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    We Can’t Wait for Jobs and Freedom

    By Rebecca Kaplan, Oakland City Councilmember At-Large–

    In 1963, hundreds of thousands of people marched in what many now refer to as the “March on Washington for Civil Rights.” But march organizers called it the “March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom,” and sought both justice and equality under the law. They were also fighting to remedy the lack of equal access to economic opportunities and jobs.

    This struggle remains, and the work must continue, as today, the Black unemployment rate continues to far exceed the white unemployment rate in America. The racial wealth gap is large, and, in Oakland, our local disparity studies continue to document, year after year, the ongoing exclusion of Black-owned businesses from important city opportunities in contracts and economic development.

    That is part of why I and others have been pushing to remedy these problems, and keep pushing to ensure that jobs, business contracts, and development opportunities in the City of Oakland must, much more significantly, include our Black community.

    One of the recommendations, which came from conducting the most recent Disparity Study, was to ensure that Black contractors are ready and able to bid on city contracts. As a result, and with strong community support, we fought for and won a budget amendment allocating hundreds of thousands of dollars to fund a project, in conjunction with the Construction Resource Center, to provide training and technical support to ensure that Black contractors have improved access to these opportunities.

    And yet, at every turn, there has been opposition and obstruction to these efforts from an Administration that initially tried not to conduct the legally-mandated disparity study in the first place, in an attempt to hide data about the extent of the ongoing inequities. The Administration then tried to block the release of the study.

    Once the study was released, and our budget amendment passed, they then continued to obstruct these efforts, refusing to issue funds for the contract. It required repeated and ongoing efforts, including requiring follow-up public reports from the Administration on the status of funds to get them to issue the support that Council had approved.

    Similar obstruction also took place with workforce investment funds—even as communities in Oakland continue to suffer the economic fallout from both the pandemic and decades of underinvestment and inequality. Monies the Council has approved to support workforce development, job training, and job placement have been delayed and undermined.

    In fact, the issue of delay of funding of these types of vital needs has been such as ongoing problem that former Councilmember Desley Brooks authored a law, which Council passed, mandating “prompt payment.” This law recognizes that crucial organizations doing work to improve quality of life and opportunity are impeded and undermined when payment is not issued promptly for this work. We have continued to push for full implementation of this law.

    Therefore, the plan of the African American Sports and Entertainment Group (AASEG) to develop 30,000 jobs in the revitalization of the Oakland Coliseum Site is so important. This vital development opportunity is one of the most important in the entire county. It is on a large site that is central to the entire region with easy access to BART, the freeways, the airport, and more. The land has been approved for development through the completion of the Coliseum Area Specific Plan, as well as Oakland having completed California’s required Surplus Lands process.

    This large site can provide for housing at all income levels, business, entertainment, hotel, convention space, biotech, public services, and much more, and provide for quality jobs for our community, both during construction and after. This important effort also faced ongoing obstruction from the Administration, and nevertheless, we persisted. In November, it was approved by the City Council in a unanimous vote!

    We can’t wait for jobs and freedom, and the work continues. Giving up this fight is not an option.

    Councilmember At-Large and Council President Rebecca Kaplan was elected in 2008 to serve as Oakland’s citywide Councilmember; she was re-elected in 2016 and 2020. She also serves on the Alameda County Transportation Commission (ACTC). Follow Councilmember Kaplan on Twitter @Kaplan4Oakland ( and Facebook (

    Published on January 27, 2022