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OAKLAND-The NAACP has sent a letter to U.S. Attorney General John Ashcroft, urging him to launch a federal investigation into the Oakland Port’s contracting practices, claiming that they leave out black and minority developers.

The Oakland Chapter of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People alleges that a deal that was made this week was struck behind closed doors, and that port is selling public land at below market-rate value.

The commissioner moved forward yesterday with an agreement that they hope will increase business growth along the Oakland waterfront. They sold four buildings that sit on Jack London Square, including 70 Washington Street, which is one of Oakland’s prime pieces of real estate. The four buildings were sold for $17.2 million.

The port says it hopes that the developer, Ellis Partners, will be able to develop several port-owned buildings in upcoming years. The deal addresses only the buildings because state law prohibits the port from selling the land underneath, only the buildings were sold. Ellis will lease the land for a 66-year term.

At a meeting today, a number of NAACP representatives spoke against selling the buildings. “All we’re talking about is a fair and open process, which includes the public,” said the representative.”By doing so, we can enjoy a level playing field.”

A defense letter written by the port to Ashcroft says that a current appraisal puts the value of the buildings at $18.1 million, which is consistent with the agreement. The letter also details the process through which the “Exclusive Negotiating Agreement” was reached.

Officials say that the initial request for proposals drew 97 interested developers. At first, the port chose another company, but the deal fell through, which led to the contract with Ellis Partners. “If I felt that discrimination was taking place in the process, I could not absolutely support this effort,” said Commissioner Peter Uribe.

The NAACP said that the group was planning to monitor the board’s activities. “Our goal is to change the way that the port does business,” Reeves said.”We’re moving in with you guys.”

In addition, the commissioners have approved another exclusive agreement with Harbor Partners LCC to develop a 60-acre parcel of port land located between Ninth and Oak streets.

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