by Aram Mendoza and Rocket Kay, Advance the struggle

What follows is a critique of the West Oakland Specific Plan – WOSP – which the city of Oakland hopes will help in “developing” West Oakland, and is attempting to pass in the coming weeks. We offer this critique and brief thoughts on strategy in order to support the ongoing work of combating displacement and gentrification that has been hitting the Bay Area for a long time.  Please add comments, questions, and critiques in the comment section in the spirit of deepening our collective discussion of anti-displacement analysis and strategy.


Snapshot of the State and Capital in the Bay Area

If the Bay Area’s economy was compared to every other national economy in the world, it would be the 19th largest.  The Bay has the highest GDP per capita in the entire United States, and even outpaces London and Singapore.  It captures 40% of the entire flow of venture capital in the US (p11), which constitutes a higher amount of capital than that captured during the boom.  While the Bay accounts for only 2.4% of the total jobs in the US, it has 12% of the computer & electronics manufacturing, 10.3% of software development, and 8.3% of internet related jobs (p13.) Seven of the top 10 social media companies are here – Google, Facebook, Yahoo, Twitter, Linkedin, Zynga, and Yelp. In short, the Bay is home to one of the highest concentrations of capital in the world and mapping out the composition of capital is key for us to situate ourselves as we continue to engage in class combat. (See footnote #1)

The regional state is well aware of its place within the world economy.  Over the past years, city politicians from the greater Bay Area have come together to generate a 30-year strategy about how to restructure the region’s housing, employment, and transportation structures. Plan Bay Area (PBA) was developed by the Association of Bay Area Governments (ABAG) to carry out the tasks of determining how the state can support and facilitate the accumulation of capital throughout the region. In order to grease the wheels of the local capitalist economy, the PBA aims to redevelop housing and transit throughout the Bay. New units are set to be built, new transportation “hubs” developed, and both of these projects are to be coordinated across single cities and the bay area as a whole.

PBA aims to align the various metropolitan areas of the Bay in their development of housing to match projected increases in employment. Internet, computer and electronics manufacturing, along with professional, scientific and technical services are accounting for some of the largest contributors to job creation here. PBA states that between early 2011 and late 2013 the Bay Area added more than 200,000 jobs, an increase of 7.5 percent that is well above the state’s average of 4.5%. PBA is projecting that this area will continue to outpace the rest of California and the US in its share of job growth due to the heavy concentration of tech related industries which forms part of the economic base of Bay Area political economy.  (See footnote#2)

West Oakland Specific Plan: One Part of Capital/State’s Total Plan

We find ourselves in a city that’s clearly at the cross-hairs of the system’s plans for intentional development and displacement: highly concentrated capital in the Bay Area and projections of millions of jobs being created in the next 10 years: a strategic plan by city politicians across the Bay to house these new high wage workers within its multiple cities; and the ongoing displacement of low wage workers and unemployed people. This is the situation Oakland Mayor Jean Quan references when she states that she’s seeking to bring in 10,000 new residents to Oakland while saying nothing about keeping long term residents and working class people in Oakland.

The city of Oakland has developed a number of “Specific Plans” for the Coliseum, Lake Merritt and West Oakland in order to smoothly facilitate and attract investment by retail and tech companies, develop new housing units, and restructure the local transportation systems. The West Oakland Specific Plan, WOSP is one local example of the city’s plan for carrying out this program of urban capitalist development (See footnote #3). 

fig31wospEmeryville Part 2?
The West Oakland Specific Plan is the City of Oakland’s plan to help developers and incoming high wage populations (both different types of gentrifiers (see footnote #4) speed up the accumulation of capital in Oakland. It essentially acts as a one stop shop for financial and retail capitalists to invest in West Oakland without having to go through the “nuisance” of making Environmental Impact Reports – EIRs – or dealing with zoning regulations.  Instead of having new developments require zoning, and environmental impact regulations, the WOSP does it all for them and therefore saves money for the developers, retail chains, and financial interests seeking to build in and make massive profits in West Oakland. It is the state facilitating the accumulation of capital and dispossessing long-term, and historically black, residents in the process by bringing in new investment that will increase property values while doing nothing to keep rents for existing residents from going up.
opportunitysitesWOSP“Opportunity Sites”
The WOSP highlights four “Opportunity Sites” as the specific areas of West Oakland to be developed. The Four areas are the Mandela/West Grand area, the San Pablo corridor, the area around the BART station on 7th Street and the area next to the Port of Oakland around 3rd Street. These “Opportunity Sites” are determined to be the specific places where transit, new housing, light industrial and retail outlets will be developed.

In order to “revitalize” these areas, the architects of WOSP have identified various barriers to development such as “graffiti,” “homeless encampments,” “crime of all types,” and “blight.” In the eyes of the architects of WOSP, once the barriers to development are gone there will be a flourishing of “new growth.”


What does this growth look like?  A glance at the video accompanying the presentation of the WOSP to the Oakland Planning Commission featured the familiar architecture and spatial layout of Emeryville mixed in with your typical Whole Foods store.  The development that’s presented is about attracting an influx of capital investment – retail, industrial, and high wage residents – and transforming West Oakland into a center of commerce for a new set of residents. New growth is about raising property values and attracting new residents and businesses, not improving the situations of those who already live there.

But the planners who put WOSP together would disagree. They are quick to point out that they have “Chapter 9,” a section of the report that addresses equity and social justice issues.  This is where they explicitly state that they hope to mitigate the “impact of neighborhood change and displacement on longstanding residents and businesses.”

However, what one finds in Chapter 9 is little more than an inventory of existing city agencies and non-profit organizations that provide services to working class people. Rather than focusing on the needs of long-term and working class residents, WOSP is re-writing the rules for developers and financial capital to ease their access the city by re-writing the zoning regulations and providing them with a pre-packaged Environmental Impact Report. All that’s provided to working class people and renters in West Oakland is a list of the declining base of social service programs that already exist.

Strategic Orientations for Fighting WOSP

We seek the defeat of the WOSP in all its forms. Given the multiple challenges facing West Oakland, the burgeoning national and international debates around the hyper-gentrification of the Bay Area, and the ways in which the West Oakland Specific Plan is being promoted, we recognize the urgent need for a radical critique and effective action against gentrification and displacement. However, given these circumstances, we also recognize that simply being “anti-development” is not the most effective strategy, nor is it adequate to addressing the structural and conjunctural problems in West Oakland that have both shaped adverse conditions for local residents and made it a ripe ground for gentrification.

Our orientation towards this struggle is built around the following core strategic goals:

Reframing the Discussion About Development: We want to re-frame the discussion about gentrification and improvements to neighborhoods.  The city and investors want to convince us that they know what’s best for West Oakland, and that they can make the type of improvements that residents really want.

The truth is that West Oakland has been devastated by decades of economic and racial exclusion – for instance, the creation of the West Oakland BART station destroyed 7th Street as a center of culture, black-owned businesses, and centralized location for community interaction; the 980 freeway cut off West Oakland from downtown so that white city officials could distance themselves from black “blighted” neighborhoods in the 1970s; the creation of the Post Office on 7th street bulldozed three blocks of residential housing with no relocation support for residents.

Residents have real desires and needs for their community to be better served, and “no improvement” is not a viable option as an alternative to gentrification. However, though we do want improvements, we don’t want the type of “improvements” that the city and its developer allies seek to impose on us. The development plans of the city and capitalist real-estate developers are NOT the way to create safer, more vibrant, and economically dynamic neighborhoods. (See footnote #5)

Gentrification as a Question of Power: Many people in West Oakland want development, so the question isn’t so much do we want improvements or not. The question should be: who gets to benefit and make use of the developments? Is it going to be long-term black and Latino residents and working class people, or middle-class, often white, newcomers who landlords and developers cater to in order to accumulate high rents?

Long term residents want development like well-serviced and fully-funded schools and parks, fixed roads, improved plumbing, clean air, and access to affordable healthy foods, while developers want development that looks like biotech campuses, an increased police presence, and cafes that sell expensive coffee. Some of the questions we seek to put out there are: On whose terms will urban development proceed? Who decides what is implemented and where? Who benefits from urban development?

Community Control over Community Development: If gentrification and urban development is an issue of power, therefore, we argue that the only way towards a positive outcome in West Oakland is for the people themselves to take control of the redevelopment process. “Community input” in an otherwise top-down, technocratic planning process has proven to be a useless endeavor – mere lip service to inclusiveness and equity.

The real needs of the poor, black and brown and working-class communities in West Oakland have either been ignored, or worse, twisted and used to justify the aggressive neol-iberal development strategies put forward by WOSP. By invoking the classic Black Panther slogan of “community control,” we are also recognizing the need for a strategy that is locally rooted in Oakland’s black proletarian constituency and its historical memory of struggle; one that emphasizes and prioritizes the material needs and political empowerment of the most oppressed sectors of urban society. (See footnote #6)

Our on-the-ground strategy is to mobilize activists and community members on two fronts:

Kill the WOSP: We seek to build a strong, vocal force of opposition to the West Oakland Specific Plan by staging interventions at all city planning meetings, developing and presenting a clear and coherent critique of the Plan at every point in the approval process. The mass displacement and “hyper-gentrification” of San Francisco has given us the opportunity to show what this new mode of urban development looks like, and why it must be stopped: “West Oakland Will NOT Be the Next San Francisco!”

The immediate goal is to defeat or delay the final vote on WOSP’s Draft Plan and EIR.  We’ve approached this goal thus far by organizing small, but vocal, interventions at the presentation of the WOSP to the city Planning Commission and the Parks and Recreation Commission.

A People’s Plan for West Oakland: As an alternative to capitalist visions of urban development, we plan to deeply engage communities in organization and dialogue towards articulating their own vision of the kind of city they want to live and work in. Inspired by urban struggles across the world, we are attempting to facilitate the organization and empowerment of residents to create urban space themselves; to foster the imagination and social power capable of asserting the power to shape the city according to the needs, wants, and rhythms of their everyday lives. This is a longer-term community planning process that will hopefully be realized in a radical, innovative, and concrete strategy for West Oakland’s redevelopment. (See footnote #6)



#1: All statistics and information in this paragraph drawn from the “Bay Area Job Growth to 2040” document prepared for the Association of Bay Area Governments:

#2: All information about Plan Bay Area taken from their “Draft Forecast of Jobs, Population, and Housing” document:

#3: By “urban capitalist development” we refer to the ways in which city policies and programs are directed toward the benefit of businesses that engage in retail, financial, and real-estate growth. Cities in the Bay Area are strategic sites for businesses to invest in because higher wage workers are moving here in order to work at tech companies in Silicon Valley and San Francisco. This facilitates the creation of a base of consumers who buy expensive commodities (coffee, clothes, condos, cupcakes, etc) and pay higher rents. All of this helps businesses in the city generate flows of money, which then provides the city with a higher sales tax and residential tax base, hence the “urban” in capitalist development. The city deals with its declining budget from the state by welcoming wealthier residents, rather than fighting banks, ports, developers and corporations for higher tax rates that could fund services for working-class people.

#4:  By “gentrifiers” we refer to three groups:

  • the capitalist developers who flip houses, redevelop properties, build condos, and rent/sell their properties to high waged workers and wealthy people;
  • the state bureaucrats such as city planners and other planning agents who produce documents such as WOSP in order to attract capital to the city, as well as passing racist laws and zoning regulations; and
  • the individuals whose high wages allow them to pay higher rents and in an overall sense benefit from redevelopment projects such as these.

This third group, the individual gentrifiers, is controversial because it is argued that these people do not accumulate capital in the same way that private developers do. While this is true, we still refer to them as gentrifiers because of the problematic role that they play once they move into a neighborhood. Some issues associated with high-wage workers moving into neighborhoods such as West Oakland involve calling, and collaborating with, the police on a more frequent basis than long-term residents and organizing private security firms to patrol neighborhoods. Additionally, many of these “individual” gentrifiers also are/become petty-bourgeois business owners of high-priced organic food shops, cafes, and clothing boutiques. We recognize the challenge of using “gentrifier” as a term because it encompasses such a wide range of people and lacks specificity, while also seeing the value of its accessibility. Throughout this essay we’ve attempted to refer to specific groups, but we still retain use of the “gentrifier” term because of its wide use.

#5: We completely acknowledge that there are many different sets of people who compose any community. Our understanding of the needs and desires of residents comes from our experiences working alongside long-term residents, organizing around housing issues, working with young people in the community, and researching the WOSP and its background alongside people whose lives are directly affected by the plan. Putting forward the “needs” of West Oakland as a whole is an ongoing project that many are already engaged in and that we seek to support.

#6: When we say “community control” and “people’s plan” we refer to processes where working class and black/brown residents, unemployed people, and youth put out their visions of how the community should be changed. Historically, terms like “community” and “the people” have been used in ways that obscure and diminish class differences within a given set of people, and have also been used in ways that facilitate capitalist divisions.  This has meant that proletarian goals and objectives have been subsumed into middle class and capitalist projects, a.k.a., populism.  However, we choose to use these terms because they also signify bottom-up, working class and unemployed people’s power and agency as opposed to top-down state, developer plans for reorganizing the city.

Read the original article here and visit the blog associated with the authors’ collective here.

Editor’s Note: This piece reflects an individual opinion and is not a reported story from Oakland Local. Oakland Local invites community residents to share their views about events and issues in Oakland. For guidelines, see:
For more information on posting to community voices, see The word on Oakland Local’s Community Voices posts,

59 Responses

  1. JR

    Another anti gentrification article by the Oakland Local, how surprising. The extremely arrogant editors of this website think that they talk for all of West Oakland and Oaklanders. Well they don’t. Though we do value the diversity and character that Oakland has to offer, remaining stagnant is not helping Oakland out at all.
    Some change would be very refreshing. The Oakland of the last 40 years has been one of the most consistently violent places in the country. Having people come in and invest in our city while bringing in new residents only makes us stronger. There is nothing wrong with bringing in people with jobs who like to spend money and contribute to the Oakland economy. These plans will bring with them not only the construction jobs initially, but good retail jobs that have opportunities for advancement to management positions that will allow people to buy homes and raise a family. In turn this will have a positive effect on not only the economy, but the OUSD as well.
    And as far as the talk of forced displacement. Any resident that owns a home in these areas sees their property values go up, and with strong rent control the renters get to live in a safer community.
    I just don’t get the anti development voice, especially since they have no real alternative that actually has a plan. I guess that they think that the violent, poor Oakland is just fine.

  2. Michele

    It’s really good to hear about such thinking about Oakland’s future.

    A big problem is that Oakland’s political establishment, especially our current elected officials, cannot think in such out-of-the-box ways about our future. They are tied to somewhat socially-progressive but essentially neoliberal approaches to economic growth. In other word, trickle-down economics where big money and big projects are the focus with the “promise” of minimal-wage kinds of jobs to traditional Oaklanders needing more work, along with some more money thrown carelessly by means of “social programs” in the direction of certain problems.

    It would be interesting to hear something based this alternative view of Oakland’s future regarding who and what Oakland will be voting on in the fall. Thus far I have heard nothing from any mayoral candidates other than Plan Bay Area-like stuff. No one running for mayor of Oakland seems to be focusing on the needs of those of us who’ve been here a while.

  3. thorn

    sigh. here we go again–well i’m sure they are happy to hear that this thing hasn’t even been voted on and the plan is already cracking; the plan for ‘destination retail’ and ‘mixed use housing’ near raimondi park is being voided out in favor of a customs inspection center. while this will bring jobs to the neighborhood, it will contribute to making the neighborhood less desirable (with all the new trucks coming in and contributing to the poor air quality of the neighborhood) which is apparently what the authors would like.

    west oakland has suffered from nearly 60 yrs of divestment, and yeah, i’m scared of 10,000 clueless yuppies moving into my neighborhood as well–but at the same time, it would be nice to have restaurants, bars, grocery shops, etc return to 7th st, as well as san pablo (south of emeryville–i mean that used to be bbq heaven) or to have new items along the 3rd st corridor linking it to jack london sq. i suppose we could keep it all the same–filled with empty buildings, vacant lots and the like, but i really feel that if it is done right, the neighborhood can improve without losing its character.

    moreover, i’m just tired of articles like this that never get around to explaining what they are for, and just a bunch of nonsense about what they are against.

    more or less

  4. Concerned Long Time Resident

    It’s all nice talk about bringing jobs and business to West Oakland but that is not all that’ s coming . As you mentioned about the the crime and violence, in Oakland I feel a different kind of crime is here now and has been here for a while. West Oakland is the Wild Wild West. If you want to do or sell or grow drugs come to Oakland. If you want to deface or scribble (excuse me Graffiti) on buildings walls trucks/ buses in broad daylight West Oakland is your place. If you want to dump trash etc on streets and park and live in a RV on residential streets for month, come to West Oakland. If you feel like you want to kill, steal, rob or whatever just drive down to Oakland do your dirt and go home or just stay awhile to do what you do. Why not deal with this problem too? All this is going on because we have a lack of concern from City government of Oakland. What is our tax money

  5. Naomi Schiff

    While many of us have been critical and remain critical of the WOSP, and while various groups and individuals have written lengthy and fairly scathing critiques, I am troubled by the above. (Why are the authors anonymous?) Did the writers speak up at the related public meetings over the last couple of years? The WOSP could have used more constructive community outreach, comment and support. It was heavy lifting for those concerned about displacement and some other unwise aspects of the plan. If by any chance you are the people who came and spent a lot of time saying the same things over and over at the planning commission a few weeks ago, please note that there were some gaps in preparation and engagement, and some incorrect assumptions. West Oakland must not be used as a platform for some group’s political strivings, without true involvement in developing a community voice and without building capacity rather than pushing for retention of the status quo. Blowing up the process is not all that helpful, because the gentrification being protested is ongoing right now anyway. I agree with some of the points above, but the conclusion that destroying the whole thing will do any good is mistaken. Right now there is rampant speculation and the old zoning is fairly permissive. No WOSP just perpetuates that.

  6. Matt in Uptown

    Never surprised by the level of insular insanity coming out of this blog. The WOSP has been publically debated for TWENTY years and this nameless so-called “public school teacher, social worker, and student” wants you to think it was all hatched behind closed door by minions in Sacramento. FALSE. FALSE. FALSE.

    Almost everything in this values based piece is a lie or a half-truth. For instance they’ve convoluted the act of making a zoning plan into a evil map that, “essentially acts as a one stop shop for financial and retail capitalists to invest in West Oakland without having to go through the “nuisance” of making Environmental Impact Reports – EIRs – or dealing with zoning regulations.” ARE YOU KIDDING ME? This is something right out of Fox News!

    The wheels are coming off OaklandLocal.

  7. Maestro

    Matt in Uptown writes, “The WOSP has been publically debated for TWENTY years and this nameless so-called “public school teacher, social worker, and student” wants you to think it was all hatched behind closed door by minions in Sacramento. FALSE. FALSE. FALSE.”

    Name a quote that states ANYTHING about “behind closed doors” and “Sacramento.”

    Matt, try to make real arguments rather than setting up strawmen.

  8. Leslie Nope

    OAKLAND LOCAL does NOT SPEAK FOR ME. I am A West Oakland resident and have been one for many years. I am tired of people shtting on my front yard and bums tossing trash, condoms and used needles everywhere. I WELCOME the change.
    The mentally challenged author of this piece claims that
    “New growth is about raising property values and attracting new residents and businesses, not improving the situations of those who already live there.”

    I GUESS the author things that the status quo is perfect. I LIVE here and we welcome development – WEST OAKLAN RESIDENTS WELCOME DEVELOPMENT!!!!!!!!!!!!!! because that means that things will change and improve.

  9. edson

    Is this the only news you have? Gentrification this and that. How about more stories about the thieves that got caught in Oakland. Or how the Police caught another killer off our streets. Look, this will happen anyways. Oakland took a beating for a long time. She has worked tiredly for many years and all its family has been beating on her. Now shes found her time to shine but your ripping her glass shoe off…..oh wait, thats Cinderella Story. Anyways, you see the connection. It is time for Oakland to shine. We need more tax revenue to have better schools, more work, better roads. If there was a 2% tax hike, would you be upset? Of course. More people, more money. I was born and raised in Los Angeles and I can tell you that we will all be missplaced. Go OAKLAND!!!!

  10. j.

    wow. this article is just filled with misinformation, and takes such an unfortunate negative tone. “The real needs of the poor, black and brown and working-class communities in West Oakland have either been ignored, or worse, twisted and used to justify the aggressive neol-iberal development strategies put forward by WOSP.” really, and you (anonymous writers) know this HOW, exactly? did you go to any of the weekly evening community meetings – held for YEARS – in order to help constructively shape the WOSP? well, despite what you may believe, many actual (diverse, black and brown, poor and working class, and more) WO residents DID.

    it seems like now, after city staff (who despite what you may think, care deeply about this community) have spent years tirelessly working WITH the community developing a plan that balances so many diverse needs and voices – that right now, at the end, you think that the best thing to do is to just “defeat” and “kill” the plan.

    frankly, oakland needs way more positive, constructive energy, rather than this sort of defeatist, destructive attitude. i and others could take you seriously if there was any indication that you’d attempted to be a part of the actual process, and make your viewpoint heard throughout the actual development of the plan, but felt that it was not incorporated, and felt that the only option that was left, was to stop the plan. but it doesn’t sound like anything of the sort is true. i only hope that others see through your rhetoric for what it is – empty blustering devoid of actual care for the real west oakland.

  11. Fed Up

    More blather from the chicken-little, anti-progress windbags whose mission in life is to maintain the status quo. Here’s what the author plans as an alternative to cleaning up graffiti, reducing crime, and building new housing: “…to deeply engage communities in organization and dialogue towards articulating their own vision of the kind of city they want to live and work in.” What a bunch of meaningless hot air. Guess what, the community of West Oakland has been “articulating their own vision” of the neighborhood for the past 50 years, and the result is crime and urban decay. We’ve had enough of *your* vision.

  12. Maestro

    Naomi writes, “West Oakland must not be used as a platform for some group’s political strivings, without true involvement in developing a community voice and without building capacity rather than pushing for retention of the status quo.”

    Totally agree. The WOSP unfortunately is exactly that – a platform for the political interests of developers and city planners associated with them. The people who spoke against the WOSP at the planning commission – about 100% of the people from my memory (please see the video on the city’s website if it’s up to see for yourself) – included people who were involved in the 3 year long process since the beginning. And they’re still against the plan. what does this tell you? Token involvement in technocratic processes does not = community power over community development.

    Also, would be interested to hear what particular points you agree with in the article. Please elaborate so that we can continue this dialogue.

  13. CaliLibby

    More of the same, white people=bad. My family has been in the Bay Area- Oakland, San Francisco and San Mateo, respectively-since the 1840s. I am not going to tell my white, educated and employed children that they need to stay out of neighborhoods, do not work there, do not live there, do not shop there, do not eat there, do not breathe there because the status quo has decided that represent this one, narrow version. An image to hate and throw negativity, not based in reality. I’m not going to not invest in Oakland’s future either simply because I am white (mostly) and you don’t like it.

    West Oakland is the Western most point of the East Bay connecting it to the Western most points of the region. It’s wide open for improvement and yes, that mean brand new development. I read article after article decrying the gentrification of West Oakland, a neighborhood almost abandoned by POC not because of rising real estate prices but because of the need to protect their children from violence and better their futures. The exodus began a very, very long time ago. Quite probably before most of the staff at OL was even born (why don’t you try talking to people of ALL walks of life who have been here for decades instead of maintaining your dismal gray colored glasses on immature eyes?). No, West Oakland will change. Put up all the misplaced resistance you want, you are only ensuring it will cost more and therefor be even more expensive and you will be more isolated from the process.

    Where are the articles on East Oakland, OL? 98th ave? Those neighborhoods, those people need you and there are 10s of thousands more in need, much greater need. But not a headline that garners attention. Not a place you want to spend a day. Much better to trump around WO taking notes and pictures and then settling in for a bite at 10th and Wood while formulating your hate piece. This is the real truth. You don’t represent, you are the very definition of “pseudo”.

  14. Oakie

    Wow. Significantly more sense being made in the comments than in the article.

  15. Maestro

    j. writes, ” did you go to any of the weekly evening community meetings – held for YEARS – in order to help constructively shape the WOSP?”

    Where is the community input? In chapter 9? Where is your engagement with the actual argumentation in this article? Why do you insist on baiting the authors rather than engaging with the facts on the ground regarding where the community input is?

    Comments such as these are a bit disappointing for their lack of rigor.

  16. OaklandNative

    Oakland will shine when its African American and Latino/a communities shine. Otherwise, gentrification is just a hoax.

  17. Pablo

    A useful critique up to a point, although some of the rhetorical flourishes are questionable and border on paranoia. But why aren’t the authors identified? Who are they and what are their backgrounds and biases, their qualifications and agenda? The term ‘gentrification’ is so overused and loaded that it is almost meaningless.

  18. Maestro

    People who claim that the authors are “against improvements” seem to be (willfully?) missing the actual points made in the article.

    It states:

    “Residents have real desires and needs for their community to be better served, and “no improvement” is not a viable option as an alternative to gentrification. However, though we do want improvements, we don’t want the type of “improvements” that the city and its developer allies seek to impose on us. The development plans of the city and capitalist real estate developers are NOT the way to create safer, more vibrant, and economically dynamic neighborhoods. (Footnote #5)

    Many people in West Oakland want development, so the question isn’t so much do we want improvements or not. The question should be: who gets to benefit and make use of the developments? Is it going to be long term black, latino residents and working class people, or middle class, often white, newcomers who landlords and developers cater to in order to accumulate high rents. Long term residents want development like well serviced and fully funded schools and parks, fixed roads, improved plumbing, clean air, and access to affordable healthy foods . . . ”

    Again, step it up critics. Engage with the arguments rather than erecting strawmen.

  19. Dido

    Oh man. Some of you old people need to go back and actually read the article. You obviously missed the point the authors were trying to make. Developing Oakland should not come in the form of businesses and landlords that cater to yuppies and thus isolating the black and brown MAJORITY. That’s right people, Oakland’s population is still a city made up mostly of us colored folk. Move to Lafayette if you hate the way Oakland is because you can’t go for a morning jog without being hit upside the head or pretend to bond with strangers at some hipster cafe.

  20. Naomi Schiff

    Well yes, real estate developers are indeed likely to be capitalists—not surprising, that. [Some of this writing style springs from the same well that brings us “petty bourgeois” as a term of opprobrium. Puts me in mind of my former Oakland neighbors, the Spartacist League. Unfortunately it tends to undermine the virtues of your argument.] I agree that there are problems with the WOSP, especially agree about the weaknesses of Chapter 9, but I don’t think it is a great vehicle for encouraging the masses to throw off their chains. Here’s something concrete: someplace in there is a declaration that rents have not increased in West Oakland (yes, I objected to it in writing). It would be extremely helpful if someone wanted to do a little dispassionate research and show how that is incorrect. The conclusion likely to be drawn from this wrong statement is that no measures are required to compensate for displacement caused by the plan, nor to prevent it. On the other hand, showing up at the planning commission with repetitive anticapitalist rants will help pass the WOSP, not engender its defeat.

  21. Christopher Weber

    I have to record my name to comment, but apparently not to write an article. Presumably, the author does not turn up favorably in a Google search.

  22. Jason MCD

    Definitely agree that the comments are way more interesting than the article. This is a tired subject that has been played out for over a decade. As an Urban Planning Student at SFSU in 2001 i was hearing the same drivel. Cry me a river… What did i do? Invested in West O and bought a piece of property i could call my own. After 10+ years of hard work with my own two hands my little Victorian Cottage is Beautiful, long gone are the needles, and back yard filled with trash. Heck I don’t even see the shopping cart people like i used to. And guess what it’s rubbing off, the crazy drug house is now empty, and normal people i can have a conversation with are moving in. I think that’s great. The more positive energy/labor and capital i Invest Locally the better I feel and the better the neighborhood becomes. This place is centrally located and has great transportation access. I’m actually surprised it’s taken people this long to figure it out. I fully support disrupting the dominate paradigm in this hood. Liquor stores next to Elementary schools…..shut em down.

  23. Oakie

    @Naomi Schiff

    Better watch out, you’ll be classified as part of the 1% soon, you Capitalist Running Dog.

  24. Jonatton Yeah

    You don’t have a point. You simply talk in cryptic circles and your posts amount to little more than trolling. And it’s not even good trolling.

  25. r2d2ii

    From today’s Oakland Tribune.

    “Already blamed for reshaping the culture of urban neighborhoods, gentrification could also be hurting the health of the Bay Area’s poor, according to the Alameda County Public Health Department.

    “”It just destabilizes what may be a stable environment,” said Muntu Davis, the county’s public health director and one of the first in the country to treat gentrification — and its frequent byproduct of displacement — as a public health concern.”

    On the other hand it’s a “hoax,” something fake.

    Sounds like something real to me.

  26. Want to be Jason's Neighbor

    Jason-I enjoyed your comment. I have been a renter in SF and Oakland for over 10 years and before that a renter in LA. I’ve worked for non-profits and am not by any stretch of the imagination wealthy. I’ve managed to live frugally and save money because one day I want to own my own place. I am resentful of speculators and developers who seem to snatch up properties on the cheap with all cash deals only to sell them months later for $100k+ more. I wish more people paid attention to THAT and focused on that rather than demonizing people like me who, because we are not “natives”, are blamed for destroying neighborhoods simply by moving in.

  27. OaklandNative

    So you and I are saying the same thing. I argue that to paint gentrification as a benefit to African Americans is a hoax. In reality, it hurts many in the community.

    You point out that it hurts many in the community.

  28. Naomi Schiff

    Yes and the Alameda County Public Health Dept. representatives have been valuable and thoughtful contributors in the dialogue about the WOSP, as have the EPA, and air quality district staffmembers, among others. Some agency people do understand the high stakes. It would have been helpful for the writers of the article above to respond directly in writing to the report and eir, as well as writing in the public realm, and to be as specific as possible with comments, so that the city of O. and its consultants would have to address them. It is very easy for staff and officials to dismiss generalized verbal comments as run-of-the-mill political ranting.

  29. OaklandNative


    Who is writing the report and for whom? I think the writers of this article make their point quite plain.

    We have to change the way we talk about gentrification. As I asked earlier, it is not just about displacing African Americans. It should be about making their lives better. How does one define “better”? They should define it for themselves. They don’t need some outside party with their own self-interests telling them what they need.

  30. James Miller

    How do the authors propose to get the improvements they suggest (better housing quality, better schools, convenient healthy food and safety)? Anarchists talk endlessly about process and engagement, but have very little to say about how to make things happen. Yes, I bet the answer is “we dont have the answers, we listen to the community,” but then at least they should be able to point out success stories of how their approach and strategies have resulted in the improvements they want. I do not know of a single anarchist-initiated community-wide example of improvements on this scale.

    Also, it is never considered that the community may not agree with the anarchist perspective. If they dont get what they want, they just call for more “community engagement.” Very much like developers and other profiteers in that way–if the community isnt saying what we think they should say, then obviously the community isnt speaking at all.

    Capitalism sucks, but it is an unfortunate fact that in the current system, stagnation and no economic growth are bad for poor people. Also, given the playing field, economic growth can improve opportunities and household incomes. Paradise? No. Sustainable and 100% acceptable? No. Better than the incredibly crappy socioeconomic status quo in W Oakland? Yes.

    So, before these folks shoot down efforts to expand investment and promote economic growth in poor areas, they need to show how they’ll make things better. Where is the proof?

    And, yes, the WOSP, the City and investors need to be held to the same standard. I must say, though, that arguments from that side and far more convincing at this point

  31. Maestro

    @James Miller:

    1.) James claims that we think that, “we don’t have the answers, we listen to the community.” Well, we do listen to the community. People want those things you listed – improved schools, parks, roads, etc etc. Why aren’t these things getting fixed in the first place? Well, it has something to do with the national austerity (not to mention global) that’s characterized by declining public revenue for infrastructure and social services on a local, state, and national scale. That’s part of the answer to the question of, “what’s the problem?”

    In terms of answers, well, how about this:
    – build a campaign to tax the port of Oakland to pay into public services in oakalnd – schools, parks, roads, transit, etc etc. Use these funds to create real hiring programs that can put all of the city to meaningful work. Hire parents of OUSD students to work in schools – train them in pedagogy, restorative justice, etc etc so that we simultaneously employ people who are struggling to find living wage jobs and who can also increase the adult-student ratio. This would provide improvements to both the school and the community.
    – how about taxing the port and developers in such a way that provides full employment for other sectors, aside from education, such as restoring plantlife around the lake, public infrastructure projects, and improving AC Transit lines? These seem like the key ways to immediately begin improving the conditions of life in Oakland as a whole, which from my experience tend to center around lack of quality work opportunities and all of the social consequences that result as of that.

    What do you think of those alternatives?

    Hope people can continue asking questions rather than defensively making dismissive statements. Again, doesn’t demonstrate a high level of rigor, engagement and critical thinking. Step it up commenters.

  32. James Miller

    I think those are great ideas. I dont think you necessarily have you even have to tax the Port more, as much as just build the support in City Hall to redirect Port revenue to the General Fund. What are W Oakland anarchists doing to make this happen?

    Also, is there a contradiction in wishing the Port growing success in the import and export of consumable crap, as well as the growing profitability of international shipping companies, to ensure that there’s enough revenue there to tax? Conventional economic growth would seem to help your scheme in this case.

    Who will employ people currently searching for living wage jobs? What kind of economic concerns are you all hoping to establish or grow that can provide these jobs? I do not believe it is entirely practical to expect that the state will be there with revenues to make direct cash payments, or income subsidies, or provide employment, to those needing to get up to a living wage. What does an anarchist private sector look like in West Oakland? Where has this vision taken root and accomplished what it has set out to do (WRT increasing household incomes for poor people)?

    What is the EITC utilization rate in West Oakland, and what are anarchists doing to get that cash in people’s pockets?

    A current legally mandated step for assessing the impact fees on developers (such as those related to infrastrucutre, transit, and schools) that you call for is an updated engineering report of infrastructure need and/or the completion of nexus studies laying out the relationship between given development and the need for more services. Are W Oakland anarchists helping make these things happen (if the response to the WOSP is any indication, I would say no) or are they sitting around brainstorming about a legally dubious political campaign to pass a measure that will randomly asses “developers” some amount of money for community “needs?” You guys thrive on writing and process! You should therefore be able to work extremely well with city planners.

    There is so much that you are suggesting that is already possible! I mean, where are you all on the next school district parcel tax? Are your egos so fragile that you will only put effort into something you create from scratch?

    Will you please stop writing and start making a difference? As an Oaklander for a long time, I cant see the difference you’re making. It’s sad.

  33. James Miller

    I should add that I thought the takeover and establishment of the Oakland People’s Library was spectacularly awesome. So Im not a total hater.

  34. r2d2ii

    OakNat: “I argue that to paint gentrification as a benefit to African Americans is a hoax. In reality, it hurts many in the community.”

    Not all AAs are “hoaxed” by gentrification. Some of them really like drinking the fancy new cocktails and eating the tiny, expensive bites at the new drinkeries and eateries. Many AAs and others like their neighbors who aren’t AAs and also like the well-kept houses in their hoods. Most AAs prefer quiet nights to those filled with gunshots. On the rare visit I make to buy expensive stuff at Whole Paycheck (Foods), my fellow customers are not only AAs, but Palestinians, Banglideshis, Mongolians, Siberians and Eskimos.

    Gentrification, like everything else under the sun, has its good points and its bad.

    The bottom line is that many poor AAs in Oakland do not or cannot look out for themselves. And we all continue to vote for the same elected officials who don’t look out for the people who elected them.

  35. Oakie

    I don’t quite have the definition of Gentrification down. I’m wondering if you need to be a resident a certain length of time before you can play the Gentrification Card on a newcomer.

    A month or two ago there was an article about gentrification and someone complaining that they had to move out of their West Oakland residence, and resented the new rich people moving in.

    She had moved from Sacramento six months before.

  36. John

    Let’s gather at Oscar Grant Plaza and let the People vote, using the consensus process, on who gets to be defined an Oakland long-term resident and who/what is a gentrifier.

    For example, we could vote along the following guidelines (just to mention a few):

    a) Years of residence
    b) Income levels
    c) Profession type (techies do not apply)
    d) Political inclinations
    e) Ancestry

    Those who fall under the right categories, as mandated by the People, shall receive an Oakland Citizen Card, with a special code, that would grant them special access to online forums & blogs, City Council meetings, elections, etc. The gentrifiers, of course, would still need to pay local sales and property taxes but, occasionally, might become eligible for amnesties. As for those caught attempting to circumvent the system, they shall be immediately deported back to where they came from, except for their children if born on Oakland soil.

    In such a simple and elegant manner, we would ensure that the City of Oakland maintains its character, and remains the same over the years. The erection or walls around its perimeters would also be strongly recommended.

  37. A


    Not sure if you’re serious. But I’m sure there would be people on this board who would be for that.

  38. Oakie

    I think John may have meant to call those meetings at OG Plaza … Cryptic Circles tm.

  39. OaklandNative

    African Americans are a diverse group. Some benefit financially. Some don’t. More and more, I hear many people complaining. It is more complex than some of the arguments you make here. You cannot simply say that gentrification is good for Oakland.

    I understand that our concerns may not be yours. I understand that you may not relate to, understand, or agree with our perspectives. Belittling and mocking our differences just prove that you assume you are right. It’s makes the problem worse.

  40. r2

    Nat sez: It is more complex than some of the arguments you make here. You cannot simply say that gentrification is good for Oakland.

    What I aktually sed: Gentrification, like everything else under the sun, has its good points and its bad.

  41. Eric K Arnold

    “The bottom line is that many poor AAs in Oakland do not or cannot look out for themselves.”

    Hoo boy. let’s blame the poor for poverty. And let’s single out the African American poor while we’re at it. We’ll just overlook the historical practice of redlining and the more recent phenomenon of predatory loans targeting poor minorities. Let’s make racist comments while arguing in favor of gentrification, too. Because only poor black people complain about gentrification. Yep, that’s the bottom line.

  42. OaklandNative

    Like you said, like everything under the sun, there is good and bad in most things.

    What you might consider good, someone else might consider bad. Our perspectives are different. Middle class African Americans might have a different problem with gentrification than a poor African American. Both sides may have different ways of looking at gentrification than you.

    Simply mocking or belittling, as someone else did here, does not change our perspectives–it only proves he isn’t taking us seriously.

    However, your statement that many poor AA cannot or do not know how to take care of themselves is very telling. Based on that statement, how do you believe gentrification benefits them? Who decides what’s best for them? And what are their self-interests?

  43. Colin

    Things I have gleaned from this:
    1.) The authors of this article have just now decided to engage in an issue that is decades old by stopping a plan to deal with said problem that has been open to community comment for the last several years. If successful, they’ll start to really listen – like, in a deep way – to the community, and come up with a plan at some point.
    2.) Maestro (a commenter whom, if not one of the authors is certainly on the same wave length) believes that we can tax the port and get enough money out of that to offer full employment to every citizen of the city. Presumably by planting trees in parks or teaching kids to fight the power.
    3.) Echoing the Black Panthers is still viewed as reaching out to The Community by some.
    4.) White people are the only people who want change, which goes hand-in-hand with them being evil capitalists who lack dogmatic purity. Much like The Man and his tools who run this city, they only think they care about is how much money they can make.

    I love my city very much, and I’m glad that we can all agree on the obvious fact that West Oakland needs help, bad. It has for a long, long time. Showing up now, at this late point in the process of putting together the WOSP and declaring it must be stopped by any means necessary is the single best way to keep it screwed.

    Yes, I did read the article, and yes I saw where it said that the status quo is unacceptable. But what’s really unacceptable to me is not doing anything, and until I see better options put out on the table that seems like what the anonymous authors are looking for. Feh.

  44. Myrtle Goss

    I am a long-time resident of Lower Bottoms in West Oakland, and I object to the authors’ framing of public safety as a “gentrifier” or “white” issue. Many of us in the neighborhoods would like to see our children and grandchildran be able to walk safely down the street without worrying about being shot to death. It is not only the the white people and newcomers who would like to see the police make a showing (as long as they behave respectfully).

    It’s funny how the young radical newcomers seem to stereotype people of color as not caring about crime – in very much the same way as the fat cats that they rail against.

    But we do value our safety – above all. If development will bring it more than the status quo does, and more than some anarchist politics will, than please develop. Long live the WOSP!

    Myrtle Goss

  45. John

    Good observation, Myrtle. But that kind of explains the overall problem in the Bay Area which is: safe neighborhoods are (and will be) expensive! So I think it’s actually true that in order to maintain neighborhoods affordable in places such as Oakland, Berkeley, or San Francisco – which are highly desirable because of the weather, the culture, and diversity – the most practical solution ends up being keeping them undeveloped, unsafe, and covered in graffiti. I honestly fail to see how a safe West Oakland would not have rents comparable to those in SF. It’s just the reality of capitalism, what’s in short supply costs more.

  46. r2d2ii

    “The most practical solution ends up being keeping them undeveloped, unsafe, and covered in graffiti.”

    Ronald Reagan has risen from the grave.

  47. OaklandNative

    Can’t an African American neighborhood be safe and nurturing? Does the fact that a white person only sees poverty (or perhaps a less well-manicured lawn) mean the African Americans don’t care about their homes or community?

    Is a neighborhood only vibrant if a white person deems it so?

  48. OaklandNative

    Did you state earlier (before “clarification” of course), that poor African Americans won’t or can’t take care of themselves? But you’re in the same boat they’re in, does that mean you won’t or can’t take care of yourself?

  49. r2d2ii

    Lots of poor AAs, like lots of other kinds of poor people, don’t to a very good job of taking care of themselves. It goes with the very definition of being poor which means more than anything else poor in power.

    On the other hand there are lots of poor people of all kinds who do take very good care of themselves and their families despite not having money and other things which give power.

    In Oakland, specifically, I see pretty clearly that Oakland politicians don’t take care of the worst off of us. The pols are disconnected, the problems are many and they are complicated. Easier not to get involved. Much easier.

    I was around and remember well what the Panthers did for the community way back when. They were stomped out by every corner of the establishment from J. Edgar Hoover down to the last cop on the corner. Too bad because the Panthers knew something about power.

    I don’t know how Oakland’s most power-deprived might get some back. By voting carefully and speaking truth to the corrupt power in city hall. And I know lots of folks who do this kind of work–unfortunately we are largely ignored in Oakland.

    Me, I feel like I take care of myself well enough. I am angry and fed up with the establishment, no doubt.

  50. OaklandNative

    Think about Steven Kopff’s essay a couple of months ago. Compare the reactions from his neighbors compared to the way he described his “discovery” and gentrification of his neighborhood. Did he really “see” his neighbors? Many were furious at him–and he was oblivious to it.

    So has Oakland’s gentrification really benefited the poor or replaced/trivialized them?

    When a city official promote gentrification is he/she really helping the poor?

  51. Long term resident

    I’ve lived here for over 30 years. I live in a very nice apartment that I chose to live in because its in the heart of this city. Since I live in a rent controlled apartment I am being forced out because my rent is under the market rate and because of all this new found love for Oakland, from people who no nothing about this city. Most of the newcomers are controlled by corporations, walk around town with dogs instead of kids, and don’t know their ass from a whole in the wall. What’s clear to me is that not all of these newcomers are wealthy and have good jobs. A lot of these people are poor whites who are being pushed out of cities like San Francisco, and the peninsula, because they could not afford to live their anymore. The young people that are moving here with jobs just don’t want to live in cities like San Ramon, Danville, Concord etc. They want to live where the vibrate life is but at the same time are pushing the people out who make this city such a colorful place to live. If this keeps up Oakland will be just as dull a place as the awful towns and overpriced cities that these young people are fleeing.

  52. A

    “Can’t an African American neighborhood be safe and nurturing? Does the fact that a white person only sees poverty (or perhaps a less well-manicured lawn) mean the African Americans don’t care about their homes or community? ”

    Let’s answer questions with questions since you’re very fond of them. If you can answer them honestly, you’ll see why anyone, not just “white” people (because we all know it’s either white people or African Americans right?) have those opinions about some neighborhoods.

    In the past 30 years have African American neighborhoods in Oakland been safe and nurturing to themselves much less anyone else?

    Taking it one step further, are African American neighborhoods in Oakland very dangerous to it’s own community? To the very African American who reside there? What type of crime is most prevalent in those neighborhoods, considering race of course? Since you are fond of bringing it up.

    These neighborhoods that have been African American for decades now, have they’ve shown ANY progress towards making their VERY OWN neighborhood safer?

    Have those very same African Americans in those communities embraced the family unit and education to escape the endless cycle of poverty so that their community can prosper? Given the high school drop out rate, incarceration rate, single parent rate, and jobless rate.

    A better questions is do you really think that those communities with so called natives really “see” their neighbors as well? Given the level of robberies, burglaries, assaults, rapes, and murders within their OWN community and within their own race?

    My favorite quote though is: “So has Oakland’s gentrification really benefited the poor or replaced/trivialized them?”

    Let me ask you, has the past 30 years with the communities whom you seem to idolize really benefited the poor as well? Sure, they’re able to “afford” to live there but at what costs? Safety? Education? Jobs? Family Unit?

    I suggest taking those rose color glasses off to see what has been happening in your own community.

  53. OaklandNative

    You have articulated much of the problems with debate over whether or not gentrification is truly for the poor or the rich.

    1. Most people in African American communities are hard-working and concerned. It is a small, but very visible population, who bully the others. Yet, you vilify even the bullied.

    2. Oakland’s African American communities have always worked hard to keep their kids away from those negative elements, but kids are kids. Mistakes happen–especially teenagers. That’s one of the reasons why you hear so much about programs to keep kids off the streets.

    3. There are many Oakland African American families with tight bonds to their communities. Once again, they have tried to keep their kids away from the bad elements, but mistakes happen.

    4. Many African Americans are defensive about the negative portrayal in the media because of comments like yours.

    4. I have lived in both African American and “diverse” neighborhoods. In the “diverse” neighbors, I encounter people who think like you. So I have to make a decision: do I want to deal with those attitudes or the crime? The crime is easier to ignore.

  54. LibbyCali

    There ARE relatively safe (as much as Oakland can be) and nurturing neighborhoods in Oakland with a high concentration of African Americans. Knowland Park (” Black Piedmont”) and the adjacent neighborhoods that cluster around 580 are predominantly AA, middle class and have higher levels of education and income than the flats of East Oakland. West Oakland’s demographics have been changing, slowly, for a very, very long time and it’s not the real estate market that sparked the changes over a decade or two ago. It’s safety. The schools were/are unsafe, it’s unsafe to walk to them and it’s unsafe to play in the streets particularly if your an AA male child. Those parents that could, they left to Antioch, Sacramento, Stockton, Pinole, Tracy, Fresno, etc. it’s not the white people moving in that has sparked the exodus of Oakland’s AA families. It’s tragic that they left and it hasn’t been good for the city to lose families of any race.

  55. OaklandNative

    You’re right. The Oakland hills was very popular for well-educated, black professionals–especially those with families.

  56. Hella Happy!

    Cupcakes: the Benghazi of the insurrectionist set!

    Two word answer: Tanya Holland


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