Progress on Brooklyn Basin Redevelopment

By Michael Orion Powell-Deschamps---As Oakland has progressed and transformed as a city, a litany of new development projects have been proposed. One of these has been the audacious Brooklyn Basin project, which covers 64 acres of land along the Oakland Estuary south of Jack London Square and west of Interstate 880.

The Brooklyn Basin name was chosen by planners as a callback to the area as it stood from 1856 to 1872, when it was known as the town “Brooklyn.” Many, however, mistakenly believe it references the New York borough of the same name. With the Manhattan-like atmosphere of San Francisco nearby, Oakland has often been dubbed “Brooklyn on the Bay.”

Mike Ghielmetti, president of Signature Development Group, the developer of the project alongside Chinese development firm Zarsion Holdings Group Co. Ltd., says that Oakland is a “completely different” urban entity than Brooklyn, New York. “Oakland has its own unique identity and Brooklyn Basin is going to grow out as a very unique project of neighborhoods around it.” Ghielmetti added that the project is “an 18-year process” with everything from “the entitlement” to “the approval process” taking over a decade.

When it’s completed, Brooklyn Basin will have 3,100 residences, including townhouses, high-rise apartments, and live-work spaces, according to estimates by Signature Development. Some 32 acres will be set aside for parks and open spaces, with 200,000 square feet of commercial retail space. Construction on the first phase of the project, 241 apartments, began last year. Additional construction on affordable units for families and seniors is slated to begin in spring of 2018, with the units available for lease in fall 2019.

All the work being done on the Brooklyn Basin project is covered under both a Project Labor Agreement and a Community Benefits Agreement, agreed upon by the city, the developers, the Alameda County Building and Construction Trades Council, and several community organizations. The project is expected to create 10,000 jobs, according to official project estimates.

Andreas Cluver, executive secretary of the Building Trades Council, said at the groundbreaking of the Brooklyn Basin project that “the Project Labor Agreement will ensure that the jobs will be good paying jobs and there will be apprenticeship opportunities that provide pathways for careers in construction.”

Ben Rivera, a Sheet Metal Workers No. 104 business representative, is very positive about Brooklyn Basin. “I think it’s a good build. We’re starting to see a vertical build, so we actually have some of our members out there now,” he said. He added that workers on the project are being treated fairly. “Having a project labor agreement for Brooklyn Basin has ensured local hire standards and family-sustaining wages. There’s a lot of oversight there to try and meet certain goals for local hire, so that’s all very positive. It has actually started careers out there.”

Andrew Nelsen, the deputy director for policy initiatives with the East Bay Asian Youth Center, said that Brooklyn Basin will “provide 300 Oakland residents with construction career entry opportunities, as 300,000 hours must be worked by Oakland residents in the very early stages of their apprenticeships."

“These benefits are the result of an extremely tenacious community coalition (organized by APEN, OCO and EBAYC) of low-income, largely immigrant families and residents of the nearby neighborhoods,” Nelsen said, in addition. “The Coalition stuck together and stayed engaged for 16 years, four mayors, the end of the largest source of affordable housing money in California, and the worst recession in history.”

Though pleased with what’s happening on Brooklyn Basin, Nelsen said that the community shouldn’t have to work so hard to make sure local development provides benefits to residents. “In an ideal Oakland, the needs of Oakland's Flatlands residents would be embedded in projects as a matter of course. The focus of public policy would be on providing opportunities, addressing the impacts of past and current inequities, and celebrating our people, instead of displacing them,” he said.

Besides the numerous community and employment benefits it will provide, Brooklyn Basin will include a number of environmental and sustainability perks as well. It will have its own reclaimed-water system, and electric vehicle charging stations and solar-powered lights will be abundant on the property. Properly light-shielded lights will also be littered about the basin. Properly light-shielded lights are positioned so that their light is directed downward and not up, so that light bears down on pedestrians instead of obscuring the sky. “All of our streetlights are designed so that they don’t impact glare, so that one day, in the city, you can see the stars again,” Ghielmetti promised.

Plans for the project are meticulously detailed on the Brooklyn Basin website (