It was finally my turn, and I raised my hand to ask a question. We were sitting in a dimly lit meeting room in a hotel near the Oakland Airport, and presenters from Oakland had been showing slides with maps and architectural renderings of sports facilities, high-rise hotels and condominiums, and trails to connect these shiny new buildings to the far eastern tip of San Francisco Bay.
"I have lived in East Oakland for three decades, and I have seen disinvestment by both the private and public sectors from our community. My question is, how will this development improve the environment and health impacts for East Oakland residents?"
I didn't get an answer at the public meeting, but it's critical that Oakland residents work together to do so as the draft environmental impact report and specific plans move toward approval this year.
Oakland can't afford business as usual at Coliseum City and must make the most of this opportunity to develop 365 well-situated acres between a major highway, regional light rail, Amtrak and the bay. In the process, we can't ignore East Oakland's 216 stationary sources of pollution and 49 environmental hazard spots located near schools, playgrounds and senior citizen centers.
City planners have been smart in planning for all or none of the current sports teams. Too much time has been wasted speculating about which franchise will locate where. East Oakland residents have decades in the community and are fighting gentrification and displacement to stay in our homes. We need the employment, housing, equity opportunities and tax base, but that's not enough.
Coliseum City offers more than ballgames, overpriced condos and offices. It offers Oakland the opportunity to fix decades of disinvestment and bad decisions about land use that put residents at risk.
According to the California Air Resources Board, East Oakland emergency room visits for asthma more than double Alameda County's average, and are among the highest in the state. The California Office of Environmental Health Hazard Assessment reports that Oakland's Coliseum area suffers the worst effects of pollution and has the lowest income to address the health burdens it carries. Because this community is overburdened, CEQA requires special attention to, and robust mitigation for, any additional pollution or contribution to cumulative effects.
In May 2013, the coalition I lead wrote to city planners, "Setting clear expectations for improved health and equity through transit, housing and food justice policies from the initial project planning stages is critical to the success of this venture. The Coliseum City project you are beginning to plan must improve health outcomes, not further burden this community."
We submitted detailed letters outlining our issues and concrete proposals. Goals included:
We can't afford business as usual, and East Oakland can't afford more neglect and disinvestment. We need Coliseum City to succeed for all of us and a healthier future.
Nehanda Imara is East Oakland organizer for Communities for a Better Environment and chair of East Oakland Building Healthy Communities' land use work group.