Opinion: City Must Mitigate Bus Rapid Transit impacts

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AC Transit’s East Bay Bus Rapid Transit (BRT) will bring lightrail service to buses traveling from San Leandro to Oakland. Rendering courtesy of AC Transit.

AC Transit’s East Bay Bus Rapid Transit (BRT) is going to permanently and drastically change International Boulevard from a four-lane boulevard with ample parking to a two-lane street with 300 fewer parking spaces

As these plans became clear, businesses along its 9.5-mile route organized in 2016 to pressure the City of Oakland to establish the Business Assistance Sustainability Fund (BASF) to mitigate permanent BRT impacts.

While this is an important and necessary program, it is far from sufficient to protect this Black, Brown and Asian businesses from displacement. We must do better.

The BRT Mitigation Fund provides $2,165,000 within the City of Oakland ($255K for San Leandro) to “address direct temporary construction impacts to businesses and make referrals and provide technical support as needed for technical mitigation during construction.”

This fund was capped at a maximum of $100K for each applicant.

The funding for the BRT Technical Assistance and Business Assistance Fund programs was set up to assist merchants in a technical capacity that includes assistance with marketing and addressing changes as a result of the reconfiguration along the International corridor.

Numerous businesses began to exhibit “going out of business” signs, including the Perry Furniture store that has been located on 72nd Avenue for decades.

After canvassing the area on different dates and times to factor in various shifts, it was discovered that not only were the merchants unaware – many were losing customers, and their businesses were being adversely impacted by the delayed construction, even during times where not a single construction worker was visible.

But parking spaces were blocked off, including even access to the entrance of some of these businesses.

After listening to a number of merchants, and the consequent BRT Informational update that was provided during the Council’s Public Works Committee meeting on April 9, it became abundantly clear that changes are needed to the program to ensure assistance, including:

• Provide an additional $5 million;

• Allow funds to address permanent impacts or temporary construction impacts;

• Streamline the permanent impacts application;

• Create separate eligibility criteria and disbursement guidelines for staff and consultants for temporary construction impacts’ funding;

• When construction continues, either consecutively of concurrently, for more than 30 calendar days, businesses will be paid their mortgage and utilities bills on a pro rata basis for every day beyond 30 days upon presentation of their most recent mortgage statement and past 3 months of utility bills.

There will be a Merchant Town Hall taking place Friday May 3, 2:30 p.m., at East Bay Asian Youth Center (EBAYC) at 2025 East 12th St. It is important to understand why few businesses have received funding and to center the voices of those directly impacted.

A majority of Oakland businesses of businesses are d “Mom and Pop” stores. Opposing displacement includes fighting for East Oakland residents and preserving small businesses as well.

During the height of the crack cocaine epidemic in the 1980s, storefronts in my neighborhood were not only open but thriving. At a time when prosperity and development is being proclaimed from City Hall, the benefits are clearly not getting extended to East Oakland.

The city needs to prioritize the health and well-being of these merchants who, like East Oakland residents, are impacted by decisions that not only were they not present to provide input on but required to suffer from what is proclaimed as the “good for the community,” which typically occurs at the expense of African Americans and other communities of color.

For more information, go to https://brt.actransit.org/construction/business-support-services/

John Jones III is an East Oakland resident.

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