Building Bridges Is not Enough

 Regional Equity Agenda for the Bay Area
By A.Smith, Former President and CEO, Urban Habitat

The new Eastern Span of the Oakland to San Francisco Bay Bridge, with its signature single tower and 7 billion dollar plus price tag, is rising out of the bay waters, strengthening the connection between two of the region’s core cities. But even as the Bay Area adds another legacy architectural landmark to its skyline, questions about who benefits from this and other massive public investments remind us of the challenges we face in ensuring everyone’s right to enjoy the great resources and beauty that the Bay Area has to offer.

The annual Gross Regional Product (GRP) for the Bay Area is approximately $487 billion, the third largest in the country after Los Angeles and New York. Much of that economic activity is shaped and channeled by public policy decisions by government agencies at the local, state and federal levels. For example, in addition to construction of the Bay Bridge and the new San Francisco Transbay Transit Terminal, the Metropolitan Transportation Commission (MTC) and Association of Bay Area Governments (ABAG) are currently in the process of deciding where and how $277 billion in public money will be spent over the next 28 years. These expenditures will shape everything from the frequency of bus service to the extent of suburban highway expansion.

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Bertha Lewis Keynote Address SOR 2012

Berth Lewis Keynote from Urban Habitat on Vimeo.

On April 26, Urban Habitat hosted 120 Bay Area leaders for the annual State of the Region Conference at The California Endowment’s Oakland Conference Center. Social justice advocates came together to talk about equity, how to problem-solve, act, and organize.

Urban Habitat President and CEO Allen Fernandez Smith kicked off the event by celebrating the achievements of the more than 80 organizations in attendance, while outlining the important work being done in the region and all that still needs to be done moving forward.

Panel sessions explored the challenges in more depth, ranging across the board, from local and regional planning issues that affect low-income communities and people of color to the changing geography of race and class, the dissolution of redevelopment agencies, and regional agency reform. Workshops were offered to help social justice advocates build capacity to develop the tools they need to win regional campaigns, fund regional advocacy work, and build stronger inside-outside relationships with progressive decision-makers.

Keynote speakers Mitchell J. Silver, president of the American Planning Association, and Bertha Lewis, president and founder of The Black Institute, delivered exhilarating and passionate calls to action as they spoke about the changing demographic in the United States and how to ensure that low-income people and people of color have the infrastructure and policies in place to support their success.

To read and listen to an exclusive interview with Bertha Lewis or read the transcript of this speech please visit Radio RP&E: New Political Spaces.

RP&E Release Party, June 27th, 6 p.m. - New Political Spaces

19-1-cover
Public Property —
Popular Power

New Majority Rising

Wednesday, June 27, 2012 @ 6:00 p.m.

Pacific Coast Brewing Company
906 Washington St. @ 10th St.
Oakland, California.

Join us in conversation about the role of emerging majorities, Occupy, and the power of the public to create new political spaces.

Drink, eat, mingle! Meet the writers and editors behind the magazine. All ages invited (under 21 okay) and wheelchair accessible. Please R.S.V.P. to christinejoy@urbanhabitat.org for more info call (510) 839-9510 ext 303

New Housing near Highways Threatens Community Health

The landscape at 14th and Wood streets in West Oakland has quite a story to tell about reclaiming a community’s future from industrial pollution.

Fourteenth Street, which runs through the downtown office district, ends at the sound wall bordering one of the busiest interchanges in the San Francisco Bay Area. Nearby, a historic train station that community activists fought to preserve from profit-driven redevelopment shows telltale signs of neglect: litter, broken windows, overgrown grass. The panoramic view of diesel trucks on the freeway framed by large gantry cranes at the Port of Oakland contrasts sharply with the new market-rate housing development next door.

The developer’s website offers a provocative vision for this newly rebranded area: “Once the end of the line for transcontinental rail passengers, Central Station will soon become a new kind of urban community: diverse, stimulating, and welcoming.[1]” But environmental justice activists have a cautionary tale about the politics of infill redevelopment and smart growth that are ushering this neighborhood into a new era.

In a converted trucking facility across the street from the new housing development on 14th and Wood, a small but mighty community-based organization goes toe-to-toe with developers in the fight for the future of West Oakland.

History, Smart Growth, and Health
Margaret Gordon, cofounder of the West Oakland Environmental Indicators Project (EIP), has long been a key community voice in redevelopment planning for the properties outside her office window. “The community has been through two different planning processes with the City around the train station development, and now we are on our third process,” she says. “Now the people in that new development next to it have different ideas. All these new residents see is an abandoned building... they don’t know about the baggage wing in that train station where the Pullman Porters did all their organizing because that was the only place that African-Americans were allowed to do so. We had to fight the City to not allow developers to tear it down and to put local hiring in place to make sure that residents will benefit.”

Sailing to Local Hire in San Francisco

In late 2010, San Francisco was abuzz with the prospect of being selected to host the 2013 America’s Cup sailing race. Like other cities seeking to emerge from the current recession, San Francisco has been eager to attract business and economic investments. Moreover, local billionaire Larry Ellison’s team had won the previous race, giving him the right to select the location for the next one. But San Francisco’s America’s Cup experience has been emblematic of the fact that equitable distribution of economic benefits is not automatic. It is up to community advocates to push policies that ensure equity.

As is typical with any “public-private partnership project,” jobs were at the center of the America’s Cup discussion. Supporters projected a $1.2 billion infusion of cash into the local economy that would create more than 8,000 jobs. Meanwhille, community advocates had spent the summer and fall of 2010, working with Supervisor John Avalos and  building trade unions to develop a landmark mandatory local hiring policy.

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Yeashan Banks

Young Organizer Advocates for Transit POWER
By Christine Joy Ferrer
Click to Listen to the Radio RP&E Podcast

Originally from Bayview-Hunters Point in San Francisco, Yeashan Banks, 22, is an organizer for the Bayview Hunters Point Organizing Project at People Organized to Win Employment Rights (POWER). For the last year or so, she’s also been advocating for free public transportation for youth. In 2010, Banks graduated from the Movement Activist Apprenticeship Program with the Center for Third World Organizing and has volunteered for Congresswoman Barbara Lee and the Black Organizing Project and served as a Youth Researcher for the California Endowment’s Building Healthy Communities Initiative. She has also worked with Oakland’s Youth Uprising.

Christine Joy Ferrer: What motivates you to do the work that you do?
Yeashan Banks: POWER’s environmental justice project in [my neighborhood] is what first attracted me to the organization. The Bayview-Hunters Point toxic shipyard has been making folks in the neighborhood—specifically folks in my own family—sick for years. My grandfather worked at the shipyard and has asbestos-related lung problems.

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