How will the future mayor of Oakland bring back the city that made them so proud?
The next mayor must invest in Black Oaklanders
by Kheven Lagrone
On August 15, 2022, Visit Oakland and the Jack London Improvement District (JLID) hosted the inaugural 2022 Oakland Mayoral Candidates Forum. The event, titled A Seat at The Town Table, featured three candidates for mayor of Oakland in 2022: Hon. Treva Reid, the Hon. Loren Taylor and the Hon. Sheng Thao. All three are current Oakland board members. It is expected that more mayoral candidates will participate in future forums.
The candidates all agreed that the town hall was dysfunctional. They all agreed that Oakland needed a change and, as Oakland’s political candidates always seem to say, we were at a “tipping point.” Everyone said he was the change Oakland needed.
Since the forum was hosted by business organizations, much of the forum discussed Oakland’s economic growth and development. At one point, the Hon. Sheng Thao said she came out of Oakland to convince businesses to be part of Oakland. Companies were not interested. According to her, Oakland needed to change to attract business.
But how should Oakland change for them? I believe that businesses serve a community; communities do not serve businesses.
For years, many Oaklanders, especially Black Oaklanders, have accused city officials of prostituting their city to developers. They think Oakland officials have sold their town. Today, many citizens attribute much of Oakland’s current problems, especially homelessness, to this Oakland prostitute.
For example, when new businesses have come to Oakland, they have not always brought new jobs to Oaklanders as promised. They brought their existing employees to Oakland; thus, adding to the competition for housing in Oakland. This led to rent increases, illegal eviction of longtime Oaklanders, and discrimination against African Americans looking for housing. This has contributed to the current housing crisis.
Additionally, developers displaced the many poor black people who lived in Oakland’s residential hotels. Developers bought the hotels, evicting tenants to turn them into upscale boutique hotels. With nowhere to go, many residents were left homeless.
But with all the talk of economic growth and development, none of the forum candidates have said how they will use the Port of Oakland. Do they know that the port is a prosperous department of the city of Oakland? He would also become mayor of the Port.
The port is the fifth busiest container port in the United States. Its Oakland International Airport is the second largest airport in the San Francisco Bay Area. Port real estate includes Jack London Square and hundreds of acres of parks and conservation areas.
The three mayoral candidates have all said they want to make Oakland a tourist destination; the Port would be central to this objective. The port handles a large portion of tourists or visitors coming to Oakland. However, candidates say the scorch along our front doors and major thoroughfares puts off visitors. He also disabled businesses in the area.
As mayor, how would the candidates use the Port to beautify these neighborhoods and support tourism? As mayor, how would the candidates ensure that Oakland residents, not just the port, directly benefit from this tourism?
This raises bigger questions about the port’s relationship with Oakland. In the past, the Port has taken advantage of the dysfunctional City Hall to distance itself from Oakland. Many people have come to believe that the Port is an independent entity.
Would the mayoral candidates apply or modify the city charter to control the port? Instead of unsuccessfully trying to get outside companies to join Oakland, the Hon. Thao tells us about his plans to make better use of the port?
It really is time for a change in Oakland. I am strongly pro-business; I want to see Oakland focus more on its local entrepreneurs. Oakland shouldn’t attract wealthy corporations to force local entrepreneurs out of business – it has happened many times.
Oakland needs to make sure black contractors get their share of city projects. Hon. Treva Reid mentioned that 500 business licenses have been closed in the postal codes she represents. This represents 500 companies that would have directly served their communities. How could Oakland have supported these entrepreneurs?
The next mayor can really “pivot” and help Oakland invest in making its black arts and entertainment a tourist destination. Before gentrification, black people had a reason to visit Oakland. Oakland had a national reputation for its black arts and entertainment. Groups of black engineers, black entrepreneurs, black doll artists and black colleges held events in downtown Oakland. Oakland was once a mecca for black gay people. in the 1990s, its artists and writers articulated a national black gay movement.
Hon. Treva Reid, the Hon. Loren Taylor and the Hon. Sheng Thao grew up in Oakland. As mayor, how would they reclaim the Oakland that made them so prosperous and so proud? Gentrification has made Oakland forget its youth. The media seems to pay attention only to young people who commit violent crimes. How much of today’s violence is caused by young people disenfranchised after being forgotten for a lifetime? Hon. Treva Reid talked about investing in young people to fight violence, but what about young people who are not violent?
However, many young people today are pushing back against gentrification. In the 2020 documentary “Homeroom,” Oakland high school students lament the loss of their community to gentrification. On a criminal application, local citizens cheered side shows in the gentrified area. They were happy to get over the gentrifiers.
In fact, we should rethink gentrification; it didn’t make Oakland any safer.
Kheven LaGrone, investigative journalist, activist, writer, artist and curator, can be reached at [email protected]. He is also a qualified civil engineer.