Your Council this week – June 25th-29th, 2007

State of the Art Education Complex: Tuesday, June 26th, 6:00 PM Education Partnership Committee

Last summer, State Superintendent of Public Instruction Jack O’Connell announced a plan to sell 9.5 acres of OUSD-owned property near Lake Merritt to New York developer Terramark for $65 million. The land sale would have put a substantial dent in the $100 million the district owes to the state. The proposal drew violent opposition from members of OUSD’s impotent School Board, who claimed that the sale would actually hurt the district financially, since the cost of relocating the five schools currently housed on the land could reach $35 million. Although their decisions have carried no weight since the district went into state recievership in 2003, the School Board voted to reject the land sale and countered Terramark’s proposal with a vision of their own – a “state-of-the-art education center” on the property.

At the urging of School Board members and many local residents, the City Council issued a proclamation opposing the sale of the property, but reacted more tenuously to the proposed education center, saying that they needed more information about financing before they could endorse such a plan. Now the Terramark deal is off the table, but the question remains as to what to do with the land.

When they announced their plan, the Board did not provide details about the complex, leaving community members to imagine for themselves what such a “state of the art” facility would entail. For some, the phrase may have suggested technology-enhanced classrooms. Others might have envisioned large scale auditorium and performance space available to the entire district, or perhaps a modern library filled with multimedia equipment. This Tuesday, when the Council’s Education Partnership Committee discusses the district’s plan, they will learn that it means rebuilding the five schools currently occupying the property so that they meet “CA State standards for public K-12 facilities.”

The bankrupt district has sagely anticipated the need for a proposal that will not require additional state funding or new taxes, including in the report financing options for the $106 million complex. The district already has $22 million in bond money earmarked for the construction of a new La Escuelita Elementary and another $8.2 million allocated to the two pre-schools on the property. The discussion document suggests that the Peralta Community College District would share the district’s administration facilities, and would contribute $15 million for their construction. The remainder of the financing hinges on the sale of 3 acres of the land for private development, in addition to anticipating an unspecified amount of Redevelopment Agency funds and federal tax credits. The discussion document contains a helpful chart detailing the plan, which reads “$22M + $8.2M + $15M + $TBD + $TBD + $TBD + $TBD + $TBD = $TBD.”

Plastic Bags Ban: Tuesday, June 26th, 10:30 AM Public Works Committee

Last summer, Oakland’s City Council passed an ordinance banning styrofoam containers at restaurants. Rampant flouting of the new law among local eateries has not discouraged them from taking on a new enemy – plastic bags. Hot on the heels of similar legislation in San Francisco, Councilmembers Jean Quan and Nancy Nadel have introduced a proposal that would ban retailers grossing over a $1 million per year from distributing plastic shopping bags with purchases.

The staff report argues that the ban is necessary due to the rapidly escalating problem of marine debris, 80% of which comes from some form of plastic. It further notes that 12 million barrels of oil are used annually to produce plastic bags used in the US (a barrel of crude oil yields just under 20 gallons of gasoline), and that the ban will help use reduce our dependence on fossil fuels. Paper bags, which require significantly more energy than plastic bags both to produce and to recycle, would continue to be permitted under the ordinance. The report explains that this is because Oakland’s municipal recycling program accepts only paper bags, claiming there are no “meaningful recycling opportunities” for plastic. It fails to mention the mandatory state plastic bag recycling program beginning on July 1.

The report further suggests that the ban could benefit Oakland economically as well as environmentally, as the increased market demand for reusable canvas bags would create an opportunity to recruit a canvas bag manufacturer to relocate to the city, thereby creating “meaningful work” for Oakland residents.

Smoking Ordinance Delayed: Tuesday, September 11th, 7:30 PM Public Safety Committee

The Public Safety Committee was scheduled to consider groundbreaking legislation severely restricting smoking in the city this Tuesday. The ordinance would have prohibited smoking in all newly constructed apartment and condo buildings, and declared secondhand smoke a public nuisance in order to discourage smoking in currently existing buildings and in single family homes. The ordinance was originally scheduled to be heard at the June 12th meeting, but was pushed back when the Committee still hadn’t gotten to the item after several hours of discussing other issues.

Opponents of the legislation (myself included) spent the intervening week urging the Council to delay the item and revise the staff report to include more information. As Barbara Killey, the staff administrator responsible for the legislation, had alleged in a previous meeting that the ordinance was driven by citizen complaints, we asked that all smoking-related complaints the City has received since 2005 be documented to demonstrate the public need for increased restrictions. Additionally, we requested that the City Attorney’s office prepare a report addressing the possibility of litigation due to violations of both the 14th Amendment and the voter-approved Measure Z. We also requested that consideration of the legislation be delayed until the Public Ethics Commission completes their inquiry of American Lung Association policy director Serena Chen, who, in December, told the Public Safety Committee that she had written most of the ordinance herself. A complaint has been filed against Ms. Chen for unregistered lobbying.

The Rules Committee rejected all requests for additional information, but did agree to put off consideration of the ordinance for several months.