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A commission with no omission

Last night’s Blue Ribbon Commission meeting was extremely informative, and may have marked a turning point. All 15 members attended, and were presented with the Hausrath Group’s excellent analysis of Oakland’s real estate development environment and the punishingly high costs of inclusionary zoning. I urge everyone to download the presentation from the BRC website. Its conclusion is that downtown and East Oakland will be most impacted by IZ, while Emeryville-area and North Oakland condos can afford it (barely).

The smart cookies of the Hausrath group finally pointed out to the BRC that much-discussed development incentives are meaningless in Oakland. As everyone should know, Oakland’s General Plan calls for zoning above what the market will build, so there are no density bonuses to be had. Somewhat embarrassingly, commissioners had to be informed by city staff that developers are uninterested in cutting minimum parking requirements. One of the economists called permit expediting, and other red-tape-cutting measures dangled by suburban municipalities, “standard operating procedure” in Oakland. Good for us.

IZ activists, knowing they were in for a beating, marshaled their forces in the half-empty, wood-paneled auditorium of the newly Gothamized Police Administration Building. Unfortunately, the half-dozen Just Cause speakers were under the impression that inclusionary zoning had something to do with low-income housing. Much of the mainstream media seems to be unaware of this, but low-income has a legal definition: people earning under 50% of the Area Median Income (varies by family size). Inclusionary Zoning targets what’s defined as moderate-income families, making 80 – 100% of the AMI. I have no idea why anti-gentrification, anti-poverty activists would speak in favor of a condo lottery for people making over $67k/yr.

Erstwhile Affordable Housing Week coordinator Amie Fishman of EBHO looked forward to rapid price housing price appreciation to make up for IZ’s huge costs, saying, “we don’t need a policy for 2007, we need one for the long-term.” The talking points of the defeated-looking IZ activists included dismissing the Oakland-specific analysis; one said, “These are facts, but you need to look at faces.” Others vainly and plaintively complained that “project by project fights” were too exhausting,* so we should just pass an expansive ordinance. Well, why not just stop fighting projects?

The hypocritical or confused public speakers were not the low point of the discussion: the most dogmatic commissioners grasped at straws. Alan Yee, Jean Quan’s appointee and Jane Brunner’s boss, flatly stated that he wouldn’t mind a development moratorium. He said cheerfully, “(IZ) won’t stop development forever, it will just delay it for several years,” as if that were acceptable to the entrepreneurs, job-seekers and investors (and low-income housing funds) that depend on an expanding local economy.

Nancy Nadel’s appointee, Michael Rawson, questioned the study’s reliance on financial data from developers. He asked if the economists tried to get internal development data from “independent sources,” who don’t have “self-interest.” His willingness to ignore, or even impeach, data was shared by more than a few attendees of the meeting. Unfortunately, I suspect that the virtually 50/50 split of the commissioners is too ideological to be overcome by clear and cogent analysis, no matter how intuitive its conclusions.


* The housing activists are so narrow-minded it’s sometimes stunning. One of the main arguments for IZ is that it will put an end to project-by-project fights. They fail to understand that there are reasons other than “gentrification” for people to oppose development. Considering how pro-IZ Councilmembers Nadel and Brunner have iffy-at-best attitudes toward dense development, claiming that IZ will lead to a great pro-building consensus strains the imagination.

Posted in housing, iz, oakland.


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Continuing the Discussion

  1. Rank hypocrisy on the Left « Oakland’s Future linked to this post on May 25, 2007

    [...] Fishman, the young director of East Bay Housing Organizations, stunned me when she welcomed inflated home prices in order to pay for her bullshit regulated-condo lottery (IZ). Yesterday, she said the  opposite [...]

  2. Surreal Estate indeed « Oakland’s Future linked to this post on August 3, 2007

    [...] to be moving toward a watered-down IZ policy of 5% below-market-rate (BMR) units on-site (which the Hausrath report said nobody will do because of the widely varying land prices in Oakland), or 10% off-site. [...]

  3. Great Expectations » Blue Ribbon Commissioners should be ashamed of themselves linked to this post on August 9, 2007

    [...] you haven’t been following dto510’s excellent coverage of the Blue Ribbon Commission, you can get up to speed by checking out my Novometro story [...]