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Opinion: Redevelopment of Henry J. Kaiser Center Must Not Ignore Community Voices

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The Henry J. Kaiser (HJK) Convention Center redevelopment proposal is being fast-tracked by the city despite significant community concerns—including lack of affordability, an operational model developed without significant community input, exclusion of communities of color from required public input processes, and undefined local access.

A coalition of community stakeholders led by the Black Arts Movement Business District (BAMBD) Community Development Corporation has filed an appeal to the granting of a Major Conditional Use permit, citing violations of the Request For Proposals, but the City continues to attempt to advance the project prior to the appeal being heard.

The HJK site is one of Oakland’s last remaining public assets, as well as a historical cultural institution. Granting a 99-year lease with insufficient community benefits and insufficient access for local artists will only reinforce existing inequities and lead to more displacement of artists of color— missing a major opportunity to implement and align equity-focused strategies and recommendations developed by the Mayor’s Task Force on Artists and Workspaces, the Cultural Plan, and  the Downtown Specific Plan Preliminary Draft.

The task force surveyed more than 900 artists and found that 49 percent had experienced displacement from their homes or workspaces, and most were at risk of displacement due to rising rents. In its report, it concluded “this data suggests that now is the time to establish more robust policies to support artists in Oakland, before displacement worsens.”

That was in 2016; displacement has, in fact, worsened. The City’s 2018 Downtown Disparity analysis states “most of greater downtown Oakland is experiencing ongoing gentrification and displacement,“ while its 2018 Equity Indicators report assigned Oakland a score of 33 out of 100—a failing grade.

In 2019, income inequality, homelessness, and lack of affordable housing have all reached crisis levels. There should be an urgent need for Oakland  to implement equity across city departments, as specifically mandated by Oakland’s Municipal Code, which states, “The City of Oakland will intentionally integrate, on a citywide basis, the principle of ‘fair and just’ in all the city does in order to achieve equitable opportunities for all people and communities.”

The best argument for reframing the HJK redevelopment around equity principles can be found in the city’s own language. The task force report calls for “Incentiviz(ing) private developers to provide permanently or long-term affordable artist spaces in mixed-use developments,” while the HJK RFP notes, “The city is eager to see as many community benefits as possible derived from the project.”

The Lake Merritt Station Area Plan calls for “community development that is equitable, sustainable, and healthy” and maintains that “(community) benefits must clearly be reflective of the community’s needs and desires.” The Cultural Plan establishes a framework of “Cultural Equity”; and the Downtown Plan identifies community benefit agreements as a vehicle for equitable development.

The HJK site redevelopment must align with these policy guidelines for equity. It must not contribute to further displacement of EastLake, Chinatown and BAMBD businesses, residents, artists, art organizations, and nonprofits. It must reflect a community engagement process which does not exclude neighborhood stakeholders and artists of color.

The City Council has the authority to insist that the highest possible level of community benefit be derived from the HJK site. It also has an obligation to redress historical inequities by creating pathways to social equity, economic sustainability and cultural preservation for communities of color — as stipulated in section 2.29.170 of Oakland’s Municipal Code. The current Council must uphold this credo and ensure that equity isn’t just lip service, but tangible and intersectional policy to mitigate displacement and income gaps.

Eric Arnold is the co-director of BAMBD CDC and a former equity consultant for the City of Oakland’s Downtown Specific Plan.

Bay Area

Vice Mayor: Business Group Wants to Buy Coliseum, Attract WNBA Team

The group will provide additional details of its effort at a news conference at 11:00 a.m. Friday at a site to be determined.

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Oakland Vice Mayor Rebecca Kaplan.

Oakland Vice Mayor Rebecca Kaplan said a local business group has made serious inroads to buy the city’s 50% stake in the Oakland Coliseum complex and to bring a WNBA team to the city.
Kaplan’s office shared a news release Monday about the effort by the African American Sports and Entertainment Group.

Kaplan said the group is in negotiations with the Oakland-Alameda Joint Powers Authority, has submitted a formal proposal to WNBA officials, and has submitted a term sheet to the city, which the City Council’s rules committee recently voted to advance to the full council for a vote.

The group will provide additional details of its effort at a news conference at 11:00 a.m. Friday at a site to be determined.

“I am pleased that there is such great interest in doing an important development at the Oakland Coliseum that will provide jobs, revenue and community positivity,” Kaplan said. “My goal is to help this process move forward before the summer recess.”

Kaplan said the group has the backing of more than 30 community groups of faith-based institutions, labor organizations, civic leaders, and job development organizations. She did not name the groups

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Art

City Selects Ayodele Nzinga as Inaugural Poet Laureate

As poet laureate, Nzinga will make an inaugural address, partner with the city’s youth poet laureate Myra Estrada on a reading series, deliver four readings in Oakland, and write a poem that commemorates the city.

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Oakland first poet laureate Ayodele Nzinga, author of “SorrowLand Oracle” and “The Horse Eaters,” in an undated photo. (Photo courtesy City of Oakland).

Poet, playwright, and community activist Ayodele Nzinga was selected as Oakland’s inaugural poet laureate, city officials announced on June 11.

Nzinga is the founding producer and director of the West Oakland theater company Lower Bottom Playaz, established in 1999. She’s also the founding director of Black Arts Movement Business District Community Development Corporation, which produces BAMBDFEST, an international arts and cultural festival celebrating the arts in the Black community.

“Her decades-long commitment to Oakland’s art scene will feed the richness of her storytelling as she nurtures creativity in others,” Oakland Mayor Libby Schaaf said in a statement.

Nzinga is the author of at least two books of poetry: “SorrowLand Oracle,” a collection of spells, incantations, prayers, and “The Horse Eaters,” which is described as an origin tale, a reclamation of memory and a movement toward wholeness in thought.

Nzinga said she is “overjoyed” with her selection as Oakland’s first poet laureate.

“I look forward to representing ‘The Town’ and the honor of bringing poetry to the people!” she said in a statement.

As poet laureate, Nzinga will make an inaugural address, partner with the city’s youth poet laureate Myra Estrada on a reading series, deliver four readings in Oakland, and write a poem that commemorates the city.

“Whether in the visual performing arts, music or literature, the talents of the Town’s artists are world-renowned and deserve recognition and financial support,” J. K. Fowler, cultural affairs commissioner and chair of the poet laureate selection team, said in a statement.

City officials closed nominations on May 19 for Oakland’s inaugural poet laureate and five members of the city’s literary community selected Nzinga from other nominees based on five criteria.

That included their poetic work, and among other things, their understanding of civic stories around belonging, culture, and equity.

Nzinga will serve a two-year term until May 2023. Her selection comes with a $5,000 honorarium.

The date for the inaugural address by Nzinga has not been set.

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Business

Go Fund Geoffrey’s

Whether it was Paul Mooney, Faye Carroll, Sugar Pie or Jay-Z performing or whether it was Congresswoman Barbara Lee, Mayor Elihu Harris, or Kamala Harris along with many of the Bay area’s elected officials they too have come to bask in the limelight of Geoffrey’s Inner Circle.

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Geoffrey's Inner Circle

For more than 30 years Geoffrey Pete ‘s business, Geoffrey’s Inner Circle, has been a cultural hub because of its full-service restaurant, live entertainment, nightclub parties, jazz music and community special occasion events. Faith-based organizations have also rented the spacious facilities for services and concerts. Their full-service restaurant, bar and live entertainment business along with their tenants and multilevel event rental spaces have been severely interrupted and devastated by the COVID 19 lockdowns and restrictions.

Whether it was Paul Mooney, Faye Carroll, Sugar Pie or Jay-Z performing or whether it was Congresswoman Barbara Lee, Mayor Elihu Harris, or Kamala Harris along with many of the Bay area’s elected officials they too have come to bask in the limelight of Geoffrey’s Inner Circle. Now those lights are dimmed due to the economic conditions that have descended on high intensity people-contact businesses.

Thanks to a group of customers and supporters a Go Fund Me page has been opened for the public to contribute to support Geoffrey’s Inner Circle https://gofund.me/b2541419.

The Post newspaper has notified the Oakland African American Chamber of Commerce that regular articles concerning the needs of Geoffrey’s and other Black-owned Businesses will be published weekly.

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