Student member of the Oakland Board of Education Gema Quetzal Cardenas told City Council members public land should be used for affordable housing. Photo by Mona Lisa Treviño.
The City Council pulled a controversial resolution off its agenda at this week’s meeting – without an explanation – postponing the proposal from the City Administrator to sell a publicly-owned parcel of land to an out-of-state developer to build a large K-8 charter school in the Fruitvale District.
Councilmember Abel Guillén, who chaired Tuesday’s meeting, announced that the council would not be voting or discussing the issue but did not explain why or announce whether the proposal would be rescheduled.
Many of those who came to the meeting opposed the charter, including families and staff from Fruitvale District public schools, Think College Now (TCN) and International Community School (ICS), which would be negatively impacted if the new school were built near them, competing for students and resources.
Of the 63 people who signed up to speak, all opposed the land sale, except for a few families and staff of the Aspire Eres Charter Academy, who want the Derby Avenue property so they can move from their present cramped facility.
“Our community is feeling extremely blindsided. I feel we did not have the opportunity to engage in a discussion on the needs of the neighborhood,” said Eleanor Alderman, principal of ICS, a district-run public elementary school about two blocks from the proposed charter.
“What we are asking for is a process that doesn’t leave thriving public schools such as ours struggling for resources and takes into account the success of a school that already exists before bringing in new ones,” she said.
Community members were not the only ones who felt blindsided. Speaking to the audience, Councilmember Rebecca Kaplan said, “There was no backroom council meeting. The council was not consulted on this item. The administration put this in the packet without checking with us.”
Kaplan urged the community to get involved in passing a city public lands policy that would reflect the values and needs of the community. “Many of us have been working for months on a public lands policy so we can prevent this exact type of problem,” she said.
Aspire Eres Charter Academy is currently located at 1936 Courtland Ave., near Fremont High School, serving 223 students. The proposed three-story school would serve 620 students, nearly three times as many as attend the existing school.
The 9,000-square-foot publicly-owned property is located on the northwest side of Derby Avenue between East 15th Street and International Blvd, which city staff intends to sell to the developer for $450,000.
Also speaking against the land sale was Gema Quetzal Cardenas, student member of the school board and recently appointed student member of the State Board of Education.
“Instead of selling land to charters, we should use this land to build affordable housing, (building) housing for Oakland natives who are currently being pushed out of their own communities,” she said.
A sixth grader, who graduated from TCN, an elementary school located on the same complex with ICS, said, “’I’m devastated that you think it’s OK to sell this property to people who plan to build a charter school so close to amazing public schools”—ICS and TCN.
“Backroom deals are not OK. We don’t want to be like DC. We want to be like Oakland,” said ICS teacher Rachel Quinn.
Community activist Kathy Leonard called for a moratorium on the sale of public land, a proposal that is being backed by the Post Salon community assembly.
“Why are you sacrificing our badly needed land that we need for deeply affordable housing to a private developer for the paltry sum of $450,000? This administration appears to have adopted (its) own policy on the sale of our land,” she said.
“I urge a moratorium on the sale of all public land until the city adopts a firm policy on the sale of land, with input of Oakland residents,” she said.
Andreas Cluver of the Alameda County Building and Construction Trades Council has been part of the city’s discussions for the past year and half on a public lands policy said, “We don’t want to start (selling) these parcels before we establish a policy.”
Supporting the development was Max Daigh of the California Charter School Association (CCSA).