Showdown looms in Oakland between housing advocates and unions over project under state investigation


A stalled 222-unit housing project near the West Oakland BART station will be presented to City Council again on Tuesday — amid a state review of the delay.

The Michaels Organization has proposed a 222-unit development on a vacant lot at 1396 Fifth Street, across from the BART station. The project, unanimously approved by the planning commission more than a year ago, has been sent several times to the city council for final approval.

Last April, the city council further delayed the project, calling for more environmental testing after a coalition of four local unions appealed the Planning Commission’s decision arguing for more environmental testing. The group, East Bay Residents for Responsible Development, which has challenged other housing in the area, argues that the city has failed to analyze the site-specific hazardous waste and needs to do additional environmental review. This review could take up to a year.

Both the city and the developers say the environmental review of the project is sufficient and that further analysis is “inappropriate and unwarranted”.

The developer alleged that the unions had offered to drop their appeal if the unions were hired to carry out the work. The leader of the group called the allegation a lie and “disgusting”.

At stake is an eight-story residential building of much-needed housing near public transportation, including 16 units for very low-income households. The project could help Oakland meet its state-mandated housing goals of planning 26,000 new homes by 2031. As part of this process, each city in California must also submit a housing item to the state, explaining how he will plan new homes. , and the state said it would closely monitor the city’s housing component.

Housing advocates are urging the council to go ahead with the project and say they could sue if the project is killed. Corey Smith, executive director of the Housing Action Coalition, said he hoped the council would not delay the project. Smith said if legal action is “the path to a really good housing project” then “we will definitely consider that action.”

“If they did, they would send a message that the Oakland City Council is definitely willing to take anti-housing votes,” Smith said. “At this point, given the amount of housing we need for residents, that wouldn’t be a good move.”

The council’s delays prompted a review by the California Department of Housing and Community Development, which is monitoring what happens on Tuesday.

Nur Kausar, spokesman for the state’s development department, said the Housing Accountability Unit is monitoring the council’s actions and will determine if there is a violation of state law.

Kauser said in a statement that the unit “holds jurisdictions accountable for meeting their housing commitments and upholding state housing laws.” Violations of these state laws may result in consequences, including revocation of housing element certification and/or referral to the California Attorney General’s office.

If a city’s housing element is not certified, the city would no longer be eligible for state and federal grants.

On Tuesday, city staff will say further environmental review is not necessary, arguing that contamination of soil, groundwater and soil vapor at the site does not require further analysis and will be addressed by city ​​sanitation plans. The county’s Environmental Health Department, which gave conditional approval to the project’s remediation plan, said the potential risk of contamination to construction workers and nearby residents can be managed during the redevelopment and long-term use of the site if the proponent takes certain measures.

Lawyers representing the developer said the additional analysis was “unwarranted and to require one would be an abuse of power”.

East Bay Residents for Responsible Development member John Dalrymple said the city and developer still have work to do and mitigation plans should be determined before final approvals.

Dalrymple, which is seeking additional environmental review, said noise, traffic and airborne particles that may float through the air during site remediation have not yet been analyzed and need to be reviewed. to be before the council goes ahead with the project.

Jason Overman, a spokesman for The Michaels Organization, urged council to reject the appeal and said East Bay Residents for Responsible Development were “playing political games and weaponizing” environmental laws. to oppose housing.

“The simple fact is that this site will be cleaned before anything is built,” Overman said.

Sarah Ravani (her) is a staff writer for the San Francisco Chronicle. Email: sravani@sfchronicle.comTwitter: @SarRavani

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