After some 150 people from various nonprofits and government agencies rallied in front of City Hall for "green jobs" creation, the public works committee of the Oakland City Council voted to ask the full council to provide $250,000 to start the program.
"Oakland used to be a blue-collar town," said Van Jones, president of the Ella Baker Center for Human Rights and founding member of the coalition which drafted a plan to create a Green Jobs Corps here. "It makes sense that this could become the first green collar town with its green social commitment, industrial background and high unemployment rate."
As envisioned by that coalition, called theOakland Apollo Alliance, the city would provide seed money for a job training program targeting unemployed young people whose jobs prospects are limited by education or poverty. Then, the coalition and the city would also recruit green businesses to settle here and build links between businesses and job training progrms. Oakland already has a number of clean energy companies, including GRID Alternatives.
Nationally, investment in clean technology has skyrocketed. Venture capitalists poured $2.9 billion into clean technology businesses in 2006, according to the CleanTech Network LLC. That is about 80 percent more than what was invested in clean energy in 2005 and more than was invested in telecommunications, semiconductors or medical devices last year. California and Hawaii are getting the bulk of the clean energy investments, CleanTech said. The investment into new clean energy businesses suggests that jobs will follow as these new businesses expand, according to Apollo's logic.
"These are dignified manual labor jobs with salaries good enough to raise a family," said Ian Kim, the policy director for the Apollo Alliance.
Oakland has a high poverty rate among young people. According to U.S. Census Bureau statistics, 13 percent of those under the age of 18 live in poverty while 10 percent of its overall population lives in poverty. While unemployment is no higher in Alameda County than other Bay Area counties, some Oakland inner city neighborhoods are pockets of high unemployment.
The Green Jobs Corps plan already has the backing of Oakland Mayor Ron Dellums and an earlier City Council vote to provide $100,000 to the plan. Now the coalition wants the city to give a stronger commitment.
The $250,000 that the public works committee voted to recommend be spent would come from a settlement Oakland and other California cities won from a suit brought by the state of California against several energy companies following the energy shortages of 2000 and 2001. In the settlement, $2.3 million was allocated to Oakland to be spent on energy efficiency projects.
"I will convince my colleagues on the council that this is the investment of a lifetime, an investment in our children and in our city's future." said City Councilwoman Nancy Nadel who represents West Oakland and attended the rally. "Making Oakland a sustainable green city is a council priority," as is job creation in her West Oakland neighborhood, she said.
If it succeeds in Oakland, organizers hope to roll out similar Green Jobs Corps training programs in other cities, said Jones of the Ella Baker Center. He testified before the Congressional Select Committee on Energy Independence and Global Warming last month about creating a national Green Jobs Corps with federal backing. Tuesday, he said, the national plan has the support of House Speaker Nancy Pelosi while Democratic Rep. Hilda Solis of Southern California has agreed to sponsor a bill creating a national program, Jones said.