When I attended the community briefing on the Housing Element on April 14, I had the impression that this was intended to be a meaningful process, where public comments would be taken into consideration in the development of housing policy. Senior staff from CEDA was there, including Eric Angstadt.
As Chairman of the Central City East Redevelopment PAC, I invited staff from Planning to address our May 4 meeting. There Devan Reiff explained the housing allocation for Oakland from the Association of Bay Area Governments (ABAG). He said further that the Housing Element merely needed to show that Oakland allowed for the possibility to meet their 14,000 allocation. That is to say, is there sufficient land upon which the mandated housing can be build, and does current zoning allow such building? It’s merely a matter of checking a couple of boxes. Yes, it is theoretically possible that these things can be built. Whether politics and economics will allow them to be built is irrelevant.
These things are either true or false. Public sentiment does not make them more true or more false. Public hearings give the opportunity to wax eloquent about the virtues or evils of subsidized housing, but they have no influence whatsoever on the facts. If Oakland wants to save money, streamline this review process as much as the sunshine ordinances will allow, since the public hearings are a sham anyway.
To add a further sense of unreality to the PAC meeting, Kathy Kuhner addressed the group on housing on behalf of the Oakland Builders Alliance. She said that all this talk about building 14,000 new units in Oakland was meaningless. Homebuilding in Oakland is dead. We have thousands of repossessed homes sitting unbought in Oakland, and thousands more in the pipeline.
Oakland cannot both have a shortage of 14,000 homes and a surplus of several thousand homes at the same time.
Tom Thurston is an East Oakland resident and Chair of the Central City East Redevelopment Area PAC.