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Oakland Army Base Land Play Thing Of Mayor And City Council

I read the latest news on the Oakland Army Base with more than the usual passing interest. I absorbed it and chuckled. I could not help it.

Why?

Because the Oakland Army Base land has sat largely unused for years -- since 1999 -- while the Oakland City Council and whomever happened to be Mayor jockied with the Port of Oakland for control of its development. That struggle is also itself countered by competing ideas of what Oakland Councilmembers want to do with the land.

It's these political tug of wars that have delayed development of what is still the Bay Area's best infill development opportunity. I can go over scores of examples of land uses that have been proposed for that area, from a ballpark for the Oakland A's to a farmers market, which was the proposal of long-time Oakland development activist Steve Low, my friend and for some time the with the West Oakland Commerce Association (WOCA).

But as much as I like Steve, even he's been part of the enormous number of Oaklanders who want the Oakland Army Base remade in their way, and without compromise. Then each Councilmember has to make their mark on the land, using it to say they talked to this star or that mogul about building something there.

The Oakland Army Base is a great example not just of what's wrong with Oakland politics, but what's screwed up about Oakland's economic development. It's not agressive. Period. It never has been. When I worked for Elihu Harris, and the U.S. Army was being coy regarding its plans for the property, I advocated suing the Army to gain control over the land and its disposition. At the time, the Army was playing chicken with the City and the Port of Oakland. It was nuts.

Finally, all of this was settled in 1997 and we had direction for the designation of the property as a redevelopment project area. But even then, the Redevelopment Agency took its time in forming a plan to quickly draw private sector interests, instead we have all of the legal portions -- redevelopment plan, EIR, etc -- in place, but no plan or process for drawing developers and investors. This should have been in place in 2000, but it wasn't.

Why?

Because Oakland's process of letting every councilmember, person, and dogcatcher have his or her say over the disposition of a property slowed this process. In this time we've wasted, Emeryville has transformed itself into what West Oakland could be if Oakland ever really got its act together.

Forget it.

What's so freaking funny is that it's Oakland that actually spurred the development of a good portion of Emeryville when the Oakland Redevelopment Agency successfully blocked EBMUD from making a "wet weather storage facility" on the very land that hosts the East Bay Bridge Shopping Center, where Home Depot is located today.

How do I know this? Because in 1987, I was the intern that wrote the economic brief that gave the City Manager (really. Ezra Rapport as Assistant City Manager and point person on the project and Henry Gardner as City Manager and Ezra's boss ) the intellectual weapon he needed to do so, that's how. I calculated what the property tax revenue gain would be from a development project there, and later created a giant spreadsheet that I eventually called the Area Redevelopment Economic Model.

Celebrity Hob-Nobbing Not The Answer

Roger Staubach and Emitt Smith of The Staubach Company are here to do a deal, not smoke cigars. But the City of Oakand should focus on a plan. How about a convention inviting all developers to a one-day symposium? I did this for Mayor Jerry Brown's 10K Project (And before you get any ideas, I sure as hell don't want to do it again.)

I'm not interested in fixing Oakland. It's time Oakland fixed it economic development self. The simple problem here is lack of aggression and it plagues every project the city takes on. The Oakland Army Base deserves a better approach.
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