In 1987, my first job out of the city planning grad school at Cal Berkeley was with the Oakland Office Of Economic Development and Employment. That place was the home of the Oakland Redevelopment Agency, as well as the center of the city’s programs for business assistance, job training, and business attraction.
Today, a search for “Oakland economic development” reveals that our city has forgotten how to do economic development. In response to my first mention of the problem of what one sees when they search for “Oakland economic development” (during the administration of Oakland Mayor Jean Quan) rather than put a webpage up that tells how to find a contact for business assistance, or business attraction, or job training, all that was done make a new web address and attach it to the existing one that tells me nothing, and at present just shows the face of Mark Sawicki, the current head of what humorously passes for economic development in Oakland.
I remember when Oakand actually had a real live person over its non-profit business development corporation, and with a real live office. Today, we’ve basically turned that over to a startup for business loans. Great. So, I am pushed to a company that does not really represent Oakland at all, and is one step away from either takeover or shut down.
And job training? Oakland once had scores of non-profits that helped people get ready for and find work in different fields. Today? Nothing. Heck, not even a partnership with organizations and programs that can help teach Oaklanders how to write code. This is nothing less than horrible.
Absent Redevelopment, Oakland has forgotten how to do economic development. The problem started in 2011, when former Oakland Mayor Jerry Brown got rid of the program as California Governor, and it remains today. Without concentrated tax increment financing based money, Oakland’s programs have ended. But guess what folks? Governor Brown signed into law many of the provisions of the former redevelopment in October of 2014. It is called “Enhanced Infrastructure Financing Districts”.
Then, in 2015, Brown approved “Community Revitalization and Investment Authorities” – it’s basically a way for cities to restart their redevelopment programs anew. The city just has to go an evaluation of whether its passed certain tests with respect to its old program. Guess what, folks? Oakland has not even lifted a finger to take advantage of this. Not one.
We could have a new Oakland Community Revitalization and Investment Authority directing the operation of Enhanced Infrastructure Financing Districts. All the better to provide new jobs for every Oaklander.
Which brings me to my other point: we have no idea of what kinds of jobs Oaklanders can do. Our economic development here is a joke – Oakland might as well employ a parrot who then says “tech, tech, tech” without knowing what that means.
Our elected officials have been so enamored with tech that they have let biotech and whatever with a tech sound invade Oakland and the East Bay. This is not a new problem. I remember in 1997, I was in a meeting on the “jobs housing balance” and asked why the public officials were not going after jobs that Oakand and Alameda County dwellers could do, rather than focusing on biotech? A person qualified for that biotech job was then more than likely to live outside of Oakland and would have to drive to work, anyway. So much for jobs and housing balance.
Today, that mindness focus on tech has caused many Oaklanders to be pushed out of the city – many of them black. I think someone forgot to tell Mayor’s Brown, Dellums, Quan, and Schaaf that tech firms are not noted for employing black people. So, goodbye black Oakland, for all practical purposes.
That’s not city building. We need Oakland leaders who understand how to make government help people and small businesses. We need to change Oakland now, before it’s too late, and while the State of California has provided us the chance to do so.