By Gregory McConnell
Washington, DC, my hometown, has recorded remarkable growth and may be able to teach Oakland how to rebound. It started in 2003 with a report from the Brookings Institution that concluded that adding 50,000 well off residents would increase city revenues by $300 Million. City leaders made a commitment to add at least 15,000 homes and 100,000 residents to the city in ten years, and launched an aggressive program to attract new residents with disposable income. According to the Washington Post, in the next 12 months, DC will add another 11,000 apartment and condo units and is growing faster than anywhere else since the recession began.
This is almost shocking to me. When I lived and worked in DC, it was the epitome of urban dysfunction. It had all the problems we now have in Oakland, high crime rates, blight, scars from riots and demonstrations, and reeled from a crack epidemic that brought a wave of despair. Today, it is a bustling town where young professionals fill the city and spend their money at clubs, restaurants, and other entertainment venues and produce revenues that make “DC’s finances fare far better than those of similar urban areas.” (Washington Post, Opinion, May 25)
Oakland had its own experiment with rebuilding the city with young professionals. We called it the 10k plan. However, our program was not nearly as ambitious. We sought to add 10,000 residents in 6,000 homes. With focused government and collaboration with developers and residents, we were successful in building Uptown and other areas, but many people think we only scratched the surface. They now call for a 10K 2.
Some may think that DC has advantages over Oakland. It is the seat of our federal government and teaming with jobs for young professionals. However, when you consider the greater Bay Area and our appeal to tech companies, start-ups, tourism, and our natural amenities, Oakland has all the resources it needs to attract young professionals.
In a May 20 poll of 500 likely voters by the Jobs and Housing Coalition, we questioned whether Oakland voters would support growth. The answer was a resounding yes. When asked specifically about a 10 K 2 plan to attract more residents, voters responded affirmatively with 72 percent in agreement.
Voters also want more cops and 88 percent view public safety problems as the greatest impediment to attracting new businesses and jobs. Yet, they would not pay for cops with new taxes. By a vote of 52 to 36 percent, voters would reject a modest telephone tax proposal.
Sixty-Eight (68) percent want to strengthen Oakland’s competitiveness by adding a director of economic development to the City Administrator’s office, and 74 percent want officials to aggressively market Oakland to bring creative young professionals to town.
To be sure, DC still has problems associated with poverty, crime, and hard-core unemployment in some populations. But with the income produced by the infusion of young professionals, DC now has resources to tackle those problems.
We have seen how a focused and dedicated approach to growth worked in DC and caught a glimpse of it here. The Jobs and Housing Coalition urges city leaders to work with business to marshal our human and financial resources to bring people to town and grow Oakland.
We urge a 10K 2 now.