The Port of Oakland’s new Director of Social Responsibility, Amy Tharpe, is someone you might want to invite to dinner. Very positive and sunny after two months on the job, she proudly introduced one of the Port’s summer interns and praised a non-profit that matches mentors with pre-teens, where she had volunteered. “I can’t speak highly enough of [],” said Tharpe. “I just saw one of my [former] mentees. She’s working for Councilmember Lynette McElhaney. That’s what it’s about!”

Tharpe comes to the Port well versed in public controversy. She led HOPE SF, a widely-criticized project that involves tearing down several of San Francisco’s public housing projects and replacing them with a mix of public housing, workforce apartments and market-rate units. Tharpe defended the program against charges of displacing low-income residents, noting that in Hunter’s View, the first of six projects, all but seven of the public housing families remained on the site during construction.

One thing the Port’s new director of Social Responsibility wanted to emphasize was how she feels about working closer to home and being part of the Oakland renaissance. “I’m just so very very honored and humbled to be a part of it because I know where we’re going,” Tharpe said. “I can see it. So many good and committed and passionate people really can have an impact on Oakland.”

What follows are excerpts from our June 20, 2013 interview at Amy Tharpe’s portside office–punctuated several times by trains passing on the tracks behind the building, and once, by the deafening blare of a container ship horn from the dock outside big office windows overlooking the ferry terminal and the first of the Port’s famous cranes.

Oakland Local: Tell me a little bit about what your role as director of social responsibility is going to be for the Port.

Amy Tharpe: My job is to ensure that the Port’s business delivers benefits for the community, including hiring local workers, helping local businesses, and investing in strategies that bolster our community. Our community consists of the neighbors that surround us: Oakland, Emeryville, San Leandro and Alameda, and the larger Alameda and Contra Costa County region. As an Oakland-based agency, it is very important for us to have an impact on the City of Oakland. Right now, there’s a lot of positive national attention on Oakland, but locally, many of us have known that Oakland is a unique and special city and is only getting better. The Port is a huge asset for the city, so I am excited to guide the organization’s investment in Oakland’s renaissance.

OL: One of the criticisms of the Port in the past is that it has not made a lot of data available to the public. How would you address that?

AT: My team is already working on making the Port’s social responsibility commitments more transparent. For example, we’re in the process of updating our website with information for those who regularly do business, or would like to do business, with the Port, as well as information on projects that are underway that will deliver employment opportunities. There’s a genuine commitment by the Port to share as much information with the public as possible.

OL: What about the criticism that the Port is not responsive to the community?

AT: The Port is responsive to the community. Having said that, we still have more work to do. The community is always in need of the latest information, and we have a responsibility to provide the information as quickly as we can. I believe that good communication is an art. Not only does your information have to be timely, but it also has to be conveyed in such a way that is universally understood.

OL: Tell me about social responsibility and jobs.

AT: In terms of jobs, the Port’s Maritime Project Labor Agreement (MAPLA) was an agreement that was established in 2000 and is considered it to be a model for project labor agreements. MAPLA was created by a partnership between the general community, labor unions, contractors, and the Port. The resulting document outlined specific goals to foster job creation.

OL: Do you have metrics for how successful that’s been?

AT: Every year, we publish a MAPLA annual report. Right now, we have a 20% requirement for including apprentice labor on our projects. That means one out of every five workers must be an apprentice. Also, we require 50% of total hours from those in our defined local impact area: Oakland, Alameda, San Leandro and Emeryville. If that goal is not met in our surrounding area, then we look county-wide to meet the 50% goal. We want apprentices to have the opportunity to receive skilled, on-the-job training and job opportunities, so that they will be prepared for work on projects all over the region.

OL: What great new innovative thing is coming to the Port that you want people to know about?

AT: The Oakland Army Base redevelopment is an exciting and innovative project for the entire region. The Oakland Army Base Redevelopment Plan is a public-private partnership between the Port of Oakland, the City of Oakland, local developer California Capital and Investment Group, and Prologis, an international warehouse developer. This project will benefit the community in a meaningful way and provide local jobs. We’re working to ensure that our outreach efforts are linked with the already existing jobs programs, workforce programs, and ready workers. For example, we want our business partners to know how to access the West Oakland Job Resource Center.

This is the first time in a while that we  have so many major projects going on at the same time in the East Bay. There’s Brooklyn Basin [formerly known as Oak to Ninth], Oakland Army Base, the BART-Oakland Airport connector, and AC Transit, among others. The Port wants to make sure that local workers are prepared to take advantage of these opportunities. When people can provide basic needs for their families, then everyone’s lives are enriched. Public safety is also affected because crime goes down. Ultimately, this is about quality of life. The Port plays a major role in improving quality of life in the region.

About The Author

Laura McCamy, is a freelance writer, editor and researcher, and a contributing production editor at Oakland Local. Her work also appears in Momentum Magazine and the Intuit Small Business Blog. Follow Laura on twitter @lmcwords

One Response

  1. Lynette Gibson McElhaney

    I am genuinely excited by Amy’s leadership at the Port. The Port’s Administrative and Maritime operations are in District 3. The Oakland Army Base project is the largest public investment in the City and Amy understands well the challenges and opportunities this project presents. Amy will play a critical role in connecting the dots. I am delighted to to work with her to ensure good jobs and business opportunities. Many blessings Amy! Thank you for your leadership. Proud to work with you and your team.


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