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Why are developers split over the Oakland City Council candidates?

Eagle-eyed followers of the City Council run-off election between AC Transit at-large Director Rebecca Kaplan and School Board District 1 Member Kerry Hamill will have observed that the two biggest PACs driven by real estate interests have chosen different candidates. Kerry Hamill’s signs were funded by the Coalition for Jobs and Housing, comprised of many of the largest developers and businesses in Oakland. The Oakland Builder’s Alliance, on the other hand, hosts a fund-raiser for Rebecca Kaplan this evening. Those who see city politics as developer-driven must be confused. Developers are split because the candidates’ differing views on city development policies, transportation improvements, and transit-oriented development have different impacts on smaller and larger developers.

As the Ada Chan debate highlighted, some non-profits are constantly pushing for “community benefits” that come out of a developer’s pocket. Currently, only very large projects receive the political and media attention that allow these groups to successfully demand concessions in the form of affordable housing or other “community benefit” funds. Those projects, which often receive city subsidy and involve publicly-owned land, are executed by large developers working on a national (like Forest City) or super-regional (like Signature) scale, represented by the Jobs & Housing PAC. Smaller developers, among the members of the Oakland Builders’ Alliance, are much more interested in the details of citywide policies, that would mandate “benefits” like Inclusionary Zoning, than the big boys, because they don’t currently have to cough up for them. Kerry Hamill blithely announced during a private endorsement interview that she would happily vote for the deeply flawed Inclusionary Zoning Ordinance proposed in 2006, and that she supports unlimited condo conversions with no restrictions. It’s Rebecca Kaplan’s strong understanding of Smart Growth and concern for its details that attracts smaller developers, while large developers see little impact to their bottom line and so are uninterested by Kaplan’s depth of knowledge on the topic.

Both candidates know details about public transportation from their work with the East Bay’s two biggest transit agencies. Development and transportation are deeply linked. But the differences between the transit agencies they represent has different implications for different developments. Smaller-scale, infill, and residential-only developers are much more likely to be near AC Transit routes than BART stations. Downtown and Jack London Square developers seethe over poor bus service, but rather than blame AC Transit Director Kaplan, they look to her transit leadership to advocate on their behalf on the Council. Ms. Hamill’s BART, as we recently learned, has no capacity to expand service, and is far from much of Oakland anyhow. Bus service is simply more important to smaller developers, who can’t afford to build fantastic monorails or even subsidize shuttles, than to large developers.

The ladies’ experiences at different transit agencies also informs their vision for Oakland’s future development. In her interview with Oakland Focus, Kerry Hamill dismissed infill development along the BRT corridor in favor of large-scale “walkable” projects around BART stations. She said:

We spend a lot of time at the City Council, Zennie, fighting about existing neighborhoods and their concerns about maintaining their local identity and whether a building should be four stories or six stories or this story or that story. I am interested in building new neighborhoods in places of Oakland where there’s not anything going on. Rather than fighting, and trying to put denser housing in existing neighborhoods than a lot of people want, I’d rather see us looking at that area around BART stations, for example, where we’ve got billions of dollars of infrastructure.

Smaller developers need to build denser housing in existing neighborhoods: they don’t have the marketing budget to create “a village for the future.” Big new BART transit villages are fine, but those are one-off projects that benefit only one or two large-scale developers. Rebecca Kaplan has embraced the longer-term vision, spelled out in the General Plan and the Conley Report, of well-planned, multi-party transformation of arterial corridors throughout the city. With more possible actors and a more comprehensive scope, it is no wonder that small builders dispersed throughout the city embrace Ms. Kaplan’s vision of green infill development along all transit routes over Ms. Hamill’s centrally-planned “new neighborhoods” at Oakland’s few BART stations.

Public safety is clearly the largest impediment to business attraction and real estate investment right now. Both candidates devote a great deal of attention to public safety, although observers like V Smoothe argue that Ms. Kaplan’s safety platform is superior. It is not public safety, but longer-term issues like the details of development policy, improving transportation for all neighborhoods, and valuing citywide redevelopment, that separate large-scale developers from smaller-scale builders in this City Council election. It will be seen tonight, and as the election progresses, which faction is able to raise more money and communicate a more sympathetic message to Oakland’s strongly pro-growth voters.

Posted in california, citycouncil, development, elections, iz, oakland.

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23 Responses

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  1. ScottPark says

    Perhaps another explanation is that Hammill is Perata’s candidate, so is much more likely to receive the money from the traditional “big boys” and out-of-towners.

    Also–and I’m seeing this a lot–there’s a faulty shorthand being used with the term “non-profits.” While I am inferring in this context that you mean so-called “progressive” non-profits and advocacy organizations (EBASE, APEN, PUEBLO, etc), it’s important to note that the Chamber of Commerce, the Oakland Builders Alliance, the American Institute of Architects, the Urban Land Institute, SPUR and other pro-development entities are also non-profit.

    So, for accuracy, be accurate. The non-profit world is, in fact, broader than the for-profit world.

  2. dto510 says

    I think the Perata connection explains why Ms. Hamill has so many endorsements from politicians even though both are elected officials with a long record of working with many different constituencies. I do not think that Mr. Perata is influencing the decisions of businesses, who are taking this election very seriously. The OakPAC, once closely identified with Mr. Perata, endorsed Ms Kaplan. But Mr. Perata’s ability to raise money from out-of-town interests could be a major benefit to Ms. Hamill.

    I have been searching for a term that would handily describe the non-profit organizations that advocate against developers at the City Council. I wrote “some non-profits.” I can’t call them “anti-development groups,” because, unlike the Oakland Heritage Alliance, they don’t really have a problem with development as long as they’re getting their piece of the pie (the Chris Daly approach). Any suggestions?

  3. John says

    I dunno, dto510, maybe I wouldn’t feel so skeptical of your anti-inclusionary zoning statements if you were not a paid consultant for the Emerald Views project. As we all know, OBA members Joe O’donoghue and David O’keefe are owners and proponents of that project and both are SF developers. Are you still working for them?

  4. dto510 says

    Yes, I am still consulting for the Emerald Views project, John, thanks for asking.

    Skepticism is welcome, but I do not write about my current clients on this blog. IZ certainly is a big issue for developers and many businesses, though the particular projects that anyone currently works on would be exempt if such a proposal were to pass.

  5. Max Allstadt says

    John, if even if you’re pro IZ, you have to be a little confused by these candidate’s positions.

    Hamill is pro-IZ, meaning 2006 IZ. But she’s also for UNRESTRICTED condo conversion? She calls it a platform. I call it multiple personality disorder.

  6. Max Allstadt says

    So John,

    As long as you’re telling people what people do for a living, why don’t you tell us what you do, and who you are? When I am misidentified as a Zombie, (rather than a pirate), I like to know a little more about the motives of the zombologist.

  7. John says

    What I do for a living has absolutely no relation to my community activities nor do my community activities have any financial benefit for me.

    Dto510, on the other hand, often speaks and advocates very pro-development views, especially for downtown Oakland, but has never once publicly declared or disclosed his financial interests or his association with Oakland Builders Alliance members. Even O’keefe, Plazola, and O’donoghue, to name a few, disclose their association and interests – dto510 never has to my knowledge.

    My questions about this should be obvious: why does dto510 not disclose his financial and working relationships in this regard, especially when appearing and advocating specific policies at governmental bodies in Oakland and online?

    Perhaps dto510 likes everyone to believe he is nothing more than a thoughtful and erudite community activist and blogger. But, in fact, he has direct financial interests in the outcome of City development policies i.e., CBD rezoning. As it turns out, these interests extend back more than one year to mid-2007.

  8. Max Allstadt says

    Didn’t think you’d answer that question. It was, to reiterate, a general question about who you might be and your alignments in general. I didn’t mention DTO, because I know him, and I know what he’s all about. Most everybody in Oakland politics knows his positions and involvements, actually.

    I feel no need to explain my own identity and interests, because anyone who can Google my name can find them out. There is no one else in the world with the same name except an Austrian kindergardener, and he only gets one hit.

    My community activities may benefit me financially because if I help Oakland stop sucking, I will probably be rewarded at least indirectly.

    Now, back to my question, who are YOU “John” and what are you all about? I see random, brief comments, but little more. Are you a member of a particular group, or just sympathetic to people who are against development? You just challenged DTO on being untransparent. I challenge you to lead by example. Or are you the Zombie?

  9. dto510 says

    John, I have a variety of clients who belong to many different organizations, and one service they do not receive is promotion on this blog. I am not much of a property owner in this city though of course citywide rezoning has a financial impact on everyone, a fact I “disclosed” when first writing about it. I have introduced myself to city policymakers before whom I advocate on multiple occasions with all of my various titles and affiliations. But writing about many topics for a self-selected audience certainly does not require sharing my client list, because I don’t write about my clients.

    I got started as a consultant because of my interest and activism in planning for Oakland’s future. I share observations gleaned from a variety of perspectives and experiences that I’ve had. I know that people who disagree would love to shut me up, and I take that as a compliment.

  10. Carlos Plazola says


    I think you nailed this one. For example, yesterday, we had a fundraiser for Rebecca Kaplan and there were a lot of members of the OBA in attendance. From the young Asian woman from Oakland who is trying to make a living, to the Latino electrical contractor who recently has to lay off half his staff, to the small builder/artist who builds in his own neighborhood, to the young construction manager who works 12 hour days trying to grow his business into a successful company, the OBA is made up of the “bread and butter” of Oakland–people with dreams and hopes, struggling to survive. It is an honor to represent their interests.

    It is true that our OBA members care more about smart growth and urban infill than the huge, block-long projects because the small, infill projects are where they make their living, for the most part. The OBA is to the building community, what merchants associations are to small, neighborhood based-business. We represent the fabric of Oakland’s small and medium construction-related businesses.

    Likewise, this is why IZ and Ada Chan were such a concern for our members: because our members are bound to Oakland and cannot, and will not, simply move their capital to another city if things get bad (like the big boys will). Instead, they choose to stay and fight for their right to work and be productive, and as Max Allstadt says, if they can help Oakland stop sucking, then they benefit indirectly, and improve their chances of paying their mortgage and raising their families successfully.

    Councilmembers, planning commissioners, and other elected or appointed leaders should applaud their involvement because of this, and not chastise these folks for organizing. But Oakland is logic standing on its head, and absurdity is an every day occurrence here. And not John, or any councilmember, or anti-growth person is going to slow the OBA down because these humble, hard-working folks are now empowered. The best thing that can happen now is that everyone lays down their arms and their defenses, and we all start talking decently to each other (and not attacking, John).

  11. John says


    No one has told anybody to shut up – it’s just the opposite: that you disclose your personal financial and business interests more fully when advocating specific public policies. I see nothing resembling a disclosure in the article you cite. And, in any case, are council members and commissioners supposed to have read the post? And what if they, like me, did not? Is this how they are supposed to know who you really are and what you represent?

    What about all those appearances and presentations at the ZUC and City Council? I have heard you speak numerous times and you do NOT disclose that you are a paid consultant to the Emerald View project; and your signature cards do not indicate this, either. It appears you are hiding these facts. I am not telling you to shut up, but rather, to speak up and be honest about who you are and what you represent.

    If you are going to be employed by big out of town developers, you should at least have the spine and moral fiber to so say publicly, especially when espousing policies and position which favor your employment and those business interests.

    This is not a game of “Who Loves Oakland The Most?” If you love Oakland so much and are so deeply concerned about its future, then I hope you will commit to play fair and to being more honest in this regard. As we all know, there is a crisis in leadership and confidence in the City – being deceitful about one’s interests only adds to this environment.

    Now let me ask you this: are you a member of Oakland Builders Alliance, too?

  12. Max Allstadt says

    Still not telling us who you are eh? Even if you continue to use a non-specific name, you could at least tell us what your agenda is. Particularly because you’re accusing DTO of having a sinister agenda himself.

    I am not a member of OBA. I don’t always agree with them, or with DTO. John, are you a member of any group opposing development in Oakland?

  13. V Smoothe says

    John -

    Now you’re just making stuff up. I’ve seen dto510 speak at myriad meetings, and when he’s speaking about a project he’s working on, he always states that very clearly in his comments. When he’s speaking on more general issues, he identifies himself as a real estate consultant.

  14. dto510 says

    John, I have no idea why you think I’m hiding something. If I were a member of the OBA I would have said so in this post. I do not write about my current clients on this blog, and this blog is of course written for the interested and self-selected public, not policymakers. I don’t know how you could have missed me discussing my work in front of the Planning Commission when my current clients are relevant, like during a big public hearing on a client’s project, for example.

    I know that anti-skyscraper activists as well as at least one Councilmember are under the mistaken impression that the Zoning Update and current development policy discussions are all about one proposed project, but in fact already-submitted projects are exempt from policy changes, and confusing one project with broader policy will make it extraordinarily difficult to craft good guidelines for Oakland’s future development.

    If you think that broad policy discussions that have potential economic impacts on a variety of economic activity require fully disclosing every business relationship, then should homeowners disclose their investments, because of potential appreciation they might expect from restrictive development policy that drives up the cost of housing? And everyone who works in Oakland is potentially affected by use changes, should we all have to tell everyone our jobs on the Internet? Many people, especially consultants, would use up quite a bit of blog space and speaking time if that were the case!

  15. John says

    Making things up? I checked all of the ZUC speaker cards for the last 6 months; none of dto510′s say anything about his being a “real estate consultant” -not even close. Just because you guys say this stuff doesn’t make it true.

  16. Max Allstadt says

    John… really? It’s been five days since your last post and you’re still mad? Still trying to win the point? really?

    I wish you’d tell us what interests YOU are representing. If your cause is important enough to make you spend two weeks trolling Jonathan, I’d think you’d want to share this important cause with us. What great and important wisdom do you have to share, AnonyJohn? Please, enlighten us.

  17. V Smoothe says

    Since when are people expected to write their profession on their speaker card? I don’t think most people do that – it certainly never even occurred to me to do so. Where would you even write that on the form? In any case, just to be sure, I went back and reviewed dto510′s comments to the Planning Commission on six different DVDs, and in every single one of them he very clearly identifies himself at the outset of his comment as a real-estate consultant. When Emerald Views is the topic, he very clearly identifies himself as working on the project. Your attacks have absolutely zero basis in fact, John, and they’re becoming tiresome.

  18. Max Allstadt says

    Wasn’t this post about Kaplan and Hamill anyway?

    Next time you come around, John, why don’t you weigh in on that issue. I’m curious.

  19. John says

    I’m not mad – just pointing out some facts. Cheers!

  20. Max Allstadt says

    Stating some facts anonymously and without clearly telling us what your agenda is.


  21. John says

    V: well, lets just play “My Research Is Better Than Yours.” The fourth line on each speaker card queries the speaker for an organization name, so that is where you would write it. Lots of people do so, even the bad guys…

    Quite the opposite of dto510, I’ve yet to see a speaker card from you or hear a public statement; it’s possible I missed it, though. The digitial soap box is much safer though, huh?

Continuing the Discussion

  1. Friday Links and Thoughts « Living in the O linked to this post on September 26, 2008

    [...] you’re only going to read one thing today, check out dto510’s post explaining why Oakland developers are split over Rebecca Kaplan and Kerry Hamill. Though I’ve been following this race closely, I didn’t fully grasp the split until [...]

  2. 2008 best of the blogoaksphere « Living in the O linked to this post on December 31, 2008

    [...] Future Oakland – Why are developers split over Oakland City Council candidates?: Though the race between Rebecca Kaplan and Kerry Hamill is now over, this post is still relevant, especially since Kaplan will be sworn in next Monday. dto510 explains why the developers could not agree on one candidate, and I think this post bodes well for Kaplan’s future on the City Council and what she will do for economic development in Oakland. [...]