A Bay Area Journalist's First-Hand Account Of How Mayor Jerry Brown Screwed Over Oakland On His Way To Sacramento



J. Douglas Allen-Taylor
UnderCurrents Column
Berkeley Daily Planet Newspaper
May 27, 2005

Items taken from a longer column:

With more than two and a half years left on the job he's still supposed to be doing for us, Oakland Mayor Jerry Brown's campaign for his hoped-for next job continues to build momentum. The Brown For Attorney General committee is inviting all interested parties to come online to make campaign donations on their credit cards. For your convenience, they have included a suggested amount of $5,600 for starters. In an accompanying signed online letter, Mr. Brown himself explains that magic number, writing that "recent state law limits donations to $5,600 from any one individual or corporation. Please give as much as you can." We don't mean to be picky, but we've come a long ways from the days, haven't we, when Mr. Brown would only accept $100 contributions per donor, and no more, so that no-one could accuse him of being a tool of the big-money guys.

Principles, principles. Principles fade as gray hair invades. Isn't that part of a Dylan Thomas poem, or something?

Meanwhile, a visit to the Mayor's blog at gives you some insight as to the Oakland "accomplishments" Mr. Brown is promoting in his state campaign.

On March 23 of this year, the Mayor writes that "SF Chronicle writer Dan Levy's latest story about the condo boom in downtown Oakland ["DOWNTOWN BROWN: Oakland's mayor has made dramatic progress in his ambitious plan to bring 10,000 new residents to the city's core"] is great news for those interested in this town's revitalization. Formerly abandoned lots are being transformed into housing as part of the '10K Initiative.' According to Levy: Six years after Brown made his bold pronouncement, Oakland is close to fulfilling what has become known as the mayor's 10K Initiative. With two years to go, "10K" is 85 percent complete."

But Oaklanders with long memories will be tempted to point out that the purpose of Brown's original 10K proposal was not merely to bring 10,000 new residents downtown. Oakland, after all, has many residential neighborhoods, and any student of post Prop 13 California knows that cities now actually lose money on residential neighborhoods alone, if one wants to look at this as a capitalist enterprise. The original hype of 10K, at least as Mr. Brown proposed it, was that it would attract retail back into a depressed downtown area. In fact, under the heading "The 10K Initiative--Creating More Than Housing," the city's official 10K website says just that, telling us: "The 10K Housing Initiative is not just about housing–it is also about creating an environment that is conducive to residential development, through the transformation of the downtown into a more livable space that incorporates streetscapes, parks, commercial, retail, and other amenities."

If you leave the International Boulevard stroll where the teenage prostitutes hang and drive north until you come to the shores of Lake Merritt, and then west towards the estuary, you will come to the Mayor's old neighborhood, the place where Mr. Brown's 10K initiative has been the most successful. Along 2nd, 3rd, and 4th streets between Alice and the produce section, developers have put up row after row of lofts and condominiums (many of these were begun during the time of Mayor Elihu Harris, of course). Drive along these streets and you will see hundreds, perhaps thousands, of new residents, some of whom have now been there for more than six years.

But drive along the streets of the loft district and what you will not find is a new Walgreens Drug Store. Or an Albertsons or Safeway. Or a row of new restaurants, or department stores, or any of the tax-base-rich retail outlets that we were promised would come with the new Oaklanders. Perhaps they will, perhaps not. But they ain't got there yet.

Where are these people now shopping? I'm not sure. Across the estuary in Alameda, I imagine. Or around the freeway to Emeryville. Shouldn't the city be doing a study to find out, since this is such an integral part of present Oakland policy?

The truth is, the assertion and assumption that retail would automatically follow the thousands of new residents downtown has always been the flaw in Mr. Brown's 10K initiative, a sort of cause-and-effect thing that we were always supposed to take on faith at the beginning, and which gets mentioned less and less (or, more often, not at all) as the process has moved forward, and Oakland money has been committed to this scheme.

We hear now that the retail will come in the uptown area-not the loft area-in the proposed (and heavily subsidized) Forest City Project. But the Forest City Project has yet to be built. And so, we shall have to wait and see if Mr. Brown is a visionary or merely a visitor whose accomplishments will begin to quickly fade as soon as he closes the door behind him.