Oakland News Online, the blog aggregator that captures news about Oakland from various sources, picked up a news report with the title “Eastline, bigger than Salesforce Tower, wants to transform Oakland – San Francisco Chronicle.” My first thought was “There’s nothing wrong with Oakland. And why do we need an office tower taller than the 1,100-foot Salesforce Tower?” Well, as it happens, the headline was wrong, but the overall Eastline Oakland concept is still questionable. Oakland needs to put the breaks on all of this, and ask itself “What the hell are we really doing?”
Indeed, implicit in all of the new housing projects, and the very disturbing talk by so-called political progressives, and the ever growing homeless population in Oakland, is one idea: there’s something wrong with Oakland, and all of this new contruction will fix it. The Eastline, envisioned as a giant-sized “multi-use” development, with “800,000 square feet of large floor plate offices, large and small retail spaces, 18,000 square feet of community arts spaces, 31,000 feet of open spaces, and three levels of parking,” and at 2100 Telegraph Avenue, as the website reports, is part of this frenzy to remake Oakland and it seems in a way that would make President Donald Trump happy.
Eastline is, according to its website, by “the Oakland-based Strategic Urban Development Alliance (SUDA), Lane Partners, and an investment team,” which has “assembled a block of underutilized sites near the 19th Street BART Station whose owners share Oakland’s values and vision. Think diversity, community, creativity, and commerce– all under one colorful umbrella.”
But between Eastline and another large project that’s already under construction just up the street, Alta Waverly, Uptown Oakland to Broadway and Mac Arthur will take on a look more like Atlanta’s Buckhead than anything Oaklanders will recognize today. Moreover, it will not consist of one public project, like a hotel and convention center complex, that can serve Oakland and the Bay Area tourism industry, and provide a source of well-paying but non-tech jobs. Oakland’s problem is it has too much planning for private interests, and almost none for the public interest.
Eastline, As It Is, Is Part Of A Bigger Problem In Oakland: Gentrification
The most obvious result of this problem is the giant number of homeless people in Oakland. And since most of them are black, and yet we don’t have really serious effort to solve the problem, and now talk that Oakland needs to be “transformed”, this blogger has to ask if Oakland has some issue with poor black people, and is trying to remove that part of the population? It sure looks like it. In the 1960s, America called it “urban renewal”, today, we call it “gentrification” – both look like what was once called “negro removal.”
In the past, like before 2011, the Oakland that knew how, didn’t have a large homeless problem, and it’s not because of the market, but the fact that we had in redevelopment law, a way to collect and steer property tax revenue to provide funding for affordable housing and job training and business development.
But California Governor and former Oakland Mayor Jerry Brown, convinced that eliminating redevelopment would save $1 billion, worked to get rid of it. While he succeeded in 2011, it’s clear he made a mistake. California’s Department of Finance reported that after FY 2011–12, the state realized no savings from shutting down redevelopment.
Moreover, as has been noted many times, California would have come up with a $1 billion surplus just by reforming city and county redevelopment budgets, not killing them. Now, with nothing like the gargantuan affordable housing money Calfornia once had, “market rate’ housing is springing up and people (mostly black) are pushed into homelessness. These actions are helped by the really silly idea that, as a friend of mine in Oakland said “at some point in the long-run, rents will come down”, to which I responded, “in the long run, we’re dead.”
The Mayor Of Oakland Must Control The Rampant Development Process
For all of her presentation to the contrary that she’s progressive, my long-time friend, Oakland Mayor Libby Schaaf has become an unabashed lover of the free market. This is evident by her allowing the real estate development market to run-amok, push black people out of Oakland, crush the artist community, and completely forget Oakland’s once proud economic development department.
Mayor Schaaf can stop this with one simple action: a resolution to put all current housing projects in the permit review process and future housing projects under an emergency priority review, favoring buildings that provide truly affordable housing. Moreover, Oakland needs to take $15 million of the $105 million it quietly borrowed, and simply give it to each and every homeless person in Oakland.
That will make a giant dent in the problem, but Oakland has to overcome what in my opinion is lack of desire to invest in black, adult, Oaklanders. And that problem is not confined to anyone white – it’s universal. When we hear someone white receiving $5,000, it’s called an “angel investment” or a “grant” but when it’s someone black, it’s called “help.” This constant, racist, perception that has come to define black life in America has to stop. We have to invest in adult Oaklanders – period.
Eastline Could Be The Start Of Something New For Oakland
I understand that Eastline is far from fully envisioned, so this could be a chance to really plan a giant project around the needs of Oakland, rather than the desires of a few. In all, Eastline is perfect for a combination housing / hotel / retail / office complex, rather than all-office or office-housing. Too much of Oakland’s development that’s happening now is either office or housing, and nothing else. Not manufacturing. Not conventions centers. To make this affordable, Oakland itself must employ tax increment financing under SB 628 Beale, and start sculting the kind of development economy that meets our collective needs.
The Manhattanization of Oakland must stop. There’s no indication the public will benefit from it, and every sign that it’s being harmed by it. Eastline should be a start in the right direction, not a push toward the one that’s produced a record number of homeless people.
Zennie Abraham is the CEO of Zennie62Media