The next mayor must invest in Black Oaklanders
by Kheven LaGrone
On Aug. 15, 2022, Visit Oakland and the Jack London Improvement District (JLID) hosted the first 2022 forum of Oakland mayoral candidates. The event, called A Seat at The Town Table, introduced three 2022 Oakland Mayoral candidates: Hon. Treva Reid, Hon. Loren Taylor and Hon. Sheng Thao. All three are currently Oakland council members. More mayoral candidates are expected to participate in future forums.
The candidates all agreed that City Hall was dysfunctional. They all agreed that Oakland needed a change and, as Oakland political candidates always seem to say, we were at a “pivotal point.” Each one said that he or she was the change that Oakland needed.
Since the forum was hosted by business organizations, much of the forum discussed economic growth and development of Oakland. At one point, Hon. Sheng Thao said that she had gone outside of Oakland to convince businesses to be a part of Oakland. The businesses were uninterested. According to her, Oakland needed to change to attract the businesses.
But how should Oakland change for them? I believe that businesses serve a community; communities don’t serve businesses.
For years, many Oaklanders, especially Black Oaklanders, have accused city officials of whoring out their city to developers. They believe that Oakland officials have sold out their city. Today, many citizens blame much of Oakland’s current problems, especially homelessness, on this whoring out of Oakland.
For example, when new business came to Oakland, they did not always bring new jobs to Oaklanders as promised. They brought their existing employees to Oakland, thus adding to the competition for housing in Oakland. It led to rent increases, illegal eviction of long time Oaklanders and discrimination against African Americans looking for housing. This contributed to today’s housing crisis.
In addition, developers displaced the many poor Black people who lived in Oakland’s residential hotels. Developers bought the hotels, evicting the tenants to make upscale boutique hotels. With nowhere left to go, many residents became homeless.
But with all the talk about economic growth and development, none of the candidates at the forum said how they would utilize the Port of Oakland. Do they know that the Port is a thriving department of the City of Oakland? He or she would become the mayor of the Port as well.
The Port is the fifth busiest container port in the U.S. Its Oakland International Airport is the second largest airport in the San Francisco Bay Area. The Port’s real estate includes Jack London Square and hundreds of acres of parks and conservation areas.
The three mayoral candidates all said that they wanted to make Oakland a tourist destination; the Port would be central in this goal. The Port handles many of the tourists or visitors coming to Oakland. However, according to the candidates, blight along our gateways and major thoroughfares turns off visitors. It also turns off businesses in the area.
As mayor, how would the candidates use the Port to beautify these areas and support tourism? As mayor, how would the candidates ensure that Oakland residents, not just the Port, directly benefit from this tourism?
This raises bigger questions about the Port’s relationship to Oakland. In the past, the Port took advantage of the dysfunction at City Hall in order to distance itself from Oakland. Many people have come to believe that the Port is an independent entity.
Would the mayoral candidates enforce or amend the City Charter to get the Port under control? Instead of unsuccessfully trying to get outside corporations to join Oakland, should the Hon. Thao tell us her plans for better utilizing the Port?
It is really time for a change in Oakland. I’m strongly pro-business; I want to see Oakland focus more on its local entrepreneurs. Oakland should not attract rich corporations who would come in and force local entrepreneurs out of business – this has happened many times.
Oakland must make sure that Black contractors get their share of City projects. Hon. Treva Reid mentioned that 500 business licenses closed in the zip codes that she represents. That’s 500 businesses that would have directly served their communities. How could Oakland have supported those entrepreneurs?
The next mayor can truly “pivot” and help Oakland invest in making its Black arts and entertainment into a tourist destination. Before gentrification, Black people had a reason to tour Oakland. Oakland had a national reputation for its Black arts and entertainment. Black engineering groups, Black entrepreneurs, Black doll artists and Black colleges held events in downtown Oakland. Oakland used to be a Black gay mecca; in the ‘90s, its artists and writers articulated a national Black gay movement.
Of the three candidates, Taylor is the only one born and raised in Oakland. In fact, he is a third generation Oaklander. Next time, I want to know his earliest memories of Oakland and how they will inform his mayorship. I want to know what he will bring back to Oakland.
Voters should know how each of the mayoral candidates would get back the Oakland that made them so successful and proud? Gentrification made Oakland forget its youth. The media only seems to give attention to youth who commit violent crimes. How much of today’s violence is caused by youth disenfranchised by a lifetime of being forgotten? Hon. Treva Reid talked about investing in youth to fight violence, but what about the youth who are not violent?
However, many of today’s youth are pushing back on gentrification. In the 2020 documentary “Homeroom,” Oakland High School students lament the loss of their community to gentrification. On a crime app, local citizens cheered the sideshows in the gentrified area. They were glad to get back at the gentrifiers.
In fact, we should re-think gentrification; it did not make Oakland safer.
Kheven LaGrone, investigative reporter, activist, writer, artist and curator, can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. He is also a licensed civil engineer. This story was updated on Sept. 17 to clarify that Loren Taylor is the only one of the three candidates who was born and raised in Oakland.