In August, Uber announced that it’s probably not coming to Oakland after all and will likely put the former Sears building back on the market. Since the issues of gentrification and displacement that caused The Greenlining Institute and others to form the No Uber Oakland campaign haven’t gone away, this might be a good time to ask what we’ve learned, and how we move forward.
When Uber announced its initial plans that would likely move 2,000-3,000 highly paid tech workers into downtown Oakland, we were alarmed about the impact on Oakland’s residents, workers, small businesses, nonprofits and artists. We’ve all seen what happened when San Francisco rolled out the red carpet to big tech companies: Skyrocketing housing costs left even families with six-figure incomes struggling to find adequate housing, while soaring commercial rents priced out nonprofits – and all of this badly undermined the city’s diversity and character.
Much the same continues to happen in Oakland, where the average one bedroom apartment currently rents for $2,025 per month – making it the country’s seventh most expensive rental market, according to Abodo, an apartment rental listings website. That’s just not viable when Oakland’s median household income is $54,618.
We launched No Uber Oakland only after months of unsuccessful efforts to meet with Uber’s leadership and have a serious dialogue about the company’s plans for supporting Oaklanders. While the company made some token gestures, it became clear it was never really serious about listening to Oaklanders or being part of our community. On the No Uber Oakland site, we laid out a 10-point platform that Uber could adopt if it was really serious about working with the Oakland community.
Meanwhile, Uber continues to struggle with bad press, declining market share, questions about whether it will ever be profitable, and leadership struggles. Arrogance and insularity don’t constitute a long-term growth strategy. For tech companies to truly succeed, they must embrace good corporate governance and responsibility, and uplift – rather than just exploit — the local communities that surround them and make up their customer base.
That also means opening up good tech jobs and leadership positions to all of California’s diverse population. Right now, tech remains a fortress where Latinos and African Americans are drastically underrepresented and leadership remains overwhelmingly white and male.
But we’ve also learned that companies won’t reform on their own. Local governments, including Oakland’s, must look at the broader picture when any big corporation – not just tech – wants to move into town. Of course we want companies to grow and invest in Oakland, but no good will come from pretending there won’t be downsides in a town where working families, artists and community groups already struggle to keep a roof over their heads. In the future, city leaders must work with the community to make sure companies act responsibly and that the rising tide of corporate investment doesn’t drown ordinary Oaklanders.
Orson Aguilar is president of The Greenlining Institute.