|The Uber building that never was.|
In late 2015, it could be argued that Uber’s announced move to Downtown Oakland, based on its transformative potential (good and bad), was the biggest news story in Oakland that year. The purchase of the old Sears Building for $123 million and Uber’s promise to bring between 2,000 and 3,000 new employees to Oakland was hailed as major get for Mayor Libby Schaaf.
The deal heralded once again a stark new trajectory in Oakland that was to signify the type of Oakland cool Schaaf had been espousing ad nauseam. It also appeared to show a break from the type of dysfunction critics of former Mayor Jean Quan screamed about.
But the warm embrace of Uber back in 2015 had many skeptics. The ride-hailing company was already facing criticism for its misogynistic corporate ethos and many imagined a beacon of the Silicon Valley shared economy sitting on the corner of 20th and Broadway, often an area where protesters vandalized businesses, might as well place sign on the windows that read, “Hit here.”
Oakland Mayor Libby Schaaf
Schaaf, though, ignored these dire warnings and instead reveled in the announcement. At the time, she lauded the company in an interview with Wired.
“One could argue that Oakland and Uber share a bit of a rebellious nature… I think there are some very good questions being asked about some of Uber’s practices—and that will be resolved in the court system. But in the meantime, I’d like to say that Oakland has mad love for disruptors.”
“As mayor, it’s my job to try and make sure this change lifts up essential qualities of our city, rather than wipes them out. I believe that’s possible, but that’s my responsibility.”
Earlier this year, as Uber’s CEO Travis Kalanick was facing a deluge of criticism over his leadership, there were already questions about the company’s commitment to Oakland. Last March, Uber announced it was significantly scaling back its plan for Oakland.
Instead of making the property the site of its global headquarters, Uber said it would only move around 300 employees to the building still under renovation. The rest of the building would be leased to other businesses.
Now Uber is reportedly putting the property on the market and while Schaaf’s comments both in March and recently have been tempered, the prevailing wisdom appears to absolve Schaaf of any sin in strongly supporting a business that would have surely hastened gentrification in Oakland. “We didn’t want Uber anyway,” is a common refrain from East Bay politicos, but it misses the point that Schaaf, herself, wanted it and she didn’t deliver.
The mayor’s ability to court corporate interests and then bask in the glow of progressive cheering when the project goes down the tubes was a hallmark of her inability to keep the Raiders in Oakland. The record shows Schaaf wanted the Raiders to stay. Whether she really wanted the team to stay or was more interested in the A’s, is still up for debate.
But Schaaf wanted a stadium deal in Oakland and she didn’t deliver. Yet, like with Uber, Schaaf is not getting much blowback, at least, from regular Oakland residents and East Bay politicos, because spending municipal dollars on the Raiders already made no sense to them in the first place when pot holes need to be filled and the city’s school are struggling mightily, among other more pressing needs.
All true, but both instances fit into a larger mosaic, including a massive police misconduct scandal, where Schaaf, the former high school cheerleader and daughter of Oakland can do no wrong. In fact, failing to deliver on high-profile issues that involve world-famous tech companies and marquee National Football League franchises is typically a good way to give your opponents a very strong talking point.