"We have left undone those things which we ought to have done" - Protestant Episcopal Church 1928 U.S. Book of Common Prayer


Ms. Schaaf's Black Accomplishment

Black Arts Movement and Business District co-creator Marvin X Jackmon and Oakland Mayor Libby Schaaf

Published on the OGS Website October 31, 2018

By J. Douglas Allen-Taylor

One of the main criticisms of Oakland Mayor Libby Schaaf is that after ignoring many Oakland people, problems, issues, neighborhoods for the first three years of her administration, now that election day is drawing near she suddenly “got religion,” as the old folks used to say, and is presently full of plans and promises for action on those previously-neglected areas of concern.

Schaaf has made something of a living this year claiming that she’s the protector of Latino Oaklanders in general and the city’s Latino immigrants in particular. It’s unclear, however, what specifically the mayor has accomplished on behalf of that particular segment of the population other than her famous January tipoff about that an Immigration and Customs Enforcement Bay Area immigrant raid. Certainly, the mayor has done little to improve living conditions in the Deep East Oakland flatlands southeast of High Street, where many of Oakland’s Latino population lives.

Of course, I admit that there could be some stuff going on with my Latino friends and neighbors that I don’t know about.

I do know a little bit about Black Folk in Oakland, however, and evidence of Ms. Schaaf’s specific interest in the needs of that particular portion of the city’s population is, um, a little thin.

Schaaf has shown no public interest in the fact, for instance, that African-Americans are vacating Oakland in rapidly-increasing numbers, many forced out by the high-rent housing that the mayor herself is busily promoting. If the Black Oakland population continues to decline at the present rate, the only trace left of African-Americans in this city will be the aging blues singers invited year after year to city music festivals, and statues of Pullman Porters at the refurbished 16th Street Station.

But the election is coming, and coming soon, and Ms. Schaff is currently going around trying to convince forgotten Oakland that it was never actually forgotten by her at all, just put in the background for a bit while she worked on other things, and now her focus is squarely on us. There’s really no time before voting day for the mayor to put together anything substantial at this point aimed directly at Black Folk in Oakland. And so scrambling around to find some Black-oriented accomplishment to point to, it should come as no surprise that recently, in trying to highlight her support for preserving and protecting Oakland’s various ethnic and racial cultures, Schaaf cited a non-existent city program aimed at creating an African-American “cultural zone” in the downtown area. Well, the program exists on paper, but that’s the only place. And it’s been on paper for quite a while, without any indication that the Schaaf Administration has taken any steps to actually implement it, or ever intends to.

The mayor’s assertion about her Black cultural project came during the October 5th League of Women Voters mayoral forum at Oakland City Hall.

Asked about the lack of large, affordable, publicly-owned meeting spaces in Oakland for community organizations, Schaaf replied that, “This issue for a need for more venues of various sizes is one that we have heard over and over. So it’s one that is captured in our [recently-released] Cultural Plan and it’s also one that we are exploring through the use of new cultural zones like the Black Arts and Small Business District that we’ve designated.”

You can be forgiven if you’ve never heard of such an Oakland Black Arts and Small Business District before, and if you think it’s some new project being initiated by the Schaaf Administration. It’s not.

What is officially now titled the “Black Arts Movement and Business District” (BAMBD) was the creation of Oakland Third District City Councilmember Lynette McElhaney with some assistance by longtime Oakland Black arts advocate Marvin X Jackmon. Passed by the Oakland City Council in January of 2016, the district was to be located in what was called the “14th Street Corridor”—a four block-wide area from Oak Street to the 980 freeway—and designed “to highlight, celebrate, preserve and support the contributions of Oakland's Black artists and business owners and the corridor as a place central both historically and currently to Oakland's Black artists and Black owned businesses.”

It was an ambitious plan on paper, and welcomed by many in Oakland’s Black arts, entertainment, and business communities. To implement the project, the City Council gave several recommendations to Mayor Schaaf’s City Administrator to carry out, including:

* Bring greater resources to the 14th  Street corridor through grants, philanthropic and foundation funding, and other incentives as the City Administrator and his or her designee may see fit, potentially including streamlined permitting, direct government subsidies, a dedicated City staff member to provide assistance with government processes, and funds for marketing the District;

* Implement working group ... to include staff from the Mayor's Office, the City Administrator's Office, the Department of Race and Equity, the Cultural Arts Department, the Real Estate Department, the Planning Department, and the Economic and Workforce Development Department, as well as from a broad representation of community stakeholders, and that this implementation working group present a comprehensive report with recommendations and action items; and

* The City Administrator and his or her designee is directed to identify funding or other in-kind resources in order to fund the initial implementation of the Black Arts Movement and Business District, which shall at minimum include marketing the District through banners or signs.

As far as I have been able to determine, the Schaaf Administration never carried out a single one of these recommendations, nor even created the necessary infrastructure for the project to be carried out.

Instead, when I called the Schaaf Administration a year after the City Council passed the BAMBD resolution, I was referred by a city spokesperson back to Councilmember McElhaney’s office to see what was being done about the Black district.

That seemed an odd referral in itself, since it was the City Administrator—not Councilmember McElhaney—who was charged in the Council Resolution to create and implement the BAMBD. Besides that, the Oakland City Charter specifically forbids City Councilmembers from “interfering” in the operation of “the administrative service for which the City Administrator, Mayor and other appointed or elected officers are responsible.”

It’s a Charter provision that Ms. Schaaf is fully aware of. After all, wasn’t Council interference in city administration programs one of the charges leveled by the mayor against her political enemy, District 6 Councilmember Desley Brooks, in the matter of Brooks’ intervention in the renovation of the Rainbow Recreation Center in East Oakland? But perhaps Mayor Schaaf operates with one set of rules for her political enemies and another for her political allies. Just speculatin’.

Meanwhile, for her part, Councilmember McElhaney has never actually “implemented” any of the required mandates in the original Black Arts Movement and Business District resolution, either. It remains a hollow project, a ghost program, with no meat on its bones and no indication that there will be any in the forseeable future, so Ms. Schaaf is hardly justified in listing the district as an Oakland “Black accomplishment” under any circumstances. But the mayor appears to have no other Black-specific programs either ongoing or in the works to brag about.

Perhaps Ms. Schaaf should just declare that by saying “hella” at least one time in each of her campaign presentations this year she’s doing her part to promote Black culture Oakland, and be done with it.










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In The News

Our Thoughts On The Libby Schaaf Administration

What Others Are Thinking And Saying—Opinion Pieces About The Schaaf Administration

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