A controversial nomination of a conservative African-American Republican to the Oakland Planning Commission by outgoing Mayor Jerry Brown has been withdrawn under pressure from progressive community activists and Councilmember Jane Brunner.
Charles Hargrave, who was sponsored by City Council President Ignacio De La Fuente, withdrew his nomination on Friday after Brunner complained to Brown about Hargrave’s conservative political positions.
“I understand that he is pro-life and anti-gun control,” Brunner said following a community advisory meeting at Peralta Elementary in North Oakland on Saturday. “I told Jerry that I couldn’t support someone like that on the Planning Com-
The 49-year-old Hargrave, a Berkeley native who grew up in the Brookfield Village community of East Oakland, said in a telephone interview that he withdrew the nomination after speaking with Brown and learning that the nomination had quickly become a controversial issue. “I was told that there would be pickets from pro-choice groups at the City Council meeting,” Hargrave said by telephone. “I can understand it if I was running for governor or state assembly or something, but I don’t see what being pro-life has to do with being on the Planning Commission. That’s ridiculous. All I wanted to do is be on a commission or board that can help change things in Oakland.”
Noting that there are currently no African-Americans on Oak-land’s Planning Commission, Hargrave said that “now that Mayor Brown appoints one, Ms. Brunner says that she doesn’t want me.”
Hargrave said that he will now wait until incoming Mayor Ron Dellums takes office in January “and introduce myself to [him] and see if he will appoint me.”
Oakland Tenants Union co-founder James E. Vann, who opposed Hargrave’s nomination, said that “I don’t think Brown would have made the appointment if he had known about [Hargrave’s] staunch opposition to right-to-choose and his other ultra right-wing positions. It looks like so many of Brown’s appointments [that didn’t get fully vetted] where they simply saw him at a meeting someplace and impressed him, or they had some connection who lobbied for them.”
Vann said he first came in contact with Hargrave in 2004 when Hargrave attempted to get a variance to Oakland’s condo conversion ordinance. Vann said that a group of builders represented by Hargrave wanted the city to exempt them from the requirement that housing taken off the rental market by conversion to condominiums must be replaced by the owners with a comparable number of rental units. The Tenants Union eventually opposed the city granting Hargrave’s group the variance.
The withdrawl of the last-minute nomination was a political embarassment for Brown, who had complained eight years ago about then-outgoing Mayor Elihu Harris making similar last-minute appointments in the period after Brown won the mayor’s election but before he took office. Last June, San Francisco Chronicle political reporters Matier and Ross wrote that “despite [incoming mayor] Ron Dellums' call to hold off, outgoing Oakland Mayor Jerry Brown said he plans to make board and commission appointments right up to the very end of his term. Right now, there is one vacancy on Oakland's Port Commission, two vacancies on the Planning Commission and three on the Landmarks Preservation Advisory Board—all potentially key appointments when it comes to development deals. Dellums, who will replace Brown in January, asked the mayor to leave the Port Commission appointment till he takes office. … Brown spokesman Gil Duran said … that while the mayor would be open to discussing the matter, he planned to continue the ‘settled practice of the mayor exercising his authority through the end of the term, just as they do in San Francisco and in Sacramento.’”
It is not clear whether Brown will attempt to make another nomination to the Planning Commission prior to his departure at the end of the year. Duran, Brown’s media representative, did not return a telephone message in connection with this story.
Hargrave is a homeownership consultant for the Oakland office of Operation Hope, a non-profit public benefit organization founded in Los Angeles in 1992 in the aftermath of the Rodney King riots. He has twice lost badly against incumbent District 7 Congressman George Miller (D-Contra Costa/Solano) in recent years, 71 to 27 percent in 2002 and 76 to 24 percent in 2004. He graduated from Laney College in Oakland in 1981 with an associate's degree in finance. He currently serves as the tenant alternate on Oakland’s Housing, Residential Rent and Relocation Board, voting only when the regular tenant representative is not present at board meetings.
Hargrave said the abortive Planning Commission appointment came after he attended a commission meeting earlier this year and talked with an aide to Council President De La Fuente.
“I told him there should be African-American representation on the Commission,” Hargrave said, “and he asked me if I was interested. I told him I was, but it was my understanding that there would be no vacancies until May of next year. I had been looking at some of the boards and commissions earlier because I wanted to be on a commission to help Oakland.”
Hargrave said that he had previously met De La Fuente while he [Hargrave] was seeking a Spanish-speaking counselor to work in the Operation Hope office. The office is in De La Fuente’s fifth Council District in the Fruitvale.
With De La Fuente’s sponsorship, Hargrave was nominated by Brown late last month to serve on the seat vacated by real estate agent Nicole Franklin for a term ending in May, 2007. The nomination letter from Brown mistakenly indicated that “upon nomination of the Mayor, the following person is hereby appointed…” However, nominations for the seven-member Oakland Planning Commission are made by the mayor and must be approved by a majority of the City Council.
The nomination set off a flurry of emails among Oakland community activists that included a 2002 candidate’s bio from the SFGate website listing Hargrave’s political positions taken during his Congressional run that year. That prompted Brunner to have the item pulled from its original December 5 City Council agenda date and rescheduled for December 19. Brunner said on Saturday that “Jerry [Brown] called me and asked why I pulled it.” After she explained her opposition to Hargrave’s conservative political positions contained in one of the emails she had received, Brunner said “he told me to send him the email. An hour later, he called back and said that Charles had pulled his name from consideration.”