By Ken Epstein
Oakland City Council chambers became ground zero for protests against gentrification and displacement this week as young activists chained themselves together to keep the City Council meeting from taking place, instead holding a rally for several hours in the chambers to voice their anger and frustration with the city’s leadership.
At the close of a public hearing on the proposed city budget for next year, but before the city council meeting could get underway, activists entered the well area behind the low barrier between the council dais and the public.
Some chained themselves together, standing in a line below the shocked council members. Others produced a bullhorn and began speaking about their issues and invited others to speak.
Many members of the audience stood, chanted and shouted in solidarity with the protesters. Police made no moves to intervene, but police and security attempted to keep more people from entering the chambers.
While people spoke, a projector flashed the group’s issues on an overhead screen:
“You can fight city hall,” “Development without displacement;” “A people’s budget, not a policing budget;” and “Public service, not lip service,” the projected signs said.
The focus of the protest was the seeming willingness of most council members to vote Tuesday night to approve the sale of a one-acre, city-owned parcel on East 12th Street across from Lake Merritt to build a 24-story luxury apartment building.
The proposed building includes no affordable housing and will have a median rent of $3,150 for a one-bedroom apartment, making the units affordable only to households that make $120,000 or more a year, according to activists who say the median household income in Eastlake around the proposed building is $38,363.
The coalition against the high rise is led by a neighborhood group, Eastlake United for Justice and includes Causa Justa/Just Cause, East Bay Housing Organizations, Black Seed, SEIU 1021, Oakland Rising, and the Oakland Tenants Union.
Calling for public land to be used only for affordable housing and other public needs, the groups are concerned that the development will lead to displacement of working class residents on the east side of Lake Merritt, as well as the development’s inadequate community engagement process.
At a rally in front of City Hall before the council meeting, members of Eastlake United for Justice and others spoke about their concerns.
“We are here because there are people in there (City Hall) who are trying to sell out our land,” said Josh Healey, also part of the Eastlake group.
“We’ve been here to talk to the mayor and city council, and they haven’t been hearing us,” he said.
Mari Rose Taruc, also of the Eastlake neighborhood group, said, “Oakland is 62 percent renters. We don’t want luxury condos at Eastlake. We want affordable housing.”
Asked Huan Bao Yu, a senior citizens speaking for Asian Pacific Environmental Network (APEN), “Who is (this development) for? “Is it for us? No, it’s to kick us out.”
Courtesy of the Oakland Post, May 9, 2015 (postnewsgroup.com)