What Does Equity Mean to You?: Community Voices from Lailan Huen of Chinatown Coalition

Lailan Huen of Chinatown Coalition shares her vision for a future downtown Oakland that is equitable for all.

Lailan Huen shares her thoughts about equity

The Downtown Oakland Specific Plan Team had the pleasure of facilitating a series of interviews with Oaklanders about their visions for an equitable downtown Oakland.

Community members and leaders were asked the following questions:

  1. What does Oakland mean to you?
  2. What are your thoughts on what is going on in downtown Oakland right now?
  3. What is your vision of the future of downtown? And how could downtown better serve you?
  4. What has been your experience with equity in Oakland?
  5. How can we improve equity in Oakland?

Watch the video or read the transcript below to hear Lailan's thoughts.

Thank you to Lailan of Chinatown Coalition for sharing her time and brilliance with us!

What does Oakland mean to you?

So Oakland is a beautiful city made up really… of its diversity, and I think it’s a very working class character that really defines the spirit of Oakland. We have, you know, folks ever since the beginning of the town, who are, you know, entrepreneurs, and hustlers, and you know people who are just trying to realize their dreams. We have a lot of dreamers here in Oakland. But you know, I think that the mishmash of cultures and peoples is what makes Oakland special and the people of Oakland are really what Oakland is, right? People talk to each other, people say hello on the street, right? It feels like a town even though you know, we’re over 400,000 people. Feels like a town, that’s why we call it “the town.”

What are your thoughts on what is going on in Downtown Oakland right now?

Yeah, so we definitely have this continued battle for land and power basically is what’s going on in Downtown Oakland right now. We have Chinatown, for example, has been displaced over and over and over for the last hundred forty years, right. And so you have this constant battle between you know, who has a right to be here in the center of the city. And so, you know, now that developers and businesses and corporations finally want to be here and invest in Oakland, you have the people who have been here for hella long you know, who’ve created this city, the working class of the city, now fighting just to stay and to be a part of the renaissance.

What is your vision of the future of downtown? And how could downtown better serve you?

So I think that Downton Oakland can be a place for everybody, but only if we’re really intentional and only if we have equitable policies that are making sure that working class families can stay here… meaning that we have to have affordable housing and we have to make sure that we have affordable retails spaces for our small businesses to thrive. So I believe that it’s possible to have, you know, both newcomers and businesses and the longtime Oaklanders who have been here, but it has to be very very intentional, and it has to be very inclusive, and we have to be mindful of every step of the way, to make sure we’re including long-time residents. So, I mean, my vision is that you know that the economy can lift all boats, right. I think it’s possible.

When you think of “Equity in Oakland,” what comes to mind?

Yeah, so there’s a lot of talk about equity right now in Oakland, and for me, part of it is about addressing the inequities of the past, right. You have to acknowledge what has happened in Oakland’s history, right, and so part of that history as I mentioned, you know, Chinatown has been displaced, West Oakland has been displaced, the highways moved right through our communities destroying a lot of our businesses and agencies and homes and affordable homes. And then you had, you know, a long time where our families as families of color, couldn’t buy land. You had a long time, you had 60 years where Chinese families weren’t citizens, so we couldn’t buy land. We had a long time where there were covenants and housing all across Oakland where only white families could own land, right. So there’s a very real history of access to land, access to housing here, that we have to acknowledge in our planning. And that’s part of equity is making that whole and making up for these inequitable policies that have existed for so long.

What changes would you suggest to improve social, racial, and economic equity in downtown Oakland?

One of the most important things that I think we need right now in Oakland is for communities of color, low-income communities to actually have a seat at the table when you talk about planning, right. There are no community requirements for community engagement in any of the planning processes right now. The planning department doesn’t have any requirements, developers don’t have any requirements. That means when developers come into our neighborhoods, we have to force them to talk to us, right. And that shouldn’t be the case. In progressive cities across the country, you have actual processes that require community engagement, that require community benefits, that require equitable policies that are making sure that our small businesses don’t get displaced, that are making sure there is affordable housing in new development. Oakland doesn’t have any of that right now. And that’s a huge problem, that’s why we’re seeing massive displacement, whereas in other progressive cities, you see less of that, right. That means that we have to overturn Costa-Hawkins, we have to turn over these laws that are barriers to requiring affordable housing, right. You know, some of the developers lobbyist here in Oakland were the ones who wrote Costa Hawkins and made it impossible for us to pass inclusionary housing, right. So we have to overturn that, we have to pass inclusionary housing, we have to protect our cultural districts, right. So when we talk about culture, race and economics.... Our cultural districts like Chinatown and the Black Arts District are at the heart of our local economies. So we’re downtown, we’re right next to where all the development is happening, so if you don’t have something to protect those communities, we could disappear because I’ve seen it in other cities and it’s happened. But if you look at San Francisco Chinatown it is protected because they have zoning protections, they actually protect the small businesses there so that the downtown and techies don’t take over San Francisco Chinatown right. We don’t have that in Oakland and we need to take really bold action in the next year to make sure that that actually happens otherwise, you know, we could face the disappearance of our neighborhoods of our cultural neighborhoods that make Oakland what it is.


Posted: February 12th, 2018 12:00 AM

Last Updated: November 29th, 2018 12:27 PM

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