Oakland is changing, and many who have lived here for a while are nervous about that. They’re nervous that when wealthier people move in, their neighborhoods will change and they might not be so welcome anymore. As Rebecca Solnit has observed about San Francisco, gentrification — which is what we are talking about here — can lead to “a sense of being pushed out, devalued, criminalized and threatened.”
New construction, and lots of it, is critical if we’re going to get ourselves out of the current housing shortage. But the fear people feel about it is legitimate. In the last year, noise complaints have been called in against a church choir in West Oakland and drummers in the park at Lake Merritt. Choirs singing loudly and people drumming have been standard practice in these places for decades. In other cities, when displeasure toward long-time residents has led newcomers to call the police, the result has sometimes been fatal. These clashes are an effect of gentrification. They are real, and our cities need real solutions.
As part of the downtown planning process now underway, the Oakland Planning Department is seeking consultants to help develop a social equity strategy that will “address structural inequality through the land use and other mechanisms” in its downtown specific plan. That is potentially a good idea, as long as whoever does the analysis keeps in mind that we can’t have an equitable city if the city doesn’t have the revenue to provide support and services to its people.
The most important key to our dream for Oakland is that the city needs to be safer — for everyone. And that brings me to the police department. We all know, or at least think we know, what has been going on there. Whatever has happened, we need to remember that there are some people, both within the department and outside it, who are trying hard to make OPD better, and they deserve our support. Recently researchers from Stanford University’s Center for Social Psychological Answers to Real-World Questions (SPARQ) released two reports on the Oakland Police Department. These were the result of a two-year project in which the Stanford team analyzed 13 months of OPD police-stop data. The project offers 50 specific recommendations for improving the practices of the OPD, including improving feedback channels to the department, training officers in social tactics and increasing opportunities for positive community contact.