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Anti-Park Petition Offering Cash for Signatures

With only eight days to go, the regional groups fighting against Oakland’s 30-acre shoreline park and hundreds of units of affordable housing are now offering $1.50 per signature to petition gatherers. Without discussing the merits, their Craigslist ad promises up to $30 an hour (“if you’re good”). The coalition has therefore adopted the tactics of corporate-funded intiatives and is paying random people to gather signatures (a practice which may soon be banned statewide), at a total cost of as much as $30,000. This is their third Craigslist ad to recruit help with the promise of high pay. Why aren’t the groups able to find volunteers, and why don’t they have a source of local, passionate potential employees?

Clearly the group has no interest in arguing on the merits. As I discussed in my last post, their signature drive is packaged with gross distortions of the plan and other lies, sounding fishy to anyone with the slightest knowledge of the project (as this exchange on IndyMedia makes clear). In their ad for highly-paid signature gatherers, Anti-Oak-to-Ninth says that “This campaign is to COLLECT SIGNATURES for a good cause (a referendum to stop a destructive property development).” This is not very descriptive of the Oak-to-Ninth project – a brownfield redevelopment that is half parkland is hardly “destructive.” Any knowledge of local issues or even being from Oakland is irrelevent to the anti-Oak-to-Ninth groups; they’re just out to hire some guns, and apparently expect them to know nothing about local issues.

It is an indication of the lack of community opposition to Oak-to-Ninth that the groups are forced to pay high wages to distinterested young people to keep their efforts on life support. They are resorting to lies, hired help, and non-Oakland money (as the drive is backed by a UCB think-tank and the SF Sierra Club) to wage a “grassroots” campaign. They are desperate to stop something that almost everyone in Oakland supports. It is still unlikely, though, they they will collect the 18,700 signatures needed by next Thursday (they really need 21,000 to ensure validity). No doubt the local groups that worked with the developer for more parkland, more affordable housing, transit subsidies and other benefits will be relieved.

Posted in california, o29, oakland.

16 Responses

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  1. jesse says

    I’m loving the blog, Oakland Native! Keep it up. I was wondering if you had any background info regarding the Oak2ninth fight, specifically about the groups opposed to the project. From my research and your post, it looks like they’ve been fighting this tooth and nail for a while: Is there anything in particular that they wanted besides schools and more park space? I just don’t get it. I want to go to the next council meeting.

  2. Oakland Native says

    Thanks, Jesse! As far as I understand, the main people behind the (successful, though misleading) petition drive are the League of Women Voters, the Oakland Heritage Alliance, the Green Party, an anti-urban-living environmentalist think-tank, and the regional Sierra Club. I am very unclear on where their money came from (they spent as much as $50,000 on salaries alone, according to their Craigslit postings, on the drive), but those are the sponsers.

    The Green Party is against all development of public property, as they are more of a socialist party than a Green (as understood internationally) party. The Sierra Club has been attacking the Oak-to-Ninth project for a long time in their newspaper, although their motivation seems to be broadly anti-growth rather than specific to the project. The Berkeley think-tank argues that all homes near freeways (ie, most spots suitable for new development in Oakland) are unhealthy. At the appeal meeting before the City Council, it was clear that evidence was not on their side (beyond the disastrous implications of their position).

    The OHA’s president, Naomi Schiff, led the referendum. At the City Council meeting, she asked that the historic (though useless and ugly) break-bulk 9th Ave Terminal should be exempted from the approval to find any possibility of adaptive reuse. The council obliged, forcing Signature to issue an RFP for at least 50% of the building. But not only did Ms. Schiff lead the referendum drive, the OHA is suing (but Oakland is hard to sue – our staff is very professional).

    I have no idea what the League of Women Voters is doing here, but their Oakland chapter is less than non-partisan. They also have a bizarre obsession with the 1999 Estuary Plan, which they seem to think was ratified by popular vote (it was not). The Green Party, the Berkeley think-tank, and, unfortunately, the Sierra Club, are simply adamantly opposed to any development there. I suspect that the OHA is trying to increase their political standing (quite successfully), given the unusal power vacuum in Oakland right now.

    Ms. Schiff will deal with the developer and compromise (although since she already got what she said she wanted, it is unclear what she wants now). The other groups won’t. The City Council will most likely modify their approval and thus dare the coalition to gather signatures again (check out the CC Times article, which was by far the best on the topic on Thursday). So, will it be challenged again? I think so.

    The real money behind this drive (and we’ll find out once the City Clerk receives their financial statement, which isn’t due until October (!)) is most likely from wealthy nearby homeowners who are concerned primarily with traffic. No good development would satisfy them, because any successful use of the property will inherently increase traffic. They’re the ones who think that the whole thing should be a park (because it would be unused, like Middle Harbor), and they’ve manipulated leftist-minded types into supporting them.

    I can explain in more detail why the low-income housing funding argument is completely wrong, and why it makes no sense to build a school there, but that’s for another time.

    Thank you for reading!

  3. jesse says

    that makes a lot of sense, thanks. I understand the anti-growth philosophy, even if I disagree, but I couldn’t understand what the LoWV was in on it. I get the same impression from the local branch’s website-very different tone from the national and even state organization.

    Thanks for the explanation.

  4. Naomi Schiff says

    So interesting to have you tell us what we are thinking.

    But are you correct? Most of us are advocates FOR urban living. We are not particularly anti-growth, and are not opposed to development at Oak-to-Ninth. But we do want a better deal for our city, and we believe that we need open and liveable neighborhoods to support urban density. I live and work and send my younger daughter to school in Oakland. I have raised my family here. We live in a dense neighborhood on a busy street.

    Why load more ideology onto this controversy than is there? This is much more about urban planning and liveability. A number of political viewpoints are represented by each party to the discussion, and it doesn’t really fall into familiar polarized categories in the way that you seem to find desirable.

    Toward consensus and an open process in Oakland.

  5. jesse says

    In all fairness Naomi, although your point about openness is well taken, it seems that your party, beeing in the minority, should carry the burden of proof when it comes to this particular battle. By the number of organizations supporting this plan, I’m willing to bet the majority of Oaklanders are for it (although I’ll suppose we won’t know for sure until November).

    We’ve already gone through a lengthy negotiation process, and the city, it seems to me, has already won significant concessions from the developers. With the economy and the housing market softening, we should be supporting appropriate developement, not hindering it. Especially in what has been essentially dead space for so long.

    There are plenty of battles for social and economic justice to be fought in Oakland and the Bay Area more generally, at this point I don’t think Oak to Ninth should be one of them.

  6. Naomi Schiff says

    One of the things that needs more inspection is how much the Oak to Ninth project will cost the city in direct funds and in services. What about all the infrastructure expenditures that the city will have to bear, outside the edge of the development, but required by it?

    An interesting aspect of redevelopment law is that in the redevelopment zone the general fund gets much less tax income, while the redevelopment agency gets more. I used to think redevelopment programs were good, and maybe some of them are (for example, the affordable housing funds seem worthwhile), but as more and more of the city’s area has been put into redevelopment, we have had really terrible problems coming up with enough money for basic services such as police, fire, parks and recreation, and public works.

    It seems that the Central City redevelopment area was created for the express purpose of gleaning bond proceeds from the Oak to Ninth project. These can be used for near-term (pork?) projects, but the bonds must be paid back over the long term. Thus we are mortgaging our future, and our General Fund. I am not sure what the answer is, but we haven’t really thought this through as a community.

    And some of our more autocratic politicians seem to like it that way. But for a healthy community, we should be engaging in long-term dialogue and planning, and our plans should have some clout. One of the basic problems with Oak to Ninth is that it never really went through a good community planning phase. Instead, everyone simply had to react to one plan, despite the many many hours invested in the EPP. Of course it may have been reasonable to change the EPP: I had my own questions about it. But that should have come before approving any project.

    When the Port awarded the project to Signature, we immediately tried to arrange with city planning and the developer to put together an early and briskly-scheduled community planning phase, but they rejected it. Instead they had two community meetings, wrote up a report, and ignored every consensus suggestion in the report.

    This whole process would have been much faster and much less contentious if we could have front-loaded the discussion instead of dragging it out before the planning commission and city council,where the discussion format (1-minute soundbites) does not facilitate thought.

    In the end, ignoring the importance of community consensus is costing everyone time and money.

    I hope that we can improve the city’s approach to large developments in the future. It doesn’t have to be this way.

  7. Oakland Native says

    The argument that redevelopment taxes don’t benefit the general fund is an argument against all growth. Aside from the low-income housing aspect of the tax increment (which is very important), the redevelopment area also saves local taxes for local infrastructure improvements. To question the expense of infrastructure is to question the very idea of infill development. And how are these issues important to the Oakland Heritage Alliance? Ms. Schiff, you got what you wanted from the city council (an RFP for the “historic” building), so what more could you want?

    I found the entire petition drive to be quite ideological, as well as extremely misleading (as I wrote about before). Becky O’Malley (of the Berkeley Daily Planet screed), exhibited the xenophobia and suburban mindset of the anti-growth squad when she wrote:

    “the vast majority of buyers in the proposed project will just be newbies using its pricey condos as stepping stones to suburban McMansions.”

    This makes everyone opposing the Oak-to-Ninth project as it currently stands look terrible. You should denounce her ill-informed opinion (Oakland’s newly-built condos are priced well below median for the region) and reiterate that you support welcoming more residents into Oakland’s uniquely inclusive culture.

    We can’t start over from scratch. Your (regional) groups thought the community process was bad, but the community groups didn’t. What does “liveability” mean? To me, that means less parkland and more housing because that will make it a more convenient place to live and enable better transit service. Unfortunately, the petition drive was timed to prevent a vote this November. Signature can spend some more money on bike and transit access, and promise the school district access to space IF there are enough students to justify it (which is unlikely). The demands of the Sierra Club and Green Party are unreasonable and would significantly decrease the city’s tax take from the project. The council should modify the project slightly, reapprove it, and Signature should attempt to inform the voters of the merits of the project (an effort that was sorely lacking over the last month).

  8. naomi schiff says


    The timing of the referendum petition was dictated by the date of the second reading, not by the petitioners. By law, the petition must be circulated and submitted in the 30 days after final approval (in this case “second reading”) by the highest level of city government (city council).

    Thank you for crediting me with leading the petition effort. However, in actuality I was out of town for more than half of the time, on a college search trip with my daughter, a senior at Oakland Tech, and then on a long-planned journey to visit elderly parents. Many others were far more active and far more effective than I. Oakland Heritage Alliance did endorse the petition, by vote of its board. I did assist in joining with Helen Hutchison and James Vann as occasional spokespeople. But I came late to the effort, and others did much much more than I did.

    We did not exactly get what we wanted for Ninth Avenue Terminal (which is still in use, by the way, so can’t be called useless). CEQA findings of infeasibility have been made, and we find them in conflict with the RFP idea. And, the city council action calls for not more than half of the terminal to be preserved (between 40,000 and 90,000 sq ft), while we call for “at least 1/2″ to be reused. There could be a pretty large difference.

    OHA is suing on CEQA grounds, and again, our timetable was set by the exigencies of council action timing, not through our own choice. We decided we needed to keep our path of appeal open; there was no other way to do so.

    If our city is going to engage in public planning processes, such as the Estuary Policy Plan (but also including general plan congresses, housing element plans, open space plans, charter amendment committees, and zoning revision discussions), then it would behoove us to a) get as many people involved as possible and, once approved by city council, b) stick to the plan, or go back to the public for revisions. Otherwise, why would active citizens participate in planning efforts? There are too many hours involved, and too much effort put in, for us to simply chuck out ideas evolved by community consensus.

    I appreciate your posting this clarification.

  9. Oakland Native says

    Thanks for continuing to engage in a discussion!

    I understand that the timetable is out of your control. It might be nice for a group of activist citizens to get together and draw up the Estuary Policy Plan, but, first, that was seven years ago, and second, it is Signature’s money that will pay for the development, and so it was appropriate for them to make the proposal.

    Again, the complaints about the development lack specifics. What can Signature do to placate at least some of the groups involved in the drive? It really seems far-fetched to think that we’re going to find a use for more than 100,000 square feet of rotting warehouse. That’s as a big as a mid-size downtown office building! Besides, Jack London Square II is undertaking large-scale commercial development nearby.

    It does seem to me that the League of Women’s Voters was one of the main forces behind the petition drive, as that (somewhat confused) organization has mountains of cash to throw away. It is disappointing that a group supposedly devoted to informing voters would take part in such a duplicitous petition drive. I even heard people claiming that the development would tear down people’s homes!

    To prove that the petition organizers are upset about the process, and aren’t anti-growth, the leaders should roundly condemn Becky O’Malley’s xenophobic, anti-Oakland stance against “newbies.”

    We all (except the Green Party, the artists’ colony and the Berkeley Daily Planet) want to see thousands of new residents clean up this toxic dump and install new waterfront parkland. You don’t need to seek revenge for being ignored years ago. The next big development won’t make that mistake. The sooner we can compromise about the details of this plan, which has been endorsed by the vast majority of community groups, the sooner we’ll get our new park.

  10. Naomi Schiff says

    About Ninth Avenue Terminal: There are several development groups who are quite interested. It would be great if the city would revoke the findings of infeasibility, which complicate the evaluation of proposals, provide a disincentive for the Oakland Harbor Partners to cooperate and make it harder to judge proposals fairly.

    To my knowledge the LWV does not have mountains of cash. In fact, not even molehills of cash. They have clearly stated their objections to the seriously flawed approval process and general plan changes, with written communications on the subject on at least nine occasions, plus hosting forums and discussions. For years. Their position is clear: the MEANS of making planning decisions are important, not just the ENDS, which tend to reflect commercial interests more than the interests of the public. REmember: the citizens are the landowners selling a valuable property.

    I take no responsibility for the editorial position of the Berkeley Planet. I do believe that whether new residents or old, people do appreciate a sense of place and will gravitate toward a development that reflects our community and its history. One of the reasons people come to Oakland is that it is interesting and has a distinctive character. We should be trying to capitalize on that advantage, not wipe it out in an overlay of architecturally undistinguished could-be-anywhere development. There is nothing greener than historic preservation, by the way: keeps buildings out of the waste stream, avoids using new materials, and in this case can result in an energy-self-sufficient or excess-generating solar building.

    I don’t understand the remark about revenge. Why would we need revenge? The EPP represented compromise and discussion and was approved unanimously. We are saying that if the city decides to change its General Plan, it does so in an inclusive discussion with its public, not as an appendage to an exclusive negotiating agreement. Remember that Signature made their initial proposal claiming that they would abide by the EPP, and only later upped the intensity of the development and started radically changing the framework. At the outset, the RFP required all proposers to abide by our general plan.

    We are of course interested in compromise, but the last time I tried to speak with the developer (before the city council voted) he was pretty abusive, and refused to meet with Oakland Heritage Alliance.

  11. V Smoothe says

    There are many things wrong with your remarks, Naomi, but I don’t quite have time to detail them all now.

    As for the League of Women Voter’s, from my personal experience with the way they spend money, they either do have mountains of cash, or they have seriously flawed priorities. But how many organizations do you know that pay upwards of $38,000/year with benefits for work from home jobs that require about 5-8 hours of work per week? If you can do that, you must have some excess cash laying around.

    As far as Signature being “abusive,” I appreciate the fact that you’re bending over backwards to sound reasonable here, Naomi, but judging by my past interactions with you and the unreasonable and unworkable stances your organization commonly takes, and your complete inability to compromise, I wouldn’t talk to you if I were Mike Ghilementi either. I think that is a reflection only on the way you conduct your organization. Signature was able to reach compromises with virtually every other interested group.

    Oh, and Signature “only later upped the intensity of the development and started radically changing the framework” of their project to integrate community input into their plan. It was in response to requests from community members in 2 large public meetings, several small group discussions, and many individual interviews. They altered the project to include more parkland. Most Oaklanders are happy with this – its what we asked for.

  12. Oakland Native says

    Yes, it is very important to note that the major differenes between the Oak-to-Ninth development and the EPP were in direct response to community input. In order to pay for more parkland, a grocery store, better transit and more low-income housing, the development had to increase its density. Once again, the obession with “process” is just a cover for the fact that the anti-development groups disagreed with the community groups about the nature of the development. Ms. Schiff, if you get your way, and downsize the development, then the low-income housing portion will be reduced commensurately.

    So, who wants to reuse the terminal? How come, in three years of discussion, nobody (with any capital) has stepped forward publicly to express an interest in redeveloping the property? Even conceptually, it is very difficult to imagine any reuse of this property, when there are only about 5000 residents nearby (not enough to support a mall, or two grocery stores, but more than enough to object to industrial use of the structure).

    V is right that the LWV regularly posts ads for overpaid positions on Craigslist. While the LWV may be concerned with process, the petition drive relied on lies about the substance of the development to get signatures. And somebody paid about $50,000 (according to Craigslist ads) to paid signature gatherers and campaign organizers. Who was it?

    Ms. Schiff, I am very frustrated with the opacity of your responses to this blog. Who are you to say that the architecture isn’t good enough? That’s a matter of taste, not policy. If you keep bringing up issues totally unrelated to moving forward on a great project, we will never find out what it is that you want. If policymakers read this, they would not know how to move forward on the project. If I were Signature, I’d modify the project to please the cyclists and then dare the rest of you to lie again to get signatures. Or just wait two years and put it to a vote. We all know it would pass.

  13. Naomi Schiff says

    I’m not very opaque, posting in my own name, unlike you. Let me know when you want to meet for coffee and discussion.

  14. V Smoothe says

    Naomi –

    I am not opposed to coffee, but fail to see what the point would be. We are trying to get you to answer questions in a public forum. Yet you keep avoiding our questions and changing the subject, then evading the questions that spring from your most recent statement.

Continuing the Discussion

  1. Oak to Ninth: The whole story | A Better Oakland linked to this post on September 27, 2007

    [...] Case in point: The East Bay Express’s own Robert Gammon, who seems convinced that every single thing he doesn’t like is part of some incredibly elaborate plot originating from the source of all evil on earth – State Senator Don Perata. One only needs to look at any of the increasingly paranoid ramblings in one of his incessant odes to Stuart Flashman. If Gammon’s stories were your only source of information (and I certainly pray that isn’t the case for, well, anyone), you would think that the invalidation of the petitions was some kind of crazy scheme to deny the will of Oakland’s voters for the benefit of campaign contributors. But the truth is much simpler: the referendum committee failed to follow the law. There are clear regulations about how to conduct a referendum campaign and they blatantly ignored them. (And this doesn’t even address the fact that the petitioners lied like O’Reilly to get people to sign.) [...]

  2. It’s time for O-2-9 « FutureOakland linked to this post on January 16, 2009

    [...] service once the area is developed. This blog documented these falsehoods during the referendum campaign, and using the same arguments City Attorney John Russo successfully defended the city against the [...]