Malonga Center Supporters Say Market-Rate Project May Cripple Cultural Institution




Nearly a month after City Council passed a resolution designating the 14th Street corridor in downtown Oakland as the Black Arts Movement Business District “to highlight, celebrate, preserve and support the contributions of Oakland’s Black artists and business owners,” one of the city’s main cultural institutions is being threatened by two proposals to build market-rate housing developments across the street.



The Malonga Casquelourd Center for the Arts, located at 14th and Alice St., has been a recognizable cultural institution in Oakland for over four decades and a central hub for communities of the African Diaspora.



The parking lots along 14th St., two of the only places where the Malonga Center’s patrons can park their cars when taking classes or attending cultural performances, are slated to be replaced by market-rate housing developments that will also mean the destruction of the iconic Alice Street Mural.



According to cultural activists and Malonga center neighbors, both of the development proposals were fast-tracked through the city’s Planning Commission and include no affordable housing units, no parking to replace the parking lots and little-to-no community benefits to offset the negative impacts on the Malonga Center.



Photo by Tulio Ospina
Photo by Tulio Ospina



Carla Service, owner of Dance-A-Vision Entertainment and longtime resident of the Malonga Center, says the project and lack of parking will be detrimental to the cultural institution and its neighbors.



“It’s going to choke our businesses, and they are going to be crippled,” said Service. “Over here, these businesses are in dire straights, and the city should make sure it takes care of people that already exist in neighborhoods, especially if development is coming in.”



“The center is an international destination that draws visitors from across the region,” she said. “Some come from as far away as Hayward, Antioch, or Santa Rosa. Parking is already tight, and usually there are cars double-parked or people asleep in their cars waiting for a space to free up.”



Nearly 200 artists, cultural activists, drummers and Oakland students rallied Thursday in front of the Alice Street Mural and marched to City Hall to protest of the Planning Commission’s willingness to “fasttrack developments without negotiating an equitable portion of community benefits,” according to a press release by the Oakland Creative Neighborhoods Coalition (OCNC).



Organizers demanded that the decisions be overturned until the costs to replace the mural are completely financed and the ground floor of the developments become a parking garage dedicated to Malonga Arts Center staff and patrons.



They also want 15 to 28 percent of the units to be affordable to families earning less than $64,000 a year.



“The Malonga Theater is one of the cultural icons of the city, and people come from all over to see it,” said former-Mayor Jean Quan, who attended the rally.



“The city council has not really gone forward with suggestions from the Housing Equity Roadmap, and they really need to,” said Mayor Quan. “Otherwise, they’re going to be inconsistently fighting for equity space by space throughout Oakland, and we’re going to lose the diverse mix of the city.”



According to Eric Arnold, a member of OCNC’s steering committee, the two developments fly in the face of the city’s promise to support a Black Arts District.



Council President Lynette Gibson McElhaney did not respond to the Post’s questions regarding how the recent approval of the Black Arts District would help protect institutions like the Malonga Center.


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