Oakland Group to Uber: Shape Up Or Stay Out of Our City


The San Jose Mercury News
By Marisa Kendall

OAKLAND — Worried Uber’s arrival will change the rapidly gentrifying city of Oakland for the worse, a handful of local activists on Monday launched a campaign called “No Uber Oakland” hoping to pressure the ride-hailing giant to be a good neighbor — or stay out.

The activists say Uber must change before Oakland residents will welcome it into the city’s Uptown neighborhood, where the startup plans to move several hundred employees into the old Sears building in the summer of 2018. The campaign, which demands that Uber make promises such as hiring diverse Oakland residents, supporting local minority-owned businesses and investing in affordable housing, comes as the city’s expanding tech sector is driving up residential and commercial rentsdisplacing longtime residents and leaving local leaders struggling to maintain Oakland’s eclectic character.

The world’s most valuable startup has scaled back and delayed its initial arrival into Oakland — Uber originally intended to move up to 3,000 employees into the Sears building this year — and Uber says it’s taking its time in part to ensure a smooth transition into its new neighborhood. For now, Uber intends to lease most of the 380,000-square-foot, seven-story building to other tenants but plans to eventually fill the space. Uber also is building a new headquarters in San Francisco’s Mission Bay.

Meanwhile, Uber is facing other problems, including a nationwide backlash after allegations of sexual harassment prompted a high-profile investigation into the company’s culture. Uber’s use of secret software to evade law enforcement stings sparked a criminal investigation, and accusations that Uber stole part of its key self-driving car technology embroiled the startup in a contentious court battle with rival Waymo.

“People worry that a major employer in Oakland that will have a lot of clout with City Hall and doesn’t share Oakland’s values and views will further lead Oakland down a path where people don’t want to see us going,” said Orson Aguilar, president of Oakland nonprofit The Greenlining Institute, which is spearheading the “No Uber Oakland” campaign. “People want to see Oakland (as) a diverse, creative place where progressive values are cherished, and people are worried that Uber will disrupt that.”

The cost of renting the most desirable commercial spots in Oakland’s downtown and Uptown neighborhoods already has jumped from $23.16 per square foot per month in 2012 to $56.52 in the first quarter of this year, according to JLL, a Chicago-based commercial real estate services firm.

Jordan Medina, who used to work at The Greenlining Institute and now serves as Uber’s community outreach lead for Oakland, says he’s met with more than 300 organizations and local leaders over the past nine months, including his former co-workers at Greenlining. He’s already familiar with the “No Uber Oakland” demands, he said, and is working on many of them. That’s why he’s “a little bit surprised and disappointed” that the organization launched a public anti-Uber campaign, he said.

“We have employees who live in Oakland, we have riders who live and work in Oakland, and we have drivers who live and work in Oakland,” said Medina, who lives in Oakland himself, “and I’m excited to show Oakland that we love them and care about them.”

But Aguilar says Uber hasn’t done enough to show its commitment to Oakland, and on Monday his campaign was scheduled to release a list of 10 demands online at NoUberOakland.org, where local residents also can add their names to support the cause. The activists say Uber must make concrete commitments to invest in programs to train local students and adults for jobs at Uber and other tech companies, contract with local small businesses owned by women and minorities, invest in affordable housing and public transit, and support local artists. They also want Uber to establish a community advisory board that meets regularly with CEO Travis Kalanick.

Uber plans to fill the Oakland office with a mix of existing employees and new hires, and has become more proactive about recruiting in Oakland, Medina said. And the startup is still working on choosing the retail partners it wants to move into the first floor of the old Sears building but says they most likely will be local businesses.

Several local organizations in addition to The Greenlining Institute have endorsed the No Uber Oakland campaign, including La Familia, PolicyLink and the Ella Baker Center for Human Rights.

Joanne Kinyon, a 36-year-old athletic trainer who lives and works in Oakland, thinks the campaign is a great way to hold Uber accountable. She, like many others, appreciates the money and jobs Uber will bring to Oakland but also worries about how the tech giant will change the city.

“The new people who come in don’t necessarily understand what being from Oakland means and don’t try to retain any of that flavor,” she said. “It would be a shame to have Oakland turn into San Francisco.”