Threatened by development: the Alice St. mural

Threatened by development: the Alice St. mural

In Fall 2015, the Community Rejuvenation Project (CRP) completed the Alice St. Mural, after two years of work. The mural reflected a new model for community engagement—dozens of interviews with cultural practitioners and neighborhood residents were completed—and represented a successful application of the city of Oakland’s underutilized anti-blight mural fund. Yet just a few months after a dynamic, rousing block party activated what had been a nondescript parking lot, word came that the lot was planned for development. The proposed development would completely obscure the mural, as well as eliminate surface parking for Malonga instructors.

The news appeared to be a crushing blow. Yet CRP remained undaunted. We began negotiating with Maria Poncel, principal of Bay Development, to pay relocation costs for a new mural. Poncel agreed in principle to cover some costs, but initially refused to commit to a specific dollar amount. CRP’s next move was to join forces with longtime affordable housing activist Lailan Huen and Malonga dance instructor Carla Service and form the #SupportMalonga Coalition. The coalition launched a petition drive and attended a Planning Commission hearing to argue that the developer had not agreed to any tangible community benefits, despite getting a zoning variance which increased the height of the development from eight to 16 stories. We also addressed the lack of affordable housing and the loss of parking. Regardless, the Planning Commission approved the development.

Next, the #SupportMalonga Coalition mounted a successful crowdfunding campaign to cover the costs of filing an appeal. Joined by representatives of Oakland Creative Neighborhoods Coalition, Soul of Oakland, and Marvin X, founder of the Black Arts Movement Business District, as well as students from local high schools, the Coalition led a march for #EquitableDevelopment from the Malonga Center to City Hall, where we filed our appeal.

The March for #EquitableDevelopment rallied in front of City Hall

The March for #EquitableDevelopment rallied in front of City Hall

The appeal never made it to Council, though, as Council President Lynnette Gibson-McElhaney’s office intervened and offered to facilitate a mediation between the Coalition and Bay Development. The mediation session on April 4 lasted almost six hours. When it was all said and done, Bay Development agreed to:

  • Pay $100,000 for the costs of a replacement mural
  • Pay $160,000 for affordable housing provisions at the Malonga Center
  • Pay $15,000 for parking for Malonga residents and staff
  • Support the dedication of the Public Art development fee – which reportedly could be $250,000 or more – to capital improvements at the Malonga Center.

All told, the mediation could result in securing funding in the neighborhood of $500,000 in community benefits, which mitigates the Planning Commission’s oversight in this matter somewhat. Moreover, this mediation agreement sets several significant precedents, creating momentum for equitable development and cultural equity moving forward.

President McElhaney has mentioned in the past that the restoration of the Malonga is a priority for her, and Bay Development’s contributions help kickstart that campaign in a concrete way.

The allocation of monies toward a relocated mural establishes good faith between the creative arts community and the development community, a welcome sign considering that developers sued the city last year to prevent the implementation of the Percent for Art fee (a lawsuit which has yet to be resolved).

The public-private partnership support of the Malonga Center also bodes well for the fledgling Black Arts Movement Business District, of which the Malonga is an anchor institution.

#SupportMalonga Coalition's Carla Service, Bay Development's Gladys Moore and Maria Poncel, and CM Lynnette Gibson-McElhaney hold up the signed mediation agreement

#SupportMalonga Coalition’s Carla Service, Bay Development’s Gladys Moore and Maria Poncel, and CM Lynnette Gibson-McElhaney hold up the signed mediation agreement

Perhaps most importantly, the mediation victory comes at a time when affordable housing, displacement, and gentrification are Oakland’s most pressing issues. The cultural arts community has been in crisis mode for months, attempting to establish a cultural equity framework, slow down the fast-tracking of development, and hold city officials and developers accountable. This win shows it is indeed possible, and helps create momentum moving forward.

Yet this is only one battle in a long campaign. Another development, planned for 226 13th St., across the street from the Malonga Center, would further eliminate hundreds of parking spaces and create 258 units of market-rate housing – with no affordable units. According to the East Bay Express, the developer, Wood Partners, believes that building market-rate housing in and of itself constitutes a community benefit, though it admits advocates, residents and activists may see things differently. The proposed development has not yet been placed on the calendar for a Planning Commission hearing.