Housing activists shut down Oakland Chamber of Commerce summit, cancel mayor’s speech

Photo courtesy Ethan Buckner

OAKLAND (BCN) — About 60 housing activists shut down the Oakland Chamber of Commerce 2016 Economic Summit this morning.

The activists shut down the conference by locking their arms in PVC pipes to prevent attendees from entering the Kaiser Center Auditorium at 300 Lakeside Drive for the planned summit, scheduled to start at 7:30 a.m.

By 9 a.m., today’s event had been postponed. Oakland Mayor Libby Schaaf was scheduled to speak this morning.

The activists were demanding that the mayor declare a housing state of emergency.

When the mayor got to the summit and heard of the protest she asked the protesters if they would like to speak with her so the summit could go on. But the protesters refused, the mayor’s spokeswoman Erica Terry-Derryk said.

Spokeswoman for the protesters Carroll Fife said 25 percent of Oakland’s population has been displaced in the last decade and each day landlords evict an average of 33 households in Oakland.

But the mayor is looking for a long-term solution to an immediate problem, Fife said.

The protest was a success, she said.

“Now we just hope the mayor declares this state of emergency,” she said.

President and CEO of the Oakland African-American Chamber of Commerce Cheryl Perry-League, who was at the summit to learn about the direction of the Oakland economy, said the housing crisis in Oakland has to be addressed.

But she said that it’s something to be addressed in a partnership between housing activists, business groups and city officials.

She argued that the Chamber of Commerce is not against the affected groups.

Perry-League suggested discovering the way one group affects the other and then developing a strategy to address the problem.

She said the young protesters will need a job or may want to start a business. The businesses at the summit offer or promote opportunities and jobs.

Her vision is to see the two sides come together.

The summit was meant to explore the reasons investors and businesses are choosing Oakland as a place to invest and do business.

Protesters held signs that read, “Our housing crisis is not your profit opportunity.”

Fife said Schaaf needs to connect with communities being affected by the housing crisis, especially the black community. That’s what the problem boils down to, Fife said.

The mayor’s office said Schaaf is still open to a conversation with the activists. Terry-Derryck said the mayor is aware of the soaring rents and lack of affordable housing, which can displace current residents.

In response, the mayor has developed a plan to protect 17,000 households from displacement over the next eight years and create 17,000 new units of housing at all income levels over the next eight years, Derryck said.

Schaaf has also started an inspection program so vulnerable residents can report unsafe housing conditions to city officials. She’s relaxed city requirements on secondary housing units to increase the amount of available housing.

She’s asked for more money for tenant support and protection. She’s also declared a shelter emergency to make more shelter beds available so city officials have the flexibility to develop short and long-term solutions to the affordability problem.

Oakland Chamber of Commerce President and CEO Barbara Leslie said in a statement that chamber officials had no choice but to cancel the summit.

She said the protest was unrelated to the summit and that local leaders were eager to hear from speakers such as OCHO Chocolate Founder Denis Ring who is committed to creating jobs for residents of West Oakland.

“While the protestors chose to deny participants the opportunity to learn about some of the great work being done (in Oakland), the chamber and its partners in the public and private sector will continue their efforts to build a thriving Oakland,” Leslie said.

Police at 11:00 a.m. said officers had not reported any arrests.

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