A battle for the soul of Oakland: That's what many housing activists called their fight to stop a development deal on Lake Merritt.
The deal, which the City Council passed Wednesday night after months of protests and negotiation, approves the sale of a publicly owned parcel to a developer for $5 million. The developer, UrbanCore, plans to build a market-rate apartment building east of the lake. The final deal also includes $8 million from the developer to be directed to an as-yet-unspecified affordable housing project in the neighborhood.
Oakland, like much of the Bay area, is in the midst of a housing crisis of epic proportions. An influx of new residents combined with rapidly rising real estate prices and the example of gentrification in San Francisco have left many Oaklanders with a kind of displacement anxiety.
In that light, it is no surprise that talk of building a luxury apartment tower caused waves of unrest, especially since it was first announced as just a simple land sale. Calling the proposed sale a giveaway, community activists took over a City Council meeting in early May, shutting it down before the deal went to a vote.
Councilmember Abel Guillen, whose district includes the East 12th Street parcel up for sale, then went back to the developers to broker a community benefits agreement; it was clear the sale could not get community support or even council backing without something to sweeten the pot.