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Deanna Santana speaks after being introduced as the new Oakland City Administrator at City Hall in Oakland, Calif. on Wednesday, June 22, 2011. (Michael Conti/Staff)

After a blistering Alameda County Grand Jury report detailing abuses at Oakland's building services division, Mayor Jean Quan promised that addressing the panel's concerns would be a top priority for new City Administrator Deanna Santana.

On Tuesday, Santana announced a change at the helm of the Community and Economic Development Agency (CEDA), which oversees the embattled building services division.

Walter Cohen, head of the agency is out -- effective Oct. 28. The good news is Santana has hired Fred Glover Blackwell, a widely respected redevelopment director, to replace Cohen.

Blackwell, the current director of San Francisco's redevelopment agency, has a reputation as one of the most successful redevelopment directors in the state.

Blackwell will be an assistant city administrator in charge of the redevelopment agency and building services division.

The move comes as no surprise. Cohen has been under fire since the June grand jury report that revealed building services inspectors had grossly abused their authority.

The panel found that inspectors were hostile and intimidating to property owners. Owners complained that they were denied due process, causing some to lose their property. Many complained of arbitrary fees, sometimes running into the tens of thousands of dollars, that bore no relation to the fines or cost of abatement work.


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To be fair, Cohen inherited a mess. A grand jury 11 years earlier had cited the same problems in building services, which were never addressed. However, Cohen did little to tackle the problems at the Community and Economic Development Agency.

Blackwell, his successor, is by all accounts a strong leader with vision. Oakland will benefit from his extensive experience shepherding major public-private partnership projects.

As executive director of San Francisco's Redevelopment Agency, Blackwell spearheaded a number of large development projects that included military base reuse, infrastructure investment, commercial developments and affordable housing.

These include an ambitious $2 billion proposal to transform the shuttered Hunters Point Naval Shipyard and Candlestick Point into a new neighborhood and business district.

The plans called for 10,500 new housing units, 700,000 square feet of retail and entertainment space and 2.5 million square feet of commercial space around a green science technology campus.

Blackwell's expertise should prove invaluable in Oakland's continued efforts to develop the Army Base and land a new Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory campus.

Blackwell is a strong believer in using redevelopment as a tool for economic revitalization. He will be an articulate advocate for Oakland's redevelopment agency, which is fighting the state's efforts to abolish redevelopment agencies.

Let us hope that Blackwell's hiring will usher in a new era of professionalism at City Hall.