Rumblings Of A Richmond-Style Foreclosure Plan For Oakland

OAKLAND CITY COUNCIL//FORECLOSURES | Richmond’s move last month to help foreclosed homeowners through a city-led plan to buy underwater homes under eminent domain made Wall Street extremely jittery. Rumblings that Oakland Councilmember Desley Brooks might be interested in studying Richmond’s controversial, but innovative strategy provided another flash point between her and Councilmember Libby Schaaf.

The mere suggestion by Brooks at a Rules and Legislation Committee hearing last Thursday to look into gathering data from outside sources surrounding the number of foreclosures in Oakland set off a volley of invective over when, where and if the item would be heard any time soon by a council committee.

Two separate items regarding Richmond’s eminent domain strategy were placed on the Rules Committee agenda last week. Both included language indicating further research on the issue, but one offered by Councilmember Rebecca Kaplan appeared ceremonial, at least, to Brooks. Kaplan’s item, now scheduled for the Nov. 12 Community and Economic Development Committee, in part, asks the council to commend Richmond for its efforts in helping foreclosed homeowners.

Brooks’ item, however, asks the city to begin gathering existing data from outside providers and does not seek to expend staff time, she said Thursday. “Thank goodness Richmond is testing the waters,” Brooks said before the committee. “I think we should lend our support to them, but all I’m asking today is that we get information” Earlier she recounted meeting seven families from a single Oakland city block all going through foreclosure and proposed asking the city assessor’s office how many homes in Oakland are at-risk for foreclosure. “How many instances are happening in our city that we simply do not know about?” asked Brooks. “I’m simply asking we begin to inform ourselves so we can make intelligent decisions.”

Schaaf, however, had no initial taste for moving Brooks’ item and moved to proceed with Kaplan’s item and without Brooks’. “I think what we’re moving toward is adopting policy,” said Schaaf. Brooks disagreed and said she objected to being passed over for comment by Council President Pat Kernighan. Both Brooks and Schaaf continued to speak over each other. While Schaaf covered her ears, she asked for Brooks’ mic to be turned off. Brooks did not relent. Later, Schaaf added, “I cannot tolerate the breaking of rules.”

Although Schaaf would later acquiesce to a motion by Councilmember Dan Kalb to schedule Kaplan’s item for next month and continue the discussion over Brooks’ item to the Oct. 24 Rules Committee, she initially said deliberating both agenda items were confusing and a waste of staff’s time. “Frankly, I feel more comfortable with Councilmember Kaplan’s [item],” said Schaaf.

Brooks, though, said she was perplexed by the suggestion the items were similar since Kaplan’s request had no resolution attached. “I don’t know how you determine they are similar. You have nothing other than a rules request.” Brooks added the titles may be similar, but the requests differed greatly.

“If your personal animus didn’t get in the way of making the rightful decision that you should about scheduling, you would be able to see that,” Brooks told Schaaf. “But, we pretend in the context of orderly meetings that somehow you are on the side of right. Nothing could be further from the truth.”

Kernighan said she generally supports Richmond’s move to help struggling residents, but is also wary of its potential pitfalls. She said Community and Economic Development Committee staff believes there is “some major legal issues” with Richmond’s strategy. “Emotionally, I really like what they’re doing,” said Kernighan, “but, I want to be fully informed before I vote in support of their legislation.”

There also remains the possibility Brooks and Kaplan can reach an agreement to merge their respective proposals. Brooks indicated she was willing to talk and “if a meeting of the minds” is reached, a deal could be hammered out. If not, Brooks’ proposal will likely again make lenders and the city’s business community uncomfortable that Richmond’s plan could still spread to Oakland.

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