Army base reopening a step closer

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OAKLAND, Calif. - Prospects for redeveloping the Oakland Army Base moved a step forward last week as the City Council voted to extend its negotiating agreement with developers California Capital Group and AMB Corp.

The community-labor Revive Oakland! coalition says the huge site - as large as 200 football fields - could provide up to 8,000 jobs in a city now suffering 17 percent-plus unemployment, with joblessness far higher among youth and in communities of color. The former base, in West Oakland, borders the Port of Oakland, the nation's fourth busiest port.

The coalition says the final agreement with the developers must include a generous local-hire requirement for both short-term and long-term jobs, outreach to local residents and a community-based training and employment center. It says labor agreements should ensure family-supporting jobs and affordable health coverage.

Cleanup, building infrastructure, and building and operating new facilities including a rail terminal and warehouses are just the start of employment possibilities, the coalition says.

Before the April 5 City Council meeting, dozens of coalition participants gathered on the steps of City Hall.

West Oakland resident Shirley Burnell, a member of the Association of Californians for Community Empowerment (ACCE) and a former worker at the Army base, recalled that the now hard-pressed area had been a thriving community when she and other West Oaklanders had jobs there.

"But today, it's entirely different," Burnell said. "People don't have jobs, they can't support their families. We don't have a grocery store, a bank, a drug store." With redevelopment, she said, community residents look forward to all those things, and to reviving the community's spirit.

"The first thing we need is quality jobs - and I don't mean jobs paying $8 or $9 an hour," she said. "We need jobs with family-supporting wages, and health care, so people can pay their rent, buy food and other things at the new stores we'll have, and even save a nickel or two - which people can't do today."

Burnell and others in Revive Oakland! are calling for half the jobs to go to Oakland residents, especially those from West Oakland and the similarly hard-hit East Oakland community. They are also calling for a resource center which would not only provide job training, but bring workers together with potential employers.

Another demand, "Ban the box," calls for removing the box on which a job applicant must indicate a past criminal conviction. The coalition says the requirement unfairly bars many qualified applicants from employment if they have had past encounters with the criminal justice system.

"We are really pleased that the City Council is moving forward with this project, and that city staff said they would come back in the fall with more specifics concerning job benefits and community benefits including local hire and quality jobs," Jennifer Lin, research director with the East Bay Alliance for a Sustainable Economy (EBASE), said in a telephone interview. EBASE has been involved since the beginning in working for a redevelopment process that will benefit the community.

Lin said the public's involvement continues to be important, to ensure the process is transparent and the end result meets the needs of local residents.

Photo: Marilyn Bechtel/PW.

 

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