Education in Oakland

Moscow on Lake Merritt

Posted by novometro on August 17, 2006

If Kim Jong Il ever visited Oakland, he could go to OUSD headquarters when he felt homesick. It’s not just the Stalin-Eisenhower-era décor that would warm the heart of North Korea’s dictator. It’s the financial reports that never seem to add up. It’s the endless belief in the power of a committee to conceal the truth and placate foes. And most of all, it’s the singular capacity to slowly crush the aspirations of sincere idealists.

And that’s when then school district is under local control with a functioning school board. When a member of the public took the microphone at last night’s hearing on the possible sale of school district property to an East Coast developer to praise the OUSD-meeting as a sterling example of democracy in action, one could only assume that she meant democracy as practiced in Pyongyang.

The hearing was many things, but it was not democratic. The school district presented a plan put forward by TerraMark, the developer in Connecticut that wants to build residential skyscrapers where OUSD’s district office and three schools now sit. The plan calls for two schools to share one acre of the property, and for the third school to look for new digs. OUSD’s facilities chief said the deal would net the district somewhere between $30 million and $50 million, depending on the cost of various relocation options. But who brokered this deal, and negotiated on behalf of the Oakland citizens who own this valuable acreage, remained unclear.

While Kimberley Statham, the new interim state administrator, sat mostly mum for the meeting, a district public information officer circulated a FAQ sheet on OUSD letterhead that spoke for her.

Question: Is this a good deal for Oakland Schools? Answer: Yes.

Question: Is this a good deal for the Eastlake Neighborhood? Answer: Yes.

With those important questions answered I almost feel bad asking for more information. But is it really just the state superintendent in Sacramento talking to the developers? What is Ms. Statham’s role? Why is our representative in Sacramento, Don Perata (who is also the boss of the Senate), reportedly remaining neutral on the sale?

This property is too valuable to be sold without having these questions answered. It is hard to remember while sitting in OUSD headquarters, but those acres represent some of the most valuable in the United States. Despite the One-Party feeling in last night’s hearing, we don’t live in a socialist state. That means that nearly 10-acres in the middle of a metro region that includes two of the world’s best universities, Silicon Valley, and San Francisco, all knitted together by an excellent transportation network will never decrease in value. We need to know who among our Dear Leaders is selling this property before we agree to it.


2 Responses to “Moscow on Lake Merritt”

  1. Your conclusion is overly optimistic – land values in Oakland, nearby which Berkeley and Stanford have been for some time, have in fact decreased in value sharply for much of the last fifty years. The TerraMark deal was by far the best (in terms of cash injected into the school district, which is the primary criteria by which the state administrator should judge) of the four (I believe) submitted by the open RFP process.

    Land is worth only what someone will pay for it. TerraMark thinks that this is some of the most valuable land in the US, but the other developers don’t. The private sector will use the land better than the OUSD, since the schools will be accomodated on-site (except one, which can be easily moved to an empty downtown storefront)), and there is a shuttered North Oakland middle school that could be the new district HQ.

    Our schools need the money more than anti-development hippies need “open space.”

  2. alex gronke said

    I agree that the school district doesn’t need the land, and I don’t believe anyone – not even the hippies – are proposing an “open space” option. But I don’t think we can be certain that the state administrator is negotiating with Oakland’s best interests in mind. Mr. O’Connell seems to have bought into the idea that TerraMark and Urban America are doing the city a favor by buying and redeveloping this land.

    I would like to know who is brokering this deal. At Wednesday’s hearing, O’Connell’s people kept silent, and district officials maintained an odd distance from the new terms.

    To ignore the social and economic changes of the last 10 years, which have turned much of the area surrounding Oakland (and in Oakland) into what some economists call a “luxury item,” is short-sighted. To count on the good judgement of an outside state administrator and a strangely silent state senator is foolish.

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