Editorial: Oak Knoll Barcelona Property Needs More Than Just Affordable Housing

On Tuesday, Dec. 5, the City Council’s Community and Economic Development Committee will consider Councilmembers Rebecca Kaplan and Larry Reid’s resolution for the city to send out request for proposals (RFP) to developers interested in building affordable housing on the city-owned Barcelona Parcel on the Oak Knoll property. This is a good first step towards the equitable development of this public land, but the city could go much further. 

Kaplan and Reid’s resolution states that “rising housing costs have led longtime residents to be displaced,” and that “creating new affordable housing helps our residents maintain community roots and encourages racial and economic diversity for generations,” so the City Administrator is therefore directed to release an RFP for affordable housing on the 5.4 acre parcel between Barcelona Street and St. Andrews Road.

(Read Kaplan and Reid’s full resolution) 

There is absolutely no disputing that Oakland needs more housing, particularly affordable housing. Everybody wants more of it. But building affordable units for the Barcelona property will only go so far in helping residents “maintain community roots” and “racial and economic diversity for generations” as Reid and Kaplan’s resolution states. True community roots and economic diversity come when the workers building the housing are local and are paid family-sustaining wages. It’s when young workers are allowed to gain valuable skills for their professions. It’s one thing to be sheltered, but another to have a job that can help support others and a career path that ensures future work. 

The city should require any developer looking to build affordable housing on the Barcelona property to sign a project labor agreement (PLA) similar to the PLA agreed to by local unions and the city administrator for the city-owned portion of the Oakland Army Base. That PLA ensured that at least 20 percent of the workers on the site would be union apprentices, and at least 50 percent of the apprentices would be from Oakland.

Exact details for a Barcelona property PLA can be negotiated between the Alameda Building Trades Council and the city, but the Army Base agreement ensured that local workers would get their due and a new generation of apprentices would learn skills that would last them a long time and keep them in the city. Doing something similar for the publicly-owned portion of Oak Knoll would make sure this public land benefits Oakland residents. 

We support the Kaplan-Reid resolution, but only if it provides affordable housing and middle-class jobs. The city is a major property owner. The Oakland City Council needs to set an example for public land deals by requiring the developer of the Barcelona Parcel to sign a PLA that ensures this publicly-owned land provides the kind of good jobs and affordable housing needed to preserve the city’s diversity.