Several Oakland organizations are uniting to bring economic growth to the city by opening a community advocacy and training center in a renovated building on International Boulevard, in the center of the Fruitvale community. Restore Oakland will provide community members with job preparation programs and offer services like a tenants’ rights clinic and a restaurant that will also be a work training site.
“There’s the work that is going to be happening in the building, but what is equally critical is we envision really mobilizing the community,” said Liam Chinn, executive director of Restore Oakland. “Restore Oakland will be sort of a base in the area to build power in the community and really work to transform our economic and justice systems and to create more safe and secure futures for people in East Oakland and their families.”
The Ella Baker Center for Human Rights and Restaurant Opportunity Centers United— both founding members of Restore Oakland—jointly purchased the building in late 2016. Before it was purchased, the building was empty, but long ago, it was a record store. The two-floor building standing on 34th Avenue and International Boulevard is approximately 17,000 square feet. The total cost of the building was about $3 million, but the complete budget for the building, renovation, and programming is $16 million. According to Chinn, that amount was collected through donations from companies such as Google.org, the San Francisco Foundation, Novo Foundation, and the New Market Tax Credit, which is a federally-funded program that provides tax incentives for investing in low-income neighborhoods.
“What we are aiming to do with Restore Oakland is to put but forward a new vision of community safety that’s grounded in restorative justice and economic opportunity,” said Zachary Norris, the Ella Baker Center’s executive director for human rights. “We think that for too long, the public perception has been that safety comes from punishment in prison. And we know that, actually, punishment and prison worsen cycles of poverty, violence, and incarceration. We need to break that cycle.”
Restore Oakland will be a long-term home to some organizations that have already been serving Oakland for many years and will provide below-market-rate office space for other local organizations. According to Norris, the center is greatly needed because not only are low-income residents, people of color, and other marginalized communities being pushed out of Oakland, but the nonprofits and social justice organizations and community groups are, too. “It’s not just residents that are impacted by gentrification, but also non-profits,” Norris said.
The Ella Baker Center and Causa Justa, an organization that provides low-income San Francisco and Oakland residents with tenant rights advocacy and information, will have permanent offices for their staff in the building. Restore Oakland will provide below-market-rate office space for other local groups like La Cocina, a group that helps women of color start small food businesses and Causa Justa, who will have a tenancy rights clinic in the building, where community members can come in and receives advice about tenants’ rights at no cost. The basement of the building will have a public meeting space and co-working space.
Others partners will include Restorative Justice for Oakland Youth, an organization that focuses on addressing racial disparities and the public costs associated with high rates of incarceration; Community Works West, a group that assist clients with resources to stay out of prison and advocates for a more humane justice system;
In addition, founding member Restaurant Opportunity Center United will bring to life a full-service restaurant called Colors Restaurant that will provide free intensive training in “front of the house” food industry work—such as waiter and hostess jobs—for low-income Oaklanders, the immigrant community and formally incarcerated people. They will be sharing a kitchen with La Cocina, who will be running their own program.
Until the building opens in 2019, Restore Oakland members will be doing outreach and conducting listening sessions for the community to listen and obtain their input in their development. “Restore Oakland will only be successful in so far as the community feels genuine ownership over Restore Oakland, and they can come in and shape the vision, the nature of the services, and to really leverage the opportunities in the building. It’s for the community,” Chinn said.