Promises were broken for army base jobs

September 15, 2008 7:34:01 PM PDT
When the government began closing down military bases more than a decade ago, $1 billion dropped from Bay Area payrolls. The number of military and civilian jobs lost at these bases adds up to more than 30,000, more than 20,000 in Alameda County alone, and many of the surrounding communities have been very slow to recover.

It seems, time stands still at the Oakland Army Base. Nine years after the base closed for good, there's little sign of the promises made, the jobs to be gained in Oakland or at three other ex-military installations in the East Bay.

Zennie Abraham was an economic advisor to then-Mayor Elihu Harris, when the Oakland Army Base closed in 1999.

"The city is behind the times in communicating what it wants to do. It hasn't communicated what it wants to do and it doesn't have a sound plan for what it wants to do," says Abraham, Former Oakland Economic Advisor.

Four large East Bay military installations were decommissioned between 1996 and 1999: Oakland Army Base, Oak Knoll Naval Hospital, Alameda Naval Air Station, and the Mare Island Naval Shipyard in Vallejo.

In all, 15,000 well-paying civilian jobs were lost.

Shirley Burnell was a key punch operator at the Oakland Army Base in the mid-1970s.

"Was it a more prosperous time for Oakland because of the base?" asked ABC7's Laura Anthony.
"Of course, because everyone had jobs," says Shirley Burnell, a former army base worker.

According to the nonprofit labor group Partnership for Working Families, only about 500 of the 1,900 mostly civilian jobs lost at the base have been replaced. And large-scale redevelopment is still many years away.

"Here's this one opportunity, with well over 100 acres," says Oakland Mayor Ron Dellums.

Dellums was chairman of the House Armed Services Committee when the base realignment and closure commission decided to shut down so many bases in his district in the 1990s.

"Most communities, when there's a base closure, everybody panics and runs out and says 'Save the base, save the base!' My approach was let's move beyond that," says Dellums.

However, now as mayor of Oakland, Dellums is presiding over a re-use process that's dragging on far longer than expected.

In July, the city narrowed its list of possible developers to four and is just now requesting proposals from them, months behind schedule.

Mayor Dellums told ABC7, when it comes to a project of this size, of this magnitude, the pace of redevelopment should not be a top priority.

"Once we use up this 100 and some odd acres of land, it's done. And so what we do, we ought to do it with great care, great dignity and great wisdom," says Dellums.

Dellums' vision for redeveloping 108 acres of the old army base called The Gateway Project, includes 10,000 new jobs, five times the number that existed when the base closed in 1999.

"So I'd like to see this development be mixed use, with office space, flexible offices, green technology, maritime associated activity," says Dellums.

Still, Dellums still has no specific plan for realizing that vision.

"The army base really is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity," says Kate O'Hara with the East Bay Alliance for a Sustainable Economy.

O'Hara group favors mostly warehouse jobs for the army base, as opposed to retail or other types of work.

"A warehouse job in the Bay Area can provide almost $20 an hour wage, whereas someone in retail would be making less than $15 an hour at best," says O'Hara, East Bay Alliance for Sustainable Economy.

"I think they should be paying above minimum wage, way above minimum wage. That's what I would consider a good job, where people can actually take care of their families," says Brunell.

The Oakland City Council is expected to formally request proposals from the developers this week.

They will then have four to six months to submit their plans to the city.


Load Comments