Oakland Planning Commission Approves Oak Knoll

Despite a coalition of local labor unions from the Building and Construction Trades Council of Alameda, the Alameda Labor Council, the International Association of Firefighters Local 55 and the United Nurses Association showing up to oppose the Oak Knoll project at the Planning Commission meeting Wednesday evening, Commissioners approved SunCal’s 935 home Oak Knoll project to go forward. The City Council will consider the project for approval on Nov. 7.

Approving the project was an extraordinary step by the Commission, as Oak Knoll is the first major project in modern Oakland history that has neither a development agreement (DA) nor a community benefits agreement (CBA) in place.

“Every major project in Oakland has included at least one of these agreements, including Brooklyn Basin and the MacArthur Transit Village, but SunCal thinks Oak Knoll can be the exception,” Josie Camacho, Executive Secretary-Treasurer of the Alameda Labor Council, told commissioners Wednesday evening.

Just two weeks ago, SunCal refused to continue negotiations over a binding DA. This binding agreement was to address issues like affordability, traffic mitigations, fire protection, living wages for construction workers, etc. SunCal claimed at the meeting that many of the things that would have been achieved by such an agreement were already in place in their current plans, and thus it wasn’t needed. 

Now that SunCal and city officials are no longer negotiating a DA, many public speakers at the meeting called for a CBA, which would address many of the same issues that a DA would, but would be negotiated directly between community groups and SunCal. A CBA would ensure that community issues with Oak Knoll would be directly addressed.

But a lack of a CBA and DA were not the only topics speakers at the meeting were interested in. 

Daniel C. Robertson, President of the International Association of Firefighters Local 55, which represents Oakland firefighters, said that firefighters were “very concerned and hesitant” about the city approving Oak Knoll. 

“Oak Knoll will consist of 935 homes all made of wood. The city is planning on adding no new fire stations around the development. The closest station, which is just over a mile away, already gets nearly 4,000 calls a year,” Robertson said. The pressure on “existing OFD resources will bring significant risks and inadequate fire response to the region. Oak Knoll will undoubtedly add to the overall fire risk to Oakland,” he continued. 

Robertson urged the city to meticulously review SunCal’s fire and wildfire plans to ensure that the plans will adequately mitigate all potential fire risks prior to project approval. “Otherwise the city will ultimately foot the bill for any required fire resources for the project, not the developer.”

Other public speakers during the evening were especially frustrated with the lack of union jobs on the project. While the Laborers Local 304 union has secured work to prepare the site for construction, none of Oak Knoll’s 935 homes or retail structures will be built with union labor.

Andreas Cluver, Secretary-Treasurer of the Building and Construction Trades Council of Alameda County, an organization the Laborers are a part of, said he was “very excited that SunCal has extended an offer to one of my affiliates for work on this project, but I am here advocating for a labor agreement, labor standards for the other 25 affiliated unions of the building trades.”

Cluver believes that “if SunCal can give the men and women working for the Laborers 304 the respect of an agreement, they can do the same for all the other crafts.”

The number of jobs created by the project was an issue as well. East Bay Residents for Responsible Development, a coalition of IBEW Local 595, Sheet Metal Workers Local 104, UA Sprinkler Fitters Local 483 and UA Plumbers and Steamfitters Local 342, whose members showed up to oppose the project on Wednesday, believes the project will create just 2,500 primarily temporary jobs, while SunCal projects the number as closer to 5,000.

While the Commission did have some minor amendments to the project plan, they ultimately believed SunCal addressed environmental, traffic and local labor concerns.