Thursday, February 24, 2005

BREAKING NEWS! Oakland's Uptown Housing Project - Developer Forest City Asks for $11 Million more in subsidy!!!!

While eating with a friend who's a local developer (and that's all I'll tell) I learned this Wednesday evening that a centerpiece of Oakland Mayor Jerry Brown's so-called effort to revitalize what was once Oakland's theater district is in trouble.

The 400-unit "Uptown Housing Project" approved by the Oakland City Coucil last year and to be built on part of a 19-acre tract of land that was the focal point of a new baseball stadium for the Oakland Athletics, needs $11 million more in public money over and above the $61 million subsidy that was approved by the City Council.

This is a project I was against and have been against. The best use for the 19 acres is for a new baseball stadium, downtown, for the Oakland A's. Everyone knows and understands this, and land use consultants hired to produce a study analyzing the best land choice for a new stadium for the Athletics, pointed to this great open land opportunity right in the middle of the north portion of Oakland's downtown.

But on June 12th, 2002, at about 12:35 PM, Oakland Mayor Jerry Brown said "There's not going to be a downtown stadium as long as I'm (blank) Mayor of this down."

Well, Jerry, your time's running out. What I predicted -- that the developer, Forest City's subsidy request would just continue and go up and up -- has proven to be true. As a person who focused on the Uptown District while serving as Economic Advisor to Mayor Elihu Harris, every developer I have worked with and who's proposed a project there has tried to "lowball" their cost estimates to win the right build from the Oakland City Council. I never believed Forest City would be a different case.

I'd like to see the collective faces of the Oakland Economic Development people now. The ones who said that the subsidy would hold and that this was money well spent given the economic impact. Yep, the person had the nerve to make that statement given that the subsidy was at $41 million in 2002, then $61 million in 2003, and now $72 million in 2005. Wow. Someone's really trying to sell a project that's not worth touching.

I wrote it then in an e-mail battle with an undermanned Oakland Economic Development staffer, and I state it now: the project's not the highest and best use for that prime downtown real estate.

It's smack in the middle of Oakland and the Bay Area and served by three freeways and two major BART stations just one block away and four blocks respectively. One block in the case of 19th Street BART Station! Plus, it's just a 15 minute walk to Lake Merritt.

Plus, Jerry Brown's letting the dream of a real live "Times Square" center downtown drain under the weighty combination of his ego and frank lack of knoweldge of good urban planning.

Right now the total subsidy stands not at $61 million, but at $72 million. I'll tell you what. It's not going to stop there. It will get to over $100 million before the Oakland City Council is forced to drop the project.

Spending that much on housing is just not smart.

I worked for several years on a great plan to re-create Oakland's Uptown Area. I am also the one who originally brought Forest City to Oakland and not to do a dinky housing project, but to remake the entire area in a fashion not unlike Times Square and in line with that area's history as an entertainment district. Sports is a form of entertainment. The Plan caled for a large scale shopping center where this housing is slated to be built. But either retail or the baseball stadium with retail is better than yet another housing project.

I told Jerry this in 1998 and in 1999, but he can't seem to listen to get it: a downtown plan is a complex mix of land uses and strategies -- just adding 10,000 people to the downtown's not going to solve it's problems. Even if they live there, they can just hop BART to go to Union Square in San Francisco or SBC Park.

You see where I'm going with this.

The City Council should drop the housing project and bring the Oakland A's downtown where they belong.

Vikings WR Randy Moss Traded to the Raiders

This is one of the best trades in the NFL's 21st Century. Randy Moss has 90 Touchdowns and is a constant threat to catch the ball for a big play on every down.

The Vikings made a massive mistake in letting him go...or did they? Perhaps, given that he's a seven-year veteran and has been injured, the Vikings may feel that he's seen his best years.

I personally doubt it.

I've always believed that Randy Moss was never placed in an offense that fully showcased his abilities. The Raiders have the chance to draw up a new set of plays to isolate him against defensive backs and (yes) linebackers.

But if the Raiders can't stop anyone, then the trade's value from an organizational success perspective is lessened.

More on this later.