OAKLAND — The director of the White House Office of Urban Affairs and other high-ranking federal officials were in Oakland on Monday to tour some of the city's federal stimulus projects. Their aim: Send a message that the federal government will help urban areas through tough economic times.
"We're here to work with you, to partner with you," said Adolfo Carrion, director of the White House Office of Urban Affairs. "The president understands that we need to build strong American cities in order to be strong globally, in order to ensure our leadership, in order to ensure that we give opportunity to all."
Joining Carrion on the tour were top officials from the federal departments of Housing and Urban Development and of Transportation. Local officials told them about stimulus projects aimed at reducing diesel admissions at the Port of Oakland, bolstering small businesses such as Oakland's Lucasey Manufacturing Corp., creating new affordable-housing opportunities and preparing young people for green jobs.
Mayor Ron Dellums, Rep. Barbara Lee, D-Oakland, and other elected officials welcomed the Washington delegation, which made a similar stop in Philadelphia earlier this year.
Dellums said Oakland set a high standard for itself when asking for stimulus money. The goal, he said, was not simply to receive money and spend it, but rather to leverage it with local government, nonprofit and private-sector programs to help build sustainable economic opportunities.
"We have maintained the integrity of that by embracing a problem-solving strategy "... not simply a grant-writing process," Dellums said.
Stimulus money won't single-handedly solve Oakland's financial problems, however. And the officials' visit came just one day before the City Council will again grapple with budget deficits that could force it to cuts jobs in the Community and Economic Development Agency and Public Works.
For Councilmember Ignacio De La Fuente (Glenview-Fruitvale), the cuts on the table for a meeting at 6 tonight are painful enough. But the real challenges, he said, will come when the city deals with a massive general fund deficit for the 2010-11 fiscal year and other long-term financial obligations.
"It's going to help," he said, of the flow of stimulus money. "It's definitely going to help in some areas. But it's not going to help us with the general fund. It's not going to help us with pensions. It's not going to help us with the cost of medical insurance. It's not going to help us with the inefficiencies and our nonaccountability systems we have."
De La Fuente credited Dellums with bringing federal dollars to Oakland, however. One of the city's prized programs is the Oakland Green Jobs Corps, designed to provide "green pathways out of poverty" by training young people for an emerging industry.
"These are the same kids that they said couldn't do it," said Art Shanks, executive director of the Cypress Mandela Training Center, where Carrion and other officials watched as a group of young men and women were trained in solar installation. "We see that when they come in here and they have structure ... they do advance and rise to the occasion."
The Cypress Mandela Training Center received a $500,000 stimulus grant from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and another $55,000 in stimulus funding from the Department of Transportation. It also partnered with other organizations to receive two additional federal stimulus grants awarded by state agencies.
The more than $200 million that Dellums' office says Oakland and organizations it has partnered with have received from the $787 billion package is welcome news to local officials.
On the national level, however, the Obama administration is taking heat as the national unemployment rate remains high, and critics say the $787 billion bill has done little but push the country further into debt.
"I think it's a lot of money in the wrong places," said Mimi Steel, of Castro Valley, organizer of the Glenn Beck-inspired San Francisco Bay 912 Project, and a constituent of Lee's. "I think every dollar that goes into the private sector has a much greater return than any dollar that goes into the public sector."
Steel would like to see more tax breaks and, most of all, federal spending reductions. Carrion defended the administration's track record, however, saying the stimulus money has saved and generated many jobs and will continue to do so.
"People have to remember that only 60 percent of the money is out," he said. "We're still going to see federal stimulus dollars going out for quite a while."