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The Oakland Board of Education has approved the 75-year lease of two school properties to a developer without first going through a process for public input and posting the item on the public agenda only three days before the vote.
Though agenda items in general must come before the board two times before final approval, this resolution only came up once and was approved last week in a 5-2 vote. Board President Shanthi Gonzales and Boardmember Mike Hutchinson opposed the deal.
“The first time it was made public was when it was posted on the agenda 72 hours before the board meeting, and it was during a pandemic over Zoom. There has been no public engagement around these leases at all,” said Boardmember Hutchinson in an interview with the Oakland Post.
“This has been under wraps for the last six-to-eight months,” he said.
The lease of the two properties allows the schools to be torn down and replaced by town houses and other housing, including market-rate housing, commercial space and possibly a Black cultural center and some housing for teachers.
While the supporters of the deal say they are thrilled because these developments will in include some housing for teachers and school employees, representatives of both the teachers’ union and the classified workers’ union, SEIU 1021, spoke at the meeting against the development, raising concerns that the properties were leased for a small amount of money, likely unaffordable to school employees and not utilized for educational purposes.
The leases were likely considerably below market rate for the two properties, which was for 65-years, with permission for the developers to extend the agreements for an additional 10 years.
One property, the former Tilden Child Development Center, at 4551 Steele St. near Mills College, was leased for $3,000 a month. The other property, the former site of Edward Shands Adult School, at 2455 Church St. next to the mall at Eastmont Town Center, was leased for $4,000 a month. Allowing for inflation, the cost of the leases will increase by 3% per year.
According to Hutchinson, there was only one bid for the Tilden property and the Shands site was not awarded to the highest bidder.
The Oakland Post has requested videos of the last two school board meetings, as well as copies of the final leases that were modified at last week’s board meeting. The Post also requested copies of appraisals for the two properties, the public notice that the district sent to developers and copies of all the bids submitted by developers.
As of Wednesday, the Post has not received any documents from the school district.
The developer, Eagle Environmental Construction, is a Black-owned firm. According to plans, the deal now pledges that at least 50% of the units will go to teachers and other school workers.
The plans also include space to Cypress Mandela, a local job-training program, and also for a hub for the Black Cultural Zone.
However, lease opponents are skeptical whether these promises will actually come to pass.
“There is nothing in the lease itself about providing the space to the cultural zone, and there are no penalties imposed if teacher and other workforce housing, isn’t built” Hutchinson said.
“I have serious concerns about the legality of the process,” he said. “I have no issues with Eagle Environmental Construction, and I support the Black Cultural Zone. But my responsibility is to manage our public resources and there are no guarantees that the marginal benefits will ever be provided.”
At Shands, the developers plan to build 68 units of housing and other commercial space. At the site of Tilden, the developer wants to build 20 two- and three-bedroom townhouses.
“We never really got on the same page about how we are balancing the competing goals of community benefit, revenue generation and affordable housing,” Board President Gonzales said told Oaklandside.
“Why isn’t this going to be an adult education training center? Why is this going to be turned into workforce housing when we heard our workforce can‘t afford it and don’t want to live there,” said Hutchinson at the meeting, quoted in Oaklandside.
Teacher union representative Vilma Serrano, also quoted in Oaklandside, urged the district to use the properties to rebuild adult education programs. “I ask the Board to vote no… and instead to take the time next year to be able to respond to the concerns and questions raised by (teacher union) members as well as Oakland community members.”
Board member Gary Yee, quoted in Oaklandside, supported the development because “We have an opportunity to clean up the blight, to hire local contractors, (and) to hire young people from our schools,” he said. “Sure, we have an opportunity to earn a little bit of money, but the money is the last part of this. The main thing for me is to be a good partner to our neighbors.”