Big Oak­land bond, but lit­tle scru­tiny

$600 mil­lion street, hous­ing funds lack over­sight

San Francisco Chronicle Late Edition - - FRONT PAGE - By Kim­berly Vek­lerov

Oak­land vot­ers in 2016 over­whelm­ingly ap­proved a $600 mil­lion bond to fix city streets and build af­ford­able hous­ing.

The bal­lot mea­sure promised reg­u­lar au­dits of the pub­lic funds and scru­tiny of the spend­ing by a cit­i­zen over­sight com­mis­sion. So far, nei­ther of those has hap­pened, even though the city has al­ready al­lo­cated tens of mil­lions of the Mea­sure KK funds.

The over­sight com­mis­sion hasn’t yet met. Most of the res­i­dents nom­i­nated by city of­fi­cials to serve on the panel told The Chron­i­cle they were un­aware the City Coun­cil had con­firmed their ap­point­ments last year.

“I don’t know if I’ve been con­firmed. I’m still wait­ing to hear,” ar­chi­tect Michael Py­a­tok said last week.

“I have not re­ceived that email or phone call from the city,” Ken Lupoff, ex­ec­u­tive di­rec­tor of Friends of Oak­land Parks and Re­cre­ation, said last week.

Mem­bers of the panel also said they did not know when they would meet or what their spe­cific tasks would in­clude.

“I’m con­cerned,” said com­mis­sion mem­ber Car­roll Fife. “It feels like there’s very lit­tle com­mu­nity in­put that goes into the city process as it hap­pens.”

Last sum­mer, the City Coun­cil au­tho­rized the first round of bonds — up to $125 mil­lion — to be is­sued. Tens of mil­lions have al­ready been al­lo­cated in the city’s cur­rent two-year bud­get to

“We’ve seen what a dif­fer­ence in­vest­ments can make in com­mu­ni­ties. We want to see that es­pe­cially for com­mu­ni­ties that haven’t been tra­di­tion­ally in­vested in.” Ellen Wu, ex­ec­u­tive di­rec­tor of Ur­ban Habi­tat

projects in­clud­ing li­brary ren­o­va­tions, a tran­si­tional hous­ing fa­cil­ity for the home­less and paving and con­crete crews.

Mea­sure KK was widely sup­ported by unions, com­mu­nity or­ga­ni­za­tions and elected of­fi­cials. Its funds are for streets repaves, city fa­cil­ity ren­o­va­tions and new af­ford­able hous­ing units, among other pro­grams. The city at­tor­ney’s anal­y­sis said it re­quires an­nual au­dits and a cit­i­zen over­sight com­mis­sion that re­ports to the coun­cil.

Mayor Libby Schaaf was tasked with ap­point­ing the nine com­mis­sion mem­bers, but she al­lowed each coun­cil mem­ber to se­lect one. That process wrapped up in De­cem­ber.

The mayor’s spokesman said the fact that the com­mis­sion hasn’t met was not con­cern­ing.

“My un­der­stand­ing is no, this is not an un­usual amount of time for an over­sight com­mit­tee to get seated, par­tic­u­larly since this is a ‘post facto’ com­mit­tee that will an­a­lyze how the funds were spent, as op­posed to an over­sight com­mit­tee that de­ter­mines how to spend the funds,” the spokesman, Justin Ber­ton, said in an email.

But some com­mis­sion mem­bers want an ac­tive say in how the ex­pen­di­tures are made. They are tasked with re­view­ing fi­nan­cial re­ports, ex­pen­di­tures of bond pro­ceeds, re­port­ing to the City Coun­cil and eval­u­at­ing the spend­ing’s im­pact on so­cial eq­uity, anti-dis­place­ment and af­ford­able hous­ing.

“We’ve seen what a dif­fer­ence in­vest­ments can make in com­mu­ni­ties,” said Ellen Wu, a com­mit­tee mem­ber and ex­ec­u­tive di­rec­tor of the non­profit Ur­ban Habi­tat. “We want to see that es­pe­cially for com­mu­ni­ties that haven’t been tra­di­tion­ally in­vested in.”

She and Lupoff said they weren’t too con­cerned about how the city is han­dling the bond money so far. Still, Lupoff said, “The sooner we meet, the bet­ter. There’s a lot of work to be done.”

Ap­pro­pri­a­tions of the bond money con­tinue to change. Last week, a City Coun­cil com­mit­tee voted to take more than $2 mil­lion from a dif­fer­ent bond mea­sure — meant for parks and trails — and put it to­ward a re­cre­ation cen­ter’s ren­o­va­tion. The miss­ing parks and trails project fund­ing would then be back­filled with KK dol­lars if it gets the full City Coun­cil’s ap­proval.

The shift­ing of funds trou­bled com­mu­nity mem­bers who said youth were be­ing pit­ted against the en­vi­ron­ment and the loser would be in­fra­struc­ture.

This isn’t the first time the city has not promptly con­vened an over­sight com­mis­sion.

Last year, af­ter Schaaf’s ini­tial bud­get pro­posed pour­ing soda-tax rev­enue into the gen­eral fund rather than health pro­grams promised to vot­ers, three coun­cil mem­bers ac­cused her of pulling a bai­tand-switch. At­ten­tion then shifted to the fact that a cit­i­zen ad­vi­sory com­mit­tee that was sup­posed to make rec­om­men­da­tions on ex­pen­di­tures of the soda tax — which vot­ers also passed in 2016 — hadn’t yet been set up.

Af­ter the out­cry, city of­fi­cials con­vened the com­mit­tee, and it’s been meet­ing reg­u­larly since last fall.

Noah Berger / Spe­cial to The Chron­i­cle

A car ap­proaches a pot­holed sec­tion of Harold Street in Oak­land. A bond to re­pair roads has lit­tle pub­lic over­sight.

Noah Berger / Spe­cial to The Chron­i­cle

Pedes­tri­ans pass a pothole on 18th Street in Oak­land. Vot­ers OKd $600 mil­lion for in­fra­struc­ture and af­ford­able hous­ing.

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