Development must benefit all city residents, Oakland summit says

OAKLAND, Calif. — Over 400 Oakland residents joined in a community summit 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 gathering was sponsored by the Oakland Network for Responsible Development (ONWRD), a coalition of 13 labor, community, housing and environmental organizations, and the Oakland People’s Housing Coalition.

A video, “Oakland Speaks,” featured five residents sharing the problems they and their neighbors face in working-class neighborhoods across the city. Housing and jobs headed the list, as homeowners and renters alike face soaring costs at the same time city residents are increasingly forced to go elsewhere in search of jobs that pay enough to raise a family.

The discussion continued, with translation in four languages, as other Oaklanders took the podium. 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.”

ACORN leader Shirley Burnell emphasized the need for measures such as inclusionary zoning, to ensure that new housing developments include significant amounts of affordable housing. “Low-income people are in dire need of affordable rentals and home ownership,” she said.

“I know a lot of African American families have left the city,” Burnell said, adding that to visit friends and family, she must travel long distances and sometimes even out of state.

Other speakers cited industries that pollute neighborhoods and subject their workers to pollution on the job, and emphasized the relation between violence in the community and the lack of good paying jobs.

A number of elected officials including city council and school board members 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,” while fellow board member Greg Hodge called quality education “a civil and human right.”

Josie Camacho, director of constituent services for Mayor Ronald Dellums, brought the mayor’s message of appreciation for the summit’s leadership for community development.

During breakout discussions, one group emphasized outreach to discouraged youth and others to convince them they can get training and jobs, and the need for support services such as child care, health care and transportation. Group members also said upcoming city council elections will have an important effect on the direction of development, and cited the need for national labor laws and standards including card-check legislation and a higher minimum wage.

Asked about the summit’s most important feature, ACORN organizer Benjamin Naquin emphasized its diversity. He called for more meetings, “at least quarterly, to stay in contact” and to continue to work together.

“We were able to unite and start the discussion,” said Trinette Grant. “Now we need the city government to hold contractors accountable for hiring Oakland residents first and for better benefits and health care. We have so many resources,” she added. “But we need to think of Oakland as a whole.”

The day before the summit, the East Bay Alliance for a Sustainable Economy and the Oakland Network for Responsible Development released a report showing that 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,” also points out that over half the city’s residents spend more than 30 percent of income on housing. It also finds that income disparity is significant, with the richest 20 percent of households claiming over half the total income while the poorest 20 percent of residents claim only 3 percent. Unemployment officially sits at 6.9-8.8 percent, while African Americans experience a rate of 10.3 percent — nearly four times that of whites.

The report projects a goal of moving 10,000 of the city’s high-need residents into family-sustaining jobs over the next five years, and calls on 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 and enforce responsible contractor and living wage laws and other measures that would benefit low-wage workers, and to promote higher labor standards, training and local hire requirements in construction and other sectors.

mbechtel @pww.org