Racial Justice Committee reaches out to Oak Park

Oak Park community leader Michael Blair met with SCNA’s Ad Hoc Racial Justice Committee over Zoom recently to share information about neighborhood issues as a prelude to Oak Park board members attending SCNA’s board meeting in March.

Blair has the distinction of sitting on both the Oak Park Neighborhood Association (OPNA) and the South Oak Park Community Association (SOPCA) boards.

Blair runs the nonprofit Neighborhood Innovation Project. He is originally from Anchorage, Alaska, which he left to study at Sacramento State University. In a class on Black history, his professor mentioned living in Oak Park because he wished to make change.

Blair fixed on that idea. He bought his first home in Oak Park 17 years ago, and started making the best change he could on behalf of his adopted neighborhood.

Oak Park’s 27,000 residents live within an area bordered by U.S. Highway 50, Stockton Boulevard, Fruitridge Road and Highway 99. The area includes two active neighborhood associations – OPNA, which was established more than 20 years ago; and SOPCA, more recently organized to better target the needs of those south of 12th and 14th avenues.

Michael Blair chose to live in Oak Park to help
make change and improve his neighborhood.
Photo/Kathy Les

Blair points to the biggest changes along Broadway, where new retail and restaurants serving people from inside and outside Oak Park have driven up housing and land prices.

Not surprisingly, some in Oak Park want the neighborhood to remain as it is with its collection of older, relatively affordable homes. Others have a desire to see major building improvements.

“It makes it difficult to accommodate everybody,” said Blair.

With land still cheaper in Oak Park than in some areas of the city, Blair cites a tendency by the city to concentrate homeless housing and services there. “We’re trying to fight through that,” he said.

The most recent population data from the U.S. Census shows the Oak Park population at 36% Latino, 26% white, 18% Black, 14% Asian and 7% other.

While ethnically diverse, Oak Park struggles with poverty. The median income is $34,000, compared with $55,000 citywide. Just 39% in Oak Park are homeowners, compared with 55% citywide.

OPNA has monitored the plans for Aggie Square, a multi-billion-dollar proposal by UC Davis to create a new research and business center bordering Oak Park on the east. OPNA questions whether the promised 5,000 jobs will be suited to local residents or mainly to professionals coming into the area and driving up the cost of housing, and whether housing necessary for a new cadre of workers will cause displacement of existing residents no longer able to afford higher rents or housing prices.

Along with other groups and Council member Jay Schenirer, OPNA has weighed in heavily for a legally binding agreement to ensure Oak Park benefits from the Aggie Square project from inception into the future.

Such an agreement would help steer the development to the betterment of Oak Park. Specifically, the agreement being worked out seeks job training and employment opportunities for low-skilled workers; housing offering a pathway to ownership for existing residents; community facilities, including a community center, after-school programs for kids and an art center; and, transportation controls to alleviate parking and traffic issues resulting from an influx of new workers.

While Blair sees a need for low-income housing, he doesn’t want Oak Park to become the poor capital of Sacramento. “Instead, let’s find ways to help residents make more [income] so they can afford more,” said Blair. “I want to build everyone up.”

For more information on the Oak Park Neighborhood Association and to subscribe to its newsletter, visit oakparkna.com. For the South Park Neighborhood Association, visit facebook.com/groups/southoakpark.

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