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City kills all development for four months

I have noted before how anti-growth types, though eager to cast their opposition to projects on specious environmental, traffic or housing grounds, have repeatedly called for development moratoria in Oakland. With new real-estate development fueling jobs, most of the city’s tax growth, and of course the funds available for housing subsidies, that radical position is deeply damaging to the city’s economic health. Mayor Dellums’ land-use task force co-convener Bob Schwartz called for a sweeping citywide development moratorium in May. In July, he got his wish.

Recently, I wrote a series of blogs explaining how Oakland is planned, what our zoning code is, and how it is incompatible with the city’s 1998 General Plan. Without a new zoning ordinance, projects that comply with the General Plan are allowed with an ordinance called the Interim Zoning Controls. City staff neglected to bring the ordinance to the Council for renewal in June, and the renewal was heard at Tuesday’s Council meeting. During the hearing, it became clear that staff had decided to interpret the ordinance as expired, and had denied dozens of development applications during the summer.

As a furious Henry Chang pointed out, the City Council sets development policy and write ordinances such as the zoning. But due to the paucity of political staffers and the bloated bureaucracy, the Council is entirely dependent on city staff to keep the government humming along. Staff did not inform the Council that the ordinance was expiring, and did not offer them the opportunity to renew it before it expired. Then, they decided to interpret it as expired (which they did not have to do), and deny project applications based on the hopelessly outdated 1960s zoning.

The Council approved the interim ordinance for another two years (making it retroactive to July 1, as well). They heard encouraging noises from the planning managers that the zoning was moving forward based on the new land-use designations and classifications from the General Plan, rather than the old zoning. But key questions remain: why wasn’t the ordinance brought up for renewal in a timely manner? Who decided to interpret its expiration as a new development policy, creating a de-facto moratorium? I have heard that this was Henry Chang’s fault for not supporting the interim zoning rules, the City Attorney’s legal obligation to issue an anti-development interpretation, or a brinksmanship-like move by Planning Director Claudia Cappio meant to draw attention to the zoning update. More paranoid members of the business community think that the mayor’s “communist” economic advisor Dan Lindheim, no fan of the General Plan or really any private-sector development, took advantage of a mistake and ordered Ms. Cappio to impose a moratorium.

Whatever the cause, the fact is that Oakland experienced a de-facto development moratorium for several months, an outcome that benefits nobody and has no official support from elected officials. I hope that enterprising journalists may figure out who was behind it – that’s beyond my capabilities. But this underscores how little control our elected officials have over the dysfunctional city bureaucracy, who apparently can hide expiring laws from the Council to create damaging messes. Without enough political staffers to keep tracking of continuing and emerging issues, the bureaucracy will continue to drive the agenda. When it comes to vital issues like housing and safety, out-of-control bureaucrats can and will inflict lasting damage to the city.

Posted in breakingnews, citycouncil, dellums, housing, oakland, planningcommission.

5 Responses

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  1. M Laing says

    Would you please give me a basic and simplified definition of de facto zoning?

    Thank you.

  2. dto510 says

    I don’t know what you mean. Zoning is a law, it’s de juris, not de facto. I did not use that phrase in this blog. Please check out my zoning blogs by searching my archives, on the right.

Continuing the Discussion

  1. At this rate, Oakland will never have a fully staffed police department | A Better Oakland linked to this post on November 8, 2007

    [...] (but kind of funny). They renewed the interim zoning controls (but only after staff spent the last four months cancelling projects that have been in the planning process for over a year), agreed to issue an RFQ for the Army Base [...]

  2. Oakland development director Claudia Cappio to leave | A Better Oakland linked to this post on November 16, 2007

    [...] It isn’t all that surprising. The strongly anti-development attitude coming out of Mayor Ron Dellums’s office doesn’t leave a whole lot for her to do. I had a hard time believing that Cappio was down with the city klling all development for four months. [...]

  3. Ron Dellums State of the City address | A Better Oakland linked to this post on January 16, 2008

    [...] or less true. dto510 has written a bunch of good blogs about Oakland’s zoning issues if you’re [...]