A rendering of the 24-story luxury building
that was initially proposed fot the sale of
Oakland-owned land in 2015.

Oakland’s proposed sale two years ago of a sliver of city-owned property near Lake Merritt, known as the East 12th Street Remainder parcel, rankled community activists for its brazen lack of transparency and resulted on one occasion with the shutdown of a city council meeting. According to an Alameda County grand jury report, released Monday, their anger toward the sale and two other downtown properties, was not misplaced.

The report slammed Oakland for repeatedly exploiting an exception in the Brown Act, the state’s landmark sunshine law, while suggesting the practice fosters a belief in the public that city officials are brokering “backroom deals” with real estate investors.
READ: Entire Alameda County grand jury report

“The city’s process for selection of developers for city-owned property is not open and transparent,” said the report. “The real estate exception to the Brown Act does not give the council free reign to discuss policy, project vision, and [Request For Proposals] terms, or the authority to deliberate about and select developers, in private meetings.”

“These matters are intended to be discussed openly in public, not behind closed doors,” the report continued. “When deliberations occur in closed sessions, the public and those doing business with the city are given the perception that backroom deals are being made.”

The grand jury also questioned whether the selection of developers for city-owned properties in Oakland might not be unique to the 12th Street Remainder parcel, but a “systemic” problem.
The two other properties the grand jury investigated are in the Uptown Oakland at 1900 Telegraph Avenue, and also, 2100 Telegraph Avenue.

In the case of the East 12th Street Remainder parcel, the grand jury believes the Oakland City Council on May 1, 2015 met in closed session, deliberated and decided to award the bid from developer UrbanCore, but without an announcement afterward, as required by law.

A city-issued press releases two days later suggested the matter was complete. However, the public was not given an opportunity to comment on the matter, said the report.

At the subsequent council meeting on May 15, growing anger and mistrust among some members of the public boiled over. A large banner was unfurled inside the council chambers and activists began singing and chanting. The council meeting was subsequently adjourned.

Urban Core had proposed building a 24-story luxury apartment complex at the E. 12th Street site. Activists, though, balked at the absence of any affordable housing in the proposed project and argued, without it, the city’s sale potentially violated the state’s Surplus Lands Act.