City Of Oakland Is Not Meeting Its Economic Development Potential

Steve Lowe Oakland DeveloperSteve Lowe Oakland Developer

I saw (most of) Zennie Abraham’s recent video critiquing Marisa Raya’s presentation
to the Oakland Community and Economic Development Committee on May 8th, and think that it does merit consideration in a number of areas, most specifically for me, regarding the lack of attention paid to Oakland’s unrealized regional mandate as the epicenter of “The Strongest Regional Economy in the World” – as the Bay Area is frequently called.

Oh, this video:

If the Bay Area is really a city-state like, say, Athens or Venice of yore – and many economists believe that’s the smarter model to use, as opposed to the model of a nation-state where the hubris of central government pretty much always intrudes on the natural dynamic of unrestrained regional development – then Oakland can be viewed in a much more promising beacon than our snarky friends at some San Francisco mainstream media and other Frisco-bedazzled publications love to portray us.

So, first and foremost, any economic development strategy that our fair city undertakes should resonate with, and be underwritten by the regional powers that be, Association Of Bay Area Governments / Metropolitan Transportation Commission (ABAG / MTC) most particularly. As The Bay Area Air Quality Management District (BAAQM) and San Francisco Bay Conservation and Development Commission (BCDC) are more and more influenced by the superagency that the ABAG / MTC “merger” and/or hostile takeover is plainly creating here, we’re almost all on the same pageboy now, except for the part where we’re supposed to have equal representation.

Now we all know it’s forbidden to talk about who’s really running things at the tippy top of these fast-merging agencies for fear of offending this or that mucky-muck, but the beauty of economic analysis is that, in order to be accurate (and actually economic!) with your facts, you’ve got to be coldly incisive, just as much of your critique points out: bury too many facts or clothe them in star-spangled persiflage, and you’ve got a strategy that, like a lot of the touted swamp-draining in Washington D.C., just ain’t happening.

We could take a bit of time here to dwell on ways to make sure our San Francisco Bay Area economy could function a whole lot better by insisting, for instance, that it should obviously be more democratically appointed. The current kafkaesque bureaucracy shouldn’t be hiding any longer behind the obvious fact that it really doesn’t want to take responsibility for something quite so messy as the homelessness and others who the movers and shakers of our SREW are unnecessarily screwing over everyday. What else can this be but corporate sadism, since it’s actually costing everyone here in the Bay Area far more to maintain these inhumane conditions in their current status quo than it would be to effect a reasonable cure.

Let’s just focus instead on the one point Zennie Abraham made about the Oakland Convention Center, something that everyone in town realizes, as it stands now, is more of an economic liability for reasons of smallness, structural problems and inability to draw the kinds of conventions that have relevance to the larger region that Oakland is the center of.

Almost everyone in town has been talking about this conundrum for years as something that’d be great to replace or augment with a greater and more conveniently located building, especially where the recently-surplused Alameda County buildings are on Broadway, just a couple of blocks up from Jack London Square, and – as it magically happens! – sitting right over the Bay Area Rapid Transit (BART) just before the “Wye” (the place where BART tracks split into two directions in Downtown Oakland).

Because it’s also Port-proximate, it is a natural! And with the Oakland A’s now flirting with Howard Terminal as the site for a new stadium (subject to a BART connection, yes?), it would seem only natural to consider this ultra-prime location as the supreme game-changer for Oakland – if only our City were considered a regional asset, rather than the eyesore and economic cesspool that the hotshots over in the Emerald City seem to believe.

A big problem for Oakland’s big thinkers, though, is what will happen if such a new building would replace the rather atavistic architecture that’s further on up the way right now? It’d have to be architecturally magnificent in a way that Oaklanders are unused to, almost demanding that, beyond being a more optimum-sized convention center / exhibition hall, it’d also have to have a range of uses that could guarantee more jobs, and envelop
the freeway so that the word’s ugliest underpass was no longer a barrier to retail at the Square.

It’d also have to become a home for the long-delayed World Trade Center, and, most necessary during this time of transition from a bunch of different cities into one, even stronger Bay Area than we are right now, a Regional Port Authority should be created to give our own Port more of a say in managing its own destiny without having to go on bended knee out to Washington D.C. where Oakland-haters like Trump and his crew of brigands will always demand we beg for our fair share, rather than see them as the surest way of keeping the Bay Area competitive, yes?

Can any of this happen? Hire the right project manager and it’ll get done before the end of the next administration.

Will any of this happen? Keep on keeping on with the folks who really just want Oakland to stay more or less the same. (“We’d lose control of the Port!” is my favorite reaction from folks who not only have no idea of what’s going on at the Port but who haven’t even the vaguest notion of what’s happening to Oakland with respect to the advantage almost every other port in the world is gaining on us!)

You want a convention center? It’s gotta be the right size; has to be located near an amenity-rich, Jack London Square-like retail–restaurant—activity center; have a Broadway address; be as close as possible to, if not right on top of, BART; be Oakland’s most architecturally significant building, just like the World Trade Center in New York City with its Calavera-designed Transporation Center.

There’s more, of course, but too many sacred cows to contend with for the sake of this discussion!

Thanks, Zennie, for keeping on top of the Economic Development dialogue in our much-beleaguered City of Oakland.

Steve Lowe Oakland Developer

Oakland Developer Steve Lowe is best known as the co-creator of Old Oakland, a collection of restored Victorian buildings at and near 9th and Washington in Downtown Oakland.

About the Author

Steve Lowe
Oakland Developer Steve Lowe is best known as the co-creator of Old Oakland, a collection of restored Victorian buildings at and near 9th and Washington in Downtown Oakland.