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Lying liars in the media

After a month-long vacation (sorry about that), FutureOakland is back to skewer out-of-touch politicians and biased media. The Los Angeles Times recently trashed local bloggers, blaming them for a poisonous political atmosphere and accusing them (us?) of libel. In the Bay Area, of course, the atmosphere is poisonous enough; our politicians and local media need local bloggers to keep them from engaging in their slight-of-hand tactics when it comes to vital local issues and policies. For example, bloggers and commenters have challenged the Trib’s lack of disclosing the affiliations of union activists it interviews; hopefully the new Coalition for Responsible Development (ie, just another name for the AFL-CIO’s EBASE) will not be able to baldly assert their “grass-roots” status in the future. A few other issues need some calling out, as well.

Last Friday, the Berkeley Daily Planet’s irrepressible Jesse Douglas Allen-Taylor wrote an unthinking summary of progress on the Wayans Brothers project. JDA-T writes the following:

The purchase price for the property has yet to be determined and, unlike many recent developers coming to Oakland, the Wayans have not requested any city subsidies for their proposed project.

Sorry to be so direct, but this is bullshit. Exactly who has asked for city subsidies? There are few developers coming into Oakland right now (due to the hostile political climate), and nobody has asked for any subsidies. Little lies like this reveal JDA-T’s socialist worldview and do a great disservice to debate. How are we supposed to discuss the merits of a pro-development or anti-development approach when completely incorrect assertions are spewed by local journalists?

Speaking of which, Trib fossil Cecily Burt outdid herself with her article about the Zoning Update Committee’s acceptance of a politically-directed staff report encouraging so-called “industrial preservation.” I put that in quotes since there is no industry to preserve. If anti-development activists don’t curtail investment altogether (with inclusionary zoning, “community impact report” requirements, or uneconomical height limits), we are certain to face a city-wide debate over the direction of our languishing industrial tracts. From slanted headlines (“Panel picks jobs over housing”) to outright lies, the Trib and Burt continue to do their best to avoid a rational discussion. Let’s go through the lies.

The revised recommendation, approved by the Oakland Planning Commission’s zoning update committee Wednesday, makes industrial zoning and good-paying jobs the priority, not housing.

First, this just didn’t happen – the commission can’t zone salaries. Second, industrial jobs no longer pay well. My anecdotal understanding (I have friends who work in food, garment, and robotics factories) is that they generally pay the same as retail jobs and less than office jobs. Many industrial jobs pay far worse than retail, but those won’t locate here (like the canvas bag manufacturer Nancy Nadel hoped to snag by banning certain plastic grocery bags). Housing of course generates jobs, from high-paying temporary construction jobs to permanent service jobs spanning a range of pay rates. Furthermore, Oakland’s housing boom has attracted investment from office builders eager to be near employees. Since the dot-bomb, Oakland’s office occupancy rate has been much healthier than SF’s, even though SF recruited biotech and other manufacturers to its city with enormous tax breaks.

(Residential) speculation drove up costs for industrial properties. The uncertainty about the city’s industrial future caused some Oakland businesses to leave for more business-friendly climates. Some businesses that tried to find space in Oakland ended up going somewhere else.

… like Tennessee or China. Note that there is not one shred of evidence or quotes backing up this wide-ranging assertion (which absurdly implies that we had a thriving industrial sector before the housing boom). There is no suitable industrial space in Oakland, period. All of our industrial buildings are “antiquated,” to use Burt’s term, and rehabilitation costs far exceed the cost of simply erecting a new building. But new construction is expensive, and industrial users cannot afford it. I love how the decade-long failure of Nancy Nadel and her ilk to lure industry to Oakland is now being cited as evidence of why we can’t have any mixed-use development. Of course, she thinks the city should just cough up millions of dollars of subsidies, but that’s too ridiculous to address.

“Part of the reason that people are attracted the Mandela Grand project is because they think there is (no other option for the property),” Nadel said. “But we have to show them there is another there there.”

Yes, the longstanding lack of use for the buildings is why the project is popular! The Pacific Pipe building is a century-old factory made of wood. The idea that it can be reused is laughable. The Mandela Grand project will in fact include newly-built industrial space, that the developers say should house more jobs than were there fifty years ago at the height of factory employment. This newly-built space, with modern amenities like electricity, is what’s needed, but only the high-rise housing towers can afford the huge costs of steel and concrete. By placing industrial space in the platforms that support the towers, Mandela Grand shows how mixed-use can both create jobs and housing. Without newly-built industrial space, there will be no jobs, just like now.

Burt of course doesn’t quote any West Oakland residents or community leaders, and dismisses Mandela Grand’s overwhelming local support as “religious.” But her conclusion is telling. The owner of an art-moving company, employing 30 people, doesn’t think there should be any housing so that his land costs stay low. Even the smaller developments in Oakland have 50 residents in them, and West Oakland’s condo complexes are big. The art-moving company may have solar power (many new apartments do too), but it’s auto-oriented and a poor use of urban land (30 employees on a site that could probably accommodate 100 residents). Even leaving diesel exhaust aside (how is he moving his art?), condos are greener than so-called green industry.

Without newly-built industrial space, Nancy Nadel will continue to fail in her efforts to recruit “leading-edge” industries. Without housing, there isn’t the investment return necessary to afford construction, nor is there the population density to increase bus service or encourage healthy retail. The Mandela Grand project is the best of both worlds – housing and industry. Segregated legacy buildings will never be part of a vibrant industrial market. Burt, Nadel, the Trib’s editors, and everyone else who’s living in the past will figure this out either when Mandela Grand is built and is successful, or when their reactionary restricted zoning fails as miserably as it has in other cities.

Posted in citycouncil, dellums, housing, iz, news, oakland, planningcommission.

10 Responses

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  1. V Smoothe says

    What the LA Times fails to grasp is that most political bloggers started writing in response to the mainstream media’s complete failure to cover local politics in any meaningful or responsible manner. We exist because they aren’t doing their jobs.

    From Cecily Burt’s industrial preservation crusade to Robert Gammon’s pathetic obsession with Don Perata and incessant ode’s to Stuart Flashman, our local newspapers are frequently more biased and less honest than any blogger. Even when the journalist is not pushing an agenda, the stories fail to place policies under consideration in any sort of context, resorting instead to mindlessly repeating talking points from the biggest players on either side of the issue.

  2. dto510 says

    Exactly. Reading Burt’s article on West Oakland industry would suggest some sort of alternate universe without world trade and high construction costs, where the only thing keeping Oakland from reclaiming its manufacturing glory is greedy residential speculators who refuse to sign leases. The relentless socialist bias of the local media, as well as the utterly out-of-touch politicians and political activists dominating the agenda, leaves quite a bit of room for everyday Oaklanders who know something and want to contribute a dose of reality to the Fourth Estate. With minor exceptions, the Fourth Estate isn’t listening. If it weren’t for wonderful inventions like the Trib’s comments, Burt and Allen-Taylor would get away with their lies.

  3. scottpark07 says

    Who, now folks. I don’t disagree with most of what you’re saying, but for someone who just got back from a month’s vacation (a MONTH! folks…in America!) you seem pretty PO’d. I mean, duh!, of course daily newspapers are going to try and take bloggers down: you are the competition!! I know you have no beef with good old competition in the marketplace.
    Of course, the only thing worse than being talked about is not being talked about. Thou doth protest too much.

    Nobody at the Oakland Tribune is a socialist.

    Robert Gammon’s obsession with Don Perata is incredibly fucking pathetic. By any measure, anybody should be happy to have him representing us. Oh, perhaps we should get rid of him and then send the Senate Presidency down to LA with the Speaker. No fucking chance! Whatever Don needs to do to make sure the Bay gets MORE than its fair share is OK with me.

  4. dto510 says

    Alas, my month of vacation was only from the blog, not my other responsibilities. I appreciate that we bloggers compete with the MSM and so they’ll abuse their wider readership to, say, steal our stories without acknowledgement (locally, only JDA-T consistently credits who got the scoop). The LA Times article favorably quoted California city councilmembers contemplating lawsuits against blogs for being too critical! I can only imagine what they would think of what’s on North Oakland’s mailing lists.

    While a substantial minority of Oaklanders are socialists, their views are overrepresented in the media. Look at the coverage of so-called Inclusionary Zoning! The press mindlessly repeats the lie that it has anything to do with low-income housing (lucky lottery winners of IZ units would make around $85k/yr), and neglects to point out that it involves long-term government oversight of the prices and buyers of (what is hoped to be) a substantial portion of Oakland’s new, privately-funded housing stock. This radically socialist idea is portrayed by the local press to be a mainstream policy, yet 80% of California municipalities lack condo price caps. Frankly, I call this socialist bias. Strictly regulating a portion of the privately-built housing market is on the fringe of 21st-century political debate, and the media should treat it as such.

  5. Deckin says


    If no one at the Trib is a socialist, then that’s actually worse news. At least then one could credit them with having some idea, however bad. The only other interpretation then of their parroting of central planning by the city of Oakland over what it’s never shown the slightest competence would have to be that they’re unthinking fools. Given that in one story, a reporter actually used the locution ‘candle opera’ for ‘candelabra’ (and this wasn’t caught by an editor) tends to support the latter interpetation. From what I read on my local listserv, the blogs around here are making the kind of impact on the local debate that the Trib ought to be doing.

  6. Adam Metz says

    Hey…it’s really nice to see someone else writing about gentrification and urban/suburban friction here in Oakland.

  7. scottpark says

    Whatever. I’ll just say that anyone who actually publicly went on about how the Oakland Tribune is socialist would not be taken seriously. It is simply not a factual statement and resonates with NOBODY. Red-baiting your way into policy change will go nowhere in Oakland. Indeed, many Oaklanders are not only theoretically inclined to critque capitalism, but many of them can also be convincingly argued to be among those who have (how to say it?) yet to benefit from the capitalist miracle.

    That being said, the Trib’s a piece of trash. As is the Oakland Post. Both are embarassments.

  8. dto510 says

    Thanks Adam! Great to see your blog out there too.

    Scott Park – I don’t understand why labeling people socialists upsets you. I mean, you’re talking about capitalist critiques – that’s pretty Marxist. Putting a portion of the privately-built housing market under strict government oversight, without compensation, is certainly socialist. And so the IZ advocates know they’re socialists! On May Day, they held rallies and wrote op-eds in favor of their radical plan.

Continuing the Discussion

  1. Great Expectations » This just in from the Trib: Sometimes your rent goes up linked to this post on July 30, 2007

    [...] or merely lazy. But either way, the end product is irresponsible and just one more example of the biased drivel that passes for journalism at the [...]

  2. Fighting the myth of industrial preservation in Oakland | A Better Oakland linked to this post on October 19, 2007

    [...] space on land that is currently being used as a self-storage facility. dto510 has discussed these deceptions in the [...]