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
Oakland Unwrapped Column
UrbanView Newspaper
October 31, 2001

If Elihu Harris is feeling vindicated these days, he’s got a right to. Harris is like the spouse who used to grate on your nerves while you were married to him. Dour and grumpy, he used to be such an embarrassment when you brought your friends around. You were glad to be rid of his tired ass. It wasn’t until after the divorce that you realized his positive qualities…the hard work he put in…the many things around the house that he accomplished. What you once took for pickiness now seems merely evidence of love. God, the man was steady—yes, that’s what he was—and, in retrospect, steady seems such an attractive quality in a city leader, now that we’ve taken up with a drama queen. This keeps up, we’re soon going to be talking about the Golden Years in Oakland, when Elihu Harris was Mayor.

Sometimes, these things need written reinforcement, when there are those amongst us who can’t trust our eyes or our common sense.

CEDA, Oakland’s Community & Economic Development Agency, released "A REPORT AND RECOMMENDATION…FOR A RESOLUTION ADOPTING THE DOWNTOWN RETAIL STRATEGY" the other day. Most of these reports get lost on the shelf, but before that happens, there’s a passage in this one you might want to bookmark. It reads: "During the past fifteen years, the City/Agency has been instrumental in the successful revitalization of much of Downtown [Oakland]. These successes have included new retail and entertainment uses in Jack London Square; an impressive amount of new office development in City Center and the City Hall Plaza area; new neighborhood serving retail in Chinatown and Old Oakland; and hundreds of new housing units completed and under construction in the loft district and other parts of downtown." Yes, there have been successes in downtown Oakland. What the CEDA report failed to emphasize, though, was that almost all of these successes came during the Harris years. The State Building. The Federal Building. Both built in the aftermath of Loma Prieta, when downtown Oakland was practically wiped off the map, economically speaking. We keep hearing how downtown is ghost-town after dark. Without the state and federal buildings, it would be lost and vacant during the day. That’s Elihu Harris’ legacy, and the Council and staff that was in place in those days. And it was done without such things as national star power, a supplicant press, or a longtime close friendship with the sitting governor.

In comparison, with all his advantages, what has Jerry done?

I keep hearing about all of his accomplishments. I’m not so much doubting this, as it is that I’m waiting to see the comprehensive list.

Another thing. In discussing how we could [finally] return retail to downtown Oakland, the CEDA Downtown Oakland Retail Strategy report also recommended something about "provid[ing] some public subsidy for projects presently underway in Uptown such as the Uptown 10 K project…" At the City Council committee meeting that discussed the report, Councilmember Dick Spees dismissed that idea, saying something to the effect that bringing more residents into downtown Oakland will have little or nothing to do with whether we can attract downtown retail.

I thought the comment was interesting.

First, because Spees came to the Council from a business background, and is the most pro-business member of the Council. Let’s say, for the sake of argument, that he has some expertise on the subject of attracting downtown retail.

Second, because he was talking about the foundation of Brown’s Oakland development plan: the 10 K initiative. According to the Mayor’s mantra: 1) retail won’t come to downtown Oakland because there aren’t enough people there; 2) Oakland needs to build housing for lots and lots of people in the downtown area; so that 3) retail will come to downtown Oakland. The Mayor has offered no alternative. And if Spees is saying that the 10 K plan won’t work, then he’s also saying that the Mayor, actually has no credible plan for downtown retail development. Imagine that.


What is Jerry doing? What has Jerry done?

Interesting questions. For now. And for later.