The Pacific Companies Never Stopped Lobbying Oakland

Posted on June 2, 2019



An abandoned OUSD building that Aspire already turned down lies a few dozen feet from the lot for Pacfic/Aspire’s proposed charter/housing hybrid in East Oakland.

Throughout 2018, the City of Oakland fought a losing battle to sell public land to charter school Aspire, and its allied developer, The Pacific Companies. Community opposition was fierce and sustained, and ranged from Oakland’s teacher’s union, education activists, student activists, community activists and even the actual school district—all opposed the Pacific Companies plan to build a charter grade school from the ground up for Aspire on city-owned land on Derby St, in Fruitvale. Pacific/Aspire’s Derby St. plan envisioned placing the charter in the midst of several existing public elementary schools in Fruitvale, while nearly doubling the expanded school’s population. Withering under the barrage of constant public opposition, Pacific hired a powerful, and well-connected lobbying firm–the Milo Group–in a last attempt to convince council members to stay the course. But eventually, even the project’s main proponent on the council dais–District 5 representative, Noel Gallo–gave up the ghost, and the city scrapped the Derby st deal.

The choice of the Milo lobbying group was a notable one by Pacific for several reasons. For one, Milo’s founder and director is John Gooding, a pre-Cambrian Oakland political player who chairs the Oakland Chamber of Commerce’s political action committee, OakPAC. OakPAC had one of its most hyper-active periods of fundraising in a decade during this same period, raising $57k toward the “anyone-but-Desley Brooks” effort in District 6. Gooding’s OakPAC joined perhaps the largest independent outlay of capital in an East Oakland district race, over 200k—a historic figure. Even though Gooding’s lobbying efforts failed, and Pacific/Aspire’s Derby St. project was apparently scrapped in February 2019, Gooding’s electoral efforts were far more successful. The main beneficiary of Gooding’s funding was District 6 front-runner, Loren Taylor, who beat Brooks by a handy margin.

Pacific had a much more ambitious project in mind the entire time, though—the construction of an affordable housing/charter hybrid in East Oakland’s District 6, on the site of a demolished ACE Hardware at Foothill and 67th. There’s no doubt that Pacific, and charter school’s like Aspire, saw this construction as a potential game-changer. If successful, the chimera could end-run school districts and even city government, by baiting increasingly unattractive charter growth with affordable housing bells and whistles. The 67th/Foothill charter/housing would be the pilot for the next-level roll-out. Pacific was not yet done with Oakland.

With all this being said, it’s not surprising to find that Pacific and Aspire settled at the top of Taylor’s agenda very early on. Though still months from January’s oath of office, and not even an official council member yet, Taylor attended a community meeting for Pacific’s Foothill/67th project 3 weeks after being elected.




I asked Taylor in March if the Pacific Companies or Aspire had asked him for help with the project. Taylor responded that he was simply facilitating the required community meetings in the best interest of the district. Recently released email communications between Taylor, Pacific and the Milo Group suggest a far deeper level of cooperation, however. Taylor’s communications with Pacific were extensive, and seem to have gone beyond simple facilitation.

Taylor scheduled a meeting as early as December, 2018 with Christ Grant, Pacific’s project manager for the 67th/Foothill project. Grant asked Taylor and his office for favors and aid throughout January and February, the period of this records request. In January, Grant asked Taylor’s office for help dealing with the large amount of trash accumulating along the block long property after neighborhood complaints—Pacific is an absentee land-owner, located in Idaho, with no local office or agent. Grant even suggested the city be responsible for disposing of the garbage, and Taylor’s office seemed open to finding a way to make that happen. 

Taylor communicated with Grant extensively to coordinate the meetings and flatten bumps—such as poor coordination from the Idaho-based Pacific for the meetings. Grant asked Taylor for help securing locations–like the Eastmont Mall’s police substation community room–for the meetings. Grant even suggested Taylor’s office distribute notices for the mandated community meetings for Foothill/67th.

In February Grant asked Taylor’s office for help coordinating with the Oakland Department of Transportation, after serious concerns of traffic and parking in the already congested corridor were raised in a previous community and Design Review Committee meetings. Taylor coordinated with the officials on behalf of Grant. Taylor went even further than Grant’s request, however, offering to have a “pre-meeting” with DOT where he would ensure they were “up to speed and prepared” for the community’s questions. 





Finally, the Milo Group contacted Taylor in January to schedule a tour of Aspire’s Eres academy with parents, staff and students for the promotion of both Derby and the Foothill sites. At that time, the Derby project was still scheduled to be heard by council, though a short time later it was dropped. Taylor apparently agreed to take the lobbyist’s sponsored tour of Eres. Milo never filed a lobbyist’s reporting form detailing its work for Pacific or Aspire with the city for this period.






Taylor has been in office for four short months, and yet in that time, failed to answer the two public records requests filed for his tenure in office. Taylor’s office finally answered the PRA’s I made for this writing after a three month lag, but only after several calls from the Ethics Commission on behalf of the requester. Another set of inquiries is outstanding–and notably, this one is also for communications with lobbyists. Given how clearly Taylor benefited from a massive campaign blast from high-powered donors with business before the city of Oakland and the de facto help he received from one of the city’s most prolific and venerable lobbyists, these connections warrant close attention. And clearly, the Ethics Commission has better due diligence to carry out concerning the Milo Group.

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