a public meeting with a straight face and condemn others for being “divisive”? It’s ridiculous! How stupid do they think people are?

I was really nervous about this vote, and even after Jean Quan and Jane Brunner announced that they didn’t have the votes to support the appointment, I still wasn’t convinced it would be okay. But Pat Kernighan came through, giving a pretty lengthy explanation for her choice, and I have to say, I felt bad for her up there because it was clearly a very difficult decision for her to make. But she had exactly the right rationale, saying “For me, the issue is about balance on the Commission. Clearly, we want people at neither extreme.” She pointed out that, particularly in light of the current economic climate, Chan’s very prominent history in the Mission of being extremely hostile to private investment could pose a serious barrier to Oakland’s ability to attract new business. And she was right. We need Commissioners who understand the balance between the needs of the community and the need to bring revenue and capital into the City, not who make developers all over the Bay Area run screaming at the sound of her name. I really hope that message will get through to the Mayor and that we’ll see Dellums submit a new nomination for a more moderate candidate, the consensus candidate that everyone wants, someone that will be able to find support from labor, non-profit, environmental, and business interests. Believe it or not, such people actually do exist in Oakland. Some of them even have planning degrees.

Oh, you can check out dto510′s take on the meeting here.

39 thoughts on “City Council says no to Ada Chan

  1. Charles Pine

    V. reports, “Central Labor Council Executive Secretary-Treasurer Sharon Cornu insisted that the business community’s only concern in a Planning Commissioner is ‘whether they own her or not.’” That pretty well describes Cornu’s attitude toward Rebecca Kaplan. The CLC told her: dump the Green Party after all they’ve invested in you and become a Democrat, and we’ll back you for council and give you a career. Kaplan changed her registration within days. Now she is being groomed. For example, she will be the host at a local Obama rally coming up, featuring bigwigs like Barbara Lee, Sandre Swanson etc. on the speaker list.

  2. Max Allstadt

    Charlie, if you want to try to cast doubts about Rebecca, you’re going to have to find more ominous people to associate her with than Barbara Lee and Sandre Swanson.

  3. Robert

    If hosting an Obama rally with Barbara Lee and Sandre Swanson meant that Kaplan shared their (BL and SS) policies I actually would be very concerned. I don’t think that they have the right set of political beliefs that will allow Oakland to get out of the death spiral in which we find ourselves. But to me being on the same speakers platform does not mean that she shares their beliefs.

    Oh, I like the edit function!!!

  4. Robert

    On topic, I did think that both Chang and Kernighan were open to the possibility of her being resubmitted after she had met with all parties, and the two members got a better feeling for her positions.

  5. VivekB

    My biggest issue is wondering how someone on the PLANNING commission didn’t have the forethought or desire to meet with all parties before the confirmation hearing. One thing my days as a business dude have taught me: Meet with every single decision maker before the meeting, preferably several times. Meet with important stakeholders. Get everyone’s buyin that they’ll support you, or concrete reasons why they won’t. Then you’re ready for the meeting, and it should be nice & boring. The lack of foresight to do that implies one is not ready for a *PLANNING* commission type job.

    One more thing that i disliked: Brunner accused the anti-chan crowd of not being professional. After VS’s well written article describing the situation, I don’t believe I need to explain how crazy that comment is.

  6. Carlos Plazola


    Re: Ada’s lack of foresight to meet with all stakeholders showing she was not ready for the “PLANNING” commission: EXACTLY!

    If she wasn’t willing to meet with all stakeholders in order to get onto the planning commission, how could the business community NOT worry? How is it that some people don’t get this?

  7. KentLew

    As one of the “dogmatists” (thanks Max) who supports Ada let me ask you this: does development in Oakland during the last 5 years look like it was done with foresight and good planning? The “Uptown” condo structures west of Sears that look like a relic of the Soviet era in East Berlin? The blight we see on Broadway between Chinatown and Grand? The lack of architectural vision by our Planning Commission, not doing due diligence and enforcing standards, leading to ugly square buildings made of god knows what to sprout up like weeds along San Pablo near 40th? Or at Madison and 14th? (an “affordable” development) Jack London Square condos situated next to warehouses and dirty streets? It appears to me that the Planning Commission we have now, even with the Labor endorsed additions of the past, is extremely pro-development. Adding Ada – who knows a thing about “redevelopment” and planning, and lives in a district (Laurel) that could use it – would have been a coup for the city. But your Council, and I’m sorry to say, even Pat Kernighan, who I had hoped would stick to her instincts, listened to developers first, and community second. Nothing I can say I’m proud of . And in case you haven’t noticed, San Francisco, and the Mission, are pretty nice places to be, and I’m sure Ada’s experience there would have been well put to use.

  8. Max Allstadt

    Wow. You just put “dogmatists” in scare quotes and then immediately unleashed a steady stream of dogma.

    Uptown looks like East Berlin? Way to open with a credible statement. I actually find some of the designs in Uptown more than a little cheesy, but East Berlin? Really?

  9. 94610BizMan

    Would you please point to where Ada’s experience got something built that generated revenue for the city , made the city a nicer place and wasn’t just against something. This is a serious question. Just trying to stop things with slogans doesn’t accomplish anything other than stopping development.

    With two columns, one column for things she opposed and another for those thing she made happen we could make a fairer evaluation of her calmed experience and contributions.

  10. Max Allstadt

    V, who was the last Commissioner who didn’t receive a unanimous vote? When?

    And who was the last proposed Commissioner before Chan to get rejected?

  11. VivekB

    I still think a discussion of supposed accomplishments & prior experience is irrelevant. To me, the confirmation hearing was her first real test of her planning abilities with the stakeholders she’d have to deal with in Oakland, and she failed miserably.

    If someone walks in unprepared to an interview, or doesn’t care enough to prepare for the interview, why in gods name would we give them the top job?

    It sounds like she may be well qualified to be a planning grunt, or perhaps an advisor to the planning commish, but certainly not be the actual planning commissioner. That person needs to have and demonstrate planning skills. Part of planning is anticipating pushback for whatever idea you have, and gaining stakeholder alignment before the actual decision needs to be made.

    I would respectfully disagree with Chang/Kernighan that she should be reconsidered for the top job. After all, she may now know how to handle a confirmation hearing, but what else does she not know? What else will we be teaching her on our dime? Hire her as the #2 maybe, but get someone who’s a better lead dog for the top job.

  12. V Smoothe Post author

    Kent –

    I find your support for Chan bizarre, particularly in light of your comment. It makes me question how familiar you are with her work. It’s also hard to take you seriously when your comments about new projects are so off the mark. How many times will I have to point out that Uptown is apartments, not condos? And would you really prefer the surface parking lot that was there before? I’ve lived in the neighborhood since before the project broke ground, and I can tell you things have gotten so much better around here in the meantime. The same with the “blight” on Broadway – we’ve still got problems, but it’s sooo much better than when I first moved downtown seven years ago. And what exactly is the problem with Madison Lofts – you’re against affordable housing now?

    Overall, it sounds like your biggest complaint with new development is aesthetics, in which case, wouldn’t you want to appointment someone with a strong aesthetic sensibility – an architect, maybe? Chan has no experience that suggests she would contribute productively to design review.

    So I agree that development in Oakland should be done with foresight and good planning (although I don’t think your examples are very good), but Chan’s record is not one of trying to make development better – it’s one of trying to stop it wholesale. All of it. And I simply can’t understand why anyone would think that that kind of hostile and unproductive attitude is going to lead to better projects.

    You say the Council listened to developers not not the community, but who is this community you think the Council is ignoring? They disagreed with you, yes. But there is, in Oakland, a very strong community consensus about the need for revitalization. The citywide retail meetings and survey held last year, for example, showed unprecedented attendance and overwhelming desire for new retail and business in every commercial district. So it seems like if the Council voted for someone with a record of advocating against things like restaurants and gyms in a commercial district because she said they would harm the neighborhood by bringing people to it, well, I really think that would be ignoring the needs of the community.

  13. New Resident

    Well I’m still new around here (hence name) but Ada Chan can claim she indirectly helped me choose to move to Oakland.


    Last year I was sure I was going to go to the S.F. Mission district. This spring I saw the unaffordable prices of rents over there and started looking elsewhere. A friend intro’d me to downtown-Lake Merritt and Adams Point neighborhoods.

    By throttling development in the Mission district Ms. Chan insured that rental housing in the Mission would be unaffordable for young families like mine just graduating into “moderate” or above moderate income. If there were thousands of new condos foreclosed or pre-foreclosure in the Mission, there would be all kinds of units flooding the rental market (trying to make the mortgage payment) and driving down rental prices. Maybe my family could be living there now. Instead she fought to preserve auto repair shops instead of needed housing for people. Way to put people first.

    B.T.W. … W.T.H. were Sierra Club and others doing there claiming she supports smart, green growth?! BANNANA NIMBY-ism destroys affordability and causes sprawl, it is the antonym of smart growth!

  14. Max Allstadt

    Charles Pine,

    I’m going back again to the comment you made about Sharon Cornu “owning” rebecca kaplan. Charlie, can you name me one candidate in living memory who’s gotten endorsements from OakPAC, OBA, AND the Labor Council.

    Let me give you a hint… She’s about 5’3″, has dark hair…

    Given your crime centric platform, Charlie, I’d think Kaplan would be your pick. Kerry talks about crime, sure. But when it comes to detailed understanding and real policy ideas, Kaplan is lightyears ahead.

  15. SF2OAK

    Another near miss for Oak. I lived near the Mission and was involved in the Armory- hell yes I wanted to see something constructive done with that site. The fact that Ms. Chan was part of the Mission Anti displacement Coalition- should disqualify her for any public office. There were several good proposals over the years for the Armory site- Mac dipsh*ts have resulted in what SF got a porn movie studio! REally what a low use for the site, but at least they’re paying taxes, finally although I believe every other proposed use would have had a more positive impact on the community. The operative word in MAC is Anti. Anti everything.

    I’m sure this is a small victory for OAK, after all it’s hard to savor the victory when all that’s happened is a candidate has been defeated.

  16. Max Allstadt

    Hey wait a minute, that’s one of the most progressive porn studios in the nation. Third-wave, sex-positive feminists seem to have rather good things to say about them.

  17. 94611

    Is the Sierra Club “community”? Do their board members live in the hood? How about the “Hod Carriers Union” – one of the other groups that endorsed Ada Chan (presumably at the demand of the Central Labor Council). When is the last time the Sierra Club fought for better park facilities like these Council members do, at places like Raymondi park, Arroyo Viejo and cesar chavez park? Isn’t that what the Sierra Club is about? When is the last time Sierra Club fought for infill development near transit that is desperately needed in the decapitalized parts of Oakland? What are they about anyway (besides supporting idealogues or opposing people who would truly help Oakland)? I’m an environmentalist but I would never join the Sierra Club again after looking at their endorsements.

  18. Kent

    Well, 94611, that’s my zip code too, and the Sierra Club does a lot for green spaces that you don’t know about. It’s just the places are nothing you ever heard of – like desert wilderness, or Alaskan parks. If we were the advocacy group for all city parks, we’d become another neighborhood league, or a community group like ACORN. They’re a great group, but that’s just not our focus. And no, most of us don’t live in the hood, but it would be nice if more did… we do have an outings program that tries to bring out some kids from the hood, is about it.

    Anyways, I don’t think anybody reading this is interested in the Sierra Club. And – I don’t speak for the Club on this blog – of course.

    My comments re: development around Oakland are chiefly about aesthetics, it’s true, V. And aesthetics matter a lot. But beyond that : every time I see a big development that fills a space up like Uptown, packing as many units as possible into as small a space as possible, or parking some lofts or condos or apartment or whatever next to inappropriate sites, I have to wonder : did we forget that people like to live around green spaces and trees? That they like it quiet? That they need clean air? Other cities do so much better, it seems. I think of midwestern towns like Chicago, Milwaukee. A town like Portland (admittedly they all have more rain – but you get the point). The pell-mell rush to build, build, build in Oakland has been in my opinion a waste of an opportunity to “do it right” and is detrimental to the public good.

    Beyond that I want to comment about the Ada thing. Truth be told, I don’t know much about her other than what I read in her resume and what she told me during a brief conversation in early summer. This fight wasn’t about Ada anyways – it was about the community’s access to the Planning Commission and their tendency to favor one constituency over another. We don’t need more big development here – we need it done right. And to do that, we need a planning commission that takes the concerns and desires of the public more seriously.

  19. dto510

    Kent, how does the Planning Commission tend to favor one constituency over another? I find that Commissioners take the concerns of the public very seriously as they implement the General Plan by reviewing projects. I don’t want to fight over Uptown again but certainly there is no community consensus that it’s inappropriate and agreement was reached with affordable-housing, parks and historic advocates by the CIty Council. In any event that’s a very narrow reason to decide that the Planning Commission is terrible and so we need someone whose viewpoint is radically different. New development policy should be made with a public process through the Mayor and City Council, not implemented on an ad-hoc basis as the Planning Commission reviews applications.

  20. jarichmond

    Something tells me that most people who would want to move to a dense, downtown apartment isn’t someone looking for a quiet place in the trees. We are talking about downtown in a major city here. Besides, all those downtown sites are within a few blocks of Lake Merritt.

    Part of what I like about Oakland is that we have this wide variety of types of neighborhoods, from the somewhat gritty urban to the suburban houses among the trees. That being said, we have vacant lots and empty storefronts in far tooany parts of the city; being totally anti-development isn’t going to help that. I wouldn’t be too thrilled I someone wanted to try to build another Uptown in Montclair, but that doesn’t mean we can’t build dense housing in appropriate places, like rift next to BART stations downtown.

  21. KentLew

    All right, all right. I will admit I went too far in criticizing Uptown. It’s nicer than Soviet. But it is far from what I think Oakland should be striving for. We are a progressive city, at least I think we are, but that has yet to translate into any sort of “green” development, as far as I know. I have yet to witness a project downtown that emphasizes trees, shade, or a green, public commons. Maybe somebody can correct me.

    Also let me be clear that I have nothing against the Planning Commissioners themselves. They are performing a civic service and get very little in return. Without a mayoral vision or “grand plan” what the downtown should look like, they don’t have much to go by, either. The Zoning Update process currently going on around the Central Business District is an opportunity to make some amends. But the focus here is only on downtown. What about the rest of the City? That’s why I liked the idea of a commissioner from Laurel District.

  22. V Smoothe Post author

    Kent –

    Wait, let me get this straight. You got up at the City Council and gushed over how “extremely qualified” Ada Chan is, but “you don’t know much about her”? That’s just…I don’t even know what to say.

    Maybe, instead of just condemning Councilmembers who voted against Chan as just “listening to developers,” you should have paid attention to Pat Kernighan’s lengthy explanation about why she couldn’t vote yes, which was entirely based on her work record and what the policies Chan advocates for would do to Oakland! I would suggest that if you want the Council or the Planning Commission to take the concerns of the “public” (and by “public,” I’m guessing you mean “Sierra Club”) more seriously, then maybe the “public” should start doing their homework.

    “Don’t know much about her”! I’m still just….that’s amazing.

  23. 94611

    Wow. So a group that cares about alaska and wilderness areas (which I actually care about a lot) knows best who represents the Oakland community? Or are you saying that the Sierra Club needs better access to the planning commission to accomplish your goals in Alaska?

  24. Kent

    946X, if you were gutsy enough to use your real name and not just spend all your time trying to get a rise out of me, we might actually be able to have a conversation.

    V., I have a full time job that does not have anything to do with city politics. In the time I have available, I and the others in my group do our best to get an impression of what a candidate stands for by asking questions, doing a process, and then making a decision. When I see an endorsement list like Ada has, when I meet her in person and realize she’s extremely competent and smart, when she tells me that she wants growth for Oakland, but the right growth, when I see a background and credentials like she has …. then I believe, I’ve done my homework. And our endorsement of Ada was a group decision, not an individual one.

    Or did you think the Sierra Club and other enviro groups have the time and resources to pay staff to do nothing but interview local candidates for office? Then I have a melting igloo to sell you in Alaska …

  25. Navigator

    Kent, you’re forgetting about the four acre park currently under construction, boarded by the Uptown Apartments, Sears, and the Fox. What an incredible transformation that area is going through. Why criticize a project which adds a park to the city and places well over one thousand residents within walking distance to Lake Merritt, City Center, the Fox and Paramount Theaters, as well as the 19th Street BART station. It’s an incredible green development and everyone in Oakland should be embracing it.

  26. Brian

    Kent I am shocked that a fellow member of the Sierra Club would say:

    “My comments re: development around Oakland are chiefly about aesthetics, it’s true, V. And aesthetics matter a lot. But beyond that : every time I see a big development that fills a space up like Uptown, packing as many units as possible into as small a space as possible, or parking some lofts or condos or apartment or whatever next to inappropriate sites, I have to wonder : did we forget that people like to live around green spaces and trees? That they like it quiet? That they need clean air? Other cities do so much better, it seems. I think of midwestern towns like Chicago, Milwaukee. A town like Portland (admittedly they all have more rain – but you get the point). The pell-mell rush to build, build, build in Oakland has been in my opinion a waste of an opportunity to “do it right” and is detrimental to the public good.”

    You have declared yourself a opponent of TOD, in-fill, and any meaningful action on the climate crisis. Don’t you know that “packing as many units as possible into as small a space as possible” in places like downtown Oakland is the greatest possible thing we could do to fight the climate crisis and win energy independence? If not check in with John Holtsclaw, Sherman Lewis, and other of the national Smart Growth leaders in the Club, right here in the SF chapter.

    Please let me know what is your position is in the Club. That way I, as a fellow member, along with any other members reading can know where to point our corrective activism to bring that committee/board/whatever back in line with mainstream club positions.

    Brian (my real name) from 94610 (not the 94611 guy)

  27. KentLew

    John, appreciate your comment. You can look me up in the leadership roster.
    I am happy to talk. I realize my harshness about Uptown was a little rash and reflective of only my own personal opinion on the looks of the place. My greater point was that that the planning commission, which is tasked to CONTROL development, as well as promote responsible development, has not been paying enough attention to quality of life issues and quality of environment issues in Oakland.

  28. Carlos Plazola

    KentLew: How many of the decision makers of the Sierra Club that voted on the endorsement of Ada Chan actually live in Oakland, and even more specific, in the flatlands of Oakland?

    This is the same group, I understand, that voted for Mario Juarez for City Council in District 5 in the last election over Ignacio De La Fuente; even though Ignacio can be credited with helping establish the first Transit Village in the East Bay, with pushing for the first 3 new schools built in Oakland in 30 years, and for getting more usable open space for kids in the Fruitvale than anyone else in the last 30 years (Cesar Chavez fields, Josie De La Cruz field, and Union Point park).

    My master’s is in environmental science, and I worked for the EJ movement for about 7 years, and was once a member of the Sierra Club. EJ principles were cornerstone to everything we did while I was with Ignacio, and yet the Sierra Club never lent us support for anything we did. I found that, with respect to flatland communities of color, the Sierra Club misses the boat almost 100% of the time, including supporting the preservation of the Montgomery Ward building instead of supporting the community in the construction of the 2 new schools and open space at the site.

    I think the local Sierra Club chapter has to get more in touch with the issues of the urban core, and stop basing decisions on the cult of personalities.

  29. KentLew

    Carlos, our decision to support Mario J. v. Ignacio DLF was not unanimous so I can understand your disappointment / lack of understanding. However, critics of IDLF abound in the Club, as I’m sure you can imagine. I will not go into details except to say that he has not always supported our positions in the past regarding preservation issues (which you pointed out in your example of Montgomery Ward) and perhaps in other areas, as well. Also, IDLF has made off hand comments such as one time talking about “Kicking A–” against preservationists, that did not sit too well with certain influential members of the club! So it may be a problem of his style rather than substance. Style is important.

    On the other hand, it is too bad that we are not in the position to congratulate IDLF for some of the good work he does, for instance helping establish schools and the transit village in East Oakland. However, the Club is not an education advocacy group. Nor are we an advocacy group for community ball fields like those that you mentioned. One area where I really do feel the club owes IDLF some gratitude, in terms of our issues on open space protection and TOD, would be the Fruitvale Transit Village. It certainly appears to hold promise as a successful TOD. However, I do not know the extent to which the council president was involved in that (I wasn’t around then).

    In terms of the Montgomery Ward battle, yes that is one where I can also see your point. It’s too bad that that issue was framed (or is being framed by you) as an education vs. preservation issue. Surely there was room for both? How about a school in a (renovated) old building? However, I lack the expertise and the knowledge about that battle to comment further (again, I was not involved in the club then).

    In terms of our decision making. All the club’s decisions are vetted by numerous volunteer leaders, some of whom DO live in Oakland, like myself. The same principle applied to our support for Ada Chan. So I cannot agree with you that our decisions are based on “cult of personalities” (though at times it may appear that way).

    Lastly, the Sierra Club is a volunteer-led organization, and if you want to help make it better, we would certainly welcome your input, as a fellow (or returning) member.

  30. Carlos Plazola


    No. I can’t imagine why the Sierra Club would endorse Mario over Ignacio, especially since I know some people on the inside and know first hand that you all knew about Mario’s financial and personal “challenges” and you still supported him–with his having absolutely no track record of doing anything positive for the community of Fruitvale. The Sierra Club’s endorsement of Mario was an insult to our community, especially since not one of you lived in our community at the time.

    No, style is NOT important. Results are. Style is important in Walnut Creek where children aren’t dying because of the inaction of the leadership. Style is not so important in Oakland. Leaders that act in Oakland are bound to make enemies by the very nature of their acting. Someone who thinks that style is important in their elected official is not likely seeing homicides, blight, and boarded homes when they walk out their front door. This is what I have come to learn about Oakland. Those who live in fear want action. Those who live in comfort and safety prefer style.

    On Open Space and schools being environmental justice issues. This makes it clear to me that the local Sierra Club doesn’t understand environmental justice, and therefore is missing out on the opportunity to value achievements of urban leaders in the EJ realm. Open space such as ball fields may be the closest some inner city kids will ever get to Yosemite or Redwood National Park. Sad but true. Schools are environments. Again, for some inner city youth, it is the only sanctuary they know. When these schools are filled with toxic experiences which prohibits them from learning, how is this different than being exposed to toxic emissions from a factory. Different in what they’re exposed to. The same in that it could lead to an early death of the child, physical or spiritual. This is environmental justice.

    On Transit Village and Ignacio’s role: Arabella Martinez, director of the Unity Council at the time the Transit Village was built, will be the first to tell you that without Ignacio it never would have been built. His job in the effort was to bust through the constant bureaucratic “we can’t”‘s, to shake the trees for money, and to step in when things broke down, which were often. I was with his office at the time, and I can tell you he was heavily involved.

    On the wards issue: It was not feasible to put a school into the Wards building. In fact, the proposal by the preservationists was an insult. The proposal was to reuse the building for condos and parking, and then to put the school above the parking lot with the playing field on top of the concrete structure. Do you think this proposal would be acceptable to parents in Montclair or Rockridge? Then why would Fruitvale parents accept it? In fact, thousands of Fruitvale families led the charge to tear it down, in partnership with Ignacio, while only a few preservationists (all of whom lived outside the Fruitvale but one) led the charge to save it. A tenet of the EJ movement is self-determination for communities of color. In this case, the Sierra Club was on the side of environmental injustice.

    On rejoining the Sierra Club: Because I care about Oakland, I always welcome or seek the opportunity to learn from or inform other efforts, interests, or movements in this city. To this end, I would be very interested in having a serious dialogue with the leadership of the Sierra Club on the issue of urban environmentalism and EJ as it applies to the urban environmental issues I am aware of as a resident of the Oakland flats. If there is serious interest in expanding the world view of the local chapter of our oldest environmental organization, then I would consider re-joining.

    On the other hand, if they, like some other issue “leaders” in Oakland I’ve run into, can’t get past who I am, what I do, or who I once worked for (i.e. their world views are rooted in the cult of personalities), then there is no use for dialogue.

    I appreciate your discussing these things with me. Truth be told, you hit on an irritation I have, through no fault or blame of your own. Oakland is full of people who call themselves progressives. But when you push the bounds of their progressivism to include the dreams, hopes, and desires of people of color and the most marginalized, they turn their back, at best, or call you the devil, at worst.


  31. Max Allstadt


    While we have our attention on the Sierra Club, anybody seen the measure WW signs all over town with the big Sierra Club’s logo on them?

    Kent, is that recycled paper and soy ink on those signs? And will the crew you paid to put them up be paid to take them down?

    Just askin…

  32. KentLew

    Max, while I support WW as does the Club, I have no control over that “crew” putting up signs. Are you observing anything illegal? You could call 848-0800 and alert our office staff. I will also make a note, if there are specific examples you can mention (include address /street). We really do want that bond extension to pass, and don’t want to be associated with any “dirty politics” in getting it done. Thanks, Kent

  33. Max Allstadt

    Kent I’d just say that being the Sierra Club, you guys really ought to see to it that your signs are the first to come down after the election, and also that they’re properly disposed of.

  34. MoonSinger

    Are you speaking of the private park which will be entirely enclosed with little or no public access? “boarded” is right!

    you’re forgetting about the four acre park currently under construction, boarded by the Uptown Apartments, Sears, and the Fox. What an incredible transformation that area is going through. Why criticize a project which adds a park to the city and places well over one thousand residents within walking distance to Lake Merritt, City Center, the Fox and Paramount Theaters, as well as the 19th Street BART station. It’s an incredible green development and everyone in Oakland should be embracing it.