By Aram Mendoza and N. Finch, in collaboration with Dewey teachers

Since we last wrote about the development deal that would potentially displace Dewey Academy and sell off public land, we’ve witnessed inspiring awareness and mobilization among the OUSD community. At each of the two relevant board meetings that happened last week, the 7-11 meeting and OUSD school board, students, educators, and community members came out to speak against the proposed development deal.

Below we outline a brief update on each meeting and review the major problems of this attempt to privatize public space in Oakland. Throughout this piece we put forth a vision of how we should approach the key issues in this process. Specifically, we call for:

  • Public land to remain under public control; no privatization of public land.
  • Parents, staff, students, and community to decide OUSD policy.
  • The OUSD admin and the school board to become community activists and fight for taxes on property developers, corporations, and the port, rather than resorting to short-term privatization schemes.

7-11 Meeting, Community Response and Colonial Analogies

On Monday, June 23, the 7-11 Committee convened its third meeting in order to advise the school board on whether or not Dewey Academy should be considered “surplus property” and therefore offered up to luxury condo developers as a saleable / leaseable parcel of land.

While OUSD so poorly promoted attendance at previous 7-11 meetings that no more than four or five community members showed up, this one had over 30 educators, students and parents from Dewey, joined by a handful of concerned community members.

The fact that educators and students were able to get the word out and mobilize the community quickly, without any outreach support from OUSD, demonstrates the strong opposition to the OUSD administration’s plans to privatize the public land that Dewey rests on.

The grouping of educators, students and community members put up signs around the room that read, “Schools Not Condos,” “Dewey is Not Surplus,” “Not One Inch of Public Land for Private Developers,” and other messages that clearly took a clear stand against the administration’s move to privatize public space. (Some of these are pictured above.)

While the community clearly participated, the involvement of the 7-11 committee itself left a lot to be desired. The committee did not have enough members present to proceed with the meeting, having only 5 members present and needing 6. Rather than have an official meeting, the gathering became a community speak-out where all of the speakers spoke passionately and logically against the development deal.

Despite the official 7-11 meeting not happening, the district administration did put out photocopies of an “RFQ,” or Request for Developer Qualifications. This is a call for developers to submit proposals outlining how they would develop the land, how much they would charge, and so on.

One of the speakers from the community stated that OUSD attempting to generate income from the leasing of public property to private developers mirrors a colonial land grab. This time, however, instead of occupying armies directly seizing territory, private developers threaten public land through collaboration with public officials. This is the process of privatization writ large.

OUSD School Board, Community Engagement and the 2006 Struggle to Stop Privatization of Land

The OUSD board meeting saw another showing of the growing community mobilization against land privatization and gentrification in OUSD. More than 30 people spoke out against the displacement of Dewey and the land grab while surrounded by hundreds of other community members, educators and students there to present demands on the District about the role of police in schools, the role of students in determining the OUSD budget, and the attack on teachers who speak up to administrators.

While the school board did not make the displacement of Dewey and privatization of public land an official agenda item, over 20 people stood up at once to speak to the board, taking over the last round of public comment. The comments echoed those at the 7-11 Committee meeting: Dewey should not be displaced, public land should not be sold off to private developers, and OUSD’s process so far lacked anything remotely resembling the “community engagement” OUSD administration prides itself on.

School board director David Kakashiba was the main school board member to respond. He started by implying that the community was confused, stating that we should, “get the facts straight: Dewey is not being displaced” (see 2:16:00 of this clip). Jody London echoed his statement.

Kakashiba claimed Dewey would get a new campus built at the old OUSD admin building’s location on 2nd Avenue. He did not mention when this would happen, why it’s being pushed forward, and how it would impact Dewey students to move schools. Nor did the board respond to the role of the OUSD in contributing to gentrification by selling off public land to luxury condo developers.

At one point, a speaker referred back to the 2006 community struggle to stop the takeover of the public land where La Escuelita and MetWest are currently located. At that time, luxury condo developers also targeted the valuable lakeside property. They also faced resistance from a coalition of parents, educators, students and community members who instead put forward an alternative community development process.

In 2006, the opposition’s vision included a community design and planning process led by the coalition that fought against the developers. Through sustained mobilization, the coalition succeeded in winning the construction of the “Downtown Education Complex” that includes new buildings for La Escuelita and MetWest. Crucially, the project’s funding came from publicly-controlled funds, not a “public-private partnership,” ensuring that public land remained accessible to Oakland’s youth.

The speaker stated that we should continue in the spirit of that fight and pushback against this round of privatization. Director Kakashiba interrupted the speaker to say, “I singlehandedly stopped that” (see 2:19:00 of this clip). This bold statement goes against the collective community struggle that actually stopped the privatization effort in 2006.

Rather than demonstrate a commitment to community engagement and organizing against private encroachments on public land, the board mostly remained silent. They did not respond at all to the testimonies of Dewey students, alumni, families, and staff that shutting down or moving Dewey for even one year is too much disruption. They also did not respond to the points made that this development will contribute to the gentrification of Oakland.

Instead they have been accepting the premise of the staff’s full-court press for privatizing OUSD land. Their role so far has been to present a public face for the plan made by staff with no community oversight.

First Meeting of OUSD Lawyers & Property Developers

On Tuesday, July 1, OUSD lawyers held the first meeting with property developers excited at the opportunity to grab up public land and turn it into condominiums. About 12 representatives of developers showed up in addition to 2 OUSD lawyers and 10 community members in opposition to the entire development plan.

The meeting itself featured very little structure, essentially consisting of a question and answer period, with the majority of time spent discussing the questions that the community members posed to the lawyers and developers. Jacqueline Minor, the OUSD’s General Counsel, epitomized the District’s approach toward this entire development process in her responses to community voices.

A teacher from Dewey asked Minor about whether OUSD would lead a community engagement process. Her response was telling. Minor stated that OUSD intended to pay an outside consultant an undisclosed amount of money to create a plan for community engagement.

Once OUSD settled on a plan, a select group of community members would be hand-picked by Jacqueline Minor. Minor even emphasized that “meetings of staff [like Minor] are not subject to the Brown Act … they don’t have to be public meetings.” The fact that any single person hand picks the “community” that they want to “engage” falls short of meaningful community engagement, let alone community controlled processes.

What’s Next?

All of this points to the need for a grassroots campaign to immediately halt the development and privatization of public land and guarantee that the parents, staff, students, and community members of OUSD determine policy, not developers and unelected staff.

A truly community-based grouping should develop a plan for what to do with the OUSD admin building. OUSD controls hundreds of millions of dollars in Measure J funds that could support rehabilitation of the Admin building. There does not need to be a “public-private partnership” that gives up public OUSD land for luxury condos. Money exists from within the district to fix the admin building.

Instead, we could emulate the model used to reconstruct the Lake Merritt 12th Avenue project using Measure DD funds. There, a grouping of community members pushed back on city plans and instead created the vision of the park and bridge that the city built later.

Instead of the city going doing a public-private partnership as OUSD is working on, they organized a fully public process. This is a model for how we can develop our whole city, and the 2nd Avenue OUSD properties in particular. Students, school staff and parents can collectively imagine, design and produce public space that will be open and accessible to all communities in Oakland.

In the long term, we also need to mobilize to cut administrative waste within the District and start a tax on the corporations and developers so that OUSD staff never can claim to be broke and bring up selling public land again. To do this, we need some help from all of you who have paid attention to this issue so far. Here are some next steps:

First, we need to inundate the board members with emails and messages showing opposition to the current plans for Dewey and public OUSD land. Please feel free to alert other potential allies.

Secondly, we need to re-mobilize when the school board and 7-11 Committee start meeting again on August 1 for a developers’ pre-submittal meeting. Leading up to that, we will be hosting a community barbecue on July 28. Like our Facebook page so you can stay up-to-date on any summer events and be ready to act when we need to.

Feel free to hit us up there if you want to get more involved or have information to share. The link is: https://www.facebook.com/stopgentrificationousd.

10 Responses

  1. Len Raphael

    When the OUSD board members tell you that their hired high powered financial consultants advised them to do a “private-public” partnership deal, remind the Board that they don’t even accurately know what OUSD’s financial situiation is because their accounting records are a mess and have been for years. The Board didn’t consider it important to inform the voters that OUSD hasn’t passed a financial audit in several years because their records are so bad according to recent Grand Jury report.

    Before the Board starts wheeling and dealing, or asking voters to approve more parcel taxes, they have to get their accounting system working. Next, they have to have to ruthlessly cut administrative and other non-classroom costs, starting at HQ before they close more schools, or even consider selling “surplus” property.

    As for taxes on developers, unless there’s a way to pass a Mello-Roos tax only on new developments, don’t count an changing state law to get a tax just on new developments. In effect residents of new market rate developments by for-profit developers already do pay higher real estate taxes because of how prop 13 works.

    Len Raphael
    Temescal

    Reply
  2. todd

    Something smells stinky here. Every two years we have an election where a number of board members are elected to the School Board to four year terms. These board members, considering OUSD as a whole, say that what’s in the best interest of the the district is to make changes. Yet for some reason the teachers at one school feel that they know what’s better than the Board Members elected by all of us? Thant’s down right stinky.

    Let’s look at your key issues:
    -Public land to remain under public control; no privatization of public land.
    How about instead we allow those we elected to decide what property is and is not needed by the school district?

    -Parents, staff, students, and community to decide OUSD policy.
    How about instead we follow the leadership of those we elected to lead?

    -The OUSD admin and the school board to become community activists and fight for taxes on property developers, corporations, and the port, rather than resorting to short-term privatization schemes.
    How about instead we allow those we elected to look at all funding options and decide what is best for OUSD as a whole?

    We live in a republic, not a direct democracy. For the system to work it makes sense for teachers to teach…students to study and learn…parents to encourage…and those we all elect to lead the right to follow their conscience and lead.

    Reply
  3. Len Raphael

    todd, we’re talking about Oakland which is not a normal city with at least one newspaper that closely reports school board actions. The electorate pays scant attention to OUSD unless it affects their kid’s school or they themselves are OUSD employees. OUSD candidates are often funded by the teacher’s union or by one particular private organization.

    Look at the history of OUSD over the last twenty years or the grand jury report of a couple of months ago. Read some of Oakie’s financial calculations about OUSD non teaching costs. OUSD even has a now re-elected school board member who was involved some way with a high school student.

    Yes something is rotten at OUSD but look at the rot at OUSD headquarters before applying textbook civics lessons to an eff’d up school system.

    Len Raphael

    Reply
  4. todd

    Len,
    How fortunate we are to have you to protect us from ourselves. See, I always thought that limited interest in a particular election was a good thing,for this meant only those interested in a particular election would actually take the time to participate. How wrong I was. Thank you for opening my eyes.

    I was also misguided in my opinion of who was on the School Board. See, I was under the impression that members of our community, some with children in the city schools, some who went to city schools themselves, some who were teachers, some with private sector educational experience, each of whom took the time to participate in the electoral process by making themselves accountable to the voters every four years, I always thought a group of people such as this were best for our school system because they were guided by a desire to look at the school system as a whole and do what was best for the school system as a whole. Now I realize that what’s best is groups from each of the over one hundred schools, accountable to no one but themselves, each considering what’s only best for themselves making all the decisions.

    Might I suggest we start working together to make Oakland a better place? First we could work towards a poll tax, for as everyone knows, only those who pay taxes should have the right to participate in government. Next we could work towards instituting a literacy test, for as everyone knows, only those smart enough to vote properly should have the right to do so.

    Thanks again for protecting all of us from ourselves!

    Reply
  5. Leelee Hughes

    Oakland needs a safe place for these students. The land around Lake Merritt is prime property. We must save it for our children. Let us not sell public land away. Use the money from the planned condos to rebuild a state-of-the-art facility for the Dewey students and our Oakland students. Give them a fighting chance so that they can go to school in a safer neighborhood. Give them a chance to break away from illiteracy, poverty and welfare. We talk of Oakland having no jobs. How many come to work in Oakland from other cities nearby? They do not want to live here yet work here. These developers do not live here yet will siphon off millions to their communities. No, we must not let this happen. We have vested interest in here for we live here. Let our children get the training and the right skills so that they can find jobs in this city that they live in, where their families are. Give them a chance that their families may live in hope and pride. I vote for no selling of any more land. Let us stand up together and fight to save this land for our children and their future. How can we get together to do this?

    Reply
  6. todd

    Of course I’m advising to rely on the electorate! We live in a Republic. It seems you don’t understand that.

    Reply
  7. LibbyCali

    OUSD is getting gentrified because they’re selling one dilapidated property and moving the school there to a….more desirable location? I agree, OUSD should not sell the land. But, they’re the largest landholder in the entire county.

    Regardless, tying gentrification to OUSD to battle this move is hilarious and no wonder the board didn’t respond to the accusation. Less than 7% of the population is white and less than 15% could be considered middle class. And those numbers dwindle every year.

    Reply
  8. OaklandNative

    LibbyCali wrote: “Less than 7% of the population is white and less than 15% could be considered middle class.”

    Can you cite your sources?

    Reply
  9. Santizo

    LibbyCali, you don’t actually refute any of the arguments in this article. Instead, you just make a strawman argument by implying that because “7% of the population is white” that this sale of public land cannot be part of the gentrification process. You haven’t explained what the connection is with the 7% white comment, nor have you defined what gentrification is and why this is not part of it.

    In opposition to your reductive and simplistic point, I’ll point out that the privatization of public land – both the parcel next to Dewey and the Admin building and Dewey themselves – and in particular the privatization by luxury condo developers is clearly a gentrification driven process. What is your point in opposition to this?

    Reply

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