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Major development fight brewing at City Hall tonight

Last year, two Planning Commissioners sparked a stir when they attempted to hold up Trader Joe’s liquor licenses in an attempt to bully the store into accepting unionization. Recently, Inclusionary Zoning representatives told the Zoning Update Committee that they “demand” their pet policy as part of citywide zoning updates. This has led businesses to fear that political groups want to use the Planning Commission to force developers to implement policies they can’t get through the City Council, greatly complicating the already difficult zoning update. Tonight, the City Council will debate an appointment that crystallizes these fears: Mayor Dellums’ nomination of SF “anti-gentrification” activist Ada Chan to the Oakland Planning Commission (pdf).

The battle lines are starkly drawn. Ideological organizations have scheduled an evening rally outside City Hall, with anti-development group ONWRD joining with labor unions to press for Ms. Chan’s confirmation, and the top anti-development lobbyist, Margaretta Lin of the East Bay Community Law Center, working overtime for Ms. Chan. Jean Quan’s staff, Ms. Chan herself, and Joel Tena of East Bay Housing Organizations are promoting her appointment on District 4’s neighborhood listserves, leading some insiders to speculate that she is being groomed to replace Ms. Quan in 2010. With large and controversial projects moving through the pipeline (including four buildings that would be the tallest in Oakland), the stakes are high and developers are scared.

It doesn’t help that Ms. Chan, emphasizing her devotion to anti-development policies she worked on with Supervisor Chris Daly in the Mission and SOMA, won her nomination over a West Oakland resident who stressed the need for Planning Commissioners to live in areas impacted by development so they have a better understanding of the importance of design and context (Ms. Chan lives in the Laurel District). The Oakland Builders’ Alliance and the ethnic Chambers of Commerce, worried by Ms. Chan’s policy record as well as her refusal to meet with them to discuss her nomination, are explicitly opposing her appointment in an unusual and risky move. The scuttlebutt is that the Council is split along familiar lines, with Jane Brunner, Nancy Nadel and Jean Quan supporting the nomination, and Ignacio de la Fuente, Larry Reid and Henry Chang opposed, leaving Pat Kernighan and Desley Brooks as the deciding votes.

With the players aligned as in other controversial development issues, the fight over Ada Chan’s nomination increasingly appears to be a proxy fight over Inclusionary Zoning and other expensive policies that developers oppose as unduly burdensome. But that is not how Planning Commission appointments should be made. Planning Commissioners are not supposed to create de-facto development policy using the heavy hammer of planning permission, but to interpret the existing policy and apply it to specific projects. The groups pushing for anti-development policy along with this nomination clearly expect Ms. Chan to behave differently if confirmed to the Planning Commission.

Posted in california, citycouncil, dellums, iz, oakland, planningcommission.

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14 Responses

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  1. John says

    More of the same pro-development zombie attacks…this time on Ms. Chan.

  2. dto510 says

    Yes, as anti-development ideological groups and NIMBYs step up their demands and their influence on city policy, pro-development forces are fighting back. But, far from being zombies, development supporters run the gambit from real estate workers; small businesses, merchants, or YIMBYs; and environmentalists and some non-profits. It’s harder to peg down pro-development folks than the anti-gentrification squad. I suspect we disagree about whose arguments are brainless, though.

  3. homebase says

    It looks like the lines are not as clean and stark as you would like, DTO. As far I can tell, it’s just a small group of self-interested people opposing Ms Chan. The list supporting her is broad and impressive, including many of the pro-development camps you mention: Sierra Club, Oakland African American Chamber, contractors, small industrial businesses, merchants, realtors, building trades unions that actually build the projects as well as community organizations. It’s time for Oakland to move past this polarizing rhetoric and to look for real solutions. Ms Chan is one step in that direction.

  4. Max Allstadt says

    Hmmmm… It seems like identity politics would pressure Kernighan to vote for a Chinese American woman to replace a Chinese American woman. But at the same time, the Chinatown community is very pro-development. Interesting conundrum.

    What are the pressures on Brooks, I wonder?

  5. dto510 says

    Ada Chan was not confirmed to the Planning Commission by a vote of 3-4-1. Doug Boxer was reappointed unanimously.

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  7. John says

    Max, you are the only person discussing race in the matter. Last night was a vote for the status quo – what happened to all the talk about change???

  8. Max Allstadt says

    I discussed race because there was some pretty transparent identity politics going on. It could have been a coincidence that the Mayor chose a Chinese American woman to replace a Chinese American woman. If so, good. If not, ick.

    Last night was not a vote for the Status Quo. It was a vote against a potentially radical and divisive change.

    If I was able to predict that vote before it happened, (OK I didn’t know brooks would abstain, but the rest were predictable), the Mayor should have known too. Mr. Boxer’s appointment was unanimous.

    If Mr. Dellums wanted a commissioner that was going to be a successful agent of change, he should have actively gotten Ms. Brooks and Ms. Kernighan on board by choosing somebody slightly less controversial. He didn’t need unanimity. He needed five votes. Instead, he overplayed his hand and got three.

    Let me be clear, I wouldn’t have been there last night if Ms. Chan wasn’t so controversial. If the appointment was of a retired major developer, or an active one, I would have had a problem with that too. After Ms. Chan spoke, I got rather ambivalent about the whole thing, but the attitude of her supporters swayed me back. They were just too shrill.

  9. John says

    “Iffy” I believe was your stated position on the nominee.

  10. Max Allstadt says

    Yeah. I was iffy. She had a lot of planning expertise, much more than her would-have-been predecessor. She’s clearly more interested in urban issues than some other members of the commission. I dare say it’s also obvious that she is just plain smarter than some of the sitting commissioners.

    Chan spoke after I did, and I got even less iffy, but when her supporters started grumbling and hissing and being uncivil, I realized that we were dealing with somebody supported by a bunch of ideologues.

    I have a real problem with the far left’s tendency to be shrill and their propensity for direct action. Neither of those tendencies have accomplished a damn thing for the not-so-far left. As a matter of fact, they’ve been nothing but a liability for the past decade. If that’s who Chan’s friends are, than count me out.

    I encourage Mayor Dellums to find someone with a similar resume who won’t come to the table with a pack of demagogues. I actually think we need some more diverse attitude on the Commission. If Dellums wants to accomplish this, he should try to find someone who can get through on a 5-3 vote. It was ludicrous for him to try to force this through from the position of weakness he’s sitting in.

  11. dto510 says

    Max, I disagree with most of this. First, there is not reason why a Planning Commission needs a degree in Planning. That’s what staff is for. Do Port Commissions need degrees in economics? I don’t see the desirability of adding people to the Commission who have very specific policy positions that they are going to try to enforce with their votes (rather than by lobbying the Council to pass this policy).

    Mayor Dellums has already appointed two people to the Planning Commission. Are they smarter than everyone else? Are they adding a lot to the discussion? Last time I went to a PC meeting, they weren’t even there. Mayor Dellums absolutely should not be seeking 5-3 votes, but unanimous votes. I’m disappointed that you didn’t learn anything from the divisive display last night.

  12. Max Allstadt says

    Another thing:

    I’m sick of people packing council chambers with youngish supporters who just show up and boo and hiss. It makes those kids look like they’re blind followers. If they would at least sign up to speak, we might be able to gauge whether or not they actually know what they’re supporting.

    When I bring friends and allies to committee meetings, I make sure they know what they’re supporting, and I make sure to admonish them to be polite. I also care much more about getting insightful speakers to show up than about putting butts in seats.

  13. dto510 says

    Yeah, that’s true. Why were all those people there if they didn’t want to speak? Did they have nothing to say, perhaps?

  14. Max Allstadt says


    I was just saying that from a political perspective, Chan was a bad idea. If the strategy is to make political appointments, a wise man goes for 5-3.

    A fair Mayor goes for 8-0. Boxer got 8-0, and even if the trader-joes-union-thing bugged me, I think Boxer deserved 8-0. He’s committed to the task, and he’s fair.

    I do think there are some issues with alliances on the commission in the opposite direction as Chan’s. Neutrality is impossible, of course. But the Yes-men on the commission are largely moderate, and so the No-ma’ams should be too.