Strategy and Analysis to Defend and Transform Public Education
Posted below is our most recent update on Dewey. We published it a couple weeks ago on the Oakland Local blog. It’s not fully up to date at this point since it’s missing our most recent actions including our BBQ on Monday, 7/28. Still it’s worth posting for our archives here and so everyone can get an idea of the ongoing nature of our work around Dewey and gentrification within OUSD.
Stopping Gentrification in OUSD:
Update from Struggle to Stop Displacement of Dewey and Privatization of Public Land
By Aram Mendoza and N. Finch
Since we last wrote about the potential development deal that would potentially displace Dewey Academy and sell off public land, we’ve witnessed an inspiring awareness and mobilization among the OUSD community. At each of the two relevant board meetings that happened last week, the 7-11 meeting and OUSD school board, students, educators, and community members came out to speak against the proposed development deal that would privatize public land. Below we outline a brief update on each meeting and review the major problems of this attempt to privatize public space in Oakland. Throughout this piece we put forth a vision of how we should approach the key issues in this process.
Specifically, we call for:
7-11 Meeting, Community Response and Colonial Analogies
On Monday, June 23rd, the 7-11 Committee convened its third meeting in order to advise the school board on whether or not Dewey Academy should be considered “surplus property” and thereby offer it up to luxury condo developers as a saleable/leaseable parcel of land. While OUSD so poorly promoted attendance at previous 7-11 meetings that no more than four or five community members showed up, this one had over 30 educators, students and parents from Dewey, joined by a handful of concerned community members.
The fact that educators and students were able to quickly get the word out and mobilize the community, without any outreach support from OUSD, demonstrates the strong opposition to the OUSD administration’s plans to privatize the public land that Dewey rests on. The grouping of educators, students and community members put up signs around the room that read, “Schools Not Condos,” “Dewey is not Surplus,” “Not One Inch of Public Land for Private Developers,” and other messages that clearly took a clear stand against the administration’s move to privatize public space.
While the community clearly participated, the involvement of the 7-11 committee itself left a lot to be desired. The committee did not have enough members present to proceed with the meeting, having only 5 members present and needing 6 to actually move forward with the meeting. Rather than have an official meeting, the gathering became a community speakout where all of the speakers spoke passionately and logically against the development deal.
Despite the official 7-11 meeting not happening, the district administration did put out photocopies of an “RFQ,” or Request for Developer Qualifications. This is a call for developers to submit proposals outlining how they would develop the land, how much they would charge, etc.
One of the speakers from the community stated that OUSD attempting to generate income from the leasing of public property to private developers mirrors a colonial land grab. This time, however, instead of occupying armies directly seizing territory, private developers threaten public land through collaboration with public officials. This is the process of privatization writ large.
OUSD School Board, Community Engagement and the 2006 Struggle to Stop Privatization of Land
The OUSD board meeting saw another showing of the growing community mobilization against land privatization and gentrification in OUSD. More than 30 people spoke out against the displacement of Dewey and the land grab while surrounded by hundreds of other community members, educators and students there to present demands on the district about the role of police in schools, the role of students in determining the OUSD budget, and the attack on teachers who speak up to administrators.
While the school board did not make the displacement of Dewey and privatization of public land an official agenda item, over 20 people stood up at once to speak to the board, taking over the last round of public comment. The comments echoed those at the 7-11 Committee meeting: Dewey should not be displaced, public land should not be sold off to private developers, and OUSD’s process so far lacked anything remotely resembling the “community engagement” OUSD admin pride themselves on.
School board director David Kakashiba was the main school board member to respond. He started by implying that the community was confused, stating that we should, “get the facts straight: Dewey is not being displaced.” (1) Jody London echoed his statement.
Kakashiba claimed Dewey would get a new campus built at the old OUSD admin building’s location on 2nd Ave. He did not mention when this would happen, why it’s being pushed forward, and how it would impact Dewey students to move schools. Nor did the board respond to the role of the OUSD in contributing to gentrification by selling off public land to luxury condo developers.
At one point, a speaker referred back to the 2006 community struggle to stop the takeover of the public land where La Escuelita and MetWest are currently located. At that time, luxury condo developers also targeted the valuable lakeside property. They also faced resistance from a coalition of parents, educators, students and community members who instead put forward an alternative community development process.
In 2006, the coalition’s vision included a community design and planning process led by the coalition that fought against the developers. Through sustained mobilization, the coalition succeeded in winning the construction of the “Downtown Education Complex” that includes new buildings for La Escuelita and MetWest. Crucially, the project’s funding came from publicly controlled funds, not a “public-private partnership,” ensuring that public land remained accessible to Oakland’s youth.
The speaker stated that we should continue in the spirit of that fight and pushback against this round of privatization. Director Kakashiba interrupted the speaker to say, “I singlehandedly stopped that.” (2) This bold statement goes against the collective community struggle that actually stopped the privatization effort in 2006.
Rather than demonstrate a commitment to community engagement and organizing against private encroachments on public land, the board mostly remained silent. They did not respond at all to the testimonies of Dewey students, alumni, families, and staff that shutting down or moving Dewey for even one year is too much disruption. They also did not respond to the points made that this development will contribute to the gentrification of Oakland.
Instead they have been accepting the premises of the staff’s full-court press for privatizing OUSD land. Their role so far has been to present a public face for the plan made by staff with no community oversight.
First Meeting of OUSD Lawyers & Property Developers
On Tuesday, July 1st, OUSD lawyers held the first meeting with property developers excited at the opportunity to grab up public land and turn it into condominiums. About 12 representatives of developers showed up in addition to 2 OUSD lawyers and 10 community members in opposition to the entire development plan. The meeting itself featured very little structure, essentially consisting of a question and answer period, with the majority of time spent discussing the questions that the community members posed to the lawyers and developers. Jacqueline Minor, the OUSD’s general counsel, epitomized the district’s approach toward this entire development process in her responses to community voices.
A teacher from Dewey asked Minor about whether or not OUSD would lead a community engagement process. Her response was telling. Minor stated that OUSD intended to pay an outside consultant and undisclosed amount of money to create a plan for community engagement.
Once OUSD settled on a plan, a select group of community members would be hand-picked by Jacqueline Minor. Minor even emphasized that “meetings of staff [like Minor] are not subject to the Brown Act . . . they don’t have to be public meetings.” The fact that any single person hand picks the “community” that they want to “engage” falls short of meaningful community engagement, let alone community controlled processes. [LOOK FOR BOARD POLICY]
All of this points to the need for a grassroots campaign to immediately halt the development and privatization of public land and guarantee that the parents, staff, students, and community members of OUSD determine policy, not developers and unelected staff.
A truly community-based grouping should develop a plan for what to do with the OUSD admin building. OUSD controls hundreds of millions in Measure J funds that could fund rehabilitation of the Admin building. There does not need to be a “public-private partnership” that gives up public OUSD land for luxury condos. Money exists from within the district to fix the admin building.
Instead, we could emulate the model used to reconstruct the Lake Merritt 12th Ave. project using Measure DD funds. There, a grouping of community members pushed back on city plans and instead created the vision of the park and bridge that the city built later. Instead of the city going doing a public-private partnership as OUSD is working on, they organized a fully public process. This is a model for how we can develop our whole city, and the 2nd Avenue OUSD properties in particular. Students, school staff and parents can collectively imagine, design and produce public space that will be open and accessible to all communities in Oakland.
In the long term we also need to mobilize to cut administrative waste within the district and start a tax on the corporations and developers so that OUSD staff never can claim broke and even mention selling public land again. To do this we need some help from all of you who have paid attention to this issue so far. Here are some next steps:
First, we need to inundate the board members with emails and messages showing opposition to the current plans for Dewey and public OUSD land. Below, we have attached a simple step-by-step method for sending emails to board members. Please feel free to forward this to other potential allies.
Secondly, we need to remobilize when the school board and 7-11 Committee start remeeting in August. The next meeting is the August 1st developers’ pre-submittal meeting. Leading up to that we will be hosting a community BBQ on June 28th. Like our facebook page so you can stay up to date on any summer events and be ready to act when we need to. Feel free to hit us up there if you want to get more involved or have information to share. The link is: https://www.facebook.com/stopgentrificationousd.
2 – Ibid. 2:19:00