West Oakland Development Plan Goes to Council

By Ken Epstein

The West Oakland Specific Plan, a federally funded effort to develop guidelines for the development of residential, commercial and industrial properties in the West Oakland community, unanimously passed the city’s Community and Economic Development (CED) Committee this week and is set to go to the City Council for approval.

Elaine Brown

Elaine Brown

According to the city, the plan will effect economic development on 1,900 acres near downtown businesses and result in no displacement of residents and will lead eventually to over 28,000 new jobs and up to 11,000 new residents.

In the works since 2010, the plan looks at land use, economic and market conditions, infrastructure deficiencies, transportation, public safety and security.

The plan is meant to be a tool for supporting, attracting and developing commercial and industrial enterprises to provide jobs and services needed by the West Oakland community and the city of Oakland at large.

The specific plan would create a blanket West Oakland Environmental Impact Report (EIR)   for the area, which means developers would be able move ahead on projects without dealing with zoning regulations.

 The plan focuses on four “Opportunity Sites” to be developed.: the Mandela/West Grand area, the San Pablo corridor, the area around the BART station on 7th Street and the area next to the Port of Oakland around 3rd Street. At these sites transit, housing, light industrial and retail outlets will be developed.

Opponents of the plan threatened to file a lawsuit, arguing that the plan lacks community input and will result in

Naomi Schiff

Naomi Schiff

gentrification and displacement of Black and low-income residents.

“I want to urge this committee not to pass on this plan –(it) effectively will remove a large number of Black people (from West Oakland),” said Elaine Brown, a former leader of the Black Panther Party.

“I will advocate for a lawsuit against the city … because of minority displacement,” she said, because the plan violates the civil rights of residents and the guidelines of the federal grant that require community input.

Robbie Clark, a Housing Rights Campaign organizer for Causa Justa: Just Cause, said the council should postpone a decision until there is “a robust community process..”

The plan contains “a bunch of ideas that have no implementation strategies attached to them” and will do nothing to guarantee affordable housing or protect the community, she said.

Other critics argued that the plan promises thousands of jobs, but that they are just empty words.

They said that the plan has involved many meetings for several years but that the real plan has only been available for four weeks.

In addition, they complained that the plan was not put online for the public to read.

Naomi Schiff, with the Oakland Heritage Alliance, said the plan needs better incentives for small businesses on Seventh Street. “Otherwise we’re just going to have chain stores,” she said.

Councilmember Lynette McElhaney, who represents West Oakland, backed the plan.

“We need to move forward on this plan,” she said, emphasizing that it will provide some tools to get market forces under control.

“Market forces are already doing what we don’t like,” McElhaney said. “There are 20-30 percent increases in rent, and (real estate companies) are locking up our rental stock. I am concerned we will have no tools to deal with these market forces.”

“West Oakland is going to be shredded and left out,” said Monsa Nitoto of the Mandela Village Project, urging the council to approve the specific plan.