Neighborhood Reclamation Proposal: Occupy the Oakland Municipal Auditorium

Categories: Announcements, Discussion

Let’s think Big.  The general strike was impossible, but it happened.
Occupy the Oakland Municipal Auditorium
(The big EMPTY white building over by Laney and Lake Merritt)

Neighborhood Reclamation Proposal

Re-Open the Henry J. Kaiser Convention Center for the People of Oakland
Re-Open the vacant Henry J. Kaiser Convention Center for emergency shelter, social services and educational purposes, and convene a People’s Convention for a grand assembly on next steps for the Occupy Wall Street Movements.

OCCUPY OAKLAND, SEIU1021, ILWU10, IFPTE21, OEA, and other participants in the General Strike which shut down the Port of Oakland Invited to Join

Located across from Laney College near Lake Merritt and the Estuary at 10 10th St Oakland, CA 94607 the Oakland Municipal Auditorium (a.k.a. The Henry J. Kaiser Convention Center)  includes the 1,900 seat formal Calvin Simmons Theater, and a multi-purpose arena, which seats up to 4,500 people. The Oakland Municipal Auditorium was opened in 1914 has been used for everything from the provision of emergency medical services in the Flu pandemic of 1918, to Grateful Dead and Oakland Ballet performances to the Black Panther Party Black Community Survival Conference and the Green Party Presidential Campaign of Ralph Nader.

Mayor Jerry Brown closed the auditorium in 2006, allegedly because of a slight operating deficit, but more likely in an attempt to set up the sale of the property in the booming real estate market of the time. The Convention Center was one of the few large venues staffed by Union workers and many labor unions and left political groups used the hall because it paid the workers decent wages. When Brown closed the hall 20 workers lost good paying union jobs and the community lost a locale for everything from high school graduations to AC/DC concerts. The supposed annual budget savings were $300,000 a year.  (City staff recently estimated that in the intervening five years $5,000,000 to $9,000,000 worth of decay had occurred in the property. )  Jobs, public service and economic stimulus of a vital downtown jewel were destroyed due to property speculation.  (Even the Citty’s 1% were hurt—the Oakland Ballet which used the Calvin Simmons Theater in the Center became homeless and went out of business for over a year.) The property has been left largely vacant, except for some isolated event rentals since then. In 2011, in a paperwork shuffle the City of Oakland sold the property to its the Redevelopment agency (the City Council is the board of the Redevelopment Agency).

All this might seem to be completely unrelated to current events in Oakland,  a city in the grip of a foreclosure crisis, double digit unemployment that approaches 50% in some neighborhoods, thousands of homeless people on the street and a political crisis sparked by Mayor Quan’s attempts to evict the Occupy Oakland encampment in front of City Hall.

Connecting the Dots
But there are number of factors that link these circumstances.
–   The real estate speculative boom of 2000-2007 was what spurred Jerry Brown to close and attempt to sell the property back in 2006.
–    The crash of that boom is what has driven the economy into near collapse.
–    The City Council and the Mayor are still trying to sell the property.
–    It is the largest vacant publicly owned space in downtown Oakland.
–   The Mayor and the City Council want the Occupy Encampment  moved away from steps of City Hall.
–    The Occupy Oakland GA has endorsed neighborhood reclamation efforts.
–    The City has justified the sale of the Convention Center to the Redevelopment Agency under its mandate to buy blighted properties in order to “facilitate[e] the rehabilitation and reuse of a large and prominent vacant, underutilized, and inadequate public improvement”
–  The city is currently accepting proposals for a realtor to recommend the best re-use and rehabilitation of the Center.
–   This is the only vacant public space sufficiently large and centrally located to maintain Occupy Oakland ability to continuing shelter for the people now camping and others without homes, to promote and sustain the educational and organizing efforts that have been underway, and the space is large enough for assemblies where workers, residents, students and interested parties can meet to discuss and formulate the next steps for the Occupy Wall Street movements.

–    The Occupy Oakland Encampment should move indoors for the winter in the Oakland Municipal Auditorium (A.K.A. Henry J. Kaiser Convention Center).

Edit 11:42 pm.

Supporting documents

RFP for Realtor to market the property
City Council Resolution Approving Sale to Redevelopment Agency (see below for plain text)


11 Responses to “Neighborhood Reclamation Proposal: Occupy the Oakland Municipal Auditorium”

  1. The Kids call me Mister Double You

    My original, longer response got eaten by the website reset.

    In short, no, I don’t think a proposal like this would have that effect.

    Here’s my opinion on the city gov’t perspective: They are enormously in support of the larger goals of the movement, & enormously frustrated about the immediate impacts & costs to the city of Oakland.

    They would view any involvement of Occupy Oakland in the municipal auditorium as a bad thing, because (from their perspective) it would only hurt their attempts to get some business to do something profitable with the space.

    IF we want to show the city gov’t a winter plan to gain their support (& that’s a big IF), it should involve spaces that they don’t care about at all & have no immediate plans for.

  2. David Heatherly

    Don’t you think there might be value in a proposal like this, however, just in terms of showing the City that we do have an alternate plan to just staying in the park all winter? Something more bold. As far as liability, I dunno, make it clear that none of the liability belongs to the City. If that’s possible.

  3. east bay green bloc

    I believe that Occupy Oakland needs to make a move toward reclamation of public, unused property as soon as possible. I will support the proprosal to claim the Oakland Municipal Auditorium.

    The thought of thousands of homeless people existing in the same city as perfectly good, unused buildings, sitting empty, is very disturbing. City leadership is horribly flawed, to allow this to continue. This is proof that the people must rise up and say no. We must move immediately…..before the 1% figures out how to stop us.

  4. The Kids call me Mister Double You

    Reality Check:
    While I agree with the critique of the City’s use of this space, and love the idea of using it for Occupy through the wet months, this really is unpractical and “impossible.”

    The General Strike was a big dream, but it was a one-day, collectively organized mass action, made possible by swift build up through community involvement. Moving into the Auditorium would either be:

    A. A months-long occupation without the city’s permission, which doesn’t meet any of the criteria for previous successful building occupations (either fast with massive numbers with a comprehensive logistics plan, in a functioning university type building, or slow and under radar to build up infrastructure in a non-functioning foreclosed or otherwise abandoned property…

    B. A months-long occupation with the City’s permission, meaning that the city gov’t that (like it or not) is currently working to close out the plaza camp would suddenly agree to take on the liability for an allowed camp in a shuttered building… That’s just not feasible. Sure, if we can get 20,000 people calling on the council to do it, public pressure could change things. But be realistic: the city is currently calling for long term proposals. They’re going to see any involvement by Occupy as endangering that. However much we like the idea, the threshold to make it reality is much much higher than for the General Strike.

    Big dreams can certainly come to life but it takes a big helping of reality too.

  5. David Heatherly

    I also like this idea a lot. I like the idea of giving the City a chance to save the situation. And we need to save the Kaiser, don’t let it be sold to some corporation.

  6. Lily Shahar Kunning

    I love the reasons, but my only concern is that we will be out of the public eye if we do this. The auditorium is behind closed doors, out of the way of most Oaklanders and it would also be easy for the media to ignore us. What can be done about that?

  7. a_small_voice

    holy shit, liberate oakland, WHO ARE YOU??


  8. a_small_voice

    awesome idea. especially considering that there is an existing, long standing encampment of homeless people on the steps of the building. well, i don’t know if they are still there now, with all of the construction going on, but i did see people there about 2 months ago.

    this is an amazing plan. i’ll reread this and all of your docs.