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City Clerk Directed to Invalidate Oak to Ninth Referendum Petition

John Russo’s office today issued an opinion (PDF – press release) directing Oakland’s city clerk to invalidate the Oak to Ninth Referendum Committee’s petition to place the Oak to Ninth project on the balllot. According to the City Attorney’s opinion (PDF – opinion), the petition violated California Elections Code by failing to attach the version of the ordinance that was approved by the City Council and failing to include maps of the project depicting the actual open space and public access. These ommissions, according to our election laws, automatically disqualify the petition.

While the Oak to Ninth referendum group claims they believe it will stand up to a legal challenge, the City Attorney’s opinion points out that our courts have, in the past, upheld rejection of referendum petitions for far lesser offences, including one were only three words were missing from the attached ordinance.

The Better Oak to Ninth Referendum Committee issued their own press release, claiming “indignation” at the influence of Signature Properties had on John Russo’s decision, claiming “It is a common tactic for developers to nitpick legal issues in their attempts to disqualify citizen efforts…” and The referendum committee views the action of the City Attorney as caving in to pressure from the developer.”

The greatest error, in my mind, and what should ultimately damn the referendum petition, is the failure to include maps of the project depicting the open space and public access. Since the petitioner’s arguments were largely based on the alleged lack of access and open space, failing to provide signers with the truth about these aspects of the project was reprehensible. I spoke more than once with petitioners who simply lied to me about the project, claiming that there was virtually no parkland in the project, asserting that the area is now parkland which will be destroyed to build skyscrapers, or told me that the parkland in the project was a miniscule portion of the area, amounting to nothing more than a backyard (remember, we’re talking about 30 acres here, almost half of the project area). I spoke with several people after signing the petition who had similarly been lied to by petitioners, including one who was shocked to discover that the petition was, in actually, a ballot referendum – he has been told that it carried no legal weight, and that they were just trying to send a message to the City Council that they wanted more public input on projects in the future.

As much as the Referendum Committee may bitch and moan about “caving to pressure” from developers, it is they who attempted to defraud the citizens of Oakland. Russo is simply doing his job. Russo’s directive will likely be met with a legal challenge from the petitioners, but I can’t imagine them winning when they so flagrantly violated the elections code. It looks like the referendum is dead, and the project will move forward after all.

Here are a few quotes from Russo:

Such failures to present the public with all the information necessary for an educated decision defeat substantial compliance because they subject the electors to confusing or misleading information and threaten the integrity of the election process.

Without these maps a prospective signer who was interested in the actual amount of public access in the Plan area would have had great difficulty in making a fully informed decision on whether to sign the petition.

The City Clerk’s rejection of the referendum Petition is based entirely upon the public’s right to know fully, fairly, and with precision what City Council action is being challenged. This Petition does not meet that Standard of transparency and under the mandate of California law cannot be allowed to proceed.

Update: The Trib and the Chronicle have articles about this today.

Posted in breakingnews, california, johnrusso, o29, oakland.

10 Responses

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  1. jesse says

    Crazy. I want to write about it but my server is down this morning. So frustrating.

  2. Oakland Native says

    Ha! That’s what they get for lying!

    So, I was approached by a petitioner on the first day of the referendum drive outside their HQ. I disputed his assertion that there was only “backyard” parkland by pointing to the map he had with him. I saw him the next weekend in Montclair. He no longer had a map with him. Since then, I never saw a petitioner with a map.

    Their outrageous claims that there was “no public input,” that the project would “sell off public parkland,” and that it would “tear down people’s houses” would be negated by a simple look at the project area map and the city council changes. I am heartened that, in these days of successful mayoral candidates who break the spending limit and non-competitive school board elections, a blow was struck for a fully-informed electorate.

  3. Anonymous says

    I think the petitioners should be ashamed of themselves. Their entire argument is “So what if the information we had to present to voters was wrong or omitted. That’s what the Clerk gave us!”

    You’d think that folks like the Sierra Club, the League of Women Voters and the Green Party would be more interested in making sure that actual voters had the right information to make an informed decision. Instead, THEY’RE the ones hanging on the technicality. It doesn’t matter to them that the info they had for voters is untrue. That’s pathertic.

  4. timo says

    Thanks for staying on top of all this stuff and contributing an intelligent argument. I hadn’t been paying much attention to the Oak to Ninth project until the BONR movement started hanging out on Piedmont Ave with their “Save Oakland’s Waterfront” flyers. Doubtful that any of them has ever even been down there or they would realize that turning an industrial wasteland into a park IS actually saving Oakland’s waterfront. The BONR has been a fiasco from the beginning. No wonder its being invalidated.

    On another note; In their press release it seems as if the commitee is minimizing the objection to not having had the BONR petition translated into minority languages — “While the developer claimed there were five separate problems with the petitions, including not having been translated into Vietnamese”.

    First, I wasn’t able to see where the lawyers letter mentioned Vietnamese, just Chinese and Spanish. Second, why is this a trivial objection? Besides the fact that it’s against the law, aren’t a large number of folks currently living in that area native Vietnamese speakers? Why shouldn’t they be allowed to have a voice? Perhaps it wasn’t translated because many of the locals, who will benefit from the project, wouldn’t have signed it?

    Keep up the good work. You’ve definitely got my attention.


  5. drydock says

    64 acres for $18 million seems like a ripoff to me. I guess that makes me an anti-everything person.

    from Chris Thompson in the east bay express:

    ……the Oak to Ninth project, which surely ranks as one of the worst land deals in the city’s history.

    I have no quarrel with the development itself; it’s the price tag that’s so appalling. Think about it: The Port of Oakland just sold 64 acres of prime waterfront land to Signature Properties, which will build enough condos and stores for $2 billion in revenue at current real-estate values. What was the port’s asking price? Just $18 million. Now, consider how much the port would have gotten if it had demanded what TerraMark hopes to pay for the district headquarters. At $6.3 million an acre, the port could have netted $403.2 million, minus cleanup costs. That’s $400 million it could have used to finish the airport expansion, build the BART extension to the airport, create waterfront parks along the estuary, or deepen shipping lanes and guarantee the seaport’s future into the 21st century. If business development isn’t your thing, the port could have sold the land to the city for a dollar, and the city could have spent $400 million on social programs and libraries, or cops and potholes. Remarkably, Councilwoman Kernighan, who has gone on record calling the TerraMark proposal a “crazy, crazy deal,” says of the Oak to Ninth project, “I think we got as much from the deal as we could have gotten.”

    Oakland can’t do any better. It’s a refrain we hear over and over again, with each new giveaway. When the city gave the Forest City development firm $61 million to build shoddy apartments in the Uptown district, Mayor Jerry Brown told the Oakland Tribune that if this deal didn’t go through, “we’ll be looking at dead dirt for the next 25 years.”

    In 2001, the Port of Oakland practically gave away the retail and entertainment complexes at Jack London Square — the greatest tourist destination in the city, the heart of Oakland’s entertainment industry — to Perata crony James Falaschi. The price? Just $17 million, for land that yields $5 million a year in rent. Plus the port pays Falaschi $1.1 million a year to manage the properties. Port officials claimed that this was the fair market value of the properties.

    In 2002, when the Navy offered to sell the Oak Knoll hospital to Oakland, city officials claimed the property was worth only $11 million. When the Navy put the land up for auction three years later, it got $100 million. Oakland can’t do any better. Time after time, city and port officials have undervalued key public property, and time after time, their friends pick up that same land for next to nothing.

  6. Oakland Native says

    Chris Thompson’s article was stunningly uninformed. He groups together wildly disparate development projects and compares their land price to the OUSD land. The $18m price of the Oak-to-Ninth land doesn’t include the costs of environmental remediation (which are quite substantial) and installing infrastructure. The OUSD land has no environmental clean-up costs or need for infrastructure.

  7. drydock says

    0kay– It still sounds like a ripoff. 64 acres next to the bay only $18 million!

    Maybe you can get more specific about

    1.environmental remediation
    2. infrasructure installation.

    and why the taxpayers of Oakland are getting such a great deal.

  8. Oakland Native says

    The infrastructure is the roads, sewers, electricity, etc. that Signature will have to put in. All those amenities exist on the OUSD property. The environmental remediation costs are huge, although I don’t know how huge. As a former industrial site, this is a brownfield which will require a massive cleanup effort. I think that the public can be reassured of the fairness of the process by remembering that there were TWO bidders on the property, and Signature won (over Shorenstein).

  9. Oakland Native says

    And don’t forget about the Community Benefits Agreement – the provisions (including apprenticeships, low-income family-sized housing, and 30 acres of parkland to be maintained in perpetuity) are all benefits for the taxpayers or for the neighbors. The funds used to buy-back the low-income housing plot (after it’s been cleaned up and attached to the infrastructure systems) are funds generated by the project’s redevelopment tax increment, and are not coming from taxpayers’ pockets.

Continuing the Discussion

  1. Oak to Ninth lawsuit dropped! | A Better Oakland linked to this post on November 9, 2007

    [...] project to a vote before the entire city. On September 7th, 2006, Oakland City Attorney John Russo directed the City Clerk to invalidate their petition. The future of referendum has been tied up in court for the last year. Russo announced today that [...]