.Inflating the Numbers

The Brown administration came very close on the 10K Plan. So why the grade inflation?

Jerry Brown envisioned his so-called 10K Plan as the jewel in the crown of his reign in Oakland. By building approximately 6,500 condos, lofts, and apartments, most of them designed for affluent urbanites, he hoped to attract ten thousand new residents to the city’s dreary downtown and transform it into a vibrant retail destination.

Did he succeed? Brown’s staffers claim 10K was an overwhelming success, but a closer look at the numbers tells a different story.

According to Oakland’s Community and Economic Development Agency, which tallied the plan’s progress every quarter, the city overshot Brown’s original goal by a wide margin. The agency’s most recent report in November claimed that there are 10,849 housing units completed, under construction, or in some phase of the planning process in the city’s downtown core.

At an estimated 1.6 people per unit, that’s enough space for 17,358 new residents. But interviews with former top city staffers and a review of city documents revealed that crediting all this new housing to Brown would be disingenuous.

Brown’s administration is trying to take credit for housing projects planned during the Elihu Harris administration. In fact, Brown himself vigorously opposed one of those projects — the Landing at Jack London Square — after being elected mayor in 1998. In the fall of that year, Brown testified at a court hearing in an effort to stop the 282-unit apartment complex along the Oakland Estuary, arguing that the waterfront land should be preserved as open space. But now Brown includes the Landing as part of the 10K plan.

Bill Claggett, the city’s former director of economic development, whom the mayor ousted in 2003, said that slightly more than half — 1,094 — of the 2,031 housing units completed during the Brown years should be credited to Harris. Those projects, according to Claggett and an Express review of city documents, are the Landing, Swan’s Market, the Phoenix Lofts, the Allegro Loft Project, the Essex, the Telegraph Lofts, and Market Square.

“He cannot take credit for deals he did not originate,” said Robert Bobb, who was city manager under Harris and Brown and was ousted by Brown in 2003. “He definitely cannot take credit for deals already in the pipeline. What he can take credit for is that he had a vision for ten thousand people in downtown, and he had the gravitas to attract developers to the table.”

But was 10K really Brown’s idea? According to Claggett, the answer is “not really.” Claggett said he and his staff created the downtown high-rise housing concept, originally for a more modest five thousand units, during the Harris administration. He said that they then presented the plan to Brown in the fall of 1998 before the new mayor took office.

“Jerry said, ‘I don’t know why we can’t have ten thousand people in downtown,'” Claggett recalled. “And I said, ‘Sure, we can do that; it would only take about 6,500 units.’ Jerry said, ‘Let’s do that.’ And I said, ‘Okay, let’s call it the 10K Program.’ Later, Jerry said, ‘Why ten thousand? That was just a number I pulled out of my hat. ‘”

Brown’s staff also is now trying to take credit for unapproved housing developments that are in the very early stages. Claudia Cappio, Oakland’s deputy director of city planning, acknowledged that nearly four thousand units counted as “in planning” have not yet been approved by the city. Moreover, phone calls placed last month to a dozen of these potential developers revealed that some had not even filed building applications with the planning department. Also, some of the so-called “planned” developments don’t have developers yet, and may never see the light of day.

So how many new homes did Brown actually pull out of his hat? If you don’t count the units planned under Harris as well as those not yet approved by the city, Brown emerges with a respectable 5,823 units — assuming that all the projects approved on his watch are actually built in the current housing slump. If so, that should add 9,317 new residents to downtown.

In other words, Brown came very close to his goal, but fell a little short. Still, by any measure, he did well. So why does he claim that he blew his goal out of the water with 17,358 new residents? Neither Brown nor his spokesman returned a phone call seeking comment for this story.

It was clear from the beginning who Brown wanted to lure downtown — rich single people. “Jerry Brown always loved Oakland — he just couldn’t stand the people who lived here,” joked Andy Nelsen, senior program associate for the Urban Strategies Council, an affordable-housing advocate. Nelsen said there would have been no affordable housing units built as part of 10K without fierce community protests. The city was so intent on wooing dot-commers during the heady pre-Internet-bubble days, he said, that it focused on building lofts working-class families couldn’t afford.

“Yeah, there are a lot more market-rate units, but is there a revitalization?” asked Amie Fishman, executive director of East Bay Housing Organizations. “Not to the extent it could have been. Downtown still clears out at five at night. You don’t have what you would have created if you had made living communities. You now have land that is not available for affordable housing.”

Nelsen and Fishman think it would have made more sense for the city to focus on building for working-class families who would have taken the kinds of jobs available downtown. Those residents would have supported a more extensive marketplace than a scattering of coffee shops and nightclubs, and they would have sent their kids to local public schools. A September study claimed that by 2005, the Oakland school system — which lost about seven thousand students in the Brown years — gained only nineteen students from the 10K housing projects completed so far.

As Brown leaves office, there also remains a lingering question of how many condos, lofts, and apartments were spurred by the Internet and housing booms and had nothing to do with 10K. Would they have been built regardless of who was in the mayor’s office? After all, cities without 10K plans experienced huge housing gains in the same time frame.

Still, Brown deserves credit for his vision of a more vibrant, populous downtown Oakland — and then selling that to developers. His administration also deserves credit for laying the plans for thousands of units not yet built. Time will tell whether he will finally reach 10K during the Dellums years. Will affluent urbanites choose to call downtown home — and will anyone else be able to afford to? The proof is in the pipeline.


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