Oakland Local

Places like Impact Hub Oakland are shaping up as mobilizing grounds for Oakland’s alter-gentrificationists: the people who don’t want to see the city’s development driven solely by profit motives. Michael Orange of Top Ten Social has made it the site of his latest installment in The Town Forum speaker series; a series that has previously featured such prominent names as Fred Blackwell, Jean Quan, Glynn Washington, Chinaka Hodge and many more.

Last Wednesday’s, Oakland Reconstructed, sought to define the role and responsibilities of developers in the city’s crisis of displacement. 

While the conversation conducted bolts of disagreement throughout the crowd whenever someone spoke too favorably about welcoming developers in order to bolster our tax base or, on the other side of the debate, obstructing all development and sealing Oakland off to new residents, there was nonetheless an encouraging sense that a collective path forward was being charted and that the community was ready to step up and organize.

The first panel of the evening featured Jeremy Liu, a non-profit manager-turned-real estate developer with heart; Jahmese Myers of the East Bay Alliance for a Sustainable Economy and Orson Aguilar, the ED of the Greenlining Institute, which develops policies to reverse institutionalized racism. The panel, moderated by Calvin Williams of the Urban Strategies Council, focused on the sneakier forms of redlining that manage to persist in a world where the outright practice is disavowed.

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Calvin Williams, Orson Aguilar, Jahmese Myers, Jeremy Liu

According to Calvin Williams, over 10,000 of the city’s homes have been foreclosed since 2007. 42% of those foreclosures were bought -usually with cash- by real estate investment firms, and most end up diced into rental units. Of the houses that were bought by investors, 93% were in low-income, flat land neighborhoods. “Homeownership is often the difference between keeping your family in the working-middle class, and not,” said Williams. “All those homes represent families that were there and are now being replaced by people who have to rent.”

To this, Myers added that of the jobs lost in the recession, 60% were middle wage, “since the recovery those have been replaced, almost one-to-one, with low wage jobs.” This is the period many have been calling Oakland’s “revitalization.”

While there are many policy ideas aimed at bolstering homeowners and mom and pop landlords in this competitive and predatory real estate market, the panel  spent quite a bit of time sharing personal testimonies. Urban Strategies Council, for example, has argued that city government could push banks to expand programs that give owner-occupiers and nonprofits a “first look” at foreclosures before they go up for auction. Given the qualifications of the panelists, the discussion was a bit wanting for actionable specifics like these.

However, props were given to Causa Justa for their recent advocacy victory which changed the law to limit landlords’ abilities to raise rent to pay for capital improvements. The crowd made a big show of support for the organization’s upcoming November ballot measure to target unfair eviction practices.

“We don’t have redlining the way we used to, of course,” said Jeremy Liu, “instead we have it built into the spread sheets and the pro formas and the financial analysis and the decisions about where you put, for example, car sharing pods in the city.”

Alan Dones, the developer and outspoken critic of racist, discriminatory, practices in Oakland, took up these ideas in the next panel. “It really bugs me when people talk about the new bars and the fancy restaurants– that’s not real revitalization.”

Dones and his co-panelist, developer Mike Ghielmetti, both have reputations for being exceptions to the ‘big, bad developer’ rule. However, while Dones was eager to declaim the city’s contracting practices, Ghielmetti was more positive.

He pointed out aspects of Oakland’s “revitalization” that everyone has benefitted from, such as improved OUSD test scores. “But, listen, this is above our pay grade. I like to build stuff, but I don’t know policy, I’m not running for mayor.”

What Ghielmetti does know, he says, is that “projects that are low-risk and high-return get done. Projects that are high-risk and low return only happen because the right people come together and want to get behind them.”  This, Ghielmetti explains, is why Starbucks or even Blue Bottle proliferates while independent businesses or unconventional ventures like the Hub (which Ghielmetti developed) have such a hard time getting contracts. The city has to do everything it can to facilitate those ventures, argued Ghielmetti, “or else Starbucks will get the contract 80% of the time.”

As Oakland becomes more attractive to developers, the city should be in a much better position to negotiate on its own behalf and secure community benefits and local hire requirements, Dones and Ghielmetti agreed. They sang the virtues of innovative “public-private partnerships,” a term that someone from the audience then accused them of using as a euphemism for government subsidies.

“I am baffled as to why we are even asking developers to solve this problem,” said the same critical audience member, “they are the problem.”

Dones responded to this by doubling down on his rhetoric. A verbal survey of Oakland’s history of discrimination and disinvestment in people of color culminated in Dones making a call to repeal prop 13. This was met with applause.

The event concluded with many shows of thanks and love from the audience and hosts alike.

Hopefully, the Hub and partnering organizations like Top Ten Social will continue to draw on and organize community energy as big political decisions go down.

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Michael Orange, host along with Ashara Ekundayo

 

17 thoughts on ““Oakland Reconstructed” panels dig into development issues

  1. The people who decry “the new bars and the fancy restaurants” as not revitalization are incorrect as well as looking at things superficially. Those bars and restaurants represent millions of dollars of investment in buildings that haven’t been updated or maintained in decades. Contractors buy materials locally and construction jobs pay well. Service jobs don’t pay well, but they’re a heck of a lot safer than manufacturing and allow for more networking. Also, if all you see are the new bars and restaurants then you’re not well informed. Oakland was the top bay area job maker in 2013, not Silicon Valley, not SF: http://www.bizjournals.com/sanfrancisco/news/2014/03/17/oakland-employment-east-bay.html

  2. Matt,

    Most Oakland families don’t have the money to use the new bars and fancy restaurants on a regular enough basis to benefit them. The money used to update the buildings are only temporary–until the work is completed. Then what? Besides, downtown is not convenient to their homes.

    Also, the question comes how do students and families benefit from the new bars and restaurants?

    The families need services and products convenient to where they live. For example, a new low cost grocery store and clothing store was added at Foothill Square. You could probably argue they might revitalize the area.

  3. Remember the people buying clothes at the clothing store pay sales tax. Also, the grocery store and the clothing store hire many people.

  4. OaklandNative,

    “Most Oakland families don’t have the money to use the new bars and fancy restaurants on a regular enough basis to benefit them.”

    Most? I beg to differ. I bet most Oaklanders can afford a $5 glass of wine or a $8 sandwich from time to time. Also, so because some people can’t afford something then no one should have access to it? Also, why does a business have to benefit people who have nothing to do with that business? Well, fortunately they do. The bars and restaurants collect sales tax that then pays for city services even if the receiver of the city service never steps foot in the business that collected the tax.

    “The money used to update the buildings are only temporary–until the work is completed. Then what?”

    Construction is always temporary, but in a city with a healthy economy construction activity is constantly happening all over town. Once a building is improved then it’s usable for people to work inside for decades to come.

    “Besides, downtown is not convenient to their homes.”

    Then why at all do the new downtown bars and restaurants matter to these hypothetical families, students, etc? Downtown is convenient to where I live and I frequent the new establishments as my budget allows.

    “Also, the question comes how do students and families benefit from the new bars and restaurants?”

    Why does everyone have to benefit from something they played no part in creating? If someone wants to open a bar downtown, then why in the heck does it have to benefit a family in another part of Oakland? Again, fortunately everyone does benefit from the sales tax the new businesses collect. Also, an adult in any part of the city can work at any of these new businesses which sounds pretty universally beneficial to me.

    “The families need services and products convenient to where they live. For example, a new low cost grocery store and clothing store was added at Foothill Square.”

    How does a person opening a bar downtown have anything to do with a family needing a grocery store near FootHill Square? Those two things have NO connection.

    “You could probably argue they might revitalize the area.”
    Yes, the new FoodMax will hopefully contribute to FootHill Square area becoming a better place to raise a family.

  5. Matt,
    You and I obviously have different expectations of this city. i want our city officials to stop trying to promote Oakland as an upscale playground. We have families.

    1. Any one can open any type of business they choose. I don’t want our city officials to promote, support (with tax breaks), recruit or attract these business trying to make Oakland a “cool” city. We don’t need a city department to promote Oakland’s image. A couple of those places is more than enough. If people want real upscale, San Francisco, Walnut Creek, Marin County are easily accessible. I don’t want Oakland to be another San Francisco.

    2. Downtown Oakland is not all of Oakland. People living in East and West Oakland should have businesses that serve their needs. Those businesses should get the tax breaks.

    3. You bet most families in Oakland can afford $8 sandwiches and $5 wine? huh?

    4. If our city officials are going to put their energy behind building businesses in Oakland, those businesses should support Oakland residents. The businesses should support our families. Most people have more important things to do than expensive restaurants and bars. And they can pay taxes for their necessities.

    5. A business succeeds when it serves its community. We need businesses that support our families.

    6. Families don’t need to go to bars.

    Ironically, this whole focus on an upscale Oakland might be irrelevant. All these upscale places might cancel each other out.

  6. OaklandNative,

    “You and I obviously have different expectations of this city. i want our city officials to stop trying to promote Oakland as an upscale playground. We have families.”

    I expect Oakland to perform to its fullest potential. I expect downtown Oakland to regain its position as one of the top retail districts in California. I expect Oakland to be a city where crime no longer holds people down. I expect Oakland to be a city where everyone is welcome.

    “1. Any one can open any type of business they choose. I don’t want our city officials to promote, support (with tax breaks), recruit or attract these business trying to make Oakland a “cool” city. We don’t need a city department to promote Oakland’s image. A couple of those places is more than enough. If people want real upscale, San Francisco, Walnut Creek, Marin County are easily accessible. I don’t want Oakland to be another San Francisco.”

    Oakland is a cool city. No matter what the city promotes city hall can’t make demand out of thin air. The businesses that are opening downtown are opening because they provide what Oaklanders want. I want nice places to eat and shop where I live. Why in the heck do you want me to drive to another city and fill their overflowing city coffers with my hard earned money? I want my tax money to go to Oakland! The very city that you don’t want promoting a cool downtown -busted their butts to get FoodMax to open on FootHill Square. They’re not choosing one future over another -they’re promoting what can be. Also what tax breaks are you speaking of?

    “2. Downtown Oakland is not all of Oakland. People living in East and West Oakland should have businesses that serve their needs. Those businesses should get the tax breaks.”

    Of course, and city hall is promoting family oriented development of affordable housing and quality grocery stores in East and West Oakland. They helped turn Jack London Gateway center around. Who do you think got 7th St lighting and sidewalks fixed up… who do you think built Mandela Parkway -it was all city hall. The only housing built between 2008 and 2013 in the entire city of Oakland was affordable, low, and ultra low income housing.

    “3. You bet most families in Oakland can afford $8 sandwiches and $5 wine? huh?”

    I said on occasion and that’s what luxuries are -on occasion things. I hate to burst your bubble, but 51% of Oaklanders are not poor.

    “4. If our city officials are going to put their energy behind building businesses in Oakland, those businesses should support Oakland residents. The businesses should support our families. Most people have more important things to do than expensive restaurants and bars. And they can pay taxes for their necessities.”

    Not all new nice things downtown are expensive -they’re just not fast food cheap. Also, these businesses are serving the community they are in. Anyone can work at these businesses. Again, sales tax downtown pays for street lights in the Fruitvale, etc. Promoting downtown does not mean the rest of the city is left out. It means downtown is pulling the rest of the dang city along with its sales tax. You. Are. Welcome.

    “5. A business succeeds when it serves its community. We need businesses that support our families.”

    Agreed, and they do.

    “6. Families don’t need to go to bars.”

    Human beings need places to be social, so yes -people do need bars, including parents -especially parents. This is a city of 400,000 people of which 39% of the adults are SINGLE without children -please accept that.

    “Ironically, this whole focus on an upscale Oakland might be irrelevant. All these upscale places might cancel each other out.”

    That is a very telling statement. I wish them all success -the sales tax they generate funds our city government.

  7. If you were to listen to “OaklandNative,” the REAL Oaklanders – whatever that means – don’t appreciate/want bars, don’t appreciate/want nice coffee shops, don’t appreciate/want shopping options or live-show venues, you get the picture.

    That’s interesting. If that were true all these new bars, cafe, and shops would be empty and going out of business, but – somehow – they’re not. But, of course, a city of 400,000 can/should only be a mono-dimensional one-trick pony and host only pawn shops, dollar stores, and print shops – the real definition of vibrancy, for sure.

    Just glad Oakland Native is not in charge of the marketing department at City Hall otherwise an ad from Visit Oakland would probably look something like this:

  8. Matt,
    Anyone can start the business that he or she chooses. My point is what Oakland NEEDS.

    1. Oakland has plenty of established bars and restaurants. Wouldn’t new ones just add competition?

    2. Oakland is the same “cool” city it has always been. All of a sudden, our mayor throws that word around. It will play out. Hopefully, Oakland does not play out with it.

    3. You wrote that 51% of Oakland is not poor. Does that mean 49% is? That’s almost half.

    4. You wrote that 39% of Oakland are single without children. Where did you find that number? Perhaps you’re referring to the grandmothers in East Oakland whose children are grown. Either way, it means 61% (the majority) are families with children. Oakland as a family city would be “cool.” This is San Francisco. Hopefully, we never will be.

  9. Interesting…the author does a good job of pointing to the very real statistics around the home ownership crisis and some of the impacts of development. Where she falls short is in the lack of research of who was in the room, and who had already been doing work around anti-displacement. This quote in particular, “that the community was ready to step up and organize” is a little insulting to the working class people who have already been organizing, such as Just Cause (who they do mention), East Oakland Building Healthy Communities Initiative, POOR magazine, OCO, POWER (in San Francisco). Moreso, Adam Gold who works at Just Cause gave the very poignant and intelligent critique around the public-private model that has failed over and over, yet the author erroneously coupled his critique with mine (without even asking/citing either of us!). My point on us asking the developers to solve our problems was wrongly misquoted, but I get the sentiment she was trying to capture. Nonetheless, the article needed some more INVESTIGATE reporting.

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