Talking Point


Gentrification is either adored or hated.  Is Oakland gentrifying? How does this affect schools, libraries, public ervices? Who is getting pushed out as house prices rise? Can the fancier districts and the scruffier districts be part of one single Oakland?

Oakland Unified School District enrollment by ethnicity

Urban Village

South of Broadway Business District

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There seems to be a lot of controversy about development — either people think it’s too big for the community around it, or it should be mixed-use and isn’t, or it is helping only the rich, or there will be too many cars…

There is considered to be a conflict between the General Plan and zoning regulations and a City Hall too sympathetic to developers. A lot of land that was zoned for light industry is attracting the interest of developers looking to do retail or living.

Oakland Municipal Code, Title 17 Planning

Community and Economic Development Agency (CEDA), Strategic Planning Section

Proposed development The Creek Side

In Oakland, one in four English speaking adults, about 80,000 people, cannot write clearly or fully understand what they read, according to statistics released by the Oakland Library’s Second Start Adult Literacy Program.

 

Children whose parents function at low literacy levels are twice as likely as their peers to have trouble with their own reading and writing.

 

This means that about a quarter of Oakland’s adult residents are unable to do daily necessities, like read the newspaper or fill out a job application. According the Second Start Project at Oakland libraries, illiteracy is more common in the unemployed.

Denise Greer, Executive-Director of Oakland Parents Literacy Project, sees people from many walks of life come to her program. “Many people quietly suffer through their reading and writing challenges. Often they’re unable to help their children with homework or perform the everyday functions they need to support their family, like make business flyers or read classifieds in the paper,” she said.

Today securing family healthcare, transportation, shelter, and finances all require basic literacy skills, and jobs that require computer skills are becoming more common. So programs like Second Start Adult Literacy and the Oakland Parents Literacy Project are cropping up to address these adults’ literacy needs.

Greer’s program hosts weekly reading nights at schools in low-income neighborhoods where they give out free books and dinner, spending the evening giving parents advice and practice on reading with their children. The library’s Second Start program pairs adults up with tutors who meet with them once each week to tackle reading and writing and job-related literacy skills.

But do unemployed people have the time to attend these sessions? Are the responses from non-profit programs like these enough to make a difference in the Oakland community? How else should this problem be addressed?

The recent release of Oakland Unified School District’s test scores has raised many questions. At last week’s school board meeting the recently-resigned State Administrator Kimberley Statham characterized the scores as “flat,” referring the almost 50/50 split among schools—about half made their goals and about half did not. Now low-scoring schools must pick up the pace and better prepare students for this year’s spring battery of math and English standardized tests. Is this increased focus on the two subjects, in terms of standardized tests really good for students? Are they learning to think critically?

 

Sharon Dolan, Executive Director of Oakland Youth Chorus, doesn’t think so. “In the last two years I’ve noticed that the results of No Child Left Behind’s emphasis on testing […] has often led to the exclusion of everything else in schools, especially those with limited funding,” she said. “Art programs are usually the first to go.”

 

There’s also the achievement gap, which OUSD’s Chief Academic Officer Brad Stram labeled as “absolutely unacceptable,” in last week’s school board meeting. When the test results are broken down in terms of student ethnicity, there is a 55% difference between the average score of a white student and that of an African American one. And it’s only a few percentage points closer when white and Latino students are compared.  How can this be possible? How is it affecting the community and the mindset of children in these schools?

When people tell me about crimes they’ve witnessed or been a victim of, I naturally ask, “Did you call the police?”

There is a common thread in the replies I hear around Oakland. People say they call the police, and the police don’t come unless it’s a murder.

I guess this really shouldn’t be a surprise considering that the Oakland Police Department is down 80 officers and losing an average of 3 per month to retirement. Lt. Michael Johnson of Police Communications says his department dispatched over 34,000 Priority 1 calls (violent crime in progress) in 2006. That’s around 93 violent crimes in progress each day.

How could the police possibly respond to those other, less pressing calls to break up fights, pick up dead opossums, tow abandoned cars, or track stolen goods?

I wonder about the psychological effect of letting all of those little things slip through the cracks. How does it feel when you call the police and no one comes?

In August, the daylight assassination of Chauncey Bailey on 14th Street in Oakland called the world’s attention to Oakland’s losing battle with violent crime. It’s no surprise that the subject is on the mind of almost every Oaklander I’ve recently spoken with.

Fasil Lemma and Solomon Kidene, employees of DeLauer’s Super News Stand on Broadway in Oakland, say they have to call the police every single day because of fights on the sidewalk outside their store.

Oakland musician, Tacuma King says he has known over 100 people who’ve died because of gun violence, including his son who was shot in Berkeley nine years ago.

Donald Lacy founded the LoveLife foundation in memory of his daughter who was killed in Oakland ten years ago.

Achebe Hoskins of The Mentoring Center says the violent streets of Oakland present the biggest threat to the young men and women he mentors.

In a city of 400,000 people, this issue touches almost everyone. I’m sure that’s why there’s such a proliferation of online crime maps of Oakland. Crimespotting gives you the most up-to-date information of the lot. If you’re interested in going deeper into the stories of violent crime in Oakland, both the Tribune and the Chronicle have done excellent multimedia treatments of the effects of this violence.