Build Oakland for everyone, say residents

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2431.jpgOAKLAND, Calif. — Over 400 residents here came together Nov. 17 to project their vision of economic development — a vision featuring well-paying jobs, affordable housing, a healthy and safe environment, and steps to overcome the severe income and employment gaps especially affecting working-class families of color.

The community summit, “Building Oakland for Everyone: a Summit on Jobs, Housing and Justice,” was sponsored by the Oakland Network for Responsible Development (ONWRD), a coalition of labor, community, housing, and environmental organizations, and the Oakland People’s Housing Coalition.

A new film, “Oakland Speaks,” featured problems residents share in neighborhoods across the city. Housing and jobs headed the list, as homeowners and renters alike face soaring costs while Oaklanders must increasingly go elsewhere for jobs that pay enough to raise a family.

Truck driver Trinette Grant, a member of Teamsters Local 70, urged more hiring of local workers. “The city government has the ability to attract large companies,” she said, “but what’s missing? Oakland residents.

“I was a nonunion worker,” Grant said. “Now I have a decent wage and health care. I want other Oaklanders to have the same things.”

Shirley Burnell, a leader of Association of Community Organizations for Reform Now (ACORN), called for inclusionary zoning to ensure that new housing developments include enough affordable housing. “Low-income people are in dire need of affordable rentals and home ownership,” she said.

Environmental problems and the link between community violence and the lack of good-paying jobs were also discussed.

City and county officials expressed support for the summit’s goals. School Board member Kerry Hamill emphasized the need for “a coherent job strategy linked to the schools.” Fellow board member Gregory Hodge called quality education “a civil and human right.”

A top aide to Mayor Ronald Dellums brought the mayor’s message of appreciation for the summit’s leadership. Last spring, Dellums announced an initiative to create 10,000 new jobs in the next five years.

Outreach to youth and others that they can get training and jobs, and the need for child care, health care and transportation services were also highlighted.

Participants signed postcards urging the City Council to adopt a development strategy putting Oakland residents first, and carried “Build Oakland for Everyone” signs.

Distribution of postcards and signs is continuing, said Kate O’Hara, spokesperson for the East Bay Alliance for a Sustainable Economy (EBASE). When enough postcards have been collected, she said, delegations will visit City Council members to discuss the summit’s findings.

“We look forward to working with the mayor and regard him as a leader for development that will benefit the whole community,” O’Hara said. “We think his vision is very similar to ours, focusing on good jobs for Oakland residents, especially those with barriers to employment.”

ACORN organizer Benjamin Naquin emphasized the summit’s diversity. He called for more meetings, “at least quarterly, to stay in contact,” and urged the groups to continue to work together.

EBASE and the Oakland Network for Responsible Development have just released a report recently showing over 40 percent of Oakland residents have incomes at or below 200 percent of the federal poverty level (or about $40,000 for a family of four).

The report, “Putting Oakland to Work: a Comprehensive Strategy to Create Real Jobs for Residents,” says more than half the city’s residents spend over 30 percent of income on housing. It also finds significant income disparity. Overall unemployment officially sits at 6.9-8.8 percent, but African Americans experience nearly four times as much joblessness as whites.

The report calls for moving 10,000 of the city’s high-need residents into family-sustaining jobs over the next five years, and urges the city of Oakland to significantly increase the proportion of accessible new jobs that pay a “basic family wage” of $18.53 per hour.

It also calls on the city to establish responsible contractor and living wage laws and other measures benefiting low-wage workers, and to promote higher labor standards, training and local hiring requirements in construction and other sectors.

mbechtel @pww.org