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Oakland Port Commission votes to extend Army Base negotiations

on July 22, 2010

At the foot of the Bay Bridge, covering land the size of 200 football fields, is the former Oakland Army Base, which is now owned by the City of Oakland and the Port of Oakland. Over the past year, both the city and the port have been working on a contract with private developers to rebuild the site and make Oakland a focal point for trade on the West Coast. The development proposed for this big piece of land includes a new rail terminal, roads, warehouses and possibly an office park similar to those in Emeryville and West Berkeley.

On Tuesday, the Oakland Port Commission listened to pleas from community members who wanted to extend the negotiation agreement with developers to ensure their needs were written into the contract. Before the meeting began, around 100 people gathered in front of the Port of Oakland’s headquarters carrying signs that said “Good jobs now” and “Sign the contract.” People talked made speeches about high unemployment and the need to have more jobs in Oakland. Atresse Watkins, who was wearing a yellow t-shirt that read “Invest in us” said, “We’re looking at the social side of development—what it looks like and who’s going to benefit.”

After a half hour of passionate testimony from the dozen of people who spoke during the commissioners’ meeting, in a near unanimous vote, the commission voted to extend negotiations. During the testimony, the commissioners listened intently as port workers, Oakland residents and non-profit representatives spoke about the need for more jobs. “This Army Base project is a once in a lifetime opportunity to put people to work,” said Shirley Burnell of the Alliance of Californians for Community Empowerment (ACCE), during her testimony, “to keep people in their homes and to revive Oakland.”

ACCE belongs to a coalition of non-profits and community leaders called Revive Oakland, which is working to ensure that the Oakland Army Base redevelopment project includes job opportunities for residents of Oakland. Coalition members include County Supervisor Keith Carson, Assemblyman Sandre Swanson, the Alameda County Public Health Department and local faith leaders. The group’s demands include that the redevelopment project should be accomplished with 50 percent local hires—both temporary and permanent—as well as include a job placement program, a community-based training center and a commitment to living wages and health care from employers.

Group members say that if this project is done right, it could create up to 8,000 jobs for Oaklanders over the next two decades. With unemployment estimates as high as 17 percent in Oakland, this could make a serious change for the city, say Revive Oakland representatives. The jobs would be in construction, demolition, and clean-up and after development is complete would provide work for desk clerks, mechanics and forklift operators.

Kate O’Hara from East Bay Alliance for a Sustainable Economy talks about the need for jobs in Oakland.

In 1994, the Oakland Army Base closed. Twelve years later, the Federal Base Reuse Authority turned over the land to the city and the port. Local developer California Capital Group and the international property corporation AMB are the private developers that the city and port are negotiating with to redevelop this piece of land.

Tuesday’s vote was the first major step in the process for Revive Oakland’s demands to be included in the final agreement. “What does it mean to vote yes?” asked Josie Camacho, who works for the Alameda Labor Council, during her testimony. “A yes vote would mean moving forward to put our community members back to work. It would play a critical role to make our city recover, revive and stimulate the economy.”

After the commissioners voted to extend the negotiation agreement, the crowds of community members and representatives from Revive Oakland excitedly reconvened in front of the Port of Oakland’s headquarters. They took photos, held up their signs and chanted, “Community contract is our right/City developers see the light!”

The yes vote “Means that they’re not giving up on the developers,” said Burnell, “and that we have time to get all our i’s dotted and t’s crossed.” She said that she wants Revive Oakland, the city and port to all be on the same page and be asking for the same things from the developers, so that “there’s no way to wiggle out of what’s been said.”

Revive Oakland has until November to get the city and the port to agree with their requests and ensure that they are included in the final contract. “It’s been a long road up to this,” said Burnell, “and it’s going to be a long road ahead. This was a victory but not the victory.”

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Photo by Basil D Soufi
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