Make Oakland a model green city

OAKLAND, Calif. — A vision of Oakland as a model city, where renewable “clean” energy, “green” construction and manufacturing create new, good jobs for urban workers captivated a capacity crowd Sept. 21 as the Oakland Apollo Alliance hosted a panel discussion and “Solutions Salon.”

The Oakland Apollo Alliance is part of the nationwide Apollo Project, a broad coalition within the labor, environmental, business, urban and faith communities supporting good jobs and energy independence. Nationally, the Apollo Alliance is calling for a $300 billion, public-private program to free the U.S. from foreign oil dependence in 10 years, combating global warming, stimulating the economy and creating large numbers of new, well-paying jobs.

The capacity crowd of youth and students, environmental activists and community members responded enthusiastically as panel members called on Oakland public schools, community colleges and union apprenticeship programs to work together to prepare working-class young people, especially youth of color, with the skills needed for living wage “green collar” jobs with good benefits.

“Something is beginning to happen based on the idea that we should build a green economy that will lift people out of poverty, that this ‘green wave’ that’s coming should lift all boats,” said moderator Van Jones, executive director of the Oakland-based Ella Baker Center for Human Rights and co-convenor of the Oakland Apollo Alliance.

With global warming making change “a moral imperative,” added co-convenor and IBEW Local 595 Business Manager Victor Uno, the “green wave” is becoming a reality at the national and local level. “We want everyone to be able to have a good job with union benefits and wages,” he said.

Panelists agreed that as Mayor-elect Ronald Dellums prepares to assume office in January, new opportunities exist for development benefiting the entire community. In his campaign, Dellums, who served the area for 28 years as congressman, projected a vision of Oakland as a “21st-century model city” with “coherent and sustained development,” including emphasis on “green industry.”

“Green collar jobs are what will fit with Dellums’ overall plan,” said John Brauer, executive director of Oakland’s Workforce Development Collaborative, adding that opportunities for adult education and activating existing local hire provisions are vital to success.

But to make the shift, panelists said, priorities need to move away from concepts of “mega-development” promoted by outgoing Mayor Jerry Brown. City Councilmember Nancy Nadel pointed out that housing developers are now sitting on industrial land needed by green enterprises, hoping the council will ultimately let them build. Nadel, who will soon introduce a resolution to prepare a plan for “oil independence” by 2020, said she will work to make the resulting jobs available to everyone in the city.

The need to reach out in urban neighborhoods with union apprenticeships and other educational opportunities was stressed by Raquel Rivera Pinderhughes of San Francisco State University’s Department of Urban Studies. Union apprenticeships are an important way for less skilled workers to prepare for the new work opportunities, she said, adding that many, though not all, “green collar” jobs are unionized, including in the recycling industry.

National endorsers of the Apollo Project include the AFL-CIO and 23 international unions including SEIU, AFSCME, the Steelworkers, the UAW and several building trades unions. Among environmental organizations are the Natural Resources Defense Council, Sierra Club, Rainforest Action Network and Greenpeace USA. On the national advisory board are Art Pulaski, head of the California Labor Federation, and California State Treasurer and gubernatorial candidate Phil Angelides.

Two related measures are now before Congress — HR 2828, “The Apollo Energy Act,” by National Advisory Board member Rep. Jay Inslee (D-Wash.) with 42 co-sponsors, and the other, S 2829, “The Clean Energy Development for a Growing Economy Act,” by Sen. Maria Cantwell (D-Wash.) with 24 co-sponsors.