The Obama Presidential Center planned for Jackson Park could be a shot in the arm for the South Side, bringing jobs, economic development and other benefits.
But a coalition of activists and residents want those promises put in writing — something the former president himself refused to do just this week.
Still, those groups are pressing on, saying they plan to go to the city to get the legal enforcement a written document would provide. The Kenwood-Oakland Community Organization has started the process of getting a community benefits agreement drafted as a city ordinance.
Jawanza Malone, executive director of the group, said plans for an ordinance have been in the works since negotiations for a benefits agreement started two years ago.
“One thing we’ve been doing in addition to drafting the benefits agreement is talking directly to the people making the decisions,” Malone said. “From our perspective [an ordinance] is the best possible route to get something concrete, bound by contractual law and negotiated with the communities.”
Generally speaking, Malone said, he and other organizers get the sense that the Obama Foundation doesn’t believe an agreement is the best tool. Malone disagrees — agreements around the country show that benefits agreements can provide an economic boost to communities in need.
Similar agreements were successfully created in Los Angeles for an entertainment district across from the Staples Center in 2001 and the redevelopment of the Oakland (Calif.) Army Base in 2012; a similar agreement may be passed in October 2017 for the Oakland Port Authority.
Jahmese Myres, campaign director of Revive Oakland, said the policy on jobs that her organization was able to get passed into law took two years and lots of discussions with Oakland City Council members, developers and others in the community.
The process was worth it to make sure the jobs promised to Oakland actually came through, she said.
“Oakland is experiencing the same type of economic, housing and job crisis that other cities around the country are facing,” Myres said. “We worked with the council, as well as developers, to develop a framework of priorities that addressed our concerns. While we were doing that we organized our communities so folks knew what was coming to the army base.”
Neither of the aldermen who represent wards near the Obama Center — Leslie Hairston (5th) and Willie Cochran (20th) — were available for comment, but Sharon Payne of Southside Together Organizing for Power, said they, and others, have been notified of the next phase of action.
“We’re considering several other avenues, but the foundation is not making it easy for us,” Payne said, though she would not discuss what those other political options might be.
For now, Malone said working with aldermen is the next step in making sure “what people have worked for is protected.”
“There needs to be policy, there needs to be law, there needs to be a contractual agreement,” Malone said. “This is causing displacement already and we’ll continue to push for this agreement because if we don’t put things into writing this could turn into more of the same.”