Over 100 local residents barricaded the entrances to the Oakland Chamber of Commerce’s Economic Development Summit on Friday morning, March 18, demanding an end to development-driven displacement and that the city declare a housing state of emergency.
Protestors chained themselves across the entrances to the Kaiser Center Auditorium at Lake Merritt and business representatives, who had paid $95 a ticket, were unable to enter the main hall.
As a result of the action, the summit never took place. There were no arrests.
This action follows on the heels of the City Council’s decision on Tuesday to approve a luxury development on the publicly-owned East 12th St. parcel, ignoring a year of protests calling for 100 percent affordable housing on the site.
During Friday’s rally, Oakland residents expressed their anger at city officials who are choosing developers over communities while doing nothing to halt runaway rents and wholesale evictions that are driving working families out of the city.
Several of the protestors carried signs that read: “Our housing crisis is not your profit opportunity. Eviction moratorium now!” referring to the demand that the City Council declare a housing state of emergency.
Oakland Mayor Libby Schaaf was scheduled to give the opening remarks while a major speech on real estate opportunities in Oakland was supposed to be given by an investment economist from the commercial real estate industry.
The economic development summit was being organized around the theme “Why Businesses Are Going “All In” on Oakland.”
“How can they have a local economic development summit and (working families) are not invited?” asked activist Nicole Dean. “What do we do when they charge $95 a ticket just to sit at the table?”
Carroll Fife of the Black Power Network explained how she had been evicted from her home in West Oakland after complaining to her landlord about there being no heat during the winter.
According to several protestors, the displacement of local residents is interconnected to the lack of job opportunities and trainings.
The city’s Workforce Investment Board—which oversees all of Oakland’s jobs programs—is being dismantled by Mayor Schaaf, said one activist.
The mayor’s office released a statement after the protest.
“Mayor Schaaf is acutely aware of the very real pain and the fear residents have about displacement as rents in Oakland soar and housing availability fails to keep pace with growing demand,” according to the statement. “She remains open to having a productive dialogue with advocates about how to address the problem.”
Barbara Leslie, president and CEO of the chamber, also released a statement.
“Attendees were unable to hear about the work that the Chamber and business community are doing to ensure that our residents are prepared for college and careers right here,” Leslie said. “While the protesters chose to deny participants the opportunity to learn about some of the great work being done, the chamber and its partners in the public and private sector will continue their efforts to build a thriving Oakland.”
The Oakland Coalition, Black Power Network, Community Ready Corps, Anti Police-Terror Project and Seconds Acts were among the organizers of Friday’s protest.
The City Council is scheduled to vote on declaring a housing state of emergency at its April 5 meeting.
This article was updated on March 19, 2016.