Why #OO Should Occupy the Kaiser Convention Center

Posted on 11 February 2012 by @kevin_seal

The following is an Opinion-Editorial piece written by Don Macleay, which first appeared on his blog, “A Voice in Oakland, California.” Macleay took part in the January 28 march and has been involved in Occupy Oakland since the autumn of 2011. Also worth noting is an earlier post he wrote, entitled “Occupy is a movement, not an organization.”


How many cities have a boarded-up convention center?

I know a lot of cities in the USA are just like Oakland and have boarded-up businesses, boarded-up homes and abandoned properties in them. The new American Gothic includes the homeless encampment in the freeway landscaping and the mentally ill on the sidewalks. But a whole convention center?

How do we categorize this problem?

Mismanagement and neglect would be a good category. That would lump the convention center in with the rotting Victorian mansions, concessions stands, and bathrooms in our parks. Has anyone from the public seen the inside recently? Is it OK? It may not be, given the way the old gymnasium in North Oakland was allowed to rot, with roof leakage so badly overlooked that a million dollar wooden floor is now worthless. I am very serious: when was the last time that building was inspected or open to a press visit? This building belongs to us; our city is known for neglect. IS IT OK?

Under- and mis-utilization would be another good category. Back when the Kaiser Center was ostensibly open, it was never really getting the attention and bookings it needed. This is from the same city government that ropes off downtown and builds fences so that it can charge the public for its Art and Soul Festival, but cannot find any events for a major convention center on a lake with a Museum, Junior College and a BART station for direct neighbors. At the time of the closure, those “in the know” told me it was that we were going to focus on the Fox Theater. Is that development? Build one multimillion dollar facility while we throw another away?

Fiscal fiasco should also be considered as a category. Who owns the Kaiser Convention Center now? Who could sell it? Who could rent it out? During the circus that passed for a budget debate six months ago, we “sold” the building from the City to “Redevelopment”. The building was used as collateral for some loans that got “transferred to the City Hall building.” That would mean if we did not pay the debts, we would have to sell City Hall to pay it! Of course that NEVER happens, but jeez. A lot of things that “never happen” have been happening in state, county, and city budgeting recently. Did they really go through with that plan, or was it just still a plan when the State of California shut down the redevelopment agencies? If they did, who owns the building now? There is supposed to be a “successor agency” if I understand it right. Who is that?

Selling a major asset to pay day-to-day bills is not a secure budget plan. In fact, it is about the worst budget plan. Things like this make me want to raise the bar on the Council selling off public property. It just should not be so easy to do.

So now we have a multimillion dollar, historical convention center boarded up in the middle of our city. The Occupy protestors who wanted to “Occupy” it would have, in effect, opened it back up. We all missed a golden opportunity in a cloud of stubbornness and teargas. All that Occupy energy could help our city at the Kaiser Convention Center.

The public should insist that the building be put back into use. If civic groups can turn it into some kind of civic center and pay the utilities, then the city should allow them to do it. Right now it is just a scandal.

One of the things that the occupy encampment showed was how much energy was available for this kind of civic center activity. That little encampment was feeding and housing homeless people. They had a free health clinic. There was a series of art programs. There was a children’s village. There were library groups, free school, theater etc. And the list goes on and on, from a media center to community gardens.

Our convention center is a vacant property. It needs an occupant and we have a volunteer.

Don Macleay is a Green Party candidate for Oakland City Council, currently running for the 1st District seat against Jane Brunner. He is one of four Green candidates running together as the “Oakland Progressive Alliance,” along with Theresa Anderson, Vicente Cruz II, and Randy Menjivar.