Does Oakland Really Care About Economic Development?

Posted on Aug 17 2014 - 9:10am by Zennie Abraham
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Oakland used to have a great economic development effort, but now, in the wake of the death of California Redevelopment, it’s just plain dead on arrival. A search for “Oakland Economic Development” in Google shows a first page that represents Oakland’s program, but as of this writing, it basically tells you we don’t have a program at all.

This is the first thing you see on the page:

Community & Economic Development Agency (CEDA) Dissolved

On December 29, 2011, the California Supreme Court upheld two bills that were part of the State of California’s efforts to close its significant budget deficit last year. In its ruling, the Court upheld ABx126, which eliminated Redevelopment Agencies throughout California. It also struck down ABx127, which would have allowed redevelopment agencies to remain in operation as long as they made payment to the State. The Court’s ruling set February 1, 2012, as the dissolution date for Redevelopment Agencies, and left no mechanism for reinstatement.

For the City of Oakland, the loss of Redevelopment funding created a potential budget gap of about $28 million – approximately $8.2 million in FY 2011-12 (February-June 2012) and approximately $20.3 million in FY 2012-13.

An Amended Policy Budget for Fiscal Year 2011-13 was adopted by the City Council on January 31 which closed the gap through significant organizational restructuring into a flatter, more traditional structure.

That is awful.

Imagine what a manufacturer in Germany who’s seeking to relocate, hears about Oakland, and finds that page, will think? They will believe we can’t help them and don’t have our act together. That page is our ECONOMIC DEVELOPMENT FACE to the World, and it presents us as for all practical purposes, without a face – dead.

Meanwhile, the Community Development Block Grant Program has an initiative Oakland can use to basically replace Calfornia Redevelopment. Have we used it as of now? Nope.

This is awful.

We have a high unemployment rate, yet our Oakland City Council has done nothing at all to work to reduce it. Nothing. All I get from each Councilmember is a press release about some crime-reduction program. In other words, forget about bringing jobs to Oakland for those who don’t have them and may feel compelled to commit a crime, we will just make sure we can arrest them.

That’s just plain wrong.

Rebecca Kaplan is the current Oakland City Council At-Large Representative and President. She’s also running for Mayor of Oakland. I reached out to her on Twitter to share my concerns, and try to engage her to help change a simple, but important, web page, and she basically said we have to wait until she’s Mayor of Oakland – which may never happen. Watch:

But if you don’t want to displace residents, you make sure there are better paying jobs for those residents – we have not done that. Oakland politicians are consistently drunk on the idea that in order to stay popular they have to repeat words like “tech” or “biotech” and that will do the trick. That’s a cruel joke.

We have enough housing; what we have are people who don’t have good jobs, seeing their lives threatened by those who do, and work in San Francisco or the West Bay. We need manufacturing jobs, and anyone who tells you they don’t exist doesn’t know what they’re talking about.

We continued…


We can’t wait. Oakland should not wait. Moreover, I’m really disppointed that Rebecca keeps thinking it’s about her campaign for Mayor. It’s about caring about Oakland.

I’m convinced there are many people who just don’t care enough to fight for Oakland. Sadly, some of them are our elected officials.

About the Author

Zennie Abraham | Zennie Abraham or "Zennie62" is the founder of Zennie62Media which consists of and a multimedia blog news aggregator and video network, and 78-blog network, with social media and content development services and consulting. Zennie is a pioneer video blogger, YouTube Partner, social media practitioner, game developer, and pundit. Note: news aggregator content does not reflect the personal views of Mr. Abraham.

  • lenraphael

    Re: Does Oakland Really Care About Economic Development

    it isn’t that officials don’t care. Too often they equate economic development with real estate development & construction jobs & yes, ball parks.

    Not that those activitities and projects don’t help creat some decent long term jobs that match a wide range of local skill sets, but they don’t break the post WWII cycle where Oakland has become a bedroom community for SF and the Valley.

    It’s not a new problem for Oakland. The author of American Babylon described an all-out national public relations effort by the Oakland Chamber of Commerce to attract industry here in (I think) the 1950’s with scant results.

    Prop13 and the Redevelopment Agency law made it worse in the long run by encouraging real estate development over long term job development.

    In the 80’s we succeeded too well at attracting Federal and State and County offices to DTO. Great construction jobs while the projects lasted. But 0 real estate and business tax revenue. Employees not big retail spenders.

    We missed out on some of the State tax incentives for hiring the unemployed even though we had a City staffer processing those for Berkeley.

    Improve schools, lower real and perceived crime, streamline permits are part of the solution.

    Maybe revisit “industrial zoning”, maybe not.

    Look into getting more “free trade zones” to encourage light manufacturing/assembly jobs.

    ASAP emulate San Leandro’s cheap uber fast internet even though Comcast will oppose. That could be done at a fraction of the cost of improving our schools or lowering crime or fixing road. (Full disclosure: I’m the CPA for Lit San Leandro).

    What we can’t do is rely on press releases, favorable NYT travel articles, great weather, great restaurants and high SF real estate costs to create the jobs and tax revenues we need here.

    Len Raphael for Oakland City Auditor 2014
    [email protected]
    fb LensForChange

  • Thanks, Len.

    My first job out of grad school at Berkeley was as an intern in what was then called The Office Of Economic Development and Employment at The City of Oakland.

    One of my first tasks, after asking to receive challenging assignments, was one given to me by then Assistant City Manager Ezra Rapport. It was to find land to relocate EBMUD Pipes, and also to create an economic argument for the use of 100 acres of land that was between I-880, I-80, and a boundary between Oakland and Emeryville, forming a cresent of sorts.

    I did calculate the tax revenue gain from retail that would be there, and thus was born the reason for what exists today: The shopping center, including The Home Depot, and hotels and restaurants.

    I was also there when Bramalea Corporation first showed the model that became Oakland’s City Center Complex. I remember, then, thinking that housing should have been on top of the retail that is the “food court” where Max’s is today. The idea would be to create a 24/7 neighborhood, where dollars could circulate. Instead, the dollars from employment just do what happens today: they go via BART to San Francisco, to shop. And why not? No one lived there.

    I also created the Oakland Apparel Trade Center Concept. The idea was to take over a warehouse on Linden Street, provide the space with areas for seamstresses and the ability to get orders from anywhere in the World, and then ship them out via trucks to the airport.

    The task force was not supported by my boss, Austin Penny, or the City of Oakland, and for no other reason than I was an intern. That was it. This was 1988. It was a time when the Bay Area was losing jobs and companies making jeans to Asia. We could have competed to be a player: Redevelopment enabled us to offer grants to help pay workers, and lower production costs. Oakland never did that.

    Oakland has been harmed by bad economic development decisions when it came to assisting small businesses and growing industries that benefit local residents, by basing them on THEIR skills.

    Instead, we have consistently chased outside development and retail. I recall when we tried to get The United Colors of Benetton in Oakland and at the then planned Rotunda. They told Phil Tagami, the developer, that Oakland did not have the “right demographics.”

    That was 1997.

    That same year, in May in Las Vegas, I gave a presentation to Forest City, and to sell them on the idea of building a shopping center in the middle of Downtown Oakland. Elihu Harris was the Mayor and my boss. There were 18 people in that meeting, including Robert Bobb, Oakland’s then new City Maanger. On the basis of my presentation, Forest City came to Oakland. But then Jerry Brown was working to become Mayor, and steered them to build housing, and not retail, and my dream for Downtown Oakland, and the jobs that would have went with it, as well as the closing of the retail leak problem, was destroyed.

    Now, with Sears leaving, we have no real retail downtown. In short, we still have the same problems. Tech startups are a pipe dream, especially when we don’t have a sound economic development approach to encourage their development. Moreover, such operations occur in areas where their are vast amounts of basic economic operations: offices with lawyers, doctors, accountants, and all feeding off established industry money.

    In other words, basic industry, including transportation and manufacturing. Otherwise, we have a constant industry flux and false promise fueled by a Pandora here, or something else there.

    So, the high unemployment rate we see in Oakland today is based on that constant pattern of ignorance of the needs of our labor force. We send the message that we don’t like our residents and would rather force them out of Oakland than provide opportunities for them to stay.

    Ask yourself why Oakland, with its history in the development of rap, never worked to take advantage of the growth of Hip Hop? It’s because our civic leaders never warmed to it, especially those who were black, and so talent was never given a place to make their music, and then present and sell it to the World.

    Meanwhile, Atlanta has done that.

    Oakland also never worked to try and retain its heavy industry, which employed blacks – it let that leave Oakland.

    So Oakland’s declining black population is the result of decades of neglect to maintain a job base that would retain it. What’s left are those who have a hard time finding work, and now face eviction by greedy landlords who think they can gain from those displaced white San Franciscans who are part of a new generation who doesn’t have the fear of living around blacks that past generations have had.

    But guess what? According to Mayor Jean Quan, we’re not a black city, and she thinks the World should know that.


    Has anyone asked Mayor Quan that question? She has worked to duck it, ever since she was nationally embarrassed by The National Journal, which reported her saying it.

    A sad story.