SunCal in the news

November 08, 2017

After long wait, massive Oak Knoll housing project approved

The Oak Knoll Naval Hospital is shown on Thursday, April 7, 2011 in Oakland, Calif. The hospital is scheduled for demolition on Friday, April 8.(Jane Tyska/Staff)

The Oak Knoll Naval Hospital is shown on Thursday, April 7, 2011 in Oakland, Calif. The hospital is scheduled for demolition on Friday, April 8.(Jane Tyska/Staff)

OAKLAND – The Oakland City Council on Tuesday evening voted to approve building 918 townhomes and houses at the former Oak Knoll Naval Hospital, one of the largest land developments in recent years.

The 5-3 vote cast after a bit of council drama ended a saga dating back 20 years, when the hospital closed in 1996 after 54 years of treating servicemen wounded in World War II and the Korean and Vietnam wars.

Councilman Larry Reid’s district includes the former hospital. (Laura A. Oda/Staff Archives)

Spread over 187 acres, the development includes 72,000 square feet of retail property, 67 acres of open space, biking and walking trails, a restored creek and art installations.

The Alameda Labor Council and other local union groups objected to developer SunCal’s agreement to hire worker from the Laborers’ International Union of North America Local 304 for demolition, land grading and other project jobs. Local union members told council the project should include a labor agreement – which has been used in other large developments such as Brooklyn Basin – to hire other local unions.

“Oak Knoll is a project for the rich built by the lowest paid workers possible,” said Jeff Dixon, an organizer with the Sprinkler Fitters Local 483.

James Vann of the Oakland Tenants Union and other critics scoffed at the fact that there is no affordable housing units for the estimated 2,000 people who will live at Oak Knoll. SunCal decided to pay $20 million in impact fees instead of building affordable units.

Later in the hearing, which ended around 11 p.m., Councilmember Rebecca Kaplan said the city could build affordable housing a 5-acre plot known as the Barcelona parcel controlled by the city.

People who have watched Oak Knoll for over 20-plus years praised the work of Councilman Larry Reid. Reid, whose district includes the former hospital, has shepherded the development since 1992, first as an aide to former Mayor Elihu Harris. Elected to council in 1996, Reid ran for a sixth term in 2016 in large part to finish his pet project.

Supporters welcomed a new grocery store to the neighborhood and open space at a site that became an eyesore over the years.

In 2011, the former hospital building, a warehouse and bachelor’s quarters were demolished, which required approval from a federal judge after SunCal’s financial partner, Lehman Brothers, went bankrupt in 2008.

On Tuesday, Reid nearly had to wait a few more weeks to see its end. Councilman Abel Guillen, who had reservations about the project not including a new fire station, made a motion seconded by Councilman Dan Kalb to delay the vote to later this month. It failed, and Reid left the dais and the Council Chambers for several minutes.

When Guillen, Kalb and Councilman Noel Gallo made it clear they were voting no, Reid called them each “disingenuous.” He said Guillen and Gallo had told him otherwise in the hallway and took a jab at Kalb, who is running for a state assembly seat.

“We invited you to come out and take a tour,” Reid told Kalb. “You chose not to hear the concerns of the residents in my district who live around Oak Knoll. I understand you are running for assembly and you are playing in to everybody.”

Kalb, in a tweet posted after the meeting, said he was never invited on a tour. “We need these homes,” Kalb said. But, “This package isn’t ready for prime time in my opinion.”

In the end, Reid had the votes with support from Lynette Gibson McElhaney, Desley Brooks, Annie Campbell Washington and Kaplan.

When the ayes were tallied, a relieved Reid leaned back in his chair and lifted arms above his head in victory.

“Yes,” he said.

SunCal officials have said they plan to begin work in the first quarter of 2018.