SF Chronicle: 5 ways Oakland can preserve its soul in a tech boom


Oakland Mayor Libby Schaaf has been using a new word lately to describe her vision for the technology hub growing in her city: “Tech-quity.”

With Uber planning to open a 3,000-person office in the long-underutilized Sears Building in downtown Oakland, there is no turning back the tech tide rolling across the bay. Though only 3.1 percent of Oakland’s workforce is in the tech sector, that number is sure to grow as other companies follow Uber’s lead, seeking office space at a quarter of the cost of San Francisco.

The question is what kind of tech hub will Oakland become.

In a welcome-to-Oakland letter to Uber executives, Schaaf defined tech-quity as providing “equitable access to top-notch training and jobs for our residents and fostering our local technology sector’s growth so it leads to shared prosperity.”

It sounds like a noble goal, but it will be difficult to enforce.

In Uber’s case, the San Francisco ride-hailing company acquired the building in a private land deal, so it didn’t need government approval or tax incentives to buy the property. That left Oakland no leverage to enact a community benefit agreement, a strategy used in San Francisco’s Mid-Market neighborhood to compel tech companies to help out the community.

Instead of enforcing tech-quity through tax incentives or government mandates, Schaaf said, change will be more sustainable if companies “see it as the right thing to do.”

“Rather than thinking of it as enforcement, I’d rather see it institutionalized. The list of items in my letter was not a checklist of things for companies to do, but a menu. Ideas to stimulate the imagination. One size is not going to fit all,” Schaaf said.

Tech-quity will be the centerpiece of Schaaf’s state of the city address Wednesday, the next step in her bid to turn Oakland into a kinder, more inclusive tech hub.

That task will prove difficult, as Oakland’s leaders face a three-tiered challenge: They must simultaneously attract tech companies; minimize the displacement of longtime residents by a sudden influx of wealth; and find a way to make Oakland’s tech scene as diverse as the city itself.

Source: SF Chronicle