Berkeley Daily Planet

Opponents of Oakland Redevelopment Target Eminent Domain Issue

August 26, 2005


Foes of plans to create a new Oakland redevelopment district just south of the Berkeley border are holding a public meeting Sunday to confront a central feature of the proposal—eminent domain.

The meeting begins at 1 p.m. in the Omni, a club at 4799 Shattuck Ave.

Under the initial proposal, made by the Redevelopment Division of the Oakland Community & Economic Development Agency, 800 acres would be added to join the separated parcels of the existing 600-acre Broadway/MacArthur/San Pablo Redevelopment Project.

A May 9 city-sponsored community forum featured a large turnout of residents opposed to the project. The outcry at that meeting led to a temporary suspension of the proposal.

North Oakland activists Bob Brockl and Alfred Crofts, who played a major role in mobilizing the opposition before the May meeting, organized Sunday’s gathering. Brockl questions the need for a major redevelopment project in an area which has grown increasingly trendy and expensive over the years.

One of the core issues on Sunday’s agenda will be the U.S. Supreme Court’s June 23 ruling in the case of Kelo v. City of New London.

In that decision, the court ruled that local governments can force property owners to sell to private developers if the planned project will benefit the public—even if the existing property isn’t blighted and there is no certainty that the new project will succeed.

Among those scheduled to appear Sunday is John Revelli, owner of the Revelli Tire Company at 571 Thomas L. Berkley Way in Oakland. The property of the 56-year-old family business was seized the day after the ruling.

Also taken the same day was another nearby small business, Tony Fung’s Autohouse Car Repair at 565 Thomas L. Berkley Way.

The properties were taken for development of the Uptown District project, the planned creation of private development firm Forest City. The development is part of the Uptown District project promoted by Mayor Jerry Brown.

Brockl and Crofts described Sunday’s session as a “Forum on Redevelopment Uses and Abuses, including Eminent Domain and Starving the General Fund and the Proposed Addition of 800 Acres to the Existing North Oakland Redevelopment Area.”

Another speaker will be Orange County Supervisor Chris Norby, a leading member of Municipal Officials for Redevelopment Reform, which maintains the website.

Oakland writer and preservationist Jane Powell will also speak, as will MGO Democratic Club Pamela Drake.

The organizers have also invited Rachel Richman, chief of staff to Assemblymember Wilma Chan.

Brockl said that the struggle against development has created unusual alliances between groups on the left and right. Norby, who hails from a conservative district in Orange County, finds himself aligned with left-leaning activists like Brokl and Crofts and sharing the agenda with a liberal Democratic Party group.

Brockl said eminent domain is a major worry because under the existing guidelines, the presence of lead paint—a commonplace in older structures—is considered sufficient grounds for a finding of blight that would allow the invocation of eminent domain.

Redevelopment officials have insisted that eminent domain would only be used against commercial properties, but many of those who attended the May meeting were skeptical, worried that it might be used to seize residences as well.

Redevelopment meeting

Meanwhile, the Project Area Committee for the existing Broadway/MacArthur/San Pablo Redevelopment Project has scheduled a meeting for Thursday night, which will hear a report by city staff on the proposed expansion of the district.

That meeting begins at 7 p.m. in the Multipurpose Room of Beebe Memorial Church, 3900 Telegraph Ave.

Another topic on the agenda is the Telegraph Avenue Pedestrian Streetscape Project, which focuses on a two-mile stretch of Telegraph from 20th Street to Claremont Avenue.