Help Wanted: An Oakland Planning Director for Equitable Development

2016-04-19 00.32.18

“We write to reflect the concerns of those who have historically been marginalized and bear the burden of unjust planning decisions that have destroyed vibrant local economies and neighborhoods of working class communities of color for over a century in our town.”

Guest blog by Lailan Huen-edits from the original are mine-for brevity only.

Dear Mayor Libby Schaaf, City Administrator Sabrina Landreth, Assistant City Administrator Claudia Cappio, and Hawkins Company:

We represent eight community-based groups impacted by the Planning Department’s decisions and policies in Oakland, and we demand inclusion of community stakeholders in the hiring of the new Director of Planning and Building.

Specifically, we write to reflect the concerns of those who have historically been marginalized and bear the burden of unjust planning decisions that have destroyed vibrant local economies and neighborhoods of working class communities of color for over a century in our town.

It is these Oakland neighborhoods that are now being most impacted by new development, and the current planning processes are insufficient for protecting these neighborhoods at risk of displacement.  Additionally, we see that the lack of safe and affordable spaces for our arts and low-income communities, as exemplified by the GhostShip warehouse fire, is of life and death.

As residents and stakeholders who have been advocating for equity for decades, we have seen the disproportionate power held by developers looking to make more profit without much regard for the residents of Oakland in the political process.

We understand that many developers have been consulted in this process, but only a small handful of community-based stakeholders have been invited to participate.  The City of Oakland must include the voices of those who are most impacted and at risk to achieve its equity goals.

Therefore, we have gathered requests for candidate criteria and stipulated the process below:

  • A planner with a track record in community engagement and participatory processes for neighborhood planning that provides meaningful time for feedback beyond minimal-17 day-notices.
  • Prioritizes equity and understands how institutional racism and environmental injustice have caused harm to working class communities of color in Oakland, including tools to mitigate past harms and create targeted opportunities in these neighborhoods.
  • Has a balanced approach to considering residents and neighborhoods in decisions-in addition to developers.
  • Has a proven track record with preservation of vulnerable historic, cultural and arts districts in phases of gentrification and new development.
  • Recognizes that city staffers with traditional planning backgrounds are less likely to understand the impact of institutional racism, and will hire more representative staff.
  • Comprehends the challenges facing the arts community currently being displaced, and brings experience to support and create safe affordable spaces for Oakland’s vital creative culture.
  • Knowledge of finance in regards to affordable housing programs and a willingness to look at innovative and non-traditional approaches to fund it.
  • Commits to planning tools such as specific plans, zoning changes, density bonuses, and incentives to leverage developer contributions for community benefits to include affordable housing, community retail space, local hire, and public open space.
  •  And to using public land for affordable housing and community benefits and openness to working with Community Land Trusts to secure permanent affordable spaces.
  • Willingness to implement innovative models such as Planning Leader Institutes, Neighborhood Planning Liaisons, Registered Community Organizations, and an Equitable Development Scorecard to assess how projects will meet the city’s equity goals.

Building an Equitable Process

  • At least 3-4 community seats on a candidate review and interview committee, including from these areas of expertise: 1) affordable housing, 2) historic preservation, 3) environmental justice, and 4) arts and cultural district anti-displacement.
  • Inclusion of sample work, design guidelines, as part of the application review process.
  • An opportunity for the public to be invited to hear from potential candidates.
  • Consider recruiting applicants from cities with equitable processes such as: Seattle, Portland, Twin Cities, Philadelphia or a planning applicant familiar to Oakland and has the requisite experience to advance equity as stated above.

Oakland is at a crossroads. Our community desperately needs a Planning and Building Department that is at the forefront of innovative, equitable, sustainable and participatory policies, such as the above listed cities already have.

We are tired of being left out of the process, disregarded when we do participate, and given lip-service without follow-through.  We want real accountability from the next leader who will make bold decisions to protect what we love about Oakland: our cultural and economic diversity, our thriving creative arts life as a key to our local economy, and a democratic process that includes the voices of residents.

We support positive community development and truly smart growth for transit-oriented development which can provide needed housing that is equitable and involves long-time residents. In order to develop a planning regimen which can expedite the process, all stakeholders-including residents and workers- must be included in a meaningful way with public standards for equitable development.

Please share with us the timeline, process, and opportunities for input, and kindly provide a response to our requests within two weeks.  2016-03-25 22.08.15 (640x360)

Thank You,

Block by Block Organizing Network

Oakland Creative Neighborhoods Coalition (OCNC)

Oakland Chinatown Lodge of the Four Family Associations

Black Arts Movement Business District (BAMBD)

Asian Pacific Environmental Network (APEN)

The Dellums Institute for Social Justice

East Bay Asian Youth Center (EBAYC)

People of Color Sustainable Housing Network

The Wellstone Democratic Renewal Club

 

 

 

Make Your Way to the EastSide Arts Alliance this Weekend, Sept 12th, 13th plus Sept. 19th

Oakland is one of those cities in which gentrification is running wild at the same time that young artists and entrepreneurs of color are busy staking ever larger claims. It’s one of those paradoxes of modern urban living; and Oakland is the petri dish in which competing claims may learn how to create art out of that tension as is happening again this weekend at the EastSide Arts Alliance.

If you haven’t yet been to the ESAA for festivals, music/spoken word performances or lively discussions, get yourself there this weekend-or next Saturday. The Anastasio Project is a collaboration of community organizers, cultural icons and artistry that will make you mad, sad and, hopefully, propel you to action all at the same time.

It takes its name from Anastasio Hernandez-Rojas who was beaten to death by border guards as he attempted to return from Mexico to his family in San Diego. No one has yet been charged with that brutal murder which took place in 2010. The collaboration seeks to make the connections between state violence towards immigrants in the border zone, immigrants who are struggling to live in California and on-going police brutality against those who have lived here for centuries.

It is a research project wrapped in spoken word, music, and dance which attempts to utilize all the media available to represent the varied experiences of people whose lives don’t matter to the mainstream media (MSM.) These programs have been presented before but the organizers NAKA Dance Theater along with the Alliance have added topical forums to extend the discussion.

If you go tonight, September 12th, you will hear from Birdie Guttierrez, a San Diego organizer, dealing with how families in that area cope with the brutality of ICE and other agencies with the help of Mujeres Unidas y Activas. MUA has been active in fighting for Latina women’s rights for twenty-four years here in the Bay Area and is a national model of organizing for empowerment.

If you go tomorrow night, Sunday, September 13th, you will hear from our own Cat Brooks, Oakland political activist, artist and dynamo of creative resistance (ONYX and the Anti Police Terror Project) who will talk about the criminalization and murder of Black Women in America and where the #BalckLivesMatter collective goes from here.

Then next Saturday, September 19th, Matt Gonzalez, San Francisco politician and lawyer in the Public Defender’s Office-for whom I trekked many a hilly block in his mayoral campaign in the early 2000’s-will speak on the needs to protect our sanctuary cities in the face of a serious right wing threat. Members of MUA will also contribute to this forum.

The forums run from 4 to 6 and the play starts at 8pm and there are two more performances on the 18th and 20th at 2277 International Boulevard in the San Antonio district of Oakland.

People talk about the Temescal, West Oakland and the Fruitvale as models of or battle grounds for displacement and change but the San Antonio district I remember, the one I raised my kids in for four years, was one of the most diverse and unknown neighborhoods of Oakland. We lived there in the height of the crack epidemic-my kids and I watched as Felix Mitchell’s funeral passed by a block away. This neighborhood still represents so much of the peril and promise of Oakland even as it stays under the MSM radar.

But the EastSide Arts Alliance draws together all these cultures and forces, not to neutralize or homogenize them but to listen and learn from all their stories. So get there soon, this weekend would be a good time to be introduced to issues of national, international importance, through art and community,

Lakeshore Lessons in Creativity and Reuse

Linda Hubbard's handmade, recycled paper bag flowers

Linda Hubbard’s handmade, recycled paper bag flowers

If you’ve ever marveled at the wonderful window displays at Silver Moon Kids, you might be curious to know who creates that delicious whimsy. If you were to pass by now, you’d be blown away by the huge colorful “flowers” sharing the window with the children’s clothes, stuffed animals, and toys.

Her name is Linda Hubbard and she is the owner, Dima Hart’s, mom. She is a self-taught artist and window designer. Once upon a time she studied art in college but never finished, dropping out to be a self-described hippy. Later, Linda got a master’s in speech therapy and worked in that field until retirement, forgoing her art. About a decade ago, she picked up the brush again and began to paint. Around the time of Linda’s retirement, Dima opened her Lakeshore store-her former store was on Grand Avenue and for a short time, we were merchant neighbors.

Since then Linda has helped set up the store, painted the fairy mural on the back wall and come up with fanciful designs to showcase the store’s merchandise. Perhaps you remember the beautifully handmade heart for Valentine’s Day? But this month, she has outdone herself. I asked her how she did it.Linda's paper heart

Like any modern woman, she got the idea from a you tube video that described making giant flowers from old paper grocery bags! For these flowers she used recycled Trader Joe’s and Monterey Market bags, tweaking the shape and number of petals and using no VOC (volatile organic compounds-no outgassing-and safe around children) paints. She says it took her about a month to make them working a few hours a day. Repurposed paper bags being painted

When I had my shop on Grand I often sold art from recycled objects, many from my own hand, and encouraged people, mostly women, to take a chance, especially with paint! I’d buy mixed tints that are sold for less or given away at most paint or hardware stores because they did not come out exactly the way the original buyers wanted them. Then I mix them with more paints and voila, I paint whatever gets in my way and paint over it if I don’t like it. I painted bricks on my concrete patio in lieu of installing expensive stonework. I use cheap acrylics and repaint them every couple of years. This year I am contemplating over painting them with glow-in-the-dark paint. I’ll let you know how that comes out soon. Cat walking on "bricks"

So, go see the wonderful windows in this charming store. Chat with Linda the next time you see her in the window, then go out and try something yourself. We may not all be as creative as Linda and Dima (by the way, Linda says the best part of doing this is working with her daughter), but we can have fun trying.

Not available in the store.

Open Studios, & Art & Music in the Gardens

Last year I somehow missed the Pro Arts Open Studios. This hardly ever happens. According to the website, proartsgallery.org, they have been running their open studios program since 1974. For those folks who have just landed from another planet, the Open Studios movement implies that artists invite you into their workplaces and exhibit their work where they make it.

In reality many artists now gather in spaces set up as temporary galleries for the Open Studios rather than open up their often cramped work spaces. On the one hand, you can see a bevy of artists gathered in one spot rather than search for the many little studios spread around the whole Bay Area’s twelve cities.

On the other hand, there are many more large studio buildings where artists jointly rent space than there used to be and seeing artists in their natural habitat can be more instructive and personal.

It was for just that reason that I began taking my children to Open Studios in the late 80’s. At one studio we saw an artist shooting hoops (it was a toy net) in his work space. I thought it would encourage my athletic son to see that he could make art and still have fun. I liked to provide my kids with art supplies, including small sketch pads to take wherever they went, as my father had done for me.

I remember not too many years ago when you could visit artists in the redeveloped empty warehouses down by Jack London Square. Seeing these repurposed buildings was as much fun as looking at the art. Now empty big box retail space, the Barnes and Noble building, for instance, vies for reuse as a makeshift gallery.

It makes one think that maybe the enduring usage for many buildings in Oakland should be actual artists’ live/work spaces. Here I’m not talking about lawyer lofts where open concept living rooms full of Italian leather and kitchens with granite counter tops and stainless steel are the hallmarks of someone not making a living making art. Going from industrial to post industrial then retail to post big box retail back to art makes one wonder what city planners are thinking. Have they noticed the irony?

First, my friend and I set out in the afternoon and were able to take in a gallery in a beautiful home in the Lakeshore area, then onto the Swarm Galleries, finishing with the post-big-box space on JLS. At the first gallery, I ran into artists whose work I had watched change and grow over the years.

Next we moved onto  The Hive Gallery at the end of 2nd Street near the Square. We found more artists than were actually listed in the Pro Arts booklet but some of those listed had not yet opened.

Oh, I forgot to mention that this was last Saturday when it had poured on and off in the morning and early afternoon. Since I have almost completed the process of becoming a true Californian, I do think it’s my birthright to enjoy blues skies, and I have even developed the natural fear that I might melt if caught out in the rain. So, as you can imagine, attendance was sparse.

At Hive we found so many variations of art/crafts/sculpture that I can’t really describe the creativity on display by these folks. Since I had decided not to take my still or video cameras and don’t have a camera phone, I can’t even show you these wonderful things. You just have to go, really you gotta go.

We met an artist who makes cute dresses, charming cloth chickens (I mean really charming) and carves puppets, incredible, another artist who lived in Nepal and taught art there, a painter/muralist who takes videos of herself performing the layers of her process, and too many others. Wait, don’t forget to ask for the artist who has the movable untoy, Mickey Mouse meets the Raiders. Oh, and the artist who sorely tempted me into taking on debt with his resin treated works using paint, string, rulers, fabric, well, I may have to go back.

Then we headed down to the former Barnes and Noble building and ran into old friends, both artists and visitors, like Rita Sklar who has become well-known for her beautifully crafted watercolors and many more until they dimmed the lights and ushered us out.

So then on Sunday I decided to walk down to the Lakeside Garden Center since my neighbor, co-owner of the fabulous spot that is Garden Hortica (gardenhortica.com), had been bombarding facebook with the happenings at Lakeside Park,  Art & Music in the Gardens. Not officially part of the Open Studios, but the event took advantage of the excitement of the weekend.

Artists were showing their wares both outside and inside and gardeners were likewise demonstrating their art. There was food being purveyed by the Oakland Museum while musicians played on the stage.

Rather than tell you about the goings-on, check out my photos and short video of some of the grounds and what the artists say about their work and Oakland. Listen in particular to Christian Moffat of Create in Clay, createinclay.org (barring problems with my video editing program!) and what he says about the Town.

I managed to come away without buying a single piece, but I’m not proud of that. This has been one of the toughest years for me financially since my kids were little, and I’m not sure I believe things will get much better. But there is one more weekend and I’m determined to find something I can afford, at least spiritually.

If, by some awful chance, you are one of those people-and I have friends like this- who buys posters of the great masters which you frame and stick up over your couch, please get off that damned over-stuffed chair and go out and buy a piece of art.

There are no excuses for not having a piece, many really, of original, locally crafted art somewhere (everywhere?) in your house. Mine is loaded with it and it gives me joy every day, more than a new car or new clothes ever could. You still have another weekend-so go out and support a local artist. I promise you’ll be glad you did.

You can still preview the artists before you venture into their neighborhoods by visiting Pro Arts Gallery where 400 of them will be on display until June 12th-150 Frank Ogawa Plaza in downtown Oakland.