Oakland central platform for Brown's bid in 2010

Chris Rizo Jan. 26, 2009, 12:19pm

Jerry Brown (D)

OAKLAND, Calif. - California Attorney General Jerry Brown and the city of Oakland have been inexorably linked for decades. As Brown readies to run again for the state's top post in 2010, those ties, for better or worse, will continue to define him.

Better and worse have been in the news lately.

Earlier this month, newscasts touted Brown's involvement in the grand opening of a new 59,000-square-foot Oakland School for the Arts in the heart of downtown Oakland.

Other reports were less glowing, especially some that chronicled the failure of an upscale downtown residential project that Brown had touted as a key to his overall revitalization plan.

As Brown, 70, readies for a race to become governor of California for a third time in his political career that has spanned four decades, his fate could well be tied to his troubled hometown.

While Brown is sure to tout revitalization efforts and progress in Oakland like the arts school, opponents are likely to point to lofty plans that failed to turn out as Brown envisioned, like the failed upscale project on Jefferson Avenue.

The 75-unit downtown complex that was supposed to attract 10,000 new residents fell into mortgage default earlier this month. Arthur Evans, president of A.F. Evans, the developer on the project, said it is cheaper in the long run to leave the building vacant that to sell condos at the going rate of 25 percent less than anticipated just a few months ago.

"We're not in love with the notions that the building's vacant, but we are working with the bank to determine what to do about it," Evans said in published reports. "But if you sell them for $100,000 less per unit, you've lost the money forever."

While Brown has not commented publicly about the development's failure, he has made appearances in Oakland at openings and events of other more successful projects, such as the arts school's grand opening in the historic Fox theater.

The school began in 2002 in portable classrooms while awaiting its permanent building, which undergone a multimillion dollar renovation. Brown founded the school during his tenure as mayor.

Brown made a deal for a digital billboard to be placed along Interstate 80 in exchange for millions in school funding. He also recruited the school's director from a similar school across the bay.

"We stole him from San Francisco fair and square," Brown said earlier this month at the school's opening, "because maybe San Francisco has something to learn from Oakland now."

Brown said the charter school, which doesn't require tuition but does maintain rigorous academic and liberal arts standards, is a first step toward much needed improvement in the public schools.

"Whether it's fiscal or social, there are all sorts of problems," Brown said. "We need innovation, we need creativity."

The school has more than 400 middle school and high school students.

Good news like the arts school can be harder to find in Oakland. The city again made national news for all the wrong reasons when a transit officer shot and killed a 22-year-old black man in the early morning hours of New Year's Day.

The man had already been detained and was laying face down when the police officer, who has since been charged with murder, shot him in the back.

Brown held a news conference with leaders of the NAACP, calling for justice in the killings and urging citizens to refrain from rioting. At the time Brown said angry protesters who looted the downtown after the shooting were hurting the city's push to renew its downtown residences and businesses.

Brown first drew headlines to Oakland in 1975, shortly after becoming governor of California. Brown opted to live in a one-bedroom downtown Oakland flat, instead of the lavish governor's mansion.

Following a career that included a second term as governor and three failed attempts to run for President of the United States, Brown revitalized his political career as mayor of Oakland in 1996. He quickly pushed Oakland, one of California's most troubled cities, to begin efforts to revitalize its downtown.

Brown made downtown revitalization a core principle of his tenure as mayor. He lived downtown for more than a decade, before recently moving to the upscale Oakland Hills.

As attorney general, Brown has sued several cities and counties for general plans that do not seek to curb greenhouse gas emissions and the use of fossil fuels but offering incentives for downtown revitalization.

Brown successfully reworked his own image, just as he tried to do the same for the city he has long called home. But while Brown's popularity has soared, Oakland's remains troubled by fits and starts, continued gang violence and now a potential reversal of development efforts because of the economy.

Though Brown has not yet formally announced his intention to run for governor in 2010, he made several comments at high-profile events during the inauguration of President Barack Obama last week.

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