If you lived in Oakland in 2002 and happened to make it to the polls that November, odds are that you, like 80% of Oaklanders, voted yes on Measure DD.
Measure DD was a nearly $200 million bond measure meant to finance improvements to Oakland’s creeks and waterways, public recreation facilities, waterfront parks, and of course, Lake Merritt. It’s Measure DD we have to thank for Lake Chalet at the Boathouse and the reconfiguration of El Embarcadero.
Now, if you were one of the 70,000 people who voted yes on Measure DD, it’s possible you did so because you love Studio One or Children’s Fairyland and you wanted to see them improved. Maybe you were really excited about the East Oakland Sports Center. Or maybe you voted for it because you’re just super concerned about Lake Merritt’s water quality. But if you’re like most Oaklanders, chances are you said yes because of this:
That would the the transformation of the world’s shortest freeway between Lake Merritt and the Kaiser Convention Center into a pleasant, walkable, tree-lined, 6 lane boulevard. The 12th Street reconfiguration was Measure DD’s marquee project. When you hear people complain about how they voted for DD and nothing’s happened on it in 8 years and they’re never going to vote for a bond measure in Oakland again because of it’s been such a waste, they’re often referring to their frustration over seeing no progress on this particular project.
So I’m sure you guys will all be absolutely delighted to learn that the 12st Street reconstruction actually is about to finally happen. Well, maybe. Maybe not.
The City put the project out for bid and had hoped to award a contract for the reconstruction project a few years ago, but they only got one response, which came in at about $10 million more than the City had to spend. So it was back to the drawing board.
Or more accurately, back to the computer, to look for new funding sources. And lo and behold, they found one (PDF) – $13.3 million from the Federal Highway Bridge Program. Two years later, the funds were finally secured, the project went back out to bid, came back with more responses, and on February 9th, the City Council’s Public Works Committee was asked to award a contract (PDF) so we can finally build the damn thing. Simple, right?
As it turns out, not so much. You see, in Oakland, we do this thing called local hire for businesses contracting with the City, where we require 50% of the work on contracted projects to be performed by Oakland residents. The idea is that when we spend money that we get from Oakland taxpayers, we should make sure it helps create jobs for Oakland residents. The merits of any specific local hire policy are, of course, debatable, but conceptually, it isn’t unreasonable, especially in a City with such a frighteningly high unemployment rate.
Problem is, when you’re using Federal money, you don’t get to use your own rules about hiring on projects, you have to use theirs. Federal guidelines require that 30% of the work performed on a project be completed by minority employees (on a craft by craft basis), and they also specifically say that you aren’t allowed to mandate local hire.
Do you see where this is going? That’s right, this contract (PDF) the City wanted to award for the 12th Street reconstruction would have no local hire requirements. And as I’m sure you can imagine, some Councilmembers were none to pleased to hear that.
Specifically, District 6 Councilmember Desley Brooks and District 3 Councilmember Nancy Nadel extremely displeased to hear about the lack of local hire. Desley Brooks asked about a dozen times why the City couldn’t just unbundle the project so that there would be one contract for part of the project to be funded with City money and a different contract for part of the project to be funded with Federal money, and even though staff said every single time that doing so not possible at this point, she just kept asking. Calling the idea of spending tens of millions of City dollars on a project that doesn’t guarantee jobs for Oakland residents “unconscionable,” she insisted she would not vote for the contract, and that was that.
Nadel, out to lunch as usual, said that she had no idea there was federal money being used on the project and wanted to know when that decision had been made. (Hello! When you voted for it (PDF), lady!) Although she expressed strong concerns about the lack of local hire, she took a somewhat more pragmatic approach than Brooks, saying she wanted more information about what would kind of time and costs we’d be looking at if we decided to unbundle the project and restart the Federal funding application process, and that she’d make a decision once she had more information.
District 2 Councilmember Pat Kernighan, no doubt thinking about how desperately she’d like to be able to point construction work on the bridge while campaigning for re-election this year, was adamant that the project can’t wait a minute longer than it already has, local hire or no. And At-large Councilmember Rebecca Kaplan, ever the pragmatist, noted that the issue of local hire being limited by Federal dollars isn’t unique to this one project, and should be addressed on a broader policy level instead of quibbled over on individual projects. She pointed out that other some jurisdictions substitute local hiring requirements with something called “impact area hiring” when dealing with Federally funded projects, which does not violate Federal guidelines, and suggested that the Council explore a similar policy so we don’t have this problem in the future.
In the end, they decided to have the question return to Committee, and it will be back on Tuesday morning (PDF). The supplemental report (PDF) on the item basically reiterates the point made repeatedly at the previous meeting that there’s no way to unbundle the project to allow for local hire without starting the whole process completely over.
So what will happen? Will the Committee, and later, the Council, move this long-awaited project forward? Or will they decide that it’s not worth doing without the local jobs guarantee? Whatever the outcome on Tuesday, we can be relatively sure that this won’t be the last we hear about the issue. Darrel Carey of the East Bay Small Business Council made that abundantly clear at the last meeting:
The Public Works Committee will take up the issue again this Tuesday, February 23rd (PDF). The meeting starts at 10:30, although the 12th Street project is last on the agenda. If you can’t make it down to City Hall, you can always catch the fireworks on KTOP.