Should eminent domain be used to bring a grocery store to West Oakland?

Last Sunday, while you were enjoying Rockridge Out & About or possibly Goapele at the Woominster Ampitheater, I was chained to my computer prepping blog entries for the coming week.

I was working on my recap of last week’s big Mayoral debate, and when I got to the lightning round question about eminent domain, I got partway through writing it and realized I had written enough for a whole post. And then someone brought it up out of nowhere for a second time in the comments, so I decided it was actually pretty post-worthy.

So. Eminent domain is a touchy subject. And it’s a particularly touchy subject in West Oakland, where there is a long history, still fresh in the minds of many residents, of eminent domain being used aggresively and for reasons that…well, let’s just say that in retrospect, most people agree it did not end up being a good thing for the area or for the people who lived there.

Existing eminent domain rules in West Oakland

Okay, here are some things you should know. (I am trying to put this as simply as possible, so forgive me if some of the nuances are lost. We can discuss those in the comments.)

  • In California, you can use eminent domain in Redevelopment Areas.
  • When you set up a Redevelopment Area, you make a Redevelopment Plan.
  • In the Redevelopment Plan, you get to decide whether or not this Redevelopment Area will have the power of eminent domain.
  • The West Oakland Redevelopment Area was established in 2003.
  • In the West Oakland Redevelopment Area, eminent domain is allowed by the West Oakland Redevelopment Plan (PDF).
  • The Redevelopment Plan for West Oakland allows for eminent domain to be used only under cetain conditions (PDF). Briefly, those conditions are:
    • The property is located in the Clawson/MMcClymonds/Bunche subarea of the West Oakland Redevelopment Area. (There are a total of three subareas.)
    • The property is commercial, not residential.
    • The whole project the property is being acquired for does not exceed three acres total.
    • The property is located along one of four streets that have been designated as commercial corridors: West Grand, Mandela, San Pablo, and Market. The corridors are marked on this map (PDF).

Got all that? Good.

Proposed changes to West Oakland eminent domain rules

So now, the City wants to amend the West Oakland Redevelopment Plan (PDF) to modify the aforementioned eminent domain rules.

Why would they do that? Well, as explained in a recent San Francisco Business Times article:

Eager to attract a grocery store to West Oakland, the city redevelopment agency is preparing to broaden its eminent domain rules so it could acquire the final piece of a five-acre parcel desired by Foods Co.

The retailer has approached three property owners along West Grand Avenue between Filbert and Market streets. Two have agreed to sell but one, who controls just under an acre, is asking for more than Foods Co. has been willing to pay.

So, what changes exactly is the Redevelopment Agency asking for? Read the staff report (PDF) for the full story. Again, I’ll put it as simply as I can:

  • Change the total size of a project that eminent domain can be used for to 5 acres rather than 3 acres. However, you would still only be able to use eminent domain to acquire 3 acres of the land to be used in the project.
  • Add to the areas designated as commercial corridors that eminent domain would be allowed to include spaces at 24th and Filbert and Myrtle Street between 24th and West Grand.

That’s all. It would not change the rules about not being able to use eminent domain on residential property.

If you’re having a hard time envisioning the areas discussed, perhaps these maps will help. Click on them for a bigger version.

This map shows in green where in West Oakland eminent domain is currently allowed to be used on commercial property.

This map shows in yellow the new locations where eminent domain would be allowed if the amendment passed. Again, it would only be allowed to be used on commercial property, as laid out in the West Oakland Redevelopment Plan (PDF) on pages 7-9.

So, this proposal to amend the plan was brought to the West Oakland Project Area Committee in July. They voted on whether to approve the amendment (PDF), but the vote tied (5 yes, 5 no, 2 abstentions). Now the proposal is being brought to the City Council. The City Council is able to overrule the WOPAC and change the plan without their approval, but this will require a 2/3 vote.

The reason for this is because the Redevelopment Agency is trying to get a grocery store to locate in West Oakland. The national grocery chain Foods Co. wants to open a store in West Oakland. You probably read about the two stores they are opening in East Oakland. Foods Co. has found a site to locate a 70,000sf store in West Oakland, but had to acquire several properties to put together the land. One property owner in the area has not been willing to sell to Foods Co.

In order to aid Foods Co. in their quest to acquire the property, the Redevelopment Agency wants to amend the plan so they would have the power of eminent domain if they should ultimately need it. This isn’t a vote on whether to use eminent domain on the property now — that would have to be voted on separately later. I mean, obviously if the amendment to the Redevelopment Plan passes and the property owner remains obstinate and it does come to the point where they need to use that tool, then they’re going to. I’m just pointing out that we’re not actually there yet.

Anyway, the public hearing on the issue is scheduled for the City Council meeting on Tuesday, October 5th (PDF).

Proposed eminent domain rule changes at CED

So before items come to the City Council for a vote, almost everything goes through a hearing at one of the Council’s committees. And so, on September 14th, the proposed changes to the West Oakland Redevelopment Plan were heard by the Council’s Community and Economic Development Committee (PDF). If you are so inclined, you can watch video of the whole discussion below.

So. There were a number of speakers at the meeting. Several were adamantly opposed to amending the Redevelopment Plan. These people were all just totally against the use of eminent domain at all for anything.

I sympathize with that. I understand why a lot of people flip out the instant they hear the phrase “eminent domain.” That’s valid.

But the thing will all these people who came and spoke against it is that none of them seemed to understand what the proposal was at all. I mean, they all kept using this slippery slope type argument and saying that if you start allowing it for one thing, then as soon as it’s established eminent domain is allowed in West Oakland at all, the City is going to start gobbling up people’s houses. But, of course, they don’t appear to realize that it is already allowed.

The people who spoke in favor of the amendment, including District 3 (West Oakland) Councilmember Nancy Nadel, basicaly all said that yes, we know the history of eminent domain in West Oakland, and we’re cautious about using this as a tool, but the fact is that West Oakland really needs a grocery store and this is what it’s going to take to do it.

When she spoke, Nancy Nadel also mentioned that bringing in a grocery store was part of her platform when she first ran for Council in 1996, so it’s really important to her that we get one. Ha.

Anyway, the Committee elected not to delay the public hearing, as had been requested by some of the anti-eminent domain speakers.

They didn’t talk about it for very long. Jane Brunner asked a couple of questions, and after listening to the exact same explanation for the third time in half an hour suddenly acted like the fact that there is already language about eminent domain in the existing Redevelopment Plan was complete news to her, and I guess she decided that trying to wrap her mind around all that would like, make her head explode or something, so she concluded by saying that she’ll just do whatever Nancy Nadel wants because she knows how much Nancy hates eminent domain, so if even she is willing to use it in this case, it must be necessary. I don’t know where the hell she came up with that idea. Nancy Nadel is constantly talking in Council meetings about how she wants to seize people’s property. They’ll be talking about the budget or whatever, and she’ll contribute nothing for most of the meeting, and then chime in and be like “I wish we could use eminent domain to take all these properties as punishment for being vacant for more than six months. That would solve our retail problem!” Or something similarly crazy. Well, anyway. I’m getting a little off topic.

Pat Kernighan essentially said that she would support it, but that they sure as hell better turn out a massive amount of people at the Council meeting to cry about how bad they want a grocery store. Normally, I’m not much of a fan of Pat Kernighan’s do-whatever-looks-most-popular approach to governance, but in this case, I kind of agree with her. This is such an emotionally charged issue, you need to be able to demonstrate that you’ve got strong community support.

Should the Council amend the plan as requested?

I think so.

I mean, it’s a tough question. Some people just hate eminent domain and don’t think it should ever be used for anything, or maybe only for a road or whatever, and I respect that. It’s legitimate. And if you’re against all eminent domain, then of course you’re going to be against it in this case.

But the fact is that the question of whether this Redevelopment Area would allow eminent domain was really hotly debated and decided already. The people who are against using eminent domain in all case lost that debate. And it’s not like we’re talking about some ancient history from like 40 years ago or something. We’re talking about 2003. And after a lot of heated discussion and passionate debate, we made a decision that we would allow for the use of eminent domain in a specific area, and also only on non-residential properties. Now they want to change the language to allow for something that, from my perspective, is very clearly in the spirit of the way the rule was written, but outside the letter of it. I think that’s fair.

And really, it is an issue that there’s nowhere to buy groceries in West Oakland.

I was house sitting out there for like a week not too long ago, and I gotta say, the lack of places to buy groceries makes cooking out there a serious pain in the ass. I walked down to that Mandela Foods Co-Op one day, but the store was empty and they did not have any food. I mean, the loose lettuce was like, starting to cross the border between wilting and liquified, then avocados were so rock hard I honestly don’t know how you could have eaten them even if you wanted to, the tomatoes did not even smell like anything. They didn’t have any bread or meat that day, although they assured me that this was an anomaly. I mean, it’s nice they sell Clover Stornetta milk, and if it was on my normal way home I would probably stop in for a quart or something from time to time, but the fact it that this is simply not sufficient to meet people’s food shopping needs. I ended up taking BART to San Francisco and buying my groceries at that store in the bottom of the Bloomingdale’s mall. Which, BTW, was better priced than Mandela Foods.

Another day, I had nothing in the fridge and it was during this big heat wave and just the whole prospect of the ordeal of going to the store was just too much for me to handle. Forced to make do with what I could buy at the neighborhood convenience store, I ended up having a dinner of a couple of bottles of Anchor Steam, a bag of microwave popcorn, and canned peaches. Yum!

Anyway. I don’t mean to make light of the situation with my little stories. The fact is that the lack of access to groceries in West Oakland is a public health issue.

Where the Mayoral candidates stand

So, during the “lightning round” of questions at last week’s Mayoral debate, the candidates were all asked whether they supported the use of eminent domain to get a grocery store in West Oakland and instructed to answer either yes, no, or undecided.

Don Perata, Jean Quan, Rebecca Kaplan, Don Macleay, Larry Lionel Young, Marcie Hodge, and Greg Harland all said yes.

Arnie Fields said no, because “This is America.” And Joe Tuman, who, just like with most issues, clearly had absolutely no idea that this controversy is going on, had to ask to hear the question again. Then he said that he absolutely wouldn’t support it.

One more thing

So I complained a little bit earlier in the post about how the people speaking against the amendment were all uninformed and whatever. And that is true. But I don’t think it’s their fault at all that they’re clueless. It’s the City’s.

The City did a predictably wretched job of letting people living in the impacted area know what was going on. You know, they send out their required legal notice and act like that’s some kind achievement. What did they expect to happen? I mean, a bunch of people open their mailboxes and all they’re going to see is a date and the words “eminent domain” which of course is going to scare the shit out of them.

And then people want to try to figure out what’s going on and maybe they try to read this staff report that’s all in bureaucratese, and they’re scared and confused and probably feel like someone is trying to trick them or something, because hey, that’s usually they reason people are not forthcoming with clear information. Who can blame them for flipping out?

I mean, I’m sure that no matter how good a job of outreach the City did to inform people, you would still end up with several people vigorously opposing the amendment. There’s nothing you can do about that. Some people just hate eminent domain. But that’s not an excuse to act like it’s not worth it to invite comment from everybody else.

68 thoughts on “Should eminent domain be used to bring a grocery store to West Oakland?

  1. Max Allstadt

    Gregory Hunter’s stat that less than 50% of West Oaklanders own cars is a hidden eye opener in this blog. Didn’t know that.

  2. Max Allstadt


    About how long will it take after the council approves this resolution before they can take the land, level it and build a grocery store? Are we looking at 2 years? 4? 8?

  3. Daniel Schulman

    I think pretty much everyone who supports the sometimes use of eminent domain sees it as a measure of last resort. It’s more of a question of are we at the last resort.

    I don’t know all of the intricate details of this situation, but I would guess that we are not. Specifically, Councilmember Nadel should be working with the landowner to find out their reasons for not wanting to sell and helping to resolve them. Maybe she has been in contact with them, but until she has exhausted every possible solution should we resort to eminent domain.

  4. Christopher

    Two have agreed to sell but one, who controls just under an acre, is asking for more than Foods Co. has been willing to pay.

    So why doesn’t Foods Co. just build a smaller store?

  5. Max Allstadt

    The real estate market just crashed. That’s a pretty obvious reason for not wanting to sell.

    I would like more details about why this site in particular was chosen, and who’s currently leasing it and using it.

    The Beauty Supply Warehouse site, not far from this one on the south side of Grand, seems like it too would be a good place to have a grocery store. Plus, it’s out of town owners were approached about that very idea and turned it down in favor of a beauty supply store, which is second only to a liquor store in terms of being an exploitive cash cow that gives nothing of real value to the community.

    It would be fitting to take that parcel. I don’t know enough about the other parcel to assess it. Nor do I know enough about Foods Co.’s needs to assess whether the Beauty Supply site would work.

    I’m just saying, if there are businesses with no stake in the well being of the community, take them first.

  6. len raphael

    The definition of commercial property in that pdf seems to include residential rental properties unless it’s 3 units or less and one is owner occupied. but it gave me a headache reading it, so maybe i’m wrong.

    protecting the abodes of owner occupied units but not all renters sounds like a continuation of the bad old days of urban removal in west oakland.

    -len raphael

  7. ralph

    Two points.

    First, I am not against ED, but it does seem, at least from the limited press, that not options, i.e. working through NN, have been exhausted.

    Second, Max, I think FoodCo requires a large footprint to make the economics work. Granted, I have only been inside the one in the Mission but that place is huge. It is bigger than either the Pleasant Valley Safeway or Whole Foods and yes some food items are less expensive. I noticed that fruits were considerably less expensive.

  8. V Smoothe

    I tried to made this clear in the post, but apparently I failed. To clarify: the issue at hand is not whether or not to use eminent domain on this property right now, but whether or not the Redevelopment Agency should have the ability to do so in the event that all other options for property acquisition are exhausted.

  9. ralph

    V, I think it is the header. I also read the comments first and only just went back to read the entry.

    I will say this if developers need bigger parcels to make it work for them and tenants, then we need to revisit the ED parameters.

  10. Naomi Schiff

    One drawback of redevelopment is that it stops leasing; some owners will just sit on their property and not do anything, in the hope that the city will eventually come and make them rich. In this fashion we lost twenty or thirty businesses in the uptown area over about a decade or maybe longer, while the city repeatedly dithered around trying to work out a huge project. I believe it would have been faster to redevelop it smaller chunks, based on extant owners, and without a big city subsidy (in the case of uptown, 60+ million dollars). Then there were the long drawn out lawsuits. So it’s important that they not get entangled in eminent domain over a larger area than absolutely necessary, because it will tend to depress other activity.

  11. Max Allstadt


    I find that to be a rather simplistic explanation, and far fetched.

    It has a lot more to do with the incredibly low holding costs created by prop 13.

    Over the past 10 years, real estate values appreciated so fast that the cost of taxes and insurance for a year could easily be lower than the increase in property value in the same year. Doing nothing meant winning, particularly if you were using the equity in the property to get loans for other business.

    Now, after the crash, anybody who did nothing still wants to do nothing, because they just lost up to 50% of their equity, and they’re waiting for their property to appreciate again.

    What this has to do with redevelopment agencies, I don’t know. I kind of think it has nothing to do with them.

  12. Daniel Schulman

    V Sorry, IMHO the answer to your question is the Redevelopment Agency should definitely have the capability of eminent domain. It can’t be the tool of last resort if it isn’t in the toolbox.

    Knowing that eminent domain exists as a possibility would likely remove some intransigence to negotiate on the part of the holdout landowner.

  13. len raphael

    Curious how far you want to carry thru the city as central planner and price setter here.

    the only reason for ED is that the owners believe their propertie(s) are worth more than a current appraisal based on comps/rents etc. Not unreasonable if they are optimistic about their section of West Oakland.

    So the RDA forces them to accept an appraisal value that is probably quite a bit lower than what the owners would require to voluntarily sell.

    The city justifies this based on a theory of public good.

    How does the city make sure that the public good is protected after the property is transferred to the developer?

    will there be deed restrictions requiring that the use be limited to grocery stores? will the percentage of floor space devoted to locally grown food be specified? what about the percentage of space devoted to alcoholic beverages? Will NN require them to use recyclable bags?

    How about prices of groceries and quality? Require discounts for low income residents similar to Uptown?

    A slippery slope for a badly managed city.

  14. Naomi Schiff

    I should make it clear, Max, that the uptown stuff I was referring to occurred a bit before the latest big speculative wave we just lived through. You are correct that Prop 13 played a role. Still, you could not get a longterm lease around there once it was declared a redevelopment zone, so businesses couldn’t afford to move in. I know this because it became an issue in my own lease negotiation at a time when the uptown project covered a much larger area than it later became.

  15. Mary Hollis

    If the problem is that Foods Co. won’t meet the owner’s price, and if Oakland CC wants the food store built that bad, then why doesn’t Oakland chip in some money to make up the difference?

    Presumably they will get that back in no time from the property taxes.

    Why change the law just for one specific case? That isn’t how law should be written. It smacks of rampant opportunism and abuse of legislative power.

    Finally isn’t there a huge food store just a few yards north of West Oakland – Pic’n'Save or some such generic name? 40th and San Pablo or thereabouts?

  16. Max Allstadt

    Pak’n'Save is in Emeryville, Mary. It’s poorly located as far as most of West Oaklanders’ needs are concerned.

    Only 46% of West Oaklanders have cars, as Gregory Hunter pointed out, and Pak’n'Save is bus accessible, true, but it’s all the way on the north west corner of West Oakland, so it’s only particularly pedestrian friendly to folks in Dogtown. And even that’s a stretch because you have to cross under the two most blighted highway crossings in the city to get to it. (they also happen to be the two highway crossings closest to the home of the chair of the City Council Public Works Committee).

    The proposed location is pretty much in the geographic center of the food desert. Plus it’s very highway accessible, which means it could draw out of town bargain hunters, paving the way for peripheral businesses to spring up around the site.

    Geographically it makes sense. I’m pessimistic, like Len is, that before all is said and done, a thousand petty demands from the city and vocal neighbors will render the project too much of a hassle for Foods Co to bother with.

  17. len raphael

    Max, wait a minute, i’m not pessimistic about this, just pointing out the issues when you start using government’s fist to take over from the invisible hand.

    i’m sure there have been studies of why most large grocery chains don’t want to locate in areas like West Oakland. As suggested by others might be some other way to “incentivize” a suitable grocer to make a smaller site work.

    is the super size needed because of some economy of scale needed to overcome the cost of shoplifting and mix of lower markup goods?

    forgot to ask, but is Oakland requiring that the operator be a union shop :)

    oakland would never ever do it, but the name of the most experienced operator of grocery stores selling cheap decent quality food to poor people begins with a W.


  18. RdwithCypress

    Three separate, reliable sources inform me the City has never spoken directly with the property owner, Sang E Hahn. The City is only speaking directly with Foods Co/Ralphs. Ralphs director of Real Estate is Mark Salma, down in Los Angeles. Sunfield, the “developer” is an investment company in Orinda. Overaa, the builder, is family owned and operated in RICHMOND since 1907. And the icing on the cake, Obama dollars are being allocated for the two other Sunfield/Overaa projects (66th at San Leandro and Foothill at Seminary). Oakland will get buildings. Sunfield’s mystery investors will get profits. Overaa will employ family. But neither company is a registered business here in Oakland. Oh, btw, in case you were wondering, Quan and Kaplan voted in favor of giving the East Oakland business opportunities to Sunfield and Overaa.

  19. RdwithCypress

    Also, West Oakland Mayor Forum was on fire tonight! Special Thanks to Greg Harland, Terrance Candell and Arnie Fields for speaking honestly and to the real problems in Oakland. Wow is all I can say about it. Finally some true issues were raised!

  20. Max Allstadt

    I thought the West Oakland Mayoral Forum was a dud, so I left.

    I was particularly disappointed with the format. No questions taken from the audience, not even on cards. And as I understand it, the questions that were asked had been given to the candidates prior to the forum. Total bullshit. That’s the main reason I left.

    We’ve yet to see a debate where candidates were able to ask direct difficult questions of each other. We’ve yet to see a debate where any forum moderator chose to ask difficult questions of the candidates on their records or on their qualifications or lack thereof. It’s been softball every time, and I’m fucking sick of it.

    Shameless plug for Kaplan: once again, she got up and was delivering the most detailed, most technically feasible plans of everybody there.

    But frankly, the mood at the West Oakland Senior Center was about as exciting as the mood in… well, a senior center.

  21. ralph

    Not really a shameless plug. I can skip all remaining candidates and tell you that RK is going to more or less come out on top. Unfortunately, even if you limited this to a 3/4 cat race, the outcome will not change.

  22. RdwithCypress

    It was not a dud. It was incredibly lively. It’s too bad you opted out, Max, seriously. You missed an incredible night. It was democracy in action. The questions themselves were not the point. The answers were the point. Every candidate performed well. Every candidate addressed the issues. Every candidate was well-spoken. Every candidate engaged the audience. Too bad we didn’t meet in person. Folks hadn’t left by the time I did at 9:15pm.

  23. len raphael

    Max, direct debate is not going to help between candidates who want the other one’s supporters 2nd choice.

    Not going to help when candidates compete on style and their so sanitized track record.

    We need tough interviewing panels of questioners that are allowed to cross examine.

    Nothing wrong with giving the questions ahead of time because by now every candidate should know the basic questions but not the trickly district specific ones.

    No candidate is going to make the mistake of being the first to give policy specifics and numerical projections. Just makes them easier for us bloggers to criticize and confuses the voters.

  24. Max Allstadt

    I was there for Terrence Candell’s first take of his audition for Wrestlemania XXII.

    Then it just started to look like the same thing I’ve seen several times already.

  25. len raphael

    Chris,before you sing the praises of central planning Oakland style, how much do we have to low ball the seizure price for the land and then stilll give financial incentives to get a decent grocery to stay and thrive at that location?

    eg. At what cost of subsidy does it make more sense to just subsidize safeway to make deliveries to drop offs at mini locations.

    What conditions are you going to make on the grocery to insure you get the results that you think are needed?

    There really were reasons larger groceries have failed in west oakland. one of them is that the profit margins on basic foods is quite low and going down as more discounters open up in other parts of town.

    that’s why grocers all tried to get into the high margin prepared food biz which is a non starter in west oakland between people on food stamps and foodies.


  26. RdwithCypress

    Hey Max,

    Be nice to Terence Candell, he is a good man who honestly and truly cares about our town. So far he is the only candidate yet to confront and actually take a position on actual policy issues. So try not to beat him up too much. Hopefully he can get the others to cowboy-up and actually take a position and speak about actual policy. I am tired of hearing about my record in office and what a mayor can and can’t do. I want to know what these candidates believe in and how they will be effective, not what have I done but what do I believe is right and wrong with the current government and policies.

  27. Max Allstadt

    Candell has been quite friendly to me when I’ve run into him at council meetings, and I’m sure his heart is in the right place.

    I still think his stage presence is completely over the top and distracting. I’ve also seen him make too many mistakes to think that he’d be a good mayor.

    1. Proposing a new toll booth at the Bay Bridge to collect money for Oakland. Sorry, no can do. That’s state property. If I knew that without looking it up, a mayoral candidate should have too.

    2. Calling out Mark Dunakin for being “Overpaid”, and doing it in council chambers in front of 200 cops who were angry in the first place. It was an honest mistake, but if you’re running for Mayor, you should know the names Dunakin, Hege, Romans and Sakai. I’m not running, and I know their first names and their ranks.

    3. Telling his supporters to vote for him as choices 1, 2, and 3 on the ranked choice ballot. First of all, that doesn’t help him get any more votes. Second, people who do it effectively disempower themselves because their second and third choice votes don’t get counted.

  28. len raphael

    on IRV and the auditor election. Would the big vote computer in the sky crash if the first round were evenly split and every voter made their second choice vote the other candidate?

  29. RdwithCypress

    Hey Max, You have to look at the alternatives before giving up on Candell. We need someone tough for Mayor since there is definitely housekeeping needed. If you had Candell, with the right city administrator it could actually be good. Don P is tough enough but I suspect he is unclean since he apparently is in bed with DeSilva Co who somehow gets so much city business that it seems below board. Jean, has no spine and has done little to fix the mess we are in. Kaplan doesn’t speak honestly about her policies. She flips depending on where she is talking. I think at least Candell is honest. Oakland deserves someone who actually grew up here and hasn’t been corrupted by power and who will be present.

  30. RdwithCypress

    BTW if George W Bush is qualified to be a President, then Terrance can definitely handle being Oakland Mayor for sure. I bet we can agree on that….

  31. RdwithCypress

    Max, what is your opinion about Greg H? I really like him as well. He seems smart, seems to have a spine, and is not afraid to confront the others with real facts but in a non-offensive way.

  32. len raphael

    Why aren’t more people here bothered by the exemption from eminent domain for small residential apartment buildings but not just a little bit larger ones?

    apart from the reality that the forced sale price is usually below the true market value, why shouldn’t the tennants (or the property owner for that matter) have the same rights to enjoy staying put just so that other residents can get a supermarket?

    -len raphael

  33. Naomi Schiff

    You are probably correct to wonder, because we keep claiming to have a housing shortage (well, not so much at present, but over the long haul). Why would we ever want to make it easy to destroy rental housing? A hardship to both owners and renters, and of course the history is that redevelopment projects often take many years to complete. Once a redevelopment zone is designated, some owners will tend to not maintain their property, and just hope that the city will come and make them rich. Thus the whole process has sometimes led to years of terrible neglect and blight.

  34. RdwithCypress


    I somewhat agree with you but what most people don’t realize is that CEDA code enforcement who is supposed to be fixing blight is actually causing it east of 580. Code Enforcement comes in and places liens and “prospective liens” on property owners from everything from peeling paint to unfounded allegations of work done with no permit. The leins create a situation where the owner can no longer get financing to fix the blight. Not even the Ceda “fifth floor help”. Making is much worse is the fact that once these liens are place the property owner cannot even sell the encumbered property for FMV. The bank in many cases forecloses the property because of the encumbrance clause in the loan agreement. It is a terrible situation. If the bank forecloses they pay the liens and charge the property owner leaving them in financial ruin. Also, the property ends up rotting on a bad market. Talk about the reason East and West Oakland has a blight problem. It always makes me made when people say, ” no one in East and West cares about their property” It is not true. If the city would leave it alone it would fix itself. As it is property owners cannot do any repairs without ridicules trouble from the over enforcement of building code….

  35. RdwithCypress

    The city is banking 24 million a year from 2000 property owners. It is revenue machine worse than parking enforcement. No one that knows about this will even invest in Oakland anymore. It is a truly broken system.

  36. len raphael

    it was inevitable that the dept heads of a bankrupt city that can’t raise taxes would get the message that they have to raise revenue from fines and overtime special fees to save their depts from cuts if they were in a revenue generating dept like parking enforcement or building inspections and permits.

    in that envoirment, human nature and possibly weak internal checks and balances for some employees/managers along the way have been tempted to “dip their hands in revenue stream” as is flows by.

  37. Karen Bishop

    I enjoy reading blogs to get multiple perspectives on a topic. However I find your blog more of a rant than educational. And your biases are so obvious it makes me laugh. Saying Joe Tuman is unaware of the current controversies, as usual, is so completely untrue. Have you even read his platforms on his website or talked to him. He is the most educated, most informed candidate for mayor. He has specific plans for many issues facing Oakland.

    Your grasp of the nuances and the use of power to use eminent domain is severely lacking and I suggest you take some college courses on politics, what it means to have a democracy and freedom of speech. You seem to enjoy mocking people rather than getting to the heart of some serious issues.

    And, finally, you really need to improve your grammar because it is hard to follow your logic with your ramblings.

  38. len raphael

    Karen, at my local starbucks there is a poster for the upcoming mayoral forum at Holy Names on Thursday, Oct 21 6-8 PM.

    Just above that poster is a different announcement that reminds me of Joe’s policy positions.

    It’s for an Astral Projection training course by the Gnostic Foundation.

    Joe flys above the policy details.

    Probably some principle he teaches in his poly sci courses at sf state on how to run a winning campaign.

    Joe’s best positions are copies of other candidate’s.

    In general he doesn’t crunch the numbers or dig into the issues. On the all important retirement fiscal disaster, his position is that he has a plan but in the negotiating class he used to teach he always told his students not to give away their plan ahead of time.

    That might or might not work in business context, but you won’t get people to vote for you based on “trust me, I’ve got a plan”.

    -len raphael

  39. Patti

    All these replies and not one calls you out on your misguided rant about your unfortunate one-time visit to Mandela Foods Coop. I’m disappointed by your comments.

    How unnecessary to the point of the story. And the further comments about going instead to the Bloomingdale’s basement to buy “cheaper” foods…really? Spend your dollars in San Francisco and buy your groceries at Bristol Farms? And c’mon…tell me what was cheaper at Bristol Farms…

    To those of us who live in West Oakland, Mandela Foods is a Godsend. While they may not have shelves full of food every day, we don’t find that to be a significant problem. We plan ahead. And buy what’s fresh – and there is farm fresh produce every week. We get to know and support our neighbors – they run the store. We have an opportunity to get to know the farmer’s whose produce we buy. And the store stocks healthy, unprocessed food options.

    In my experience, Mandela Foods stocks items that taste better, are healthier and less expensive than other options in the area including Pack n’Save, Whole Foods and Berkeley Bowl West. They support other small businesses. And I can WALK to Mandela.

    Mandela Foods isn’t the solution to all the food issues that West Oakland has, but it is a great start and supporting them will only help fill the shelves more often and provide greater food options to the West Oakland community.

    Sorry you had a bad experience. But think before you hit “publish”. Those of us who live in West Oakland and support our community don’t appreciate the misguided and inaccurate reports about our little neighborhood gem.

  40. Dax

    A little off topic, but in the area of development is the long article today in the Los Angeles Times.

    About city redevelopment agencies..

    I’m sure, most of the issues discussed affect and are similar to Oakland’s redevelopment agency.

    I know nothing about Oakland’s, so I put forth the story here so that someone familiar with that could read it and see what the LA Times dug up…
    (like their investigation of Bell Ca),0,6402047,full.story

    Says Oakland has $189,558,674

    San Leandro $17,707,791

    San Francisco $545,859,549

    Big buckets of money. There must be huge abuses when that much money is involved.


    “Other” category $71,668,261
    much higher in Oakland vs other cities

    San Francisco “other” category, only $3,943,10 out of 545 million dollars.

    What is Oakland’s huge “other”?

  41. len raphael

    Dax, thank you.

    minor correction: the 189Mill is what Oakland RDA spent in that fiscal year. You have to search for the RDA financial statements

    where you’ll see that as 6/30/09 RDA unrestricted cash and investments accounts totaled 260Mill, but you have to look at the entire balance sheet to get their situation, which appears to be fat and happy, but not 260Mill fat.

    The city officials are quite happy to keep us focused on the general fund details because the risk for waste and abuse in obscurred RDA budget is huge.

    260Mill. No wonder the council sees the RDA as they slush fund to balance the budget any time by selling real estate to it, or charging back more expenses.

    Makes the Port look like a poor cousin.

    btw, the LA Times article lists Oakland residents living at or below poverty level at 19% ?

    What are the income levels for poverty now?

    -len raphael

  42. Simon Dorf

    I can’t comment on the condition of the Mandela Coop, though if it’s bad I think that’s worth mentioning and shouldn’t be avoided just because it’s a worthy venture. West Oakland still needs a full service supermarket. People have been going to groceries by bus (imagine yourself doing that) and bus service is only going to get worse, at least in the near term.

    In terms of eminent domain, there’s a common misperception that it results in government purchases for less than market value. But those who’ve actually worked in eminent domain situations know that the government often pays more than it otherwise would have, just so that it can get the property.

    What eminent domain does is make it possible for the city to require the sale of a given property to the city. Owners have all sorts of reasons–good, bad and ugly–why they might not want to sell. It’s a last resort for the city–it’s more complicated, controversial, and expensive–but sometimes it’s the only way to buy a critical property.

    This issue is about making certain properties eligible for eminent domain. Not knowing the properties in question, I have to assume that there’s some particular interest in the added properties, but who knows how it will shake out.

    This really amounts to a tweak on the existing plan, which should be done.

  43. len raphael

    Simon, there are very real economic reasons that no large grocer has opened up in West Oakland.

    It tooks years for a critical mass of well to do residents for a grocery to open up in Emeryville, but that occurred (presumedly)without use of eminent domain or any emeryville subsidy.

    We have to find out why the other grocery store failed twice? near the Acorn project before tearing stuff down.

    Then there is the other point that several smaller stores scattered around would make it much easier and cheaper for people relying on diminishing bus service to do their food shopping.

    If wer’

  44. len raphael

    Simon, there are very real economic reasons that no large grocer has opened up in West Oakland.

    It took years for a critical mass of well to do residents for a grocery to open up in Emeryville, but that occurred (presumedly)without use of eminent domain or any emeryville subsidy.

    We have to find out why the other grocery store failed twice? near the Acorn project before tearing stuff down.

    Then there is the other point that several smaller stores scattered around would make it much easier and cheaper for people relying on diminishing bus service to do their food shopping.

    The grocery that’s buying the land is assuredly expecting to get a bargain to offset the negatives that turned off other groceries from opening in West Oakland.

    While eminent domain doesn’t automatically = bargain purchase prices, in this real estate market I’ll bet that it does mean exactly that in West Oakland.

    Comps are few and very low in part because of the continuing credit crunch; the rents are currently very low too because of the recession.

    Appraisals for the forced sales should come in much lower than what the owners would get in a normal market transaction.

    btw, in eminent domain appraisals, are the appraiser(s) selected entirely by the RDA or one by the RDA and one by the seller? Are the appraisers supposed to apply a premium for the last pieces of an acquisition?

    -len raphael

  45. RdwithCypress

    I actually have the full general ledger for fund 2415 from the city’s oracle system from 2007 – 2009. I got it from auditoaklandceda and they got it through public records requests. The CEDA expenses are very lavish, with lunches for 300 city employees etc. Most of the money seems to go to 3 contractors, Arthur Young Debris removal, DiSilva Gates and one other. The rest of the revenue seems to pay for exorbitant cost allocations to pay for other departments like HR, Legal, Accounting thus, cost relief to the Gen Fund. It is wacky how it is allocated. Like usually HR is allocated based on head count, Accounting is allocated based on the number of transactions but NOT IN OAKLAND. They base all the cost allocations on gross payroll expense. So for CEDA the more payroll expense they incur the more relief to the Gen Fund. I have never seen anything like it. This is the reason they don’t ever cut CEDA staff. This is why they would rather cut cops.

  46. Matt C.

    V, I agree, it’s a done deal. Since the ED issue is pretty much over can we start a thread debating the merits of Foods Co and their proposed development plan, because my experience with Foods Co as a neighbor has been 100% negative.

    I found that they sold poor quality produce and dairy. They didn’t maintain their parking lot (a huge expanse of asphalt w/ two terminally ill trees) allowing heaps of garbage to blow through the neighborhood. Years after Foods Co’s addition to the neighborhood ZERO tertiary development occurred. Well, a restaurant and a tatoo artist closed-up shop…

    From what I’ve seen of Foods Co’s development plan for the WO site it’s about as enlightened as brain dead design gets: football field size moon scape parking lot, no integration of the existing environment and a permanent road closure to boot. It simply sucks.

  47. V Smoothe Post author

    Matt –

    I don’t think it makes any sense to be “debating” a development plan that doesn’t even exist yet. You can’t make broad judgements based on one preliminary, tiny, low-res image. I do agree that if the store does end up being built, it is important to push for high quality, pedestrian friendly design.

    RdwithCypress –

    If you are going to comment, please keep your writing on topic. I allow people to leave comments to respond to what I write. This is not a general forum for airing your grievances with the City. The general ledger from 2415 has nothing to do with the subject of this post.

    Dax –

    Please keep your comments on topic. Pension boosts, Bell, the Los Angeles Redevelopment Agency…none of these things are on topic for this post.

    Patti –

    Although I only described one visit to Mandela Foods, I have actually been there on a number of occasions. If you truly feel that it is a “gem,” then I feel sorry for you. That just really underscores the serious dearth of places to buy actual food in West Oakland. Every time I have visited, there has been nobody besides me and the employees inside the store for the entire duration of my visit and the majority of the produce is bordering on inedible and shockingly overpriced.

    Karen –

    I have seen Joe Tuman speak at four Mayoral forums and have read through his website. The only way one could think that Tuman has a solid grasp on the City’s issues is if one doesn’t know anything about them themselves.

  48. RdwithCypress

    Foods Co (big box store) I feel very strongly that West Oakland does not need to bring in outside business. There are so many Oaklanders who would love to invest/ build a grocery store down here in West. What West Oakland needs and wants is to grow the business already here in Oakland. The idea of an Orinda Developer and a Richmond Contractor building a big box store using property obtained by eminent domain and our redevelopment dollars makes me ill. Does everyone understand what this store will mean to all the local business that are already hear? West Oakland is 4 minutes away from Emeryville, 4 min away from lake shore and 5 min away from Jack London. If the city is worried about those that do not drive why do they want 200+ parking spaces. Tell the city to stop interjecting itself into the free market economy NO EMINENT DOMAIN

  49. len raphael

    i can see why the city doesn’t want to deal with much smaller, unexperienced grocery operators, though I’d be curious if they even approached say Farmer Joe’s.

    City knows the odds are against any operator succeeding there without boosting margins by selling a lot of junk food, alcohol, so so quality food, and low percentage of produce.

    Since no one was going to allow Walmart in which hands down would have been the best neighbor and delivered the cheapest decent quality food, the city should have explored resurrecting the old Swan’s market concept that thrived for years in DTO.

    For those of you who were probably born after it closed for eventual redevelopment, it was a low end Market Hall.

    It could have given a boost to locally run food businesses with low overhead.

    But all of that is just too much work for our underpaid RDA and CEDA staff, which spends how many millions a year on “planning”?

    -len raphael

  50. Matt C.

    ralph, 14th and Folsom in SF.

    V, what they issued to the press is very legible to me. I’m also pretty sure Foods Co has a development plan ready to go. Also, have you seen their existing stores?

  51. RdwithCypress

    One thing that nobody really understands is that the City Council on Tuesday at 6:30 is not voting on a supermarket they are only voting on expanding the rules for Eminent Domain. In my opinion City Staff is clouding the issue by bringing the Foods Co up as the reason. Has anyone checked? I don’t think the foods co project is 5 acres. So why does staff want a change in the language?

  52. V Smoothe

    RdwithCypress –

    The Foods Co total project size is 5 acres. That is why they need to amend to Redevelopment Plan. Currently it only allows for eminent domain to be used when the total project size is 3 acres. The lot that eminent domain would be used on, if it came to that, is less than 1 acre. I recommend reading the post I wrote about the subject if you want to understand what is going on. I have explained the situation very clearly.

  53. Erin

    Thanks SO much for this thorough explanation. I’m one of those West Oakland homeowners who received only a brief notice that did absolutely nothing to tell me what was really going on.

    I agree that West Oakland seriously needs a grocery store (and that Mandela doesn’t really cut it), but Foods Co doesn’t seem to be a good answer, either. Brahm Ahmadi (of People’s Grocery) has been trying for years to open a large, affordable, healthy, community-based grocery store – why isn’t the city partnering with him rather than Foods Co? West Oakland has a history of bringing in chain stores that leave after a year or two; are there any provisions to ensure that things would be different with Foods Co?

  54. Barry K

    Maybe Quan will give another $10,000 of her Pay-Go for a mural at the FoodCo store like she’s currently doing at the privately owned Framer Joe’s. (Maybe her image with Chavez, Castro, and Stalin. Good company.)

    Jean Quan and Rebecca Kapkan, council members who are running for mayor, both voted to pass the amendment.

    Quan asked about how the store would look, whether the location has been chosen to be close to public transportation and if Kroger would consider buying from local farmers and food vendors. A Kroger spokesman said the chain “would be open to all suggestions and avenues” to supply its store.

    Kaplan said she plans to bring up issues relating to local hiring and labor standards when the actual grocery store project comes before the council.

  55. RdwithCypress

    Kaplan actually got my attention with her comments but the fact still remains that she voted yes. I understand that lightening has struck twice. I hear that CEDA used eminent domain against this same property owner in the past. It begs a lot of questions about how they choose this location.

  56. Mary Hollis

    Perhaps the reason there is no food store in West Oakland is because whenever one wants to open there, the CC comes along with a plethora of demands for local suppliers, local hiring, diversity quota’s, labor standards, murals of smiling workers and so on.

    The developer then realizes it is much cheaper, easier and better to move to a jurisdiction where they are actually given incentives and breaks, and where they can bypass much of this bureaucratic red tape and overbearing political correctness?

  57. Marie Beichert

    I have not seen it mentioned that Food Co is a low end subsidiary of Kroger, second only to the big W in food retailing in this country. They own their distribution system including trucks, with most product shipped from the midwest… more opportunity to suck the limited cash available to Oaklanders out of their pockets and send it away… the issue is actually sustainable local economy, guys…

  58. Mary Hollis


    “the issue is actually sustainable local economy, guys”

    Actually it isn’t. The issue is making fresh produce available in WO.

    That has historically been an uneconomic proposition. So it is entirely possible that the only enterprise that could make it work is a ruthlessly low-cost, union-busting out-of-State concern that can actually ram down their costs so much that even the badlands of WO become economcially viable.

    Sure it would be great if a Berkeley Bowl type whole food co-operative could open up and flourish, sourcing everything from City Slicker farms and employing only minorities from the projects.

    But it won’t fly and meanwhile people can’t buy food. I suspect that FoodsCo could succeed where others would fail. They should build it and we should give them as many tax breaks and exemptions as we can.

    Having said that, I still dont like using ED to buy private property at an under-market price.

  59. Sinic

    I hope it gets built because it is desperately needed in that area. In reality I’m sure some way we will screw our way out of it and it will be built in San Leandro next to Bayfair where no one will complain about every little aspect of the project.

  60. Mary Hollis


    The irony is that there is a vast, successful retail mecca immediately next to West Oakland – Emeryville.

    And built on old dock and industrial land near identical to WO.

    The only difference there was the politics. There must be few places in America where you can see the difference between two different political outlooks just by walking under a freeway.

    It is a mind-boggling indictment of Oakland politics that a booming retail park exists and flourishes so close to a blighted ghetto, but just across a city line.