Oakland leaders have been waiting for the day when the former Oakland Army Base would be transformed into an engine for creating jobs and tax revenue.
Barring a natural disaster, the City Council will vote Tuesday to spend the next year in exclusive negotiations with development team AMB/CCG to make that dream a reality.
But nothing associated with the Oakland Army Base development has been easy. A new 35-page report ordered by Mayor Ron Dellums' staff without his knowledge only adds to the drama.
The report, which surfaced last week, concludes that the city would be best served by choosing two development teams to build on 135 acres at the former base — the same position touted by a small but vocal group that supports the underdog team of Federal Oakland Associates.
The $6,000 report, prepared by Oakland-based AE3 Partners, examines proposals submitted by the two teams — AMB/CCG, whose managing partner is Rotunda and Fox Theater developer Phil Tagami, and Federal Oakland Associates, whose local partner is residential developer Michael Johnson, a lesser-known entity in Oakland political circles.
The report asserts that increasing the density of the development area would provide room for both the logistics, research and development and office space proposed by AMB/CCG and the retail, entertainment and office space proposed by Federal.
The city would benefit from higher tax revenue and capital investment,
"I think there should be serious consideration given to merging both proposals," said Douglas Davis, a partner with AE3. "It would create double the jobs, double the investment, and hedge the risk of the project between the two developers. "... If you pull the politics out of it, to me there are no barriers "... the only burden or challenge is the need to collaborate and share with each other."
A selection panel had already voted 10-1 to recommend that the city begin negotiations with AMB/CCG before Theo Oliphant, the mayor's deputy director of program planning and development, and other city staff members decided unilaterally last spring to commission the study without the mayor's knowledge.
Oliphant said his boss had been asking for more information about the highest and best uses of the land for the city and its residents. He said the report provides more information for decision makers.
"This is the largest piece of land that the city owns and we wanted to see if it could have a greater impact on the city of Oakland by exploring other options," he said.
Davis said his company met with Dellums and staff members from the Community and Economic Development Agency in late June to present their findings. The following week Dellums officially backed the selection of AMB/CCG.
A copy of the report was mailed to the Tribune last week with a return address from City Hall. The package included an anonymous letter urging greater public scrutiny of both teams and urged a merger.
The leak of the report has irritated some who said they view the tactic as a last-ditch attempt to gain political support for Federal's proposal, which features 700,000 square feet of large-scale retail and other office uses. Others wondered why the report wasn't shared as part of the public record.
"I think it would be the worst thing we could do — split the baby, compromise, just to please some people," said Councilmember Ignacio De La Fuente (Glenview-Fruitvale). "Splitting the baby, giving a piece to this guy and a piece to that guy, would be the worst political decision we could make. We have plenty of room for retail. We only have one port and only one Army base."
Council President Jane Brunner (North Oakland), who delayed a committee vote this month so she could obtain more information about the projected economic benefits of the proposals, said she had heard of the report but hadn't seen it or read it. Brunner said the report should be shared with the council, especially if public funds were used to pay for it, but added that she thought she already had enough information to be able to vote Tuesday.
Johnson said Friday that he has lobbied for the council to select both teams, but he has also spoken to Tagami separately about sharing part of the development. Johnson said he is committed to retail and believes the city has fiduciary responsibility to examine retail's advantages as a means for the city to climb out of a financial hole. But he added that he would be willing to give it up if there is absolutely no support for it.
"It's not like we only have it one way or we don't play the game," Johnson said. "I would hope that after one or both teams are selected that there is more discussion about it before it is abandoned."
Tagami confirmed that Johnson had approached him.
"The AMB/CCG team is not prepared to modify our proposal or our team at this time," Tagami said. "We want to respect the process."
Staff writer Kelly Rayburn contributed to this story. Read Cecily Burt's blog at www.ibabuzz.com/westside.