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Despite meeting cancellation, community members talk Army base redevelopment at City Hall

on January 10, 2012

About 40 people crowded the lobby of Oakland’s City Hall, demanding an impromptu audience with city councilmembers after a meeting of the council’s Community and Economic Development Committee was unexpectedly canceled Tuesday afternoon.

At the meeting, council members were supposed to vote on a community benefits agreement for the Oakland Army Base redevelopment project, a multimillion dollar effort to transform the base into a trade and logistics center. The community benefits agreement, which includes policy recommendations devised by community stakeholders, labor groups and city staff, would establish local hiring and environmental sustainability goals for the project.

Several dozen community members, including organizers from East Bay Alliance for a Sustainable Economy (EBASE) and Revive Oakland!—groups that helped to develop the proposed community benefits agreement—gathered at City Hall at 2pm Tuesday to speak at the meeting and present councilmembers with a petition supporting the agreement.

After learning that the meeting had been canceled, EBASE organizer Kate O’Hara spoke to the group outside, encouraging them to request an informal meeting with councilmembers.

“We are all here because we love Oakland. We believe in jobs for Oakland,” O’Hara told the crowd. “We want to take the opportunity to talk with the councilmembers and let them know that, even though they’re not going to be talking about this today, we’re still thinking about it today.”

Shirley Burnell, 66, echoed the suggestion. “Since we’re all here I think we should all go inside, let them know we’re here, that we want to know what the heck is going on, and that we want to know why this meeting was canceled,” she said. “If we all go in the lobby, they’re gonna find a place for us.”

After moving into the lobby and sending several messages upstairs by way of city staff, the group finally sent 20-year-old community organizer Rayna Smith to request an audience with councilmembers.

“They aren’t really nice,” Smith said upon returning. “I don’t have much positive to say about it, except that they act like they don’t have time for us, and that our questions matter to them.”

After 30 minutes of waiting, Councilmember Jane Brunner (District 5), the chair of the Community and Economic Development Committee , came to the lobby to speak with the group. Brunner took responsibility for canceling the meeting, saying that she had done so because committee members were in disagreement about the way that the community benefits agreement had been organized.

She said that some committee members wanted the local hiring component of the agreement to be considered separately from the environmental component, so she decided to cancel the meeting to give city staff an additional two weeks to revise the proposal.

“The consensus was lost,” Brunner said. “It’s better that we’re all together on this and the easiest way to do that was to go two more weeks.”

Several people expressed concern over the low employment rate of African Americans in Oakland, and urged Brunner to support the agreement and create opportunities for the city’s marginalized communities.

As is, the agreement requires that 50 percent of construction hours and operational jobs on the Army base project go to Oakland residents, with priority given to workers from the zip codes with the city’s lowest incomes. Similarly, 50 percent of contractors must be locally based.

Brunner, who spent the last year and a half heading the jobs task force responsible for developing the proposed agreement, reiterated her support for local hiring policies and praised the process through which the agreement was created. She also assured the group that the meeting’s cancellation was not a sign that the agreement is in jeopardy.

“If there is a substantive issue [with the proposal]—and I don’t think there is, then we’ll pull it,” Brunner said. “But the issue was procedural.”

EBASE organizer O’Hara acknowledged Brunner’s support and, as the gathering came to a close, urged everyone in attendance to come to the next committee meeting to voice their support of the proposal. “We need to keep our eyes on Pro Logis,” O’Hara said, referring to one of the two major contractors responsible for developing the army base. “We need to hold them accountable for creating jobs in Oakland.”

“We just need the jobs here,” Brunner added. “Any job that comes through here, we want it.”

The next meeting of the Community and Economic Development committee will be on Tuesday, January 24.


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