My heart sank when I read yesterday that the Oak Knoll project is now on hold. Obviously, it wasn’t exactly a shock, given current market conditions, but still, after that debate stretched out for soooo long, I get chills at the thought of Suncal pulling out and us having to start all over again. We will, I’m sure, all cross our fingers and hope they’ll be able to get it together to resume the project in a year or so.
Oak Knoll, due to its size and the controversy surrounding the project, is obviously going to be the most headline grabbing of stalled developments, but if you review Planning Commission agendas over the last year, you’ll find that more often than not, there’s at least one request for an entitlement extension per meeting.
So, under normal circumstances, once you get approval for a project in Oakland, you have two years to start building it. If you don’t, your entitlement expires and if you still want to build, you have to start all over with a new application and get all new approvals. Since the whole process is really expensive, obviously, nobody wants to do that. Instead, if you can’t build before your entitlement expires, you apply for an extension.
Now, my understanding is that pretty much all entitlement extension applications do get granted, although getting one is, again, costly and kind of a pain. (Also, a waste of public meeting time when you have to do them for every damn project in Oakland.) The Oakland Builders Alliance has spent the last several months clamoring for an automatic three-year extension of all entitlements. When asked by Dan Lindheim at an event early this summer why they couldn’t just submit applications for entitlement extensions project by project, one developer explained that it had something to do with financing and the extension has to be by right and not by application. I didn’t totally understand that and didn’t have a chance to follow up. Perhaps someone can explain in the comments. Carlos? (On a side note – I didn’t feel too bad about not fully understanding why exactly an automatic three year entitlement extension was necessary, because, well, why would I know that, but I found it appalling that Dan Lindheim, who by this point had been running Oakland Community and Economic Development Agency for months, was even more clueless on the subject than I was. For starters, he seemed to be surprised to learn that the development community even wanted the extension, which, honestly, if he read the newspaper, he should know. Clueless!)
Anyway, nobody’s getting an automatic three year extension. But Oakland City Council President Ignacio De La Fuente has proposed a one-year extension (PDF) for all entitlements that expire before January 1, 2010 (unless your property is a nuisance blight, in which case, you’re out of luck). De La Fuente’s proposal will be considered at today’s Community and Economic Development Committee (PDF) meeting.
One year is uncontroversial, and should pass without much debate. Two weeks ago, the Planning Commission gave their unanimous approval to the one-year extension, but agreed they felt uncomfortable granting three years. Nobody had anything particularly interesting to say on the subject, except for Doug Boxer (who appears to have been hit harder by the current economic crisis than most – straits are apparently so dire in the Boxer household that they can’t even afford razors anymore!), who said that he didn’t support an automatic three year extension because the projects they’ve approved might not be dense enough to be appropriate for the future. Seriously, watch:
Anyway, I’m all for the extension. I’d certainly rather see projects pushed back a little while than evaporate. I’m going to keep my fingers crossed and hope that Suncal eventually finds another way to finance Oak Knoll.
And because I just can’t help it – KTVU’s story on the subject is incorrect. At the end of the story it saws that Citywalk at 14th and Jefferson is unfinished due to the current credit crunch. Totally wrong! Olson had financing problems, obviously, but since they quit work on the project over a year ago, it seems rather preposterous to blame those troubles on today’s financial meltdown. Anyway, as of last Thursday, at least, work had restarted on the building.