Missing Development Agreement Delays Vote on Oak Knoll

By Peter Snarr---The Oakland Planning Commission unanimously decided to delay its vote on the Oak Knoll development in the Oakland hills at its June 21 meeting, citing the project’s unfinished development agreement as the main reason for the delay. 

More than 40 public comments were made regarding the Oak Knoll project at the Planning Commission meeting. Public speakers expressed their concerns about a wide variety of topics.  Some voiced their frustration with the project not having affordable housing onsite, while others were worried that the Oak Knoll Homeowners Association would not be able to maintain the historic Club Knoll, which served as an officer’s club when the property belonged to the Navy.

Traffic was also a major concern for the residents who showed up to speak about the project. Toler Heights neighborhood representative Angie Tam, who previously expressed her traffic concerns about the project in a letter to the city, was one of the people who spoke. In her letter, Tam mentioned expected congestion at the Golf Links Road 580 exit/entrance would affect commuters to Bishop O’Dowd High School, the Foothill Square Development area, the expected Oak Knoll commercial area, and the Oakland Zoo, and may increase the use of the gas stations nearby. The city’s replies to her concerns left Tam unconvinced that terribly long lines and wasted hours idling in her car on Mountain Boulevard weren't going to happen.

Tam not only followed up on her traffic concerns at the Planning Commission meeting, she also argued that the amount of public land and open space SunCal was setting aside on the property was heavily insufficient. She mentioned that in previous plans for the property, the open space set aside was much larger, and she wondered what happened to that space.  

East Bay Residents for Responsible Development (EBRRD), a coalition of four construction trades unions, as well as representatives from the Alameda Central Labor Council and the Building and Construction Trades Council of Alameda, made up most of the voices objecting to the project. They mostly spoke about the need for the project to hire local labor at fair wages.   

Andreas Cluver, the secretary-treasurer of the Alameda County Building and Construction Trades Council, voiced the frustrations local labor has had working with the developer, SunCal. “This development, unfortunately, has not committed to any labor standards,” Cluver said during public comment. “In fact, after negotiating and doing gentlemen's agreements, and handshakes with various crafts, just simply reneged on their commitment. It’s astounding." 

Cluver went on to urge the commission to “step up” and address their issues by drafting a development agreement that is fair to workers. 

Currently, SunCal and the city are negotiating a development agreement for Oak Knoll behind closed doors. A development agreement dictates the terms of how a project is to be built.

The objective of EBRRD and its labor partners had on June 21 was for the Planning Commission to delay its vote on the project until the details of the development agreement are presented to the public. City staff seemed to agree with EBRRD’s sentiment, and recommended that the commission wait to vote on the project till a development agreement was agreed upon. The commissioners ultimately took the staff's recommendation. 

“The city should use its negotiating power to make sure the project does actually deliver on good jobs for local residents,” Planning Commissioner Jahmese Myres said in regards to the development agreement.  “[Jobs] have to be codified in some sort of legal agreement for those promises to come through.”

After discussing negotiations with four labor unions, SunCal found that it would be more “prudent” to work with merchant developers, according to Sam Veltri, the project representative for SunCal, who responded to criticisms at last night’s meeting.

“As far as we are concerned, we have no problem with union labor,” Veltri said. “We offered to hire it though the planned development, and to the extent that they are going to build homes in the future by merchant builders, the unions are free to discuss, with them, a contract.”

EBRRD points out, however, that master developers like SunCal can agree to development and project labor agreements that dictate the terms of how sub-developers, like merchant builders, are to construct their projects. 

Not all the public comments regarding Oak Knoll were against the project. The proponents who spoke at the meeting were mostly local residents and neighbors who were fed up with the eyesore of Oak Knoll's empty lot, and who were enthusiastic about SunCal's plan to build a shopping center on the property, as the neighborhood around Oak Knoll does not have a convenient place to shop.

Che Timmons, a member of Local Plumber and Steamfitters Union Local 342, sympathizes with the residents, but feels like the project needs to be done right.

“[Oak Knoll] has been sitting up there for a long time,” Timmons said. “It’s going to be a beautiful development, I like the development, but I think it needs a labor standard from my perspective. 

José Fermosa and Sam Felsing contributed to this story.