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Members of the Oakland youth organization, AYPAL, spoke against the opening of the Hampton Inn.

Oakland workers and students protest proposed Hampton Inn construction

on February 12, 2016

On Thursday evening, high school students from the Oakland youth organization Asian/Pacific Islander Youth Promoting Advocacy and Leadership (AYPAL) wrote their visions for the vacant lot at 11th Street and Franklin on a poster. Some ideas were a skate park, garden, vegan restaurant or a dog park, but none of them included the current proposed development, a Hampton Inn hotel.

Members from AYPAL and UNITE HERE Local 2850, a union that represents East Bay and North Bay hotel and food service workers, came together for a demonstration demanding that the city hold a public hearing before moving on with the project. Speakers said the Hampton Inn would contribute to gentrification and provide low-paying jobs.

At the site, about 50 demonstrators chanted, played games, picketed with signs and spoke through a microphone urging the city to stop the proposed development. “Us workers, we’re always fighting, we’re always fighting for equal pay, for benefits. And we have this hotel here that is going to push us back. It’s going to hurt us,” said Irma Perez, a housekeeper at the downtown Oakland Courtyard Marriott and UNITE HERE member. “We do not need any more poor people in Oakland.”

Earlier this month, city officials from the Department of Contracts and Compliance responded to claims from Holiday Inn Express workers against the developer of the proposed Hampton Inn, Balaji Enterprises, which accused the company of violating minimum wage laws. According to the report, officials found that the company retaliated against its workers after the passage of Measure FF, which raised the minimum wage and required employers to provide paid sick leave, by “reducing their hours inconsistently.”

“We are extremely disappointed in the way the investigation was conducted and the lack of due process, we plan to respond to all of the allegations,” said Dhruv Patel, Chief Operating Officer of Ridgemont Hospitality, the management company of Balaji, in a statement this week.

At the demonstration, Jason Le, a junior at Oakland High School and AYPAL leader, said, “This hotel, it represents imperialism, They’re coming to a place that they don’t really know and they’re taking up the resources that this community desperately needs.”

Instead of a hotel at the site, Le said he would like to see a daycare, school, or another type of resource center, like AYPAL. “Spaces like AYPAL, that I’m representing today, they saved my life,” he said.  “I would have been out here on the streets not doing anything. I probably would have gotten myself in trouble.”

Councilmember Abel Guillen, who represents downtown’s District 2, wrote in an email to Oakland North that downtown Oakland is in need of more hotels. “Hotels translate into more jobs and more tax revenue that benefit the community. There are numerous community gathering spaces in the downtown and Chinatown neighborhoods—though we could always use more,” Guillen wrote. “It would be great if the new hotel can make meeting spaces available to designated community organizations for a certain number of dates, as a way of including ‘community space’ uses on the parcel.”

Last November, Patel said in a statement to Oakland North that that the Hampton Inn would provide 25 new jobs and contribute more than $1 million in tax revenue to the city’s general fund. “This can be used to fund public programs, hire safety officers, make infrastructure improvements along with many other things that would directly benefit residents in Oakland,” the statement read.

Planning department officials said in an email to Oakland North this week that the city would receive revenues from real estate taxes, the Transient Occupancy Tax, the Jobs and Housing Impact Fee, and from hotel visitors dining at local restaurants.

However, opponents at Thursday’s protest said that if built, the hotel would bring more low-wage jobs to the city and increase the rent of local businesses due to its close proximity to them. Some said the space could be used to instead develop affordable housing.

“This community has been here a long time and we are here to make sure that the change goes to the people,” said Joshua Lee, project director of AYPAL. “This is actually really thoughtless, to put a hotel in this space in the middle of a housing crisis.”

City officials have not yet approved the project, but have completed the review of its application. Trey Davis, council staff to Guillen, stated via an email that the plan will now move to the city’s planning director, Rachel Flynn, or the planning commission for approval.

Teresa Cheng, an organizer from UNITE HERE, said members will continue to speak out against the hotel in any way they can. “Whether or not they approve this hotel there, is going to be representative of what the city, and the mayor, and the planning department really stand for,” Cheng said.

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Photo by Basil D Soufi
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