By Ken Epstein
District 6 council member and mayoral candidate Loren Taylor says he favors office buildings, retail and residential development on a “part” of Mills College’s 135-acre campus in Northeastern, which lies is in the district of his council.
The proposed zoning change was revealed two weeks ago in a report to city council. Buried in a draft plan for future housing in Oakland, submitted to City Council by Mayor Libby Schaaf’s administration, is a map of zoning changes that would allow for higher-density real estate development, including condominiums and apartments. retail businesses.
While city staff did not say who submitted the proposed zoning change and Schaaf did not respond to questions from the Post, Taylor discussed her position in a text to the Post.
“I’m not against rezoning part of the site – not the whole thing. (I) need to better explore the current zoning plan to have a definitive answer,” he told the Post in a text.
“Several proposals have been submitted that I know of, from affordable housing to space-saving corporate offices to much-needed retail in East Oakland,” he continued. He added, “I haven’t seen/reviewed them, though. As I understand it, each proposal retains the vast majority of the campus for higher education through Mills/Northeastern. (However,) I don’t know what’s has happened since Northeastern took over.
Taylor also said he didn’t know who requested Mills’ rezoning at Northeastern or what Schaaf’s position was on the rezoning proposal.
Mills College officially merged with Northeastern University on June 30, 2022, despite considerable opposition from students, faculty, alumni, and community supporters.
The map shows the entire Mills campus in East Oakland as amended from the zoning designation “RM-4 Mixed Housing Type Residential – 4 Zone”.
According to the City’s definition, “The intent of the RM-4 area is to create, maintain and improve residential areas generally located on or near major arteries of the City and characterized by a mix of single-family homes, townhouses, small multi-unit dwellings at densities slightly higher than RM-3, and neighborhood businesses, where applicable.
City council staff say the RM-4 area would allow development of the entire site with condominiums, townhouses and retail.
The current zoning of the Mills property, zone RM-3, has been in place for at least 20 years, according to a staff member with the city’s zoning division. Dramatic changes are now underway after Northeastern University in Boston took over Mills, with promises of merging many of the best aspects of the two institutions.
Taylor has been outspoken in support of Northeastern’s takeover of Mills, as has Schaaf, with whom he has been closely allied.
According to an article in the Northeastern University (NU) newsletter, Taylor was deeply involved in the merger discussions between the university and Mills.
“Taylor says he has been involved in talks with the college and university as the merger evolved from idea to reality. “When I’ve had conversations with executives at Mills and Northeastern,” Taylor says, “I always came away reassured. I hear, I feel and I sense that there is a real commitment to ensuring the legacy of what Mills had. I can’t wait to see this happen,” the NU Bulletin said.
Although the proposal is to rezone the entire 135-acre campus, city staff told the Post that only part of the campus is being considered for development.
“The undeveloped western edge of the Mills College campus adjacent to MacArthur Blvd. has been identified as a potential location for the addition of infill housing. Any rezoning of this part of campus would only occur if the community and policy makers supported such a change and only for the purpose of facilitating the addition of housing along this undeveloped edge of campus,” according to zoning staff at the city.
The housing element, including zoning changes, is scheduled – after discussion and modification – for a final decision in January.
A lawsuit against the merger between the two institutions has been filed, and the coalition of groups and individuals working for Save Mills is still pushing for a state or federal investigation into the merger.
On June 6, 2022, a headline from the Huntington News, Northeastern University’s independent newspaper, stated, “Some Mills College Alumni Upset About Northeastern Merger.”
The newspaper quoted Meena Ramakrishnan, a 2013 Northeast graduate who earned a master’s degree from Mills in 2022.
“It’s built into Mills’ DNA that marginalized people get an education. It’s part of the curriculum, the staff and faculty they hire are people of color or people with disabilities or people who aren’t. It’s been that way for a long time, and so there’s a lot of disappointment on campus that Northeastern doesn’t share that kind of ethic and those values, and that they’re going to come in and try to change the fabric of Mills.”
While Mills has been a liberal arts college for generations, “Northeastern has a reputation of studies focused on science and business, (and) he was considered a predominantly white institution until 2014and white students again overwhelm other groups northeast,” according to the news report.
The article continues: “Racist incidents at Northeastern are a cause for concern for students of color who call Mills home. As recently as 2019, the #HereAtNU and #NUExperience student movement has seen dozens of students of color share their experiences with racism and discrimination in college, with #BlackAtNU train students to demand improvements.
“There were incidents where campus police were target students of color, mostly black men. So my question is – are you bringing that madness here? asked Tasha Poullard, a Mills graduate quoted in the Northeastern newspaper.
“Mills College – in my personal opinion – is one of the quietest, most serene and safest campuses I have ever been to,” Poullard said.