By Reverend Damita Davis-Howard
We’re in a development boom in Oakland. Cranes and bulldozers clang downtown, building luxury condos, offices, and hotels. More and more people huddle in tents under overpasses, and more of us struggle to keep a roof over our heads.
Right now, we have an opportunity to influence whether the development boom creates an Oakland with clean air, affordable homes for all, and fair wages for the people who build them, or whether it makes us a gentrified city like San Francisco.
Few people know that the seven members of Oakland’s Planning Commission make critical decisions every week about our city’s future — about what is built, where, and for whom. In the next few weeks, the Mayor will nominate people for two seats to replace two Commissioners who are terming out.
We need more community voices on the Planning Commission. The Commission shapes and approves developments in Oakland, whether it’s market-rate luxury condos or development of publicly-owned land. These decision-makers could be our first line of defense against skyrocketing housing costs and homelessness. Oakland’s planning decisions should come from the real input of all of Oakland’s people – especially people of color, flatland communities, and people closest to development sites.
Oakland has something special and beautiful: our diversity. As longtime organizers, we know it’s crucial to represent all of our communities in the decisions that affect us. The Oaklanders hit hardest by poverty and racism are experts in the solutions our town needs. However, as the East Bay Express reported last year, Mayor Schaaf has stacked the Commission with a supermajority of real estate industry representatives – developers, architects, or attorneys in the industry. Recently, the Commission has voted overwhelmingly to build thousands of market-rate luxury units, and only a handful of affordable ones, in the midst of Oakland’s biggest housing affordability crisis in decades.
Union researcher-campaigner Nischit Hegde is a great candidate for the Planning Commission; she has organized closely with impacted workers and East Bay communities for years. Hegde has long supported the working people of Oakland, especially people of color, by speaking out against new hotels that would create more low-wage jobs in Oakland and strain the city’s housing shortage; and by advocating for local “sanctuary workplace” agreements that would protect immigrants on the job. As a mom living in Bella Vista/Eastlake, Hegde also advocates for affordable housing on public land.
We need more leaders of color like Nischit Hegde and Jahmese Myres, a current Commissioner, who will practice the values that the majority of Oaklanders espouse. During Commissioner Myres’ four years in office, she has spoken out for more affordable housing, for opportunities for local workers, and against policies and projects that push our neighbors out of their homes.
Oakland’s working people and communities of color cannot survive if the city is built only for the rich and hip. We need an Oakland for all, and that’s why we need the expertise of community leaders like Nischit Hegde and Jahmese Myres on our Planning Commission.
Reverend Damita Davis-Howard is the Political Director at Oakland Rising, a voter organizing collaborative of nine grassroots organizations in Oakland. Gary Jimenez is the East Bay Vice President of SEIU 1021, which represents over 54,000 employees in local governments, non-profit agencies, health care programs, and schools throughout Northern California.