VI. Findings

VI. Findings

Gentrification is a complex process of urban change affected by numerous factors, including government economic and land use policy, the dynamics of capital investment, cultural tastes, and the responses of those living in neighborhoods experiencing gentrification all play a role in how it occurs.  The primary concern of these findings is to analyze some of the more prominent influences conditioning gentrification in West Oakland between 1998 and 2008, in order to better understand the uneven process of urban development.

Researchers have used a range of data, both quantitative and qualitative, to illustrate the process of gentrification (Hamnett 1991, Kennedy and Leonard 2001b.)  Some of these measurements are inherently problematic to the gentrification debate as some residents may welcome changes that are, to other residents, emblematic of gentrification.  For example, rising home prices benefit the home-owning population in a neighborhood, while potentially putting those same homes out of range for prospective buyers living there.  While this research does not dispute the positive effects of increased public and private investment in lower-income urban neighborhoods, the emphasis here is on the unfair burden of negative impacts some residents’ experience.

Gentrification studies highlight the vulnerability of groups to displacement and other negative impacts and the degree of social power these groups are able to wield in the face of more powerful economic and political forces.  To analyze the replacement of one socioeconomic stratum with a more affluent one, census data provides an important source of data to show changes occurring over time in one specific geographic area.  Qualitative data, from planning documents to newspaper articles and interviews, may provide insight into the issue of local political influence, and may yield a more complete picture of the motivations driving public policy, and to concerns of residents about their neighborhood.

This research focuses first on the measurements used to assess levels of neighborhood change that indicate gentrification.  I have looked for spikes in residential mobility and demographic change in West Oakland.  Although there may be a baseline of mobility in any neighborhood, due to evictions, divorce, job changes and other factors, these are not of concern to this research.  The second findings section examines the forces influencing development in West Oakland, and the extent to which such development contributes to gentrification.  West Oakland is a neighborhood encompassing almost six square miles, and this section touches on some of the more striking land use trends and conflicts there.

1. Measuring Gentrification

This study uses six main categories to measure gentrification trends: changes in housing data, eviction data, income data, ethnic change, educational attainment, and residential consumption patterns.   Gentrification literature uses these measures as indicators of neighborhood change, as well as qualitative data derived through interviews with key subjects and archival resources.  These quantitative data describe physical changes to the landscape, economic change in housing markets, and social change in the makeup of neighborhoods. Although data for new residents’ year of arrival into West Oakland is unavailable in between census periods, 2000 Decennial Census data shows the beginning of an inmigration trend that continues into 2008 and can be better understood when combined with other census figures provided in this section.  West Oakland experienced a significant demographic shift between 1998 and 2008, and this shift illustrates the changes occurring in the Bay Area economy while simultaneously describing finer scale transformations at the neighborhood level.

The rise in new residents to West Oakland during the 1990s occurred largely during the last three years of that decade.  Over fifty-five percent of West Oakland residents surveyed by the U.S. Census in 2000 moved there between 1995 and 2000, while less than seventeen percent moved to the neighborhood in the five-year period prior to that.  Almost one-fifth of the decade’s new residents moved there between 1999 and March 2000, when the high technology boom was at its peak.  These indicators of gentrification show a short burst of rapid change in West Oakland, appearing later there than in other more gentrified neighborhoods in San Francisco, and are consistent with comments made about Oakland, and particularly West Oakland, being a place of last resort for new residents and developer capital to settle.

a. Housing and Home/Rental Price Change

Changes in the value of land, as reflected through home and rent prices, are an important indicator of gentrification in neighborhoods.  Home prices soared throughout the Bay Area between the late 1990s and a decade later, but the spikes in West Oakland home sale prices exceeded most Bay Area neighborhoods by several orders of magnitude.  Median prices for both home sales and rental units are commonly used to analyze these trends, and are used by the city of Oakland for its own data collection (Oakland CEDA 2004, InfoOakland 2004.)  The median price for homes within the 94607 zip code area sold in March 1996 was $39,000.  At that time, the median sale price citywide was $145,000.  These depressed land values remained out of step with the rest of the city although the real estate market had begun heating up throughout much of the Bay Area.  By July 1998, the real estate market in Oakland had not yet begun to take off.  The 94607-area year to date (YTD) median home price as of July 1998 was $55,000; meanwhile, the 1998 median YTD sale price for the entire city of Oakland was $215,000.

By 2005, however, West Oakland no longer lagged behind much of the city (or the Bay Area); it had undergone an enormous shift in home sale prices.  Averaging January, July, and December of that year, home sale prices averaged $457,000, increasing from 1998 by over 700%.   These averages rivaled those for the city of Oakland.  Relative to income levels in West Oakland, these figures reflect an increase that far outpaced the buying power of the overwhelming majority of residents in the neighborhood (ORA 2005.)  West Oakland’s average sales prices climbed higher in 2006 to over $500,000, although figures from the first four months of 2007 signal a decline in these prices to $462,500.  This trend is consistent with national home sales and price figures beginning to decline as of 2007.

The dramatic spike in home prices in West Oakland put homeownership out of reach for a majority of its residents.  Of course, for those already owning their homes, these value leaps were welcome news.  Renters typically bear the heaviest burden of increased housing costs in gentrifying neighborhoods, and often the least legal protections as well.  In California, Proposition 13 has protected longtime homeowners since 1978 by from increases in their property taxes as a result of increased home valuation (Fulton and Shigley 2005.)  West Oakland has a large proportion of renter-occupied versus owner-occupied units, and concerns over gentrification focused mostly on tenants of unsubsidized units.  Rental units decreased only slightly from 69.9% of total units in 1990 to 68.4% in 2000.  Yet between 2000 and 2006, the percentage had dropped to 61.8.  During this same period owner-occupied units increased consistently from 15.5 to 24.5 percent.  Combining these numbers with other demographic changes in the neighborhood suggests that most new homeowners were not local residents when they purchased a home in West Oakland.  An increase in homeownership, particularly when home values are beyond the means of most residents, is employed as an indicator of gentrification (Kennedy and Leonard 2001, Butler and Lees 2006.)

The addition of many new residents correlates with anecdotal evidence from newspapers, community residents, and others regarding the appeal of West Oakland to those escaping the high prices across the Bay starting in the late 1990s.  West Oakland’s residential stability, the percentage of those who stay in the same residence for five years or more, was stable during the 1990s but fell significantly between 2000 and 2006.

According to one twenty-year resident of the neighborhood near Macarthur BART station, a few new “gentrifiers” moved in and started fixing up homes with the anticipation of making money in real estate market in the period between 2000 and 2003, while some others came looking for affordable homes for themselves.  Real estate values really began ascending in 2003, bringing far more speculation.  Numerous houses were bought from older people who benefited from their values increasing, often by speculators who used properties mainly as rentals, and then resold them after a couple of years.  Overall this had a negative impact on the neighborhood as people with a commitment to improving the area moved out (Rice 2008.)  Another West Oakland resident recognized during the same time period the “flipping” of properties – houses sold specifically for short-term profit in a rapidly inflating housing market- through homes changing ownership without anyone even moving in (Macdonald 2008.)

The 94612 zip code showed an even steeper decline in residential tenure over this time, suggesting the impact of Mayor Brown’s 10K Plan that was designed to draw ten thousand new, middle and upper income residents to the downtown area. The decline in residential stability further bolsters the claim that West Oakland’s population increase represents a replacement of many older residents with newer households.   Although many developments completed in the six-year period between 2000 and 2006 were built on vacant land, a significant percentage of new residents moved into units previously occupied by tenants paying lower rents.

Rental prices also rose considerably in West Oakland during the period between the late 1990s and 2007.  Median rents increased from $311 in 1990, to $437 by 2000, and then to $664 in 2005 (US Census Bureau 1990, 2000, 2005).  The importance of rent and home price figures is in their relation to the income levels of residents, as a strong indicator of affordability in a neighborhood and of the vulnerability of residents to being priced out of their neighborhood.  In 1999, before the staggering rise in West Oakland’s home prices, only thirty-five percent of the neighborhood’s residents could afford to pay a typical monthly mortgage payment on a median priced home, while sixty-nine percent were not able to afford an apartment at the median rent (Pacific Institute 2002.)  These rates would be significantly lower in 2007, making West Oakland possibly the least affordable Bay Area neighborhood relative to its residents’ socioeconomic status.  The high demand for housing in the Bay Area, magnified further during the dot-com boom, assured that increasingly expensive apartments were never vacant for long.  Rent and home price increases are one aspect of gentrification, representing changes to a place, and these changes are necessarily linked to changes occurring in the population.

b. Residential Displacement Data

The central problem of gentrification is the lack of social power wielded by low-income residents, and their resulting vulnerability to displacement and the loss of their community.   Although other indicators of gentrification may be as important, displacement due to eviction or rapid rent increases are both real consequences and potent symbols of gentrification.  However, tracking actual displacement in gentrifying neighborhoods is difficult, and there is a limited amount of this data in the literature that goes beyond inferring displacement estimates from data sources (Atkinson 2002.)  Eviction figures are particularly elusive because so many evictions occur without legal adjudication.

Until the Just Cause ordinance of 2003 passed by a voter-sponsored initiative in Oakland, there were few protections for renters.  TThe Just Cause ordinance, originally voted down by the Oakland City Council, was later passed by a citizen initiative.  It prohibited “no-cause” evictions throughout Oakland, and as a result the number of evictions throughout Oakland dropped. ..  West Oakland’s Council representative Nancy Nadel, who supported the ordinance, commented that prior to its passage she received calls about evictions every day, whereas afterwards the volume of calls dropped to almost nothing (Nadel 2008.)  This was an important victory for residents throughout Oakland, and especially for lower-income households.  Despite the existence of eviction defense, tenants’ rights, and community law organizations in Oakland, many of those evicted did not take any action, as many tenants are unaware of their legal rights or of assistance from local organizations.

Neighborhoods with a high percentage of renters are at a higher risk of economic displacement from gentrification, and West Oakland has some of the lowest home ownership rates in the Bay Area (see Tables 2a through 2d.)  Between 1990 and 2000, renter-occupied units there fell slightly from 69.9 percent of residents to 68.4 percent.  However, by 2006 that number had fallen more dramatically to 61.8 percent, a substantial departure of renters in a relatively short period of time.  In real numbers, renter-occupied units declined and then increased to about the same level (6111 units) throughout the 1990-2006 census period, and the percentage decrease in these is due to larger increases in both owner-occupied and vacant units.  Although there has been no net loss of renter-occupied units, the enormous increase in median rental price in the neighborhood suggest that a cycling of newer and wealthier tenants took place over that time; this is consistent with other census data revealing changes in the makeup of West Oakland.

Oakland’s eviction rate jumped three hundred percent over a fifteen-month period between the summer of 1998 and the fall of 1999.  In the two-year period prior to the Just Cause ordinance of 2003, there were 1910 reported evictions without cause in Oakland (Harvey et al. 1999.).  These cases were compiled from three of the six nonprofit organizations providing assistance to tenants.  One study note that over three times that amount are estimated to have gone unreported (Hartman and Robinson 2003.)  This estimate is more consistent with Oakland’s Rent Adjustment Program, who received 10,590 eviction notices during the 2006-2007 fiscal year, up twelve percent from the 2005-2006 fiscal year, in which they received 9417 notices (CEDA 2007c.)

Renters are most vulnerable to displacement, but they are affected differently based on the type of rental unit they occupy.  A 2004 study carried out for HTH Ltd., a local developer at the Wood Street Station, found that of the 9,369 housing units in West Oakland, roughly eighty percent were rental units.  Of these rental units, about seventy percent fell under the city’s Rent Adjustment Ordinance that sets yearly rent increase limits, either as rent-controlled private housing or as public housing and assisted living units.  This left about two thousand units in the neighborhood that are legally exempt from protection against unchecked rent increases.

This study was done at the request of the developer to empirically assess the neighborhood’s vulnerability to gentrification that may occur from these development projects; it came about after the 2003 Just Cause ordinance and did not focus on evictions as a cause of displacement.  As for the rest of the renters deemed safe from these increases, the study noted that a form of exclusionary displacement still has the effect of shifting a neighborhood from low to higher-income residents, as those who vacate a unit voluntarily may not be able to afford living in the area as rents go up (Conley Consulting Group 2004.)  Others have disputed these assessments of vulnerability to gentrification in West Oakland, and have conversely found that almost seventy percent of the neighborhood’s population should be recognized as vulnerable to, rather than protected from, the pressures of gentrification (Mundie et al. 2005.)

On the other hand, West Oakland’s rise in land values benefited numerous homeowners.  Many of the subjects interviewed for this research alluded to homeowners in West Oakland benefiting from the appreciation of home values (Getz 2008, Macdonald 2008, Rice 2008, Nadel 2008.)  These individuals saw neighbors or other residents, particularly older African-American homeowners and their descendants, able to sell their homes at prices far exceeding their original purchase price.  Many of these homeowners bought their homes decades before the boom, and often moved to suburbs or out of California entirely after selling their homes(Hill 2006.)  This “up and out” phenomenon is consistent with current research into contemporary African-American migration (Bailey 2005, Frey 2004, Ginwright and Akom 2007), and is an important aspect of contemporary gentrification that affects perceptions among residents and policymakers, tempering concerns about displacement with examples of the beneficiaries of the process.

c. Income Data

Income-level data reveal important transformations that occur in gentrifying neighborhoods.  This data provides a more detailed picture regarding who is moving into and out of an area, and illustrates more vividly the main component by which gentrification functions:  that is, the replacing of lower-income households with those of higher incomes.  Some trends are immediately recognizable in West Oakland from Tables 3a and 3b.  West Oakland’s poorest residents, whose household incomes ranged between $0 and $19,999, fell dramatically in real numbers between 1990 and 2006.  The next income level ($20,000-$29,999) was virtually unchanged, while households making between $30,000 and $49,999 increased in a proportion that might be expected to coincide with typical cost of living and wage increases over fifteen years.  Incomes higher than $50,000, though few in numbers, became the most rapidly increasing strata in West Oakland during this time, with those households making between $100,000 and $124,999 increasing by over one thousand percent within this sixteen-year time frame. Projections for 2011 show the greatest population increases will continue to be among the top four income brackets, while all others income levels are projected to change moderately.  Perhaps most important about Tables 3a and 3b is the rapid change that occurred before 2000 (the majority of which happened during the last three years of that decade), and the slowdown of this demographic change in the years between 2000 and 2006.  The gentrification that took place in West Oakland got an initial start in these earlier years as new residents moved in, but then subsided to a more moderate pace of change.  It can be said that gentrification there, while significant, was late in coming and short in duration.

By 2004 West Oakland still had among the highest poverty rates in the Bay Area, with 36.2% of its population living below the poverty line.  The University of California at Santa Cruz Center for Justice, Tolerance, and Community determined that 60.8% of the neighborhood’s population lived on less than half of poverty-level incomes(compared with 24.1% for all of Alameda County), a more reliable statistic for measuring households’ ability to meet their needs (Pastor, Jr. et al. 2004.)

Although household income trends reveal a lot about changes in West Oakland, other data sets are useful to understand more fully the makeup of the neighborhood in terms of ethnic background, educational levels, and consumption patterns.  The replacement of poor and working-class residents in an area with a wealthier group of people involves wider changes in the area’s character.

d. Ethnic Composition in West Oakland

Researchers have used information about household income and ethnicity, drawn from decennial census data, to illustrate socioeconomic and cultural change in gentrifying neighborhoods.  While gentrification is primarily defined as a phenomenon in which class power transforms space, in many cases these transformations are more visible as new ethnic groups replace others.  The primary motive of making profits from remaking urban space translates very frequently into uprooting people based on ethnicity.  West Oakland has transformed significantly and in ways that indicate an advancing rate of gentrification taking place in the past ten years.  First, West Oakland’s population surged between 2000 and the latest 2006 census update, from 21, 306 people to 23,545, while surrounding areas remained relatively constant (except for the 94612 downtown area).  While West Oakland’s population had stayed roughly constant between 1990 and 2000 (21,177 and 21,306), it grew by ten percent in the following six years and is projected to increase another 4.28 percent by 2011, while surrounding neighborhoods are projected to stay virtually the same.

Coupled with this rise in population within West Oakland and downtown is the striking ethnic shift taking place in these areas. Gentrification often takes place in neighborhoods that are composed primarily of ethnic minorities, and researchers have observed the racial dimension to gentrification (Kennedy and Leonard 2001b.)  This is particularly important in the case of West Oakland due to its predominance of African-Americans, many who have lived in the neighborhood for several decades.  Residents categorized as white have not lived in West Oakland in such high numbers since the mid-twentieth century, after postwar suburbanization drew tens of thousands of white families out of older urban neighborhoods throughout the U.S.  In 1990, whites made up 10.3 percent of the population in the 94607 zip code.  Surrounding areas ranged from three to five times that proportion.  Blacks accounted for 63.2 percent of residents, however that number dropped to 51.7 percent of West Oakland’s population by the 2000 census and down to 39.6 percent by 2006.  Whites in West Oakland increased only marginally between 1990 and 2000 (8.3 percent) to make up 11.1 percent of the population there.  Yet in the following six years, their numbers increased to 19.8 percent of the population (an increase of 24.6 percent.)  These ratios far outpace similar trends in nearby areas.  There were substantial increases for both Asian and Hispanic ethnic groups in West Oakland, yet these population increases were largely paralleled by similar changes in surrounding neighborhoods of Oakland.  Those identifying as Hispanic increased from 7.5 percent of the West Oakland population in 1990 to 12.6 by 2000, and 16.3 percent by 2008.  Asian individuals experienced an even greater rise in numbers in the 94607 zip code (which includes part of downtown Oakland’s Chinatown) from 21.4 percent in 1990 to 25.9 percent in 2000, and 31.9 percent in 2006.

The percentage increase for White residents between 1990 and 2000 was 8.3 percent, whereas the increase was 22.0 percent and 70.3 percent for Asian/Pacific Islander and Hispanic ethnic categories, respectively.  However, between 2000 and 2006 these percentages shifted tremendously.  White residents increased during this six-year period by 97.1 percent, while Asian residents increased their population by 33.3 percent and those of Hispanic ethnicity had a population increase of 34 percent.  Whites therefore began migrating more rapidly into the neighborhood during the six-year period while Asian population change increased slightly and Hispanic movement dropped to half its previous rate of increase.

Gentrification must be understood as more than a shift in ethnic groups.  Although these changes often indicate the replacement of lower-income households, this is not always the case.  Increases in international immigration from Asian and Latin American countries invariably result in new points of entry and residence for these immigrants, with lower-income neighborhoods like West Oakland absorbing higher proportions of these newcomers.  Not all Asian and Latino households were immigrants, and neither did they consistently belong to one socioeconomic level.  West Oakland appeared to be undergoing several different processes at once during the decade between 1998 and 2008.  As gentrification proceeded slowly in the neighborhood, wealthier residents moved in.  Census Bureau data from the 2000 census showed that White, non-Hispanic median household income was $58,281, while Hispanic or Latino households was $27,183.  Black household median income was the lowest at $ 17,562 and Asian household median income was only slightly higher at $18,021.  The gentrification marked by households of significantly higher incomes moving into the area are therefore correlated with an influx of White residents, while Hispanic or Latino households exhibit a less dramatic upward pressure on the neighborhood land values.

e. Educational Attainment and Consumption Patterns

Other demographic data helps to paint a more complete picture of changes related to gentrification, including rising education levels and different consumer habits of new residents.  Gentrified neighborhoods are associated with more highly educated incomers who occupy a far greater proportion of professional occupations than lower-income residents.  Educational attainment rose dramatically in West Oakland relative to adjacent communities.  The percentage of residents holding either a Bachelor’s or Graduate degree there increased from 9.0(in 1990) to 14.8(2000) to 26(2006), while those earning Associate’s degrees and High School diplomas remained constant (Population Summary Report 2008).

Supplementing this information is a marked increase in number of vehicles per household over time (Table 4.)  West Oakland surpassed other neighborhoods except for the downtown area in this regard, despite a rising level of automobile ownership across the four adjacent zip codes.   Most of the increase in all areas took place during the period between 2000 and 2006, suggesting an important shift in disposable income among newer residents of West Oakland and downtown.  Family size has remained almost entirely constant throughout this period, making greater vehicle per household ratio especially striking.

Consistent with these census figures are changes in employment opportunities throughout the East Bay, and throughout California and the United States.  Shifts in employment across the East Bay over the last twenty-five years, and especially in the late1990s, created an “hourglass economy” in which high wage and low wage sectors are expanding while middle range jobs disappear.  As 16,000 manufacturing jobs were lost, 15,000 new manufacturing jobs were created, primarily in low-wage assembly positions.  Of the 150,800 jobs created in the East Bay during the 1990s, 62.3% were in the service sector, a wide category containing retail, government, banking, health and business related positions.  Twenty-five percent of these service sector jobs, 37,200 were business service jobs, a category that is roughly divided between high-wage computer technology positions and low-wage janitorial and security jobs.  It is also worth noting that ten percent of all new East Bay jobs are temporary positions, leaving many workers in precarious employment without benefits (Greenwich and Niedt 2001.)

2. Factors Influencing Gentrification in West Oakland

a. Geographic Proximity to Boom-Related Employment Centers

Urban researchers have described geographic location as an essential characteristic that makes a neighborhood a potential site for gentrification (Ley 1996, Smith 1996, Shaw 2007.)  West Oakland has always been ideally situated for both residential and commercial development projects.  As the first densely settled area in the East Bay, this area prospered due to its waterfront access and, by 1869, its position at the terminus of the transcontinental railroad.  Its economic importance lasted roughly until the decades of disinvestment, housing discrimination and unemployment following the Second World War left West Oakland a predominantly African-American ghetto.  However, during the dot-com boom and at present, West Oakland still retains its appeal to homebuyers, developers, and businesses because of ideal location and transportation access at the virtual center of the Bay Area (Getz 2008.)

During the late 1990s, West Oakland occupied an ideal location within the dynamic of the Bay Area.  Freeway access at various points across the neighborhood led West to San Francisco, south to San Jose, and north to Emeryville and Berkeley.  The West Oakland BART station was a short ride under the Bay from downtown San Francisco. During and after the economic boom, politicians, developers, and journalists proclaimed the virtues of residential and commercial investment in West Oakland (DelVecchio 2000, Ginsburg 2004.)  Foremost among these was its proximity to transportation infrastructure leading to the higher-wage employment centers in the region, San Francisco and San Jose.   This older industrial inner city neighborhood plagued by chronic poverty, pollution, and enormous racial disparities, began looking to some developers like a “gold mine” during the height of dot-com era exuberance (Matier and Ross 2000.)  Yet, while Oakland became the next frontier for some developers in search of Bay Area real estate that was not already built out and heavily regulated, most rushed to invest in areas other than West Oakland.

Gentrification in the neighborhood continues to be a slow process, with numerous projects that were planned during the late 1990s only beginning construction a decade later.  Despite a steep rise in land values and evictions, West Oakland generally continued to be a zone of widespread commercial disinvestment, looking not much different a few years after the dot-com era than it had over the previous few decades.  Nevertheless, the neighborhood’s location within the regional economic and transportation nexus makes it appealing to developers today (Getz 2008).

b. Supply and Type of Housing in West Oakland

Despite the destruction of almost half of the housing stock during the 1950s and 1960s urban renewal and freeway projects, a significant amount of single-family and two-family housing remains in West Oakland, much of it constructed in Victorian style and dating from the early to mid-twentieth century (Harvey et al. 1999, Kennedy and Leonard 2001a.)  The majority of these dwellings fit into two main categories, the “informal worker’s cottage” and the “almost polite house” (Groth and Gutman 1997.)  Both of these types were usually built by their inhabitants, a factor that contributed to unique attributes even within an adherence to certain building styles.  Over the years, many of these houses were also raised to add a story or enlarged from their original footprints.  These structures are considered desirable to potential homebuyers for their architectural detail and other aesthetic qualities.  The quantity of older housing like this is considered to be very influential in determining gentrification potential (Simon 2008.)  According to census figures, many homebuyers and renters came to West Oakland during the late 1990s, and continue to do so today.   That this is partly due to the appeal of the housing stock is consistent with existing gentrification research (Ley 1996, Shaw 2007.)

c. The Aftermath of the Cypress Freeway Collapse

“No longer divided by an elevated freeway, West Oakland is being taken seriously by major development interests” (CEDA et al. 1998.)

Over one mile of the double-decker Cypress Freeway collapsed in West Oakland during the October 17, 1989 Loma Prieta earthquake; neighborhood organizations responded quickly to the state transportation agency’s plan to rebuild in the same spot.  Their participation throughout the environmental impact assessment eventually forced the relocation of the Cypress Freeway to the perimeter of West Oakland and stood in marked contrast to the lack of input residents had when the freeway was originally constructed (see Figure 3.)  Its eight lanes of traffic originally displaced six hundred families and dozens of businesses and plagued remaining residents with excessive noise and automobile emissions; its removal is pointed to as a key to the revitalization of West Oakland  (Gross 1989, Jackson 1998, CalTrans no date, McKinley 2007, Lederer-Prado 2008.)  It is also seen as the first sign of gentrification in the area; some of the first market-rate housing developments were built at the foot of the old freeway route in the northwestern corner of West Oakland, while the other area of major development sits on West Oakland’s southwestern edge (Bailey 2005, see Figure 6.) The rerouted Cypress Freeway’s completion in 1998 opened up four square miles along the old route that have been redesigned as a greenway that today promotes residential and commercial development along its route (Witt et al 2001, ORA 2003, Zamora 2004.)  The removal of the old section of freeway has opened up new opportunities for land use that can be very beneficial to the area, and created land use conflicts that reflect growing tension over gentrification.

Towards the northern end of the boulevard, renamed Mandela Parkway after the freeway came down, sit thirteen acres of land that once housed the American Steel and Pacific Pipe companies.  Oakland Planning Commission staff had recommended the rezoning of this large area for mixed-use development, and then abruptly withdrew its proposal in 2007 at the request of new mayor Ron Dellums, until a more participatory process to decide the future of those parcels could be undertaken (OCPC 2006, OCPC 2007, Allen-Taylor 2007b.)

At issue is the loss of industrial-zoned land in West Oakland, and Oakland generally, that has partly been responsible for the lack of jobs in the area.  Opponents of rezoning argue that Oakland is in need of a more stable job base, particularly for its lower-income residents, and that taking more of these industrially-zoned lands out of use would diminish the capacity for the neighborhood to create jobs, opening them up to construction of market-rate

Figure 6. Active and Completed Major Developments in West Oakland (to November 2008).

units that would further jeopardize the stability of the neighborhood (Allen-Taylor 2007c, Burt 2007.)  Large property owners control most of the land in this part of West Oakland, having purchased the parcels after the rerouting of the freeway.  Since that time there has been almost no investment in these properties, and building development that could benefit the neighborhood has been hampered by the conditions of the existing buildings.  Owners of these properties have banked on the rezoning of their properties to a mixed-use residential category, and do not offer longer-term leases for potential tenants wanting to move into the area; these obstacles hamper efforts by the city’s Community and Economic Development Agency (CEDA) to encourage new industries in key sites along the corridor (Lederer-Prado 2008, Nadel 2008; see Figure 7.)

To date they have been unwilling to make deals with prospective tenants, and instead wait for the opportunity to turn many of these parcels into market rate live-work lofts.  Proposals to rent space to various businesses, including a bakery, coffee producer, solar panel company, wind turbine company, and dance troupe have all been rejected by landowners hoping to develop their property in the future (Nadel 2008, Cornu and Haraburda 2008.)  In March 2008, the Oakland City council approved a resolution keeping industrial lands in West Oakland protected from zoning changes, except under strict guidelines that would be decided on a project basis.

That these parcels remain idle attests to the powerful market forces that shape West Oakland.  The potential increased value of these properties as residential sites has been severely diminished by the actions of the City Council.  Thus the perceived rent gap has fallen dramatically at these sites.  This limitation on gentrification may open up the properties for use that contributes to the revitalization of the neighborhood, or they may remain in their blighted state, contributing nothing to the local economy or to the profits of the landowners.  This issue is discussed in the following section on the West Oakland Redevelopment Area and the use of eminent domain.

Gentrification is intricately tied to the rebirth of Mandela Parkway; the paradox of such grassroots efforts to improve the neighborhood is that they may contribute to the eventual displacement of the same residents working to make

West Oakland a more livable place. As one West Oakland resident stated, “This is the best it’s looked here in fifty years…all these buildings, roads and park are great. It’s changing fast, though. I don’t know if I could afford to move here now” (Zamora 2004.)  These revitalization efforts mke an area more livable for its residents but they do not necessarily make its residents less vulnerable to displacement.  Community groups focused on public health and other issues facing West Oakland residents are keenly aware of this and are often involved with preventing displacement at the same time.  These groups emphasize how vulnerability to both displacement and environmental toxins facing communities like West Oakland are manifested unequally across geographic areas, as are the new market rate development projects (Pacific Institute 2002, 2006.)

Figure 7.  West Oakland Opportunity Sites for RFQ February 2008

d. The 10K Plan

“This is earth, there’s no space outside the market.”   (Jerry Brown in Waldman 1999.)

Jerry Brown won his 1998 mayoral bid in Oakland with a plan to draw 10,000 new residents downtown.  This was a key piece of his platform, along with a commitment to reduce crime, create new charter schools, and support the arts in Oakland (Harvey et al. 1999, Salazar 2006, CEDA 2007d.)  These housing units were to be priced at market rate and located along the Telegraph/Broadway downtown corridor, as well as Jack London Square and Chinatown.  Figure 8 below shows the housing developments built as part of the 10K Plan.  Developments in West Oakland, which is located west of Interstate 980 on the map, can be seen above in Figure 7.  Mayor Brown’s plan intended to draw higher-income residents to downtown Oakland and initially established no requirements for affordable housing units.  Neither were there any options to collect money either from developers or from the sale of downtown properties to fund the construction of affordable units elsewhere.  Brown persuaded voters to approve a Strong Mayor initiative early in his term, granting him authority over redevelopment and other economic development decisions (Ingram 2005.)

The Plan was promoted to developers around the Bay Area as an opportunity

Figure 8.  10K Plan Oakland Housing Developments.

to build market-rate units without the high prices and bureaucratic obstacles imposed by neighboring jurisdictions (Matier and Ross 1999, Getz 2008.)  When the Plan was announced, West Oakland City Council representative Nancy Nadel wanted the city to look into parcels available for affordable housing and ways to regulate real estate speculation, before increases in property value that might come from Brown’s invitation made these prohibitive.  There was virtually no support on the city council for her proposals (Nadel 2008.)

Brown responded to critics of the 10K Plan at a 1999 public meeting by posing two choices for Oakland: gentrification or “slumification,” and further attempting to satisfy community members by asking them if they wanted to “shop or not”  (Dupont, Elissa, and Csekey 1999.)  After San Francisco supervisors placed a moratorium on live-work condominium developments throughout the city in 1999, Brown arranged a meeting with the San Francisco Residential Builders Association to draw potential investment to downtown Oakland.  Oakland has always maintained a strong downtown focus in its economic development priorities, and the 10K Plan continued in this mold.  The downtown area typically attracts the most high profile projects, the kind that propel the careers of whatever city officials are involved.  As Mayor, Brown was able to mobilize a large amount of his staff to the Plan at the expense of other neighborhoods and other avenues of economic and community development (Simon 2008).  It may also be argued that downtown is simply a different market than neighborhoods like West Oakland, and that much of the development there during the dot-com boom did not necessarily happen at the expense of other neighborhoods.  Similarly, it can be argued that gentrification that came to West Oakland was a result of Brown drawing attention to the city.  Nevertheless, the political influence driving the 10K Plan was a powerful motivator for developer capital to settle in these parts of the city.

Brown prioritized housing, long recognized as a net cost to urban economies, above commercial and other land uses that typically bring in revenue to cities:

“Market-rate units are needed to bolster the tax base … If you can figure

out a way to create a social utopia, I will consider it. But absent that, we’ve

got to go with the flow, and the flow should be [to get] capital to pay for

all these other things like schools” (Brown in Oakland Tribune 2 December


The logic of the 10K Plan was that the presence of new residents with a larger disposable income than average Oaklanders would persuade retail to follow them into the city center, encouraging a revitalization of the core of Oakland.  However, retailers were slow to follow the residential boom into the core, and Oakland now derives a much smaller proportion of its budget from sales tax compared to most large cities in California (Levy 2005.)  Meanwhile, properties in the Jack London Square waterfront were emphatically promoted as trendy lofts for newcomers. Brown purchased a warehouse apartment in the rundown industrial and commercial zone around the waterfront in 1993; by 1999 real estate values there had doubled (DelVecchio 1999.)

The 10K Plan continued after the stock market bubble burst and the dot-com engine in the Bay Area decelerated.  Despite more than 400,00 jobs lost in the Bay Area between 2001 and 2003, Oakland officials still pursued the plan to attract wealthy residents into the area (Zuckerman 2004.)  Adding to inflated home prices was the Federal Reserve’s move to cut interest rates in the recent recessionary period.  Real estate became the refuge of last resort for investment capital, and demand among millions of homebuyers, despite their declining real wages, was fueled by favorable loan arrangements (Foster 2006.)  The housing market therefore did not cool off following the collapse of the stock market and high-tech bubbles, but continued climbing far beyond the rates of increase driving other commodities upward.

Brown brought further attention to his 10K Plan by becoming one of the new residents near downtown.  In 2002 he moved into the previously dilapidated Sears-Roebuck building just north of downtown, a property bought by his campaign manager John Protopappas.  Brown immediately set out to make the neighborhood more appealing to investors and new residents (Counts 2003, Johnson 2003.)  Brown’s crackdown on crime was essential to his plans to revitalize downtown (Waldman 1999.)  One nearby building was forced to discontinue its Section 8 subsidized housing agreements, effectively forcing out a majority of its tenants, at Brown’s request.  When the Oakland Housing Authority failed to initiate this, Brown enlisted the head of the federal Housing and Urban Development agency to usurp the local housing department’s power.  Although older residents appreciated some of these efforts, Brown’s controversial efforts only began once he moved there (Counts 2003.)

While Mayor Brown was primarily concerned with developing the downtown area, others were taking notice of West Oakland’s potential.  “West Oakland’s time has come,” reads the opening line of the West Oakland Transit Village Study, a document aimed at encouraging revitalization of the area surrounding the West Oakland BART station.  Aware that West Oakland is now “being taken seriously by major development interests,” the three city agencies involved in this document proposed an intensive transit-oriented development model for the area as a focus for the neighborhood’s revival.  Primary importance was given to the production of affordable housing for rent and purchase as a means of avoiding economic displacement of current residents (Oakland’s Community and Economic Development Agency, the Oakland Housing Authority, and San Francisco Bay Area Rapid Transit 1997.)  Development of the West Oakland BART transit village is now one component of a larger redevelopment process that covers virtually all of West Oakland.  The next section looks at the West Oakland Redevelopment Area in detail.  In particular, the role of community participation in the redevelopment process and the housing policies in the Redevelopment Plan are examined and discussed as major elements that will shape the future of West Oakland as it transitions to a more fully gentrified neighborhood in the Bay Area or is able to revitalize without the displacement and other negative effects of gentrification.

e. The West Oakland Redevelopment Area

1. Community Participation in Redevelopment

Virtually the entire West Oakland neighborhood falls within a Redevelopment Area, a legal term applied by local governments that enable a range of financing, planning, and land use options designed to reverse the trajectory of disinvested communities.  The Redevelopment Plan for West Oakland was adopted by Oakland City Council in November 2003 and contains the remaining areas not included in three prior redevelopment efforts.  Two of these, the Acorn Oak Center Redevelopment Areas, were introduced respectively in 1961 and 1965 as urban renewal projects for the city.  The third area was created in 2000 and covers the decommissioned Oakland Army Base.  The latest Redevelopment Area, covering the rest of West Oakland, contains 1546 acres and is divided into three subareas: Prescott/South Prescott, Clawson/McClymonds/Bunche, and West Macarthur/Hoover (see Figure 9.)

The West Oakland Redevelopment Project (WERP) was created in 2001 in response to community groups’ concerns about the negative effects of decaying and vacant structures, crime, and the absence of retail stores in the neighborhood.  Community groups had already been discussing redevelopment as early as 1989, but rejected the city’s plans after the earthquake to create an

Figure 9.  Redevelopment Boundaries in West Oakland

emergency redevelopment area because it would have given too sweeping powers of eminent domain.  Redevelopment was again discussed in 2000 at the request of the community, which wanted more input into the planning process rather than rushing it through (Nadel 2008.)  The Plan lists twenty-nine goals, which are aimed at maintaining and promoting commercial revitalization, improved infrastructure, employment opportunities, public safety, and other concerns vital to the neighborhood.  The main emphasis of the Plan is apparent in its first four goals, however, which are:

1. Improve the quality of housing by assisting new construction, rehabilitation, and conservation of living units in the Project Area.

2. Maintain and improve the condition of the existing very low, low, and moderate income housing in the Project Area.

3. Increase opportunities for homeownership in the Project Area.

4. Develop renter stabilization strategies that encourage and assist renters to remain in the Project Area (ORA 2003.)

These goals articulate a redevelopment strategy that recognizes the potential vulnerability of West Oakland residents to economic displacement from new investment flowing into the area.   To make this objective more explicit, Goal 17 is to “promote equitable development that benefits the residents of the Project Area and minimizes the displacement of current residents and businesses” (Redevelopment Agency 2003.)  Realizing these goals is one of the primary challenges for community groups there working to avoid further displacement, and is an easier task for the community advisory group called the West Oakland Project Area Committee (WOPAC) when applying their own tax increment-financed funds to projects.   As land values appreciate in the areas surrounding redevelopment projects, the increase in property taxes pays off the initial debt of the venture.  Projects funded directly through redevelopment for 2007 include financial support for a 14-unit affordable homeownership project near West Oakland BART station, expanding the People’s Community Partnership Federal Credit Union (the only financial institution in West Oakland), and development of the Mandela Foods Cooperative (a locally-owned and operated grocery store and health education center).  The WOPAC also funded the design of the Northern California Land Trust’s affordable arts center and housing development, as well as various park, streetscape, and environmental cleanup projects throughout the neighborhood (City of Oakland 2008.)

The WOPAC was able to direct close to four million dollars to these revitalization projects in 2007, and this figure will increase as tax increment funding funds from the area rise in conjunction with property values.  The principles in this redevelopment area are in some ways the results of lessons learned from past redevelopment abuses in West Oakland.  Wendy Simon, area manager for the WERP, noted that current redevelopment in West Oakland bears no resemblance to the adjacent Acorn redevelopment model begun forty years ago, insofar as no people will be relocated in this new redevelopment area (Simon 2008.)  A nagging paradox to the efforts of the WOPAC to limit gentrification through revitalization that benefits current residents is that the redevelopment process itself is aimed at increasing property values in a neighborhood, and redevelopment projects depend upon financing from increasing property tax revenues.

Under California Redevelopment law, the WOPAC was formed to advise the Oakland Redevelopment Agency (ORA) on both the wording and the implementation of redevelopment policy.  The WOPAC consists of seventeen neighborhood residents elected by the community to represent them.  Each subarea has five representatives, including a tenant, a homeowner, business owner, and two representatives of community organizations.  In addition to these fifteen there are another two at-large representatives.  Elections for these positions were held at a local school and anyone with proof of residence within the project area could vote.  Since the original participants were first elected in 2002, there has been some turnover, upon which anyone fulfilling the qualifications necessary for the vacant position can nominate themselves.  WOPAC members then decide who will fill vacant positions.

The advisory body’s members are residents concerned with issues ranging from housing affordability to community health and safety.  Several of them are longtime activists on behalf of these issues, while at least two other members are local realtors.  While there is much debate over issues in WOPAC meetings, members seem to generally share a common vision of West Oakland’s redevelopment; if anything, a shared sense of neglect from the city defines these meetings.  Their oversight has helped to make redevelopment policy that is substantially different from the urban renewal of past decades.  Aside from shaping the original redevelopment plan, the WOPAC advises the ORA on actions ranging from the selection of development projects to design criteria (such as land coverage and traffic circulation) associated with approved projects (Oakland Planning Commission 2003.)

The WOPAC is unique among Project Area Committees in that its members insist on meeting with developers interested in projects in West Oakland, although there is often little correlation between the wishes of the WOPAC and the decisions of the Planning Commission (Simon 2008.)  The committee criticizes lack of city support for some of its programs, blaming city inaction for failing to get its programs off the ground.  At a February 2008 WOPAC meeting, there was common agreement about this problem, pointing out among other examples a two-year delay hiring a planner to work with the WOPAC on neighborhood improvements (WOPAC meeting 2008.)

Perhaps most importantly, the Redevelopment Area Plan requires very specific criteria for applying eminent domain powers, severely limiting these powers in most parts of West Oakland. The controversial history of relocation and property takings during previous decades’ urban renewal efforts in Oakland made later redevelopment plans explicit about the limits of eminent domain for redevelopment.  As a result, plans such as the adjacent Central City East (2003), and Broadway/Macarthur (2000) redevelopment areas did not allow eminent domain (Simon 2008).  Likewise, West Oakland residents representing two of the three subareas (Prescott/South Prescott and West MacArthur) explicitly prohibited eminent domain in the WERP based on their knowledge and experience with eminent domain in the past.

Only property in the Clawson/McClymonds/Bunche subarea may be subject to eminent domain under the Redevelopment Plan (see Figure 10); representatives of this subarea believed it might be beneficial to allow some parts of the subarea to be eligible to eminent domain powers in order to put blighted or underutilized properties at the service of redevelopment activities.  Within these boundaries residential properties must meet strict requirements to be considered for eminent domain action by the city.  First, the property must not be owner-occupied.  Properties occupied by renters having three or less units are also protected.  Second, the property must be located in a designated commercial corridor.  Third, the redevelopment project for which the property is being acquired must not use more than three acres of land.  This measure limits the potential for big-box retailers to assemble sufficient land through eminent domain, therefore keeping business ventures and other large development projects at a scale that

Figure 10. Eminent Domain in the West Oakland Redevelopment Area

would not “destroy the existing mixed-use character of the West Oakland neighborhoods” and “prevent ‘block-busting’ developments often associated with eminent domain actions of the past” (Oakland Planning Commission 2003.)  Properties not occupied by their owners may be taken through eminent domain procedures outside of the designated commercial corridors under certain conditions.  The most contentious aspect of this provision is the ability of the

Oakland City Council to declare properties “blighted” in accordance with established health, safety, and fire codes.  If a property presents an “immediate

danger to health and safety, has or is a source of environmental contamination, or has been used for illegal activities for a period of over a year” it can be taken by the city for redevelopment purposes (ORA 2003: 8.)  However, to date there have been no eminent domain or blight-related property acquisitions (Simon 2007.)  Some of the properties along Mandela Parkway that have remained idle for several years are in the subarea that allows for limited eminent domain takings.  There is the possibility that these properties could be purchased by the city to enable appropriate projects to take hold there. The controversial nature of property takings through use of eminent domain, along with the city’s lack of funds makes this scenario unlikely, however (MacDonald 2008.)

Displacement from government-directed development in some ways characterizes West Oakland’s history, from the slum clearance of the 1950s to

Figure 11.  Oakland Redevelopment Areas.

the construction of BART two decades later, and current redevelopment programs are similarly not free of suspicion and conflict.  The political aspects of redevelopment are illustrated well by how the boundaries of development areas are drawn (see Figure 11.)  One member of the WOPAC who is also a local planner described the exclusion of her neighborhood on the west side of Macarthur BART station from the Macarthur/Broadway redevelopment area, despite its proximity to the transit-oriented development project there.  Community demands for inclusion in this redevelopment plan area were disregarded, and this was attributed to a historical divide that continues along Broadway Avenue in this area, where significant differences in land values and community demographics mark the boundaries of exclusion.  On the other side of West Oakland, the Central Station project, although clearly situated in the Lower Bottoms area of West Oakland, was instead included in the Oakland Army Base redevelopment area.  This has kept many West Oakland residents out of the official participatory process for this large development project (Horiuchi 2008, Simon 2008.)

Community residents have engaged with city government, largely through the WOPAC, to achieve what few mitigations of gentrification exist in 2008.  However, the most effective measure take to limit gentrification was arguably the passage of Oakland’s Just Cause eviction ordinance, which came about as the result of citywide political organizing and the introduction of a ballot initiative. The WOPAC functions as a body of citizens whose powers to affect development and gentrification are limited.  They are an advisory group that can only recommend their decisions to City Council about approving projects.  While they have authority over millions of dollars in redevelopment funds, it is a relatively small amount to finance their generally shared vision of equitable development in West Oakland.  Apart from directing redevelopment funds, the WOPAC acts as an advisory group rather than one that is able to make decisions about development in West Oakland.  Their strength, however, lies in their connections to the neighborhood, and the potential to educate and bring their demands for community benefits and protections to city government and developers.  The main weakness of a group like the WOPAC (and other community groups) is that it is too small to have any real impact upon the larger flows of investment capital that influence gentrification in the neighborhood.  Therefore, the impact of community groups in altering gentrification to any significant degree in West Oakland has been important but very constrained.  Without their participation in the redevelopment process the course of development in West Oakland would be less responsive to the wishes of its current residents, and particularly to its many low-income residents.  This is true particularly regarding Oakland’s housing policies and is discussed in the following section.

2. Housing Policy in the WERP

California redevelopment law requires that at least thirty percent of all new or rehabilitated housing developed by the Redevelopment Agency itself be affordable, and that fifty percent of these units be for very low income households.  Projects in the Redevelopment Area developed by the private sector are required to have at least fifteen percent affordable units. Twenty five percent of all tax revenues accrued through redevelopment financing mechanisms must be used to create affordable housing throughout the city.

Yet, despite requirements under California redevelopment law that direct local revenues from redevelopment areas to be used in the area from which they were obtained, the opposite has happened.  By claiming that affordable housing is beneficial to Oaklanders no matter where it is constructed, the ORA has redirected a “significant portion of the funds earmarked for ‘low-income’ housing in downtown and West Oakland […] to the south and the east of the city’s central business district” (Kirkpatrick 2007: 338.)  While Oakland produces a large supply of affordable housing, the spatial distribution of affordability is another issue affecting gentrification in West Oakland.  Although deconcentrating poverty might be beneficial to existing low-income residents, others see the shifting of affordable units out of West Oakland as a contributing factor to the loss of social cohesion in the community, and the further displacement of low-income, mainly African-American residents (Goetz 2003, Kirkpatrick 2007.)

It is useful to look at the Association of Bay Area Governments’ (ABAG) 1999-2006 Regional Housing Needs Determination (ABAG 2001b), which showed Oakland in need of 7733 total housing units.  Of these, 2238 units were needed for very low-income households (up to fifty percent of county median income), 969 units for low-income households (between fifty and eighty percent of county median income), and 1959 units for moderate-income households (between eighty and one hundred twenty percent of county median income).

Of the 7733 total units needed, 3207 units, or almost half of these, would need to be in the affordable range for households whose income falls below eighty percent of the county median income (see Table 5.)  This projection of housing needs is based on ABAG’s regional adjustment methodology, rather than simply projecting housing unit numbers based on current distribution of income.  In their model, Oakland, which had thirty-six percent in the very low-income category (in 2001), is required to create housing units relative to the regional percentage of households in this category as a way of more evenly distributing regional income levels.  Oakland’s total share of very low income housing needs determined by ABAG under this formula was therefore significantly lower than actual needs.

Table 5.  Median Household Income.

Between 1999 and March 2007, 15,598 total housing units were built in Oakland.  Of these, 4398 were affordable units with almost ninety percent affordable to very low and low-income households.  In West Oakland during this same period 1806 housing units were built.  Nearly half of these, or 880 units, were designated as affordable units: 239 for very low-income households, 614 for low-income, and 27 in the moderate category (City of Oakland 2007a.)  The trend in West Oakland appears to be developing mostly market-rate units however.

Fourteen development projects were designated as either completed or underway as of September 2003 in the West Oakland Redevelopment Project Area.  These projects contained a combined total of 482 units, with 50(10%) for very low-income households, 108(22%) for low-income, and 10(2%) for moderate income.  Two development projects account for 149 out of the 168 total affordable units completed or underway in the Project Area,.

There are also, as of March 2007, a total of 3281 units planned for future construction in the West Oakland Project Area in twenty-seven separate development projects.  No affordable housing is currently required or planned for any of these pipeline projects; they are only “anticipated” for some (City of Oakland 2007b.)  It is important to note that developers are not required to pay for affordable units and so it falls on the city to use its redevelopment-generated tax-increment revenues to pay for these (Nadel 2008.)

These numbers suggest a considerable degree of affordable housing being built in West Oakland, and throughout the entire city.  However, because affordability is a term that changes according to household income, public agencies, politicians, and developers use it to denote a wide range of housing options (Kirkpatrick 2007.)  The city of Oakland uses Housing and Urban Development (HUD) figures for its Area Median Income (AMI) measurement, which was in 2006 $74,500 for Alameda County, higher than the 2006 Census Bureau estimate of $64,126.  The median household size in West Oakland is 2.6 persons in 2007, so the income limits for a family of three are used here.  Income limits for qualifying for City/Redevelopment Agency Housing Development Program are $37,700 for very low income, $59,600 for low income, up to $90,500 for moderate-income households (CEDA 2006.)  The ORA does not include a category for extremely low-income households, those whose income is thirty percent of the AMI.  In 2006 this was $22,650 for a family of three; at that time at least 43.5 percent of West Oakland’s population lived below that.  Market-rate housing is not within reach of the vast majority of West Oakland’s residents.  Yet, much of what is labeled affordable housing in the neighborhood is virtually unavailable to almost fifty percent of the population, the same residents most in need of preventative measures to displacement like a satisfactory supply of affordable units.  Affordable housing production in West Oakland appears to be targeted at household income levels incompatible with the needs of many of its residents, a factor that may hasten many residents’ departure from the area.

West Oakland is considered “saturated” with subsidized housing, with twenty-one percent of all subsidized units in the city in 2000 (Nadel 2008.)  This accounted at the time for about sixteen percent of West Oakland’s total housing supply, leaving much of its population vulnerable to economic displacement pressures.  With the creation of mostly market-rate and higher-income housing, and Oakland’s first-time homebuyers programs that are equally skewed toward higher-income households, many West Oakland residents need policies that will ensure their ability to remain in the neighborhood as it transforms (Pacific Institute 2002, CEDA 2006, Kirkpatrick 2007.)  The WOPAC as a result supports developing opportunities for low-income homeownership, rather than low-income rentals to ameliorate this, partly through using redevelopment funds to buy dilapidated units in the neighborhood to fix up and sell to residents (Rice 2008.)  Simultaneously, the WOPAC maintains a strategy to disperse low-income rentals throughout Oakland by limiting the number of these units built in the neighborhood.  Many neighborhood people feel that integrating incomes in residential areas and balancing out the demographic makeup is important to reverse West Oakland’s historical use as a warehouse for the poor, and that it brings better overall results in schools and throughout the community.  This is happening at only one of the new developments in the neighborhood, the 1500-plus unit Central Station project surrounding the old Wood Street train station (Nadel 2008.)  The benefits of mixed income neighborhoods may be widely accepted, but the threat of displacement posed by a rapid introduction of higher income residents and home values can further polarize a neighborhood.  As Newman and Wyly (2006) noted in their research, affordability protections are necessary to maintain this mix.  For cities to reap the benefits of mixed income areas, low and moderate-income households must be assisted as their neighborhoods change; the market bears no responsibility for this.

Creating a neighborhood of integrated incomes without pushing people out is difficult, though, and this vision is controversial among some community members who see the potential for displacement of low-income households not able to find housing within West Oakland anymore (Macdonald 2008.)  Many residents see the neighborhood through two lenses.  While serious concerns about crime, landlords’ neglect of properties, and other problems affect their immediate quality of life, there is simultaneously an awareness that these social ills are rooted in larger structural inequalities that cannot be addressed adequately through redevelopment alone.  Nevertheless, involvement in the WOPAC represents to them an important way for neighborhood residents to make small positive changes in West Oakland, and potentially initiate a vision for the neighborhood that improves the quality of life for everyone.   An important aspect of their work then has to do with ensuring that redevelopment does not translate into displacement of vulnerable residents.  The following section looks further into their role in managing the gentrification of the neighborhood along with other avenues that residents have taken to be engaged in this process.

f. Community Influence in West Oakland Land Use/Gentrification

Prior to the late 1990s dot-com economic boom, West Oakland residents had already been involved in promoting a community-based vision for revitalizing the area.  In 1994 the Center For West Oakland Revitalization (CWOR) created a set of community-based neighborhood policy recommendations in a process that involved over 350 individuals from West Oakland.  This document expressed the central importance of avoiding the displacement of both residents and businesses in the development process (CWOR 1994.)  Increasing fears of gentrification later in the decade led community members, with support from local foundations, to develop a planning model for the neighborhood.  In 1998 community members engaged in community vision meetings with the local 7th Street/McClymonds Initiative to develop an equitable development plan for West Oakland (The San Francisco Foundation 1999.)  Three years later, “securing housing and preventing displacement” became especially important in their follow-up report on the neighborhood (Rongerude 2002, Kennedy and Leonard 2001a.)  Early community involvement in land use issues, and particularly an ongoing community-based engagement in formulating redevelopment policy, is considered to be an important factor in mitigating against the negative impacts of gentrification in the area over the last several years, by developing cohesion among community members that made some developers carefully enter into negotiations with the community and deterred others from building in the neighborhood (Getz 2008, Kennedy 2008.)  Community organizing in West Oakland extends beyond redevelopment to confront issues of health and environment in ways that overlap with concerns about gentrification.

Community residents in West Oakland recognized they were severely affected by environmental pollution, and began working with health experts to assess their levels of exposure through community-based health research. The West Oakland Environmental Indicators Project (WOEIP), an organization composed primarily of West Oakland residents, began to discuss ways to measure these problems in 2000 through a collaboration between the 7th Street/McClymonds Initiative and the Pacific Institute, an Oakland policy and research institute that focuses on equitable economic development.  The resulting 2002 study, Neighborhood Knowledge For Change, focused on broad indicators of community health, including air quality, civic engagement, gentrification and displacement, bus and bicycle access, exposure to toxics, illegal garbage dumping, and industrial/residential land use conflicts.  The intent of their study was to create a body of research that would allow community members to communicate information back to other residents and media outlets, to assist community organizing efforts and legal struggles, and to develop empirical data in order to implement land use and transportation policy changes (Pacific Institute 2002.)

West Oakland is a neighborhood covering almost six square miles, and yet it is referred to as “tightly knit” with strong “informal networks” that foster community activism and a “geographical identity” that brings together people of different backgrounds (Rodriguez 1999, Macdonald 2008.)  Although there is no one viewpoint on gentrification to be found among West Oaklanders, and the area is home to a wide socioeconomic range of people, social networks among residents develop and to some degree constitute an important voice in local development politics (Nadel 2008.)  At the same time, the WOPAC’s October 2007 forum on gentrification drew few people.  Although flyers were distributed and other forms of outreach were conducted throughout the neighborhood, the impression of one WOPAC member was that most people didn’t seem interested or worried, except for those residents who are already activists (Rice 2008.)  The strong informal networks mentioned by some residents may not directly translate into political organization.  While West Oakland residents voted overwhelmingly to protect tenants under the Just Cause eviction ordinance in 2002, political engagement over gentrification has not generated as much momentum.

Promoting equitable development and fighting gentrification may concern relatively few members of the community most of the time, while larger numbers of people may become involved or express themselves publicly during more intense periods of political controversy, such as the wide popular appeal of the movement to control evictions in Oakland in the years leading up to 2003.  Although it did not originate in West Oakland, most residents supported the 2003 eviction control measure known as Just Cause, described as the “toughest in the country” by a representative of the Rental Housing Association of Northern California (Edrington 2008.)

Community groups are also engaged in negotiating agreements with individual developers to derive benefits from projects.  The Central Station development is one such example where community members have interacted with the developer.  In this case, developer Rick Holliday met with community members in the late 1990s before purchasing thirty acres of land around the abandoned train station, of which about fifteen acres were sold to several developers.  Design elements and restrictions for all developments took into account the wishes of neighbors who had participated in this dialogue.  By 2005, community organizations such as Just Cause Oakland and the Coalition for West Oakland Revitalization began to demand more extensive benefits from the developers, and the project came to include local hiring requirements, affordable housing built adjacent to market-rate units, first right of purchase on new units, no new connections to the freeway, and low-income home buying assistance.  A common wish among community members led to plans for a Sleeping Car Porters’ Museum and cultural center in the old train station (Burt 2006b, Payton 2005, Getz 2008, Kennedy 2008.)  The emergence of Community Benefits Agreements (CBA) as a tool for managing gentrification in Oakland comes in part because community demands to halt gentrification have been ignored by most City Council members (Nadel 2008.)  CBAs are legally enforceable agreements between community groups and developers that can be an important strategy for neighborhood residents seeking to ensure their demands for local hiring and living wage policies during and after construction takes place, the inclusion of affordable housing, recreational space, and other amenities.  These agreements, developed in California cities over the past decade, bring neighborhood groups in direct contact with developers in ways that local planning and other governmental bodies have proven unwilling or unable to (Gross et al 2005.)  They are also perceived as potential obstacles to development by some city officials, who suggest initiating a standardized system of benefit packages that may be applied to development projects (Lane 2008.)


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