This letter from Andy Nelsen is a response to Helen Hutchinson’s article, “Why we support the Oak-to-Ninth referendum.”

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I can understand the League’s desire to defend the Estuary Policy Plan. I have to say though that I am more than a little dismayed by the misrepresentations of fact in the Oak to 9th referendum backers’ rhetoric. Ms. Hutchinson’s column is unfortunately not an exception.

For the past 3 years, I worked very closely with a group of residents of the Lower San Antonio, Eastlake and Chinatown neighborhoods. These are low income, largely immigrant families. Many pay outrageous rents to live in dilapidated, over-crowded apartments, often working several minimum wage jobs at once to make ends meet. Suffice it to say, the voices of these Oaklanders were not particularly represented at the Estuary Policy Plan tables. These folks formed the Oak to 9th Community Benefits Coalition and had their own planning process for Oak to 9th. One that prioritized job opportunities and housing that families making $20,000 to $50,000 could afford. (Affordable housing policy wonks, by the way, refer to families making between $20,000 and $50,000 a year as very low and extremely low income.)

The Community Benefits Coalition was largely successful. They didn’t get everything they wanted but they did get 465 units of housing, all of it for very low and extremely low income families and most of it 2 and 3 bedrooms.

They also got commitments to get 300 Oaklanders started in construction careers, with significant penalties for non-compliance. This innovative program goes way beyond local hiring. It trains and offers long term placements for Oakland residents who have no current construction experience and skills. In other words, it moves people who are unemployed and have bad jobs into good-paying careers. Neither the City or the Port’s local hiring programs would accomplish this, even if they applied to Oak to 9th which they don't.

The specifics of these accomplishments have been misrepresented, diminished and belittled by referendum supporters. Apparently these families, after taking on the developer and City Council, must now defend their gains against the likes of the Sierra Club, the League of Women Voters and the Oakland Green Party.

There is not enough space here to correct all of these falsehoods but I’ll do what I can.

First, the referendum will not offer a choice between the proposed project and a better one. The choice is between the proposed project and what is there now, since there is absolutely no guarantee that a better project can be built and there most assuredly is not funding currently to implement the Estuary Policy Plan. What is there now? Mostly under-utilized industrial land, largely incompatible with current industrial purposes. A few other features, yes, chief among them the 9th Ave Terminal, but largely the site is unusable in its current form. Go down there. Try to walk on the waterfront now. You’ll see what I mean.

What is the proposed project? First off, it will include 30 acres of parks. That’s about half the land down there. It will increase the size of the existing Estuary Park from 6 to 9 acres and create a new 5 acre Channel Park. Both the Channel and Estuary Parks will be completely detached from any of the project’s buildings and entered from The Embarcadero, with great views of—well of Alameda, which is what you see from the waterfront down there. Ms. Hutchinson is simply wrong to say that the project “significantly reduces the amount of open space.” By the way, the parks get built before the housing because the developer will contribute $5 million to build them out.

It also includes 3100 units of housing, 465 of which are the affordable units. Ms. Hutchinson claims this is the minimum required under law. Referendum backers consistently claim this even though they cannot point to a project in Oakland that has as much family size housing for very and extremely low incomes. They skimmed a redevelopment primer, saw 15 percent somewhere and skipped everything else. Would you consider housing for people that make $60,000, $80,000, even $100,000 a year or more affordable? Me neither. But redevelopment law says that 9 percent of “affordable” housing can be for these incomes. All of the affordable housing at Oak to 9th is for incomes between $20,000 and $50,000.