Downtown Oakland’s Real Vermin Problem:
Over the last several weeks, the Oakland Metropolitan Chamber of Commerce and two Oakland business groups, Downtown and Uptown/Lake Merritt business associations, had been the loudest voices calling for a violent eviction of the Occupy Oakland encampment at 14th and Broadway. Despite evidence that Occupy Oakland had in fact caused more business to flow to small businesses in the area, these business groups began to circulate the argument in newspapers like the San Francisco Chronicle and in City Council meetings that downtown businesses were suffering lost revenue due to the presence of the camp. When asked to provide a list of small businesses that have been hurt by Occupy Oakland, the Oakland Chamber of Commerce and the Downtown and Uptown/Lake Merritt business associations, could not produce any evidence whatsoever and instead continued blaming homelessness, crime, and the worsening economic recession on the encampment. When confronted with Oakland Crimespotting statistics which revealed a general decrease in crime in the area, these groups continued to argue that the one month old encampment, which housed hundreds and fed thousands, was not in fact representative of the Oakland community.
While “Lake Merritt/Uptown” and “Downtown Oakland” business associations claim deep roots in Oakland history and its communities, they are in fact business improvement districts, or “BIDs,” founded in 2008 and focused on privatizing government and public space. Their sole purpose is to help corporations avoid paying city taxes which might be used outside of these business districts. The leadership of these management corporations take their orders directly from companies based outside the city. They in fact don’t represent Oakland at all but “small businesses” like AT&T ($124.3 billion in revenues last year), Bank of America ($111.4 billion), Wells Fargo ($85 billion), Waste Management ($12.5 billion), Southwest Airlines ($12.1 billion), Comcast ($9.7 billion), Visa ($3.6 billion), Clear Channel Outdoor ($2.8 billion), Grubb & Ellis real estate ($2.7 billion), Colliers International ($1.9 billion), and Joie de Vivre hoteliers ($250 million).
These business organizations could be called Oakland’s “shadow government,” with its own staff of full-time lobbyists at City Hall, and driven by a network of corrupt power brokers like Joe Harraburda and Phil Tagami. Recently, Todd Hansen, current member of the executive committee of the Oakland Metropolitan Chamber of Commerce’s board of directors, has been arrested by the FBI and charged with orchestrating a five-year, $19.75 million accounting fraud scheme to inflate company earnings, thereby enriching himself. Unlike Oakland residents, the banks which the Chamber of Commerce represents are exempted by the city from paying a real estate transfer tax for foreclosures. Oakland’s deficit is $58 million. Last year, this exemption alone cost the city $51 million.
This is City Hall’s real vermin problem.
Cynically claiming to be a part of the “99%” and to represent Oakland small business owners and the public, these quasi-corporate entities represent multi-national corporations and massive property investment firms which have been instrumental in jacking up rents and gentrifying the downtown area—which has become an area of lavish, mostly empty high-end lofts and few renters who can afford them. This is their vision of “public space.” Largely uninhabited and patrolled by private security guards. When the Lake Merritt/Uptown District Association claims that Oscar Grant/Frank Ogawa Plaza “is a public space – to be enjoyed by all the people of Oakland,” they want to return this public park to its natural state of being completely empty. Typically, OG/FO Plaza typically hosts no more than a few dozen downtown workers eating lunch or wandering through during business hours. The other 16 hours of the day it is a relatively lifeless wasteland of disenfranchised youth and homeless people who are rousted, searched, arrested, and abused by Oakland police on a daily basis. These business organizations have been claiming for years that giant corporations and property development firms have brought increasing prosperity to downtown Oakland. We at Occupy Oakland, and most Oakland residents, see clearly that this is a lie.
As the economy worsens, these groups and the moneyed interests they represent are the problem, not the solution, for the vast majority of Oaklanders.