City of Oakland

Oakland Forgot Economic Development And It Shows In The Very Condition Of The City

The Oakland that I knew is dead. It was a city that had over 100 job training programs and several low interest loan and grant programs for businesses. It was a city that was unafraid to embrace manufacturing, transportation, and heavy industry, as much as it demanded and caused the development of an economy comparatively cleaner than most. It was a city that knew how to fix its economic problems. That Oakland is gone.

The Oakland that replaced it is one that’s marked by growing ranks of people sleeping on the streets because no one will help them. It has many who were just one lost paycheck away from eviction, and their ranks so great, a moratorium on evictions was in place before the Pandemic.

It has some who would even resort to an attempt to take property not their own. And do that thinking it will solve an overall problem that is obviously beyond their desire to deal with: an economic design that lacks the use of tax increment financing to fuel the business assistance and job training and affordable housing programs Oakland was once known for. This Oakland lacks people who want to fix the economy and far to many people who want to protest against the economy.

The fact is, we have had march after march and activist after activist, and the problems have only gotten worse. The protests have become nothing more than theater for the media, and tools to be used as part of a campaign strategy by a President who, himself, does not seem to care.

We have people who are willing to say “no coal” but not even asking “can we do coal, clean air, and jobs?” In fact, it seems like it’s just easier for them to just say no, then to try and fix anything.

Where we are is beyond sad.

It has been advanced by some media infected with the same anti-intellectualism – and worse because they believe their approach is smart. It is the complete and total lack of knowledge of where we are as a society, and to such a massively alarming point, that both the activists and that media don’t even bother to read about the past, and learn about the first publication to point to the climate change problem: The Limits To Growth. That was way back in 1971, but don’t tell that to the so-called climate change activists, they think all of this started after they hit puberty, and after 2010.

Oakland Created Its Own Problem And Now Can’t Wake Up To Fix It

What is so awful is that we in Oakland created this problem. Yeah. That’s right. Us.

I recall a 1996 meeting I sat in on, and on behalf of Oakland Mayor Elihu Harris, about the then-new concept of the “jobs / housing balance”. The meeting was at the offices of my long-time friend Alameda County Supervisor Keith Carson. Unfortunately, I have to write that this happened.

The meeting included a number of officials, including Sunne Wright McPeak, then a Contra Costa County Supervisor and main advocate for the idea that there should be a jobs / housing balance. The problem with the concept is that it asks a City like Oakland to be able to have more employment for workers to “balance” the housing in it. The problem is that the idea calls for an industry to be grown in that city to get those workers. Or, let me put it this way: it allows for gentrification to set in, though that was not the word flavor of the day in 1996.

In the meeting, I asked how Oakland was to make sure it followed “Oakland first” jobs policies for its current workers if they did not have the skills necessary to land the biotech jobs that Keith and Sunne, and the others in the meeting prized so much and wanted for Oakland? They collectively looked at me as if I had grown the ears of a Vulcan. I must now admit that I left the meeting out of pure disgust for the lack of any real thinking – it was the typical, Bay Area, “let’s make up something that we think is smart” crap.

It’s the kind of approach that is unconsciously born from the time when white supremacists like John Muir were creating social clubs like The Sierra Club. It’s an approach that calls for the development of an amount of what the person thinks are facts that are undeniable – and so that person is hardened in their beliefs to the point where communicating with them to get them to see another way becomes folly. It’s caused a lot of problems, and in particular, in the East Bay of the SF Bay Area, where the black population is the largest of any other place in my region of the San Francisco Bay Area.

The people who have this sort of tick have become and in many cases still are elected officials and friends of mine – and Democrats. They have allowed the complete destruction of Oakland’s economic development, and allowed it to happen with a nod. They have proven that they are the latest in the long line of people to drink the kool-aid established by John Muir. When he and his friends like famed UC Berkeley Professor Joseph Le Conte formed The Sierra Club, and his ideas of preservation that gave it life, he and they did not have black people in mind. They regarded us, folks who look like me, as “dirty” and “savages.”

Indeed, Joseph Le Conte is also identified as a white supremacist.

John Muir (photo courtesy
John Muir (photo courtesy

I write that because the Oakland that I came to know in 1974 was increasingly one that was called a “chocolate city” but the real problem is Oakland was consistently apologizing for being just that. It always embraced outside white male developers and never, then later seldom, gave a black developer a chance, and a person who was Asian (like my friend Phil Tagami) didn’t fare much better unless he worked himself to near death for ten years just to land the Oakland Rotunda Project (as Phil did with the help of a number of people, including me and Elihu Harris). That problem still exists today, and points to a real problem.

We all know the ranks of those who are jobless and homeless in Oakland are mostly black. We all know that the ranks of those suffering from COVID-19 are more likely to be black. But what we have not done in Oakland, is simply create a black-focused answer to these problems. So, for the Oakland Bulk and Oversized Terminal (for which its co-developer Insight Terminal Solutions, is a Zennie62Media content client) there’s the largely white “No Coal In Oakland” group just saying no, and not doing anything to try and get to yes.

They openly do not care about the same jobs problem that disproportionately hurts black folks in Oakland. Then, they try and make you believe (with the help of irresponsible media) that they have a large young black membership, when the truth is just the opposite. We need a black economic development agenda that is formed in harmony with concerns for the environment. Don’t count on No Coal In Oakland or The Sierra Club, because they’ve drank John Muir’s racist elixir and are too drunk to realize it.

Meanwhile, there’s Tom Steyer, the former coal investor and hedge fund manager who’s now (I contend) trying to hedge the western United States and as much of America as he can into a thought ethic that just says invest in renewables, and not fix the damn traditional energy pollution problem. Tom’s got a number of Oakland elected officials so scared they won’t get his money, they parrot his view about the environment, and don’t care about developing jobs at all, and mindlessly pat themselves on the back for such things as “climate action plans” that lack any interest in economic development.

On top of that, the same Oakland elected officials that signed development agreements to allow Mr. Tagami and Insight Terminal Solutions to build the Oakland Bulk and Oversized Terminal (knowing it was designed to handle bulk commodities like coal in a low emissions way), then set about a process of trying to back out of them just because Steyer started influencing them with money.

Take the example of Tom Steyer investing $500,000 in the Mayor of Oakland’s Oakland Promise program, and allegedly with the quid-pro-quo that Oakland would get involved in a lawsuit against American oil companies that was so silly it was tossed out of court. Why Libby didn’t get Tom to try and jump start Oakland Bulk and Oversized Terminal is a good question, considering its low emissions design, Oakland’s need to create low-skilled, well-paying jobs, and the now decades-long tardiness of replacing the jobs lost due to military base closures.

It’s as if Oakland just plain stopped caring about creating jobs. Even Oakland economic development director Alexa Jeffries, who was hired last year, has no formal background in economic development!

This is Oakland, folks. In other words, for economic development in Oakland, a cuss term is appropriate: we’re fucked.

In Oakland Economic Development Has Reached The “We’re Fucked” Stage

Yep. We’re fucked, folks. The City of Oakland knows it and you know it. We can get out of it, but we have to admit it, first, fast, then take action, and fast. We had the blueprint for the economic engine that can help us in the future and that’s the redevelopment laws of the past. There was no real good reason to get rid of Redevelopment, and since it was terminated, Oakland’s economic divide has only worsened and the Pandemic just made it worse.

And blacks in Oakland need to stop supporting The Sierra Club and form a new approach that fits the needs of the African American community. The problem is too many of us are trapped in thinking about us in a negative fashion, so city policy is focused on crime only, whereas in the Oakland between 1980 and 2010, the policies (like Hire Oakland First) were geared toward the economic needs of black residents. We let that go, and it’s time to bring it back. If you agree that blacks in Oakland are being harmed by a lack of programs and a lack of the social infrastructure that once made sure blacks had greater wealth, then take action. If you believe that you are only as strong as your weakest neighbor, then the only logical action is to help that neighbor, and go tell John Muir what to do with his racist ideas. I know he’s long passed on, but his point of view still holds way too much sway.

Time to wake the fuck up.

Stay tuned.

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