California’s largest city, Oakland, is still pondering how best to make its downtown more equitable. The “Downtown Oakland Specific” plan was launched in 2015 to address issues like land use and development, transportation, housing, economic development, and arts and culture, but until now, the plan has yet to be implemented. On Monday, Oakland city officials announced that they’ll be relaunching the city’s downtown plan to expand in a more equitable framework.
The city – which is home to around 420,000 people – says that this year’s focus will represent “a historic opportunity” to improve the infrastructure and economy of downtown while focusing on the people’s needs. The strategy will also concentrate on the interest of areas that haven’t benefited or have been harmed by earlier plans.
Oakland’s Planning and Building Department supported by the new Department of Race and Equity hired a consulting team of local specialists in social equity policy and community engagement led by the Institute for Sustainable Economic, Educational and Environmental Design (I-SEEED). The consulting team will develop a social equity strategy that will guide policy and institutional change to address structural inequality through land use and other mechanisms of a specific plan.
The plan’s new community engagement activities target leaders in communities of color and other communities that are often excluded during the process of policy making. A public workshop will be held in early 2018 to receive the community’s feedback on an initial set of plans that the newly recruited team will assess for racial equity impacts. Moreover, the city expects to adopt a downtown plan in 2019 after they complete an environmental review.
Last year, Oakland Mayor Libby Schaaf wanted to add 17,000 units of affordable and market-rate housing in the Bay Area city over the next eight years, as well as to protect an existing 17,000 affordable homes. Even though she said that protecting residents from displacement was her administration’s highest priority, the plans were halted when the community filed requests that the plan be revised to address racial disparities and the displacement of residents, service and culture.
The city of Oakland is considered as a safe place to buy or rent a house, and is a vibrant option for renters and buyers new to the Bay Area. However, it still lags behind on affordability, which is gradually leading to the erosion of stable middle-class work, drawing concerns about the displacement of longtime struggling residents. Between 2006 and 2011, 10,508 homes, which represented over 7% of the city’s households, were foreclosed and repossessed.